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July 12, 2009

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It's especially hard to feel too sorry for CIA officials when we've just learned that they kept Leon Panetta in the dark about one of their programs until June 23.

I'm interested to see what this program turns out to have been. An assassination program seems the likely choice (didn't Seymour Hersh or someone already claim that Cheney had such a program), but I suppose it could have also been an extremely politically-sensitive form of information gathering.

Whatever it was, I'm not going to blindly accept their reassurances that it never got off the planning stages.

what's wrong with the idea to completely shut down the CIA? Totally and completely stop their disservice to America. That organization is clearly not worth the trouble they constantly pile upon America. Can we find a way to get Congress to stop funding it, turn off its lights, and send the CIA packing on a one way trip to the beaches of extinction?

The contractor said, "don't blame me, the CIA field officer guy told me it was okay." The CIA field officer guy said, "don't blame me, my boss at Langley told me it was okay." The boss at Langley said, