Monday, June 07, 2004

"The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy", Part 5 of 6

The final example Hannity cites in this section of "Let Freedom Ring" is an article written by David Corn shortly after 9/11.

Here's the excerpt:

In an October 1, 2001 essay, David Corn, Washington editor of The Nation and a Fox News contributor, attacked Republicans, conservatives, and "the national security cadre" for raising questions "of how best to bolster the military and intelligence establishment." He criticized former secretary of state James Baker "for blaming the Church Committee, the Senate panel that investigated CIA misdeeds in the 1970's for what happened: 'We went on a real witch hunt with our CIA...the Church Committee. We unilaterally disarmed in terms of intelligence.'" Corn also couldn't resist taking a shot at former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who "assailed rules on intelligence gathering that limit CIA interaction with known terrorists, and he asserted that the intelligence budget (about $30 billion) was 'too small.'"

Is it really all that surprising that a leading leftist like Corn would vilify the CIA and those who have tried to strengthen it? Of course not. Corn has never been a fan of the CIA. In 1994 he wrote a book entitled Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades, which the New York Times described as "a scorchingly critical account" of the career of a major agency figure.

What was surprising and disappointing-to me, at least-was that Corn's ideological disdain for the CIA runs so deep that even the murder of three thousand Americans didn't persuade him of our need for a strong intelligence agency. But frankly I shouldn't be surprised. This is part of the liberals' pattern of hamstringing various reform measures (such as efforts to bolster the CIA or reduce marginal tax rates to stimulate the economy), then blaming the other side for the inevitable consequences (security failures and recession, respectively).
("Let Freedom Ring" page 31-32)

Pretty harsh words. I read Corn's column to see what a "leading leftist" with an "ideological disdain for the CIA" would write in an essay for a "leading left-wing magazine" that's "long been a foe of the CIA" in order to "vilify" the Agency. Being the "leading leftist" of the "leading left-wing magazine" would put David Corn towards the outer reaches of the political spectrum, I would think, so this is probably some pretty hardcore stuff that he wrote. Let's have a look:

1.) Corn is first accused of having "attacked Republicans, conservatives, and 'the national security cadre" for raising questions "of how best to bolster the military and intelligence establishment.'"

Here's the quote in context:

The issue for [the national security hawks] is not what causes such unimaginable actions [as 9/11]. On Day One did you hear anyone--in an attempt to understand, not justify, the horror--ask, Why would someone want to commit this evil act? Or note that in this globalized age, US policy--its actions and inactions overseas (justified or not)--can easily lead to consequences at home? No, the national security cadre, out in force, mainly raised questions of how best to bolster the military and intelligence establishment.

Corn is essentially saying that if we hope to defeat the terrorists, wouldn't it be wise to determine the root causes of the 9/11 attacks?

The oft-quoted general, Sun Tzu, once said:

If you know yourself and know your enemy, you will not fear a 100 battles. If you know yourself, but do not know your enemy, for each battle you win, you'll have a defeat. If you do not know yourself and do not know your enemy, you'll never win a battle.

Simply saying you enemy attacked you because they are "evil" is just that: simple. Attacking blindly or, worse yet, based on false assumptions about the enemy could be inviting disaster.

2.) As far as criticizing Baker and Gingrich, Corn was simply describing their media offensive (Baker blamed intel failures on the Church Committee and Gingrich cited inadequate funding).

He goes on to describe how not everyone in the "national security cadre" was so quick to defend the CIA:

Some hawks and others [criticized] US intelligence for failing to detect the [9/11] plot. [One such hawk was] Kenneth Katzman, a terrorism expert at the Congressional Research Service, [who] said, "How nothing could have been picked up is beyond me--way beyond me. There's a major, major intelligence failure, specially since the [previous] Trade Center bombing produced such an investigation of the networks and so much monitoring."

Corn continues by saying "[n]o doubt, there will be official inquiries [into intelligence failures]. But the knee-jerk goal for most of the inquirers will be additional funds for the intelligence community and the Pentagon. The spies will defend their actions and plead, if only our hands were not tied, if only we had more money." Some will no doubt see that as an attack on the intel hawks and the CIA, but consider this: why is it that when schools are failing, increasing their funding is derided by some as "rewarding failure" and "throwing money at the problem", yet when it comes to intelligence, it is seen as the only rational solution and questioning it is to attack it?

Hannity himself says on page 144 of "Let Freedom Ring" that:

[The] gains in student achievement we'd made in the 1950s and early 1960s...had long since been squandered by an educational bureacracy that no longer placed an emphasis on high standards and world-class achievement....Liberals say we're not spending enough money to solve the problem. But that's simply not true. We've invested hundreds of billions of dollars in "reforming" our public schools over the past two decades, and we're spending more today than at any time in our history....The question isn't whether we're spending enough money. We are. The question is whether we're seeing dramatically improved results as a result of our investment. The painful truth is, we aren't. In fact, the results have been disastrous.

