Saturday, May 22, 2004

"The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy", Part 2 of 6

Continuing on with our critique of Sean Hannity's book, "Let Freedom Ring", let's take a look the first example he uses in an attempt to prove that there is a liberal conspiracy against the CIA and intelligence in general.

On page 29, Hannity says:

"Is it time to get rid of the CIA?" asked a post-9/11 story by Ted Gup in the left-wing magazine Mother Jones.

In the face of the death of heroes like Mike Spann [(who became the first CIA casualty in Afghanistan when he was killed in a prison uprising at Mazur-e-Sharif)], how do liberals have the gall to ask such questions? Get rid of our most important intelligence organization? During wartime? Is that what liberals really want in their heart of hearts? Few would admit it on the record. But the Mother Jones article does provide a fascinating, if deeply disturbing, insight into the Left's mindset:

Today, the CIA is hamstrung by its own sullied past. At home, critics suspect it of having had a hand in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, of introducing crack cocaine into South Central Los Angeles, and of a host of other conspiracies that remain utterly unproved. Overseas, its past shadows it from country to country and continent to continent, clouding America's moral standing and its ability to gather the kind of intelligence that the nation will need in the years ahead.

Americans have long viewed the CIA as a rogue agency, its errant missions the work of covert cowboys. The truth-that everything it did, good and bad, originated in the Oval Office with either a presidential directive or a wink and a nod-is less comforting. It means that we as a nation bear a measure of responsibility for its actions, and its failures. Whether the CIA is still capable of effectively serving the nation is a question that can no longer be ignored.

So not only is the CIA a rogue agency-I guess we're a rogue nation!

Does Hannity's accusation hold up? Let's check the facts:

1.) First a little bit of background. Who is Ted Gup, the article's author? Publishers Weekly described him as a "former investigative journalist with the Washington Post and Time and winner of a George Polk Award" when it did a review of his book "The Book of Honor : Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA".

The "Book of Honor" Gup wrote about is in the lobby of CIA Headquarters and contains the names of all the CIA operatives who have been killed in the line of duty. Actually, some of the entries are left blank because the particular operation the officer had been involved in is still classified (often needlessly, but more on that in a moment). Ted Gup decided to uncover the identities of these fallen heroes and tell their stories; interviewing over 400 CIA officers and reading through thousands of pages of documents.

Did this book threaten national security? In an interview with "The News Hour" on PBS, Gup said, "I think that [the reason] most of these names are not inscribed in the Book of Honor is not national security, it's bureaucracy. ... It was the sheer momentum, the inertia of the bureaucracy that allowed this to continue." The interviewer, Ray Suarez, even noted that "we're talking about some people who've been dead 30, 40 years. The causes that they were assisting don't even really exist anymore as causes in this post world war world."

Besides bureaucracy, as's review of the book notes, in some cases Gup believes that "perhaps the agency's own sense of shame over botched operations" keeps them classified.

Nevertheless, Gup did say in the Suarez interview that there was "an individual whose name does not appear in the book at the specific request of the CIA. My rule in writing the book was when in doubt, leave it out. The last thing I wanted to do was to add another name" to the Book of Honor. Gup also mentioned that the "families [of the fallen] have told me that the publication of the book has given them a kind of peace and closure that was denied to them for many, many, many years."

Ironically, Hannity starts Chapter 2 of "Let Freedom Ring" ("The Left vs. The CIA") with a short biography praising CIA operative Mike Spann, his family and his sacrifice before going on to slam Ted Gup who had written a book that essentially tries to do the same thing in greater depth.

2.) The Mother Jones article, ">"Clueless in Langley", is cited by Hannity as evidence to back up his claim that "the Left" wants to "get rid of our most important intelligence organization". But if you read Gup's piece, you'll find that he says:

[T]he CIA is earnest enough but arguably so ill equipped and ill suited [for fighting terrorism] that nothing short of fundamentally altering its identity-the bureaucratic equivalent of knocking out its front teeth-would suffice. In short, it is time to consider either fundamentally overhauling the agency or getting rid of it entirely. We quite simply may no longer be able to entrust it with the vital mission of collecting and analyzing the intelligence upon which the nation's survival could depend.

