Thursday, June 03, 2004

"The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy", Part 3 of 6

So far, nothing Hannity has said in this section has held up to scrutiny. Not his overgeneralizing about liberals being the enemies of the CIA, not his claim that conservatives have been its steadfast ally "for decades", and definitely not his accusation that Ted Gup's article in Mother Jones was calling for the CIA's abolition.

His second example must be more convincing, though, since he claims that it exposes a "visceral...contempt [that is held by liberals] for the CIA".

Hannity continues on with his attack in this section by saying:

"Mother Jones [magazine] also condemned the CIA for having too few spies-or was that too many spies? 'Human intelligence-the network of spies on the ground-was allowed to degrade steadily," an article argued in its January/February 2002 issue. "To the fore came satellite imagery and National Security Agency's capacity to intercept communications. High-tech spying had proved effective against foreign states during the Cold War. Against terrorism, its value was dubious at best.'

"But in a previous issue of Mother Jones, in January/February 1995, writer Robert Dreyfuss seemed to be saying that conservatives were unwise in wanting to build up the CIA's human intelligence capabilities.

"'Though the CIA is being downsized and there are calls to abolish it, there are also calls from CIA insiders, some congressional Republicans, and a few outside conservatives to expand the CIA's use of spies-known in the trade as human intelligence (humint)-at the expense of techint, or intelligence gathered by satellites, listening devices and other technical means,' wrote Dreyfuss. 'Robert Steele, a former CIA officer who has put forward a number of otherwise thoughtful ideas about reforming the CIA, recently called for a doubling of the agency's clandestine espionage and for placing all of the new spies under "nonofficial cover."' Dreyfuss went on to point out that Congress may have been more receptive to expanding the CIA given a greater number of Republicans and the commitment of soon to be House Speaker Newt Gingrich to the idea.

"So which is it? Are there too few Mike Spanns or too many? Are we conservatives off base for wanting to make the CIA too big or too small? Or is that really the point? Rather, isn't this just the Left demonstrating its visceral (and incoherent) contempt for the CIA-and ultimately seeking to diminish its effectiveness and public support?"
("Let Freedom Ring", pages 29-30)

Well, what about it? Was this apparent disagreement over CIA staffing levels a case of the Left demonstrating a "visceral ... and incoherent ... contempt for the CIA"? Let's start digging and find out.

1.) Hannity claims that Mother Jones magazine has "condemned" (a pretty strong word) the CIA for having too few spies and then later accusing it of not having enough.

First off, this whole episode wasn't a case of the Mother Jones editorial staff speaking to an issue in the name of the magazine. Rather, it was two different writers, expressing their own viewpoints, seven years apart, in two unrelated articles (in fact the disagreement, if there was one, seems to be more about "humint vs. techint" than "too many spies vs. too few spies"). Secondly, since when is it an indictment of a magazine when it allows journalists writing for it to reach different conclusions? It's as if he's criticizing Mother Jones for not having an agenda, or perhaps he's so convinced that they do have one he thinks he's exposed a hole in it. Lastly, how in the world does a perceived inconsistency in one magazine over the span of nearly a decade prove "incoherence" on the part of the entire liberal community? That's pretty weak.

So weak in fact that, if anything, Hannity is hurting his own case. Wasn't he supposed to be illustrating the existence of a vast left-wing conspiracy against the CIA in this section of the book? How does showing disagreement among liberals help make the case that they are conspiring? Don't conspirators usually share a common set of beliefs?

2.) Another criticism of this excerpt's first paragraph is when Hannity says that the pro-humint quote comes from "an article ... [in Mother Jones'] January/February 2002 issue." The title of this article? "Clueless in Langley" by Ted Gup. You might remember Ted Gup from Part 2 of this critique on "The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy". He's the guy that Hannity railed against for writing an article calling for the overhaul or replacement of the CIA (Hannity mischaracterized it as a call to simply get rid of the CIA and, presumably, replace it with nothing and leave us blind).

Now Hannity's quoting from the very same article he just claimed was a call to abolish the CIA, quoting it in the very next paragraph of his book and, incredibly, framing it as a call to increase the number of spies! The way the excerpt reads, saying that it's quoting from "an article ... [in Mother Jones'] January/February 2002 issue" instead of saying "the same article by Ted Gup I just quoted at length in the previous paragraph" leaves me with the impression that he's trying to mislead the reader into thinking that he's quoting from a different article. Misleading the reader to think that you're quoting from more sources than you actually are? Using the same article to prove an opposite point? That would be intellectually dishonest. Maybe it was just an error in editing.

3.) Hannity quotes Robert Dreyfuss as saying that "Robert Steele, a former CIA officer who has put forward a number of otherwise thoughtful ideas about reforming the CIA, recently called for a doubling of the agency's clandestine espionage and for placing all of the new spies under 'nonofficial cover'."

