By Walter Pincus
Monday, January 26, 2009
Take a close look at the statement for the record by retired Navy Adm. Dennis C. Blair, President Obama's nominee to be director of national intelligence, and you will get an unclassified glimpse at sophisticated activities whose roots go back to the Cold War.
On Thursday, Blair described techniques for "identifying opportunities" to policymakers as well as providing warnings about threats they must heed in six of the main global areas of concern. "Identifying these opportunities for American policy and statecraft is as important as predicting hostile threats," Blair said in his confirmation hearing before the Senate intelligence committee.
After World War II, as communist doctrine and party personnel made inroads in the governments of allied Western European nations such as France, Greece and Italy, U.S. intelligence elements found and funded politicians, parties, union leaders and intellectuals who saw and talked about the danger Moscow posed. Blair, in his statement, suggested when "traditional friends of the United States disagree with individual American policies on specific countries and issues" (read Iraq or Afghanistan), "the intelligence community can . . . identify the many government leaders and influential private leaders -- in Europe, in Asia and elsewhere -- who share American ambitions for the future and are willing to work together for the common good."
When it comes to today's greatest threat, Blair said the United States must "hunt down those terrorists who are seeking to do us harm." But he also said that the intelligence community must help identify and work with "Arab and Muslim leaders who are striving for a progressive and peaceful future for their religion and their countries." As during the Cold War, such activities must be clandestine so that they do not show the U.S. sponsorship that would undercut the very people and groups America is trying to help.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the CIA had clandestine programs that gave officers access to foreign institutions, including universities, unions and youth groups. The U.S. military for years has provided training at American military schools for up-and-coming officers of foreign armies. Such programs create relationships between American and foreign political leaders and military officers that can become useful when some of them rise to power in their own countries.
Blair also talked about using intelligence capabilities to find individuals to work with in China and Russia. While the United States continues to use traditional spying methods to find out military plans, strengths and weaknesses in those countries, Blair talked about searching for Chinese leaders "who believe that Asia is big enough for both of us."
He also spoke of getting policymakers to understand "the dynamics of European security issues including the actions of our allies and friends" when it comes to Moscow's "ambitions in what it calls its 'near abroad.' " That is code for how Russia feels and acts when it comes to Georgia and Ukraine.
While U.S. intelligence focuses on the need for worldwide surveillance of the longer-term threat from pandemic diseases, Blair said U.S. intelligence can identify governments and organizations willing to work "on behalf of our common interest."
Some programs that support exiled or opposition groups in Iran, for example, are already well known. Blair said there are "other leaders and political forces" there with whom "it is possible to work toward a future in both our interests."
There are no guarantees that opposition parties and potential leaders that the CIA and others in the U.S. intelligence community assist will turn out to be the right choices. The past is littered with people this country helped, by putting or keeping them in power, but who did not benefit their own country or the United States.
In Iran, for example, the CIA in 1953 helped orchestrate the overthrow of the then-popular prime minister, Mohammed Mossadeq. That solidified the rule of the ultimately unpopular ruler, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. That action has continued to cause resentment.
Iraq's Ahmed Chalabi is a more recent example. When it came to opposing then-President Saddam Hussein, the CIA, the State Department and the Bush Defense Department provided covert and then open support to Chalabi. He then lobbied Congress and Bush administration officials, becoming an influential public and private voice in support of the U.S. invasion to overthrow the dictator.
National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.