Saturday, August 18, 2018

Father John

Photo by Pete Souza via BuzzFeed, May 2009.

Trump's unexpectedly succeeded at something really difficult: making John O. Brennan a truth-telling hero, which is giving something like whiplash to some of our friends, notably Zandar, who remember Brennan from back in 2008 as the person Obama was talked out of naming as CIA director because he had a record from the Bush administration as being not as opposed to torture as a decent person should be, and then wonder why Obama named him chief counterterrorism adviser (a job that doesn't require Senate confirmation) and eventually CIA director anyway.

I, in my usual Obot way, kept thinking there must be some reason Obama likes this guy so much, partly because he looks like a kindly old Irish priest, and ended up concluding just about four years ago that Brennan had been given a really bad rap, that the evidence calling him a torture supporter has been read wrong, and that Obama saw him, rightly, as the right person to fix the troubled CIA:
Here were Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane a little before the inauguration:
For two years on the presidential campaign trail, Barack Obama rallied crowds with strongly worded critiques of the Bush administration’s most controversial counterterrorism programs, from hiding terrorism suspects in secret Central Intelligence Agency jails to questioning them with methods he denounced as torture.
Now Mr. Obama must take charge of the C.I.A., in what is already proving to be one of the more treacherous patches of his transition to the White House.
But folks preferred to focus on Obama's people rather than his program, and his chosen vehicle for reforming the Agency, the unlovely figure of John O. Brennan, a 25-year veteran who had taken the revolving door out in 2005 and then gave PBS an interview in which he failed to use the word "torture" in (sort of) condemning it:
There was a real debate within the agency, including today, about what are the minimum standards that you want to stoop to and beyond where you're not going to go, because we don't want to stoop to using the same types of standards that terrorists use. We are in this business, whether it be intelligence or the government, to protect freedom, democracy and liberty, not to violate that.
When it comes to individuals who are determined to destroy our nation, though, we have to make sure that we take every possible measure. It's a tough ethical question, and it's a question that really needs to be aired more publicly. The issue of the reported domestic spying -- these are very healthy debates that need to take place. They can't be stifled....
Hopefully, that "dark side" is not going to be something that's going to forever tarnish the image of the United States abroad and that we're going to look back on this time and regret some of the things that we did, because it is not in keeping with our values.
The grammar of that last bit is pretty tortured, speaking of torture, but I think he meant that we would in fact regret, not that he hoped we wouldn't. That would be in keeping with his next big move, to join Obama as an advisor to the Democratic candidate who was touring the country denouncing Bush-administration counterterrorism abuses (and how many of the candidates were doing that? none of the ones named Hillary Clinton, anyhow); and with his subsequent (self-serving bureaucrat's) complaints, after he was forced to withdraw from contending for the DCI post, about how the Bush administration passed him over for promotion because of his excessively humanitarian views:
It has been immaterial to the critics that I have been a strong opponent of many of the policies of the Bush Administration, such as the preemptive war in Iraq and coercive interrogation tactics, to include waterboarding. The fact that I was not involved in the decisionmaking process for any of these controversial policies and actions has been ignored. Indeed, my criticism of these policies within government circles was the reason why I was twice considered for more senior-level positions in the current Administration, only to be rebuffed by the White House.
If he was really pro-torture, couldn't he have joined the McCain campaign instead? This is the voice of a man who is pissed off with Republicans and unwilling now, however he may have felt in 2003, to go along with them. Could there have been some quiet malevolent force confusing the perceptions of our outraged dudebros and Pumas?
One of the greatest mistakes of paranoids in our time is their utter failure to understand that government, and our government in particular, far from being an ineluctable monolith, is a battlefield in which countless bitter factions contend, some of them probably even in the public interest. There's war between the branches and within them; there's war inside the individual departments. When innocent immigrants go to prison while guilty bankers go free we have to remember that there are people with the power to make that happen whose names we don't even know, some of them burrowed-in holdovers from previous administrations; blaming them on Obama is really too simple. Though Obama, needing to preserve the illusion that he is in charge, will never say so.
And the CIA is a war zone virtually by definition, because of its crazy institutional structure in two opposed divisions, geeky Analysis, where Brennan spent his career, and reckless Ops, the home of Republican warriors like William Casey and George H.W. Bush. Analysis is often unpopular with Republican administrations, because it learns things that the president doesn't want to hear, from when DCI Bush didn't like their reporting on the Soviet Union during the Ford administration and set up a Team B to tell a better story for the arms manufacturers, to when Vice President Cheney hated their view on Saddam Hussein's imaginary weapons programs and set up Douglas Feith's Office of Special Plans to sex it up, as some said, or "create new realities", in the language of Karl Rove. It was a retired CIA analyst, Larry Johnson, who was among the first establishment people to protest against the OSP, in pretty strong language, as
dangerous for US national security and a threat to world peace. [The OSP] lied and manipulated intelligence to further its agenda of removing Saddam. It's a group of ideologues with pre-determined notions of truth and reality. They take bits of intelligence to support their agenda and ignore anything contrary. They should be eliminated.
Another thing to note there is the role of retirees like Johnson, who continue to be involved in the struggle, with more freedom to act in certain political or public venues, and providing a continuity over the very long term from World War II to the present (this is a big part of what I get from Mailer). Thus when the Operations side wanted to punish Jimmy Carter for DCI Stansfield Turner and his 1979 firing of over 800 Ops employees in an attempt to reform the Agency, it was OSS veterans Casey and the older Bush who (I believe) masterminded the October Surprise collaboration between the Iranian government and the Reagan campaign that (may have) assured Reagan's election.
And Brennan did something like justify my belief, not just being the one person in the White House to always back up Obama's reluctance to go to war in Syria but to never lose confidence in the plan to get Osama bin Laden, but especially never giving up plans on Agency reform, whether it was getting them out of the drone businessgetting rid of the the CIA's private-army military capacity altogether, eliminating the dreadful Ops vs. Analysis divide,  or just opposing the Stupid Shit Caucus.

I think he'll go down as the best CIA director we've had, or the only good one, though the Agency's constituency in Congress prevented him and Obama from accomplishing most of what they wanted to accomplish.

Emptywheel doesn't really agree with me that he's worth defending, so you should check out her view for a second opinion, but she's also very funny and astute on Senator Richard Burr defending Trump in the case:
Plus, as Brad Heath noted, Burr’s statement argues that Trump was right to strip Brennan’s clearance on July 26 because of statements Brennan made on August 16.
Damn time machines always letting our Republican legislators down!

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