The second part of the quote, which mentions "nonofficial cover", isn't really explained, seemingly left in as an afterthought. But what does "nonoffical cover" mean? To find out, I read the Robert Dreyfuss article that Hannity quoted from.

"The CIA Crosses Over" is an article that chronicles "a [CIA] program revived by the late director in the 1980s, [William Casey, that] marries the spy agency to corporate America in order to gather intelligence on economics, trade, and technology. ... [At the time the article was written, 1995,] dozens of U.S. corporations--from Fortune 500 companies to small, high-tech firms--[were] secretly assisting the CIA, allowing the agency to place full-time officers from its operations divisions into corporate offices abroad."

Dreyfuss goes on to describe the program in greater depth, defining the term "nonofficial cover":

Serving under what is referred to as "nonofficial cover" (NOC), CIA officers pose as American businessmen in friendly countries [my emphasis], from Asia to Central America to Western Europe. There, they recruit agents from the ranks of foreign officials and business leaders, pilfer secrets, and even conduct special operations and paramilitary activities.

The story of the CIA's NOC (pronounced "knock") program, ... raises serious questions about the CIA at a time [(1995)] when the agency is already beset by scandal [(such as the Aldrich Ames case)]. Yet the NOC program has grown to its present bloated size without any public scrutiny--and with no open discussion within the companies whose interests could be harmed by a spy scandal.

From there the article tells the NOC program's story through the eyes of former members, pointing out some of its many problems:

Interviews with former CIA officers who have served overseas and with midlevel and senior retired CIA officials reveal that the NOC program is beset with bungling, corruption, and poor tradecraft. The program is so badly run that NOCs are resigning from the CIA in droves, many after serious mistakes by the CIA that could have resulted in their exposure, arrest, or worse.

Tom Darcy is a former CIA officer who served for five years as a NOC in Western Europe. Asked whether the CIA's clumsy management has caused any NOC to land in a prison overseas, Darcy says, "Yes. More than once. Or die."

While the article concentrates on economic espionage and tends to be very critical of the NOC program, Dreyfuss does say that the "CIA's operations within terrorist (my emphasis), drug trafficking, and arms dealer networks often involve NOCs, who can move more easily in such circles without raising suspicion." So there may be cases where having agents risk operating under nonofficial cover is preferable; at least in concept. Dreyfuss' main thrust is that the actual program is being run incompetently and doesn't seem to really get the results the CIA had hoped for.

Even with the criticism of Robert Steele's idea that we need more spies, the article is mostly calling attention to a program that (a) is a symptom of an ossified Cold War bureaucracy trying to justify continuing to exist at its present size and (b) needs to go away.

NOTE: I wrote to Robert Dreyfuss and, to make sure I had the right take on his article, asked him to describe the basic points he was trying to make in "The CIA Crosses Over" This is the full text of his response:

My Mother Jones piece, "The CIA Crosses Over," did criticize what amounted then to a failed program. On the other hand, I think I tried to make clear that it is a program that ought to have failed. I'm troubled by the idea of U.S. corporations and other private groups giving covert support to a CIA presence overseas. Not only does it put all U.S. businessmen, journalists and others under suspicion of working for the CIA, but it is improper on its face. My broader criticism was that after the Cold War, we could have vastly reduced the size of the U.S. intelligence community, and we did not. It seems incomprehensible that we'd need to maintain the CIA at its Cold War strength in the 1990s--and the threat of terrorism doesn’t change my mind. You're right that Hannity takes cheap shots whereever he can take them, and I don't respect him enough to care what he says about my work. Believe it or not, I've never once watched the guy. I don't plan to.

This leaves me with the impression that he's not so much for reducing humint at the expense of techint or vice versa, rather he would like to see both reduced.

4.) As far as accusations by Hannity of the Left's "contempt" for the CIA: it may not be visceral, but the Dreyfuss article's contemptuous quotes like "glorious ineptitude" and "horribly mismanaged" came from the CIA officers themselves.

One quote decries the CIA's favoring "inside officers" and using NOC's as whipping boys:

A CIA officer says, "Just like the way the Catholic Church protects priests accused of sexual abuse or wrongdoing, headquarters will always cover up for the division chief, the chief of station, or the deputy chief of station--and they will discipline the NOC."

Imagine Hannity's reaction to that quote if it hadn't been said by a CIA officer! Then again, it's really a pretty juicy comment to pass up on. Maybe the fact that he didn't pounce on it just shows that he didn't read the entire article. Who can say?

5.) Now on to the people mentioned: Robert Dreyfuss and Robert Steele. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, Dreyfuss worked for Ralph Nader's Public Citizen organization before becoming a freelance journalist. Currently, "he's on the mastheads of Mother Jones, The Nation, and American Prospect, and a regular contributor to half-a-dozen magazines". It's pretty safe to assume he's not going to be asked to write a piece for The National Review or American Spectator, so you would think he would be a good candidate for demonstrating the visceral contempt Hannity talks about. If you look at his "The CIA Crosses Over" article, though, you'll see that the last section is titled "Let's get smart about intelligence" and not "Let's get rid of intelligence".