Okay, would someone who wants (in Hannity's words) "to attack and undermine America's intelligence community" describe the "mission of collecting and analyzing...intelligence" as being a.) "vital" and b.) something "upon which the nation's survival could depend"? No. The fact is, Gup is saying that the war against terrorism requires a different kind of intelligence organization; one that's far-sighted and quick on its feet. And if the CIA can't retool itself to meet this mission, it must be replaced with one that can. So when he asks in the article if it's time to "get rid of the CIA", Gup doesn't mean abolishing the entire intelligence community (as Hannity insinuates), just making sure we have the right one for the job.

3.) What was the context in which Ted Gup asked the infamous question "Is it time to get rid of the CIA?" Interestingly enough, he was posing a question to Florida GOP Congressman Porter Goss, the Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and himself a former CIA operative. Here's the question put in context:

Is it time to get rid of the CIA? "Now that's a fair question," Goss says. "If you ask me, 'Have you ever thought about changing the name, moving the building, putting up a different flag, calling it something else?' Yes, all of the above."

In his book, Hannity asks how "the liberals have the gall to ask such questions", yet when it had been posed (post-9/11) to Porter Goss his first response was "Now that's a fair question".

4.) The first paragraph of the extended quote, which Hannity said provided a "deeply disturbing...insight into the Left's mindset", basically says that some of the CIA's more questionable activities over the years have led to its being, in President Harry Truman's words, "interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue". How is that a "disturbing" observation?

Gup also alluded to some mysterious domestic intrigue, as well; citing such conspiracy theories as CIA involvement in the JFK assassination, as well as the "Dark Alliance" story of drug-trafficking for the Contras in South Central Los Angeles (a story Gup takes issue with in a Salon article). Conspiracy theories, as John Dean pointed out on page 116 of his book "Worse Than Watergate", are often the by-product of excessive secrecy; a condition we've already shown the CIA bureaucracy suffers from. Gup was trying to make the point that the CIA's reputation and penchant for secrecy have led to the rise of various urban legends. Hannity seems to miss the fact that the article goes on to say that these and other conspiracy theories "remain utterly unproved".

Simply stated, some of the things the CIA has done in the past were ill-advised and have led to its developing a less-than-sterling reputation, deserved or not, at home and abroad and this might hinder its efforts to find intelligence sources. Again, why is this disturbing?

5.) Hannity's conclusion after reading the second paragraph of the extended quote, was that Gup was calling the CIA a rogue agency. But if you look at the quote, you'll see it says the opposite. It starts out by saying that "Americans have long viewed the CIA as a rogue agency", but goes on to say in the very next sentence that "[t]he less comforting." Gup says that far from being a rogue, the CIA was acting on the orders of our government; and that we as citizens bear responsibility, at least in part, for the actions of the governments we elect (Civics 101).

6.) Hannity criticizes "liberals" who have the "gall" to ask whether the CIA needs to be abolished. Worse yet, they are asking it "[d]uring wartime", apparently making them even more reckless or worse.

My question is this: Is there ever a time when it is more critical to replace an failing agency with a vital role than wartime? It would be stupid to wait until the war was over before retooling things.

7.) Finally, on page 58 of "Let Freedom Ring" (a book written post-9/11, just like Gup's article), Hannity himself says that porous borders represent a national security risk and that "[f]or years, the INS [(U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service)] has been in desperate need of radical reform, or even outright abolition." (emphasis added) He goes on to claim that the Clinton Administration had done the nation a disservice by opposing restructuring of the INS during the 1990's.

In essence, Hannity is calling for the same kind of action with regard to the INS that Gup wrote about for the CIA: radical restructuring or outright replacement. Both are agencies whose missions are critical in this time of war, but Gup's suggestion is somehow less noble. Hannity pulls up just short of calling him an appeaser, a fool and a traitor.

* * *

All in all, today's excerpt has been shown to be totally without merit. I guess the big questions are: how did Hannity get it so totally wrong and how did it make it into the book? Weren't there any fact-checkers? He recognizes Joel C. Rosenberg in the Acknowledgements for his help in "the research and development of this book from the beginning and I'm deeply grateful for his...dedication to excellence." How is it, then, that I found everything I needed to debunk this particular excerpt in under 15 minutes? The final irony in all this is that Ted Gup quit Time magazine out of concern that the facts for stories weren't being properly checked, saying in his Salon article "Why the Time/CNN nerve-gas debacle was inevitable" that "[i]t was concerns over just these kinds of shoddy practices that led me to resign from Time in the fall of 1993." And Hannity accuses him of having "gall"?

Next time, we'll take a look at Hannity's second example of liberal treachery against the CIA and see if it can do better.