Hannity says repeatedly in Chapter 7, "Setting Parents Free", that he considers children's educations vital to our country's survival (just like intel, I would assume). So questioning the strategy of simply increasing spending on education or intelligence doesn't make you an opponent of either. Just as asking the question, "how did we get to this point?" doesn't make you an apologist.

So when Hannity says, "Is it really all that surprising that a leading leftist like Corn would vilify the CIA and those who have tried to strengthen it? Of course not." It's pretty obvious that he either missed the point or didn't read the article. Corn may simply have a different idea of the best strategy for strengthening our intelligence.

3.) Besides questioning the hawks' strategy, Corn also points out that some of the tactics that they put forward may not be as effective as they might think.

Corn says:

[In additon to calls for more money,] the operating assumptions at work deserve close assessment. Human intelligence [(advocated by John McCain, Orrin Hatch and Bob Graham in Corn's column)] against closed societies and secret outfits has long been a difficult, almost impossible, endeavor. Hurling money at it is likely no solution [my emphasis]. During the Vietnam War, when resources were unlimited, the CIA failed spectacularly at humint, essentially never penetrating the inner sanctums of the enemy. Its record of infiltrating the Soviet government was unimpressive (and the same goes for China, Cuba and other targets). As for lifting existing restrictions [on whom the CIA can recruit as informants], imagine the dilemmas posed if the CIA actually managed to recruit and pay murderous members of terrorist groups. What would the reaction be, if one of the September 11 conspirators turns out to have had a US intelligence connection?

Is this what Hannity means by vilifying the CIA? "Vilify" is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as "To make vicious and defamatory statements about." If anything, statements by Hannity such as "Corn's ideological disdain for the CIA runs so deep that even the murder of three thousand Americans didn't persuade him of our need for a strong intelligence agency" sound more vilifying than Corn's "the operating assumptions at work deserve close assessment".

Bottom line again, most everyone wants strong intelligence and agree that 9/11 underscored that need. We all have the same goal, just different ideas of how to get there.

4.) Hannity says that "Corn has never been a fan of the CIA. In 1994 he wrote a book entitled Blond Ghost: Ted Shackley and the CIA's Crusades, which the New York Times described as 'a scorchingly critical account' of the career of a major agency figure."

In Corn's bio on The Nation's web site, the quote goes:

The Washington Monthly called Blond Ghost "an amazing compendium of CIA fact and lore." The Washington Post noted that this biography "deserves a space on that small shelf of worthwhile books about the agency." The New York Times termed it "a scorchingly critical account of an enigmatic figure who for two decades ran some of the agency's most important, and most controversial, covert operations."

Which "controversial, covert operations" did this "major agency figure" Ted Shackley run? In an article Corn wrote about Shackley for he said that:

In the 1950s, he served in Berlin, a center for espionage, running agents across the Iron Curtain. Agency efforts at that time were generally abysmal; most agents the CIA sent to spy on East European were captured or turned into double agents. In the early 1960s, he was in charge of the CIA's massive station in Miami, which failed to penetrate Fidel Castro?s government but conducted sabotage operations against Cuba and occasionally supported cockamamie assassination efforts (some using mob connections) against Castro.

Shackley went on to become chief of station in Laos and managed a secret war in which U.S.-encouraged tribal forces fought against the North Vietnamese. The tribes ended up decimated -- in part because Shackley and others pushed them to do what was best for the U.S. military not themselves. Then Shackley was chief of station in Vietnam, where the agency never succeeded in collecting much valuable intelligence on the Viet Cong and where it was involved in the controversial Phoenix program, a supposed intelligence-gathering operation in which U.S.-assisted South Vietnamese units sometimes assassinated rather than apprehended their targets.

After years in the field, Shackley rose through the ranks at headquarters, leading the Western Hemisphere division (and overseeing the CIA's operations in Chile to overthrow Salvador Allende, the democratically-elected president) and then heading the East Asia division, which miscalled the fall of Saigon. In 1976, when George Bush the elder was CIA director, Shackley was named the second in command of the CIA's clandestine service. And he was a contender for higher posts in the CIA -- perhaps the director's chair -- until his hard-to-explain relationship with Edwin Wilson, a CIA-operative-turned-rogue-arms dealer -- who illegally peddled weapons to Libyan dictator Moammar Qadaffi -- hit the headlines.

In the mid-1980s, Shackley played a cameo role in the Iran-contra affair. He engaged in back-channel talks with a disreputable Iranian wheeler-dealer who suggested U.S. hostages held in Iran might be released in return for cash or weapons. Shackley indirectly passed this information to a little-known White House aide named Oliver North.