And it's also worth noting that Dreyfuss does say in the quote that Steele "has put forward a number of otherwise thoughtful ideas about reforming the CIA". Not abolishing the CIA, mind you, reforming it. And these ideas for reform were generally thoughtful ones, in Dreyfuss' opinion. Do words like these indicate a visceral contempt for the CIA?

6.) Another point of interest is that in a different article he wrote on economic espionage (Mother Jones May/June 1994), Dreyfuss says that:

Hidebound--one wants to say "rock-ribbed Republican"--conservatives, who worship the free enterprise system, oppose any government interference in the marketplace. While endorsing CIA efforts to prevent economic espionage by other governments, notably Japan and France, the right vigorously opposes the CIA getting into any economic spying of its own.

Sounds like conservatives were against the NOC program's primary mission. If conservatives don't like the NOC program and want it cancelled; then, using Hannity's logic, doesn't a desire to eliminate the NOC positions mean they think there are too many spies and are calling for a cut? Couldn't they be accused weakening our intelligence community by opposing one of its programs?

7.) Hannity never explains who Robert Steele is, so to be thorough, I will.

Steele has been known for some time as a proponent of CIA reform. In a 2002 piece written by John Perry Barlow for Forbes, Steele gets mentioned:

After a decade of both fighting with and consulting to the intelligence community, I've concluded that the American intelligence system is broken beyond repair, self-protective beyond reform, and permanently fixated on a world that no longer exists.

I was introduced to this world by a former spy named Robert Steele, who called me in the fall of 1992 and asked me to speak at a Washington conference that would be "attended primarily by intelligence professionals." Steele seemed interesting, if unsettling. A former Marine intelligence officer, Steele moved to the CIA and served three overseas tours in clandestine intelligence, at least one of them "in a combat environment" in Central America.

After nearly two decades of service in the shadows, Steele emerged with a lust for light and a belief in what he calls, in characteristic spook-speak, OSINT, or open source intelligence. Open source intelligence is assembled from what is publicly available, in media, public documents, the Net, wherever. It's a given that such materials--and the technological tools for analyzing them--are growing exponentially these days. But while OSINT may be a timely notion, it's not popular in a culture where the phrase "information is power" means something brutally concrete and where sources are "owned."

Steele has also written books on CIA reform: "On Intelligence" and "The New Craft of Intelligence".

His opinions might surprise you, too. Here's some quotes from a interview Steele gave, titled "Robert Steele answers our questions about US Intelligence 2 years after September 11th" (In fairness, Steele made these comments after "Let Freedom Ring" went into print.):

- "Unfortunately, 9-11 did not change U.S. intelligence in any significant manner."

- "Sadly, America must see another 5,000 body-bags, and elect a new President, before we might possibly come to our senses."

- "There is no Global War on Terrorism. That is propaganda."

- "The US is losing the war on terrorism."

- "[T]he White House is 'out of control' and severely undermining global stability and legitimacy."

- "The neo-conservatives and their corporate paymasters remind me of Hitler and Goering. Everything they are doing is built on a platform of lies and the abuse of executive power. They have carried the big-hearted but very naive American people into a situation where American unilateralism is literally destroying the world. We have become, in a word, immoral as a Nation."

- "America is a great Nation and can survive massive incompetence and malfeasance within the White House, but I worry that in this delicate time, we cannot survive another four years of George Bush and his 'stupid white men.' We need Europe as a partner of the people, as a partner for truth, as a partner in stabilizing the world and achieving legitimate governance everywhere. France saved us once from the British, now we need France's help in saving us from ourselves."

Robert Steele sounds a lot harsher with regard to U.S. intelligence and foreign policy than the authors Hannity has criticized.

* * *

I think it's pretty obvious at this point that the idea of today's excerpt somehow demonstrating either a "visceral (and incoherent) contempt for the CIA" or a desire "to attack and undermine America's intelligence community" by liberals is pretty laughable. Criticizing the CIA when criticism is justified (such as the case of the NOC program) is not an attempt to undermine our country's intelligence; allowing a failed program to continue is. The fact that some of the roughest remarks in the articles Hannity cited came from CIA operatives indicates questionable research methods, since it undermines his accusation of ideological motives by the authors. But not citing Ted Gup as the author of the first article seems suspiciously deliberate (since it helps conceal a contradiction) and adds to the sense that poor research may not be the only issue here. In any event, the point about Mother Jones being conflicted over CIA staffing levels is erroneous and irrelevant.

Next time, yet another example of the "Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy". And this next one, in Hannity's words, "really takes the cake."