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Honesty and the CIA

May 19th, 2009

When Nancy Pelosi accused the CIA of fibbing on what they said to her about waterboarding, Republicans reacted with outrage. The CIA, lie? Preposterous!

“I think her accusations against our terror-fighters are irresponsible and, according to the CIA’s record, Speaker Pelosi was briefed on what had been done,” said Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, the senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “It’s outrageous that a member of Congress would call our terror-fighters liars.”

Of course, there is evidence that the CIA’s claims were less than accurate. For example, they also claimed to have briefed former Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida on three occasions; Graham, who takes careful notes and keeps his calendars and schedules, proved that he could not have attended briefings on those dates; the CIA relented and admitted the data was in error. Graham also insists that, according to his notes, he was also never briefed on waterboarding, despite the CIA claiming he was.

But what about Bond’s indignant protest that we not dare question the truthfulness of the CIA? Fact is, the CIA’s reputation has been pretty much torn down all on its own in the past years; the Bush administration pretty much decimated that. Sandy Goodman at HuffPo lists several prominent examples of the CIA misleading pretty much everyone–the U.N., the 9/11 Commission, reporters, Congress, you name it. And from a blog post I wrote exactly three years ago, here’s a quote from Harper’s on how the CIA presented information on Iraq:

A number of current and former intelligence officials have told me that the administration’s war on internal dissent has crippled the CIA’s ability to provide realistic assessments from Iraq. “The system of reporting is shut down,” said one person familiar with the situation. “You can’t write anything honest, only fairy tales.”

The New York Times and others have reported that in 2003, the CIA station chief in Baghdad authored several special field reports that offered extremely negative assessments of the situation on the ground in Iraq—assessments that later proved to be accurate. The field reports, known as “Aardwolfs,” were angrily rejected by the White House. Their author—who I’m told was a highly regarded agency veteran named Gerry Meyer—was soon pushed out of the CIA, in part because his reporting angered the See No Evil crowd within the Bush administration. “He was a good guy,” one recently retired CIA official said of Meyer, “well-wired in Baghdad, and he wrote a good report. But any time this administration gets bad news, they say the critics are assholes and defeatists, and off we go down the same path with more pressure on the accelerator.”

In 2004 Meyer was replaced with a new CIA station chief in Baghdad, who that year filed six Aardwolfs, which, sources told me, were collectively as pessimistic about the situation in Iraq as the ones sent by his predecessor. The station chief finished his assignment in December 2004; he was not fired, but according to one source is now “a pariah within the system.” Three other former intelligence officials gave me virtually identical accounts, with one saying the ex–station chief was “treated like shit” and “farmed out.” …

“The CIA’s ability to speak honestly is gone,” concluded the official, “which is extraordinarily dangerous to our country.”

So it is not exactly unreasonable to suggest that the CIA might be inaccurate.

Certainly it is no coincidence that the CIA released this information as Pelosi was calling for a truth commission that could potentially make the CIA look very bad–and that the Pelosi story has rocketed in the media despite its relative insignificance relative to other stories on the same topic. This is a chilling warning shot to those who would try to get the real truth out there: we will take you down with us.

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