Who were Corn's sources for this "scorchingly critical account"? According to Publishers Weekly, the book is "[b]ased on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and more than 100 interviews with former CIA officers". It is these same CIA officers that provided Corn with a glimpse into what the Washington Monthly called "an amazing compendium of CIA fact and lore". Back to the article:

When I was interviewing CIA veterans for my book, I asked them about Shackley's rise and the internal culture of the agency. Several said that what counted was not always results but whether it appeared that an officer was doing all he could. After all, the missions at hand were often nearly impossible. Penetrate the VC? Infiltrate Castro's circle or the Kremlin or the inner sanctum of Beijing? If no one could do that, Shackley could not be held accountable for falling short as well.

Accountability has not been a dominant value within the CIA over the years. That was evident in the case of Aldrich Ames, the CIA mole who left clues right and left that he was working for the Soviets yet escaped detection for years. It is somewhat understandable that members of a covert community tend to be protective of one another. But the absence of strict accountability in this ends-justifies-the-means bureaucracy is cause for concern. Especially now that intelligence agencies -- with their information -- gathering responsibilities -- are the first line of defense against Al Qaeda and Osama wannabes.

When the congressional intelligence committees released their final 9/11 report..., Senator Richard Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate panel, issued a dissent. It was more critical [my emphasis] than the majority report. He noted, for example, the CIA's "chronic failure, before 9/11, to share with other agencies the names of known Al Qaeda terrorists who it knew to be in the country allowed at least two such terrorists the opportunity to live, move and prepare for the attacks without hindrance.... Sadly, the CIA seems to have concluded that the maintenance of its information monopoly was more important than stopping terrorists."

But Shelby was angrier about the lack of accountability within the intelligence establishment. "It is disappointing to me," he wrote, that the majority report "has not seen fit to identify any of the individuals whose decisions left us so unprepared." He added, "Wise presidents dispose of their faltering generals under fire." Yet Bush has embraced Tenet and the CIA rather than hold anyone responsible for the pre-9/11 intelligence screw-ups -- and the intelligence committees, with the exception of Shelby, have not protested.

With remarks like "the CIA seems to have concluded that the maintenance of its information monopoly was more important than stopping terrorists", Shelby sounds more "scorchingly critical" of the CIA in general than Corn's account of one operative. And Shelby's a Republican. Furthermore, institutional issues like lack of accountability, as well as a resistance to sharing information with other agencies are not the product of underfunding and won't be fixed by a bigger budget.

4.) Corn warned against some people taking advantage of 9/11 to advance SDI:

Do not be surprised if the national security establishment even tries to accelerate its push for Star Wars II before the debris is cleared. The event tragically demonstrated the limits of a national missile defense system. (And consider how much worse the day would have been had the evildoers smuggled a pound of uranium onto any of the hijacked flights.) But the loudest theme in American politics--perhaps the only audible theme--in the time ahead will be the quest for security.

I did a quick search on Google and came up with lots of examples of just such a thing. One such article was by neo-con Kenneth Adelman and dated 10/24/2001. Adelman says that "President Bush, showing real leadership and foresight, preaches how missile defense is essential to winning America’s war against terrorism."

He goes on to say that:

[O]pponents of missile defense have been wrong in one sense, but they have been quite right in another. They were wrong that America's today foes couldn't match the degree of evil of Hitler, Stalin, or Mao Tse-Tung. September 11 showed what evil rogue leaders can do. Nonetheless, these critics were right to point out that our foes can use other terrorist methods - in this case, turning American airliners into guided missiles.

But next time it could be actual missiles falling on American or European cities. Imagine how much easier it would be for America's attackers to buy a long-range missile or two from North Korea or Iraq, arm it with nuclear or chemical weapons fire it at America`s still defenseless shores.

Why make it easy for America's enemies? Why not shield America and its allies from one of the easiest means of inflicting the greatest horror?

Is this really the best way "to bolster the military and intelligence establishment" to fight terrorism?

5.) Corn's last point was that since our leaders were urging us to show our resolve after 9/11 by continuing with our lives as normal (which he called a "nostrum"), then likewise, they need to try and go on governing without allowing 9/11 to affect debates on the issues of the day.

Unfortunately, that's not the way it works. Though we try to go back to normal, acts of extremism aren't easily put aside and "extremism begets extremism."

* * *

I recently sent an e-mail to David Corn and asked him to read today's excerpt from "Let Freedom Ring" and get his opinion. Here's the complete text of his response:

Mitch Krannert: I [read your article] and didn't see it as an attack on the CIA or intelligence at all. Rather, I saw it as a call for the country to carefully consider its response to 9/11 and not simply accept the assertions of the intel hawks.

David Corn: I think you have it right. I'd be happy if anyone who read that portion of Sean's book would read the original piece. To any sentient person, it would be obvious that I was not attacking the need for strong and effective intelligence. I was merely noting that the simplistic nostrums of the hawks deserved examination and scrutiny.."

* * *

That was the last of this section's examples of supposed liberal hostility towards the CIA. Next time, we'll wrap it up for this section with some conclusions.