Former CIA director Mike Hayden credits “an incredible band of sisters” for the success of the operation that found and brought down Osama bin Laden. Now one of those sisters has been appointed acting chief of the CIA’s National Clandestine service. It is a major milestone for women at the CIA, the first time in the agency’s history that a female officer has headed the clandestine service.
But The Post reports that CIA Director John Brennan is “hesitating” at giving her the position on a permanent basis, because of her past association with the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program.
This is an outrage. According to several former senior CIA officials I spoke with, the officer is highly respected and unquestionably qualified for this post. Denying her this promotion because of her role in the RDI program would not only be a personal injustice, but also send a chilling message through the ranks of the CIA. It would effectively tell hundreds of talented officers who were involved in the program — who constitute the best and brightest of the agency’s counterterrorism professionals — that their careers over. It would push the agency back into a risk-averse, pre-Sept. 11, 2001, mindset, sending an unmistakable signal to CIA officers across the world: Don’t take risks in the fight against the terrorists; if you want to advance, play it safe.
These intelligence officers have already been put through hell by the Obama administration. They have been accused of “torture” by their own president. They were investigated and cleared of criminal wrongdoing by career Justice Department prosecutors during the Bush administration, only to see Attorney General Eric Holder overrule those decisions and reopen the investigations. After enduring another three year ordeal, they were cleared a second time by the Obama Justice Department. Yet they continue to be persecuted for their service to our country.
The Post reported incorrectly that the officer in question “signed off on the 2005 decision to destroy videotapes of prisoners” undergoing enhanced interrogation. In fact, while she helped her then-boss, former clandestine service chief Jose Rodriguez, draft the cable ordering the tapes’ destruction, the decision was made by Rodriguez and Rodriguez alone. As he put it in his outstanding memoir, “Hard Measures,” “this had been such an ordeal that I wanted to personally handle what I thought was the end of a long bureaucratic nightmare.” Moreover, she was investigated not once but twice in the destruction of the tapes, and was cleared of any wrongdoing by both the Bush and Obama Justice Departments. Case closed.
Of all people, Brennan should be the last person holding up this officer’s appointment. When President Obama first took office, Brennan was passed over for the job of CIA director because of his past association with the interrogation program. He had been deputy executive director of the CIA when George Tenet established the program, and as head of the National Counterterrorism Center, he was one of the top consumers of the intelligence the program produced. For Brennan to deny this officer a deserved promotion for producing the intelligence he used — and continues to use today — would be a grave injustice.
Brennan understands the message that passing her over would send to the agency’s workforce. Already, some of the same civil liberties advocates who criticized the interrogation program are now gunning for the drone campaign that Brennan pioneered — demanding the release of legal memos justifying targeted killings, calling them illegal and immoral. The ACLU has sued to challenge what it calls “the unchecked authority to put the names of citizens and others on ‘kill lists’ on the basis of a secret determination, based on secret evidence.” The United Nations has appointed a “special rapporteur” to investigate the United States for alleged “war crimes” in the use of drones.
Should current CIA officers involved in the drone program that Obama uses to kill rather than interrogate terrorists refuse to participate because a future administration might decide it unwise or even illegal? How can Brennan ask intelligence officers to take risks and lean forward in the drone campaign today, if he fails to stand by a respected officer who took risks and leaned forward after Sept. 11, 2001?
If you want your people to run toward the sound of the guns, you can’t shoot them in the back when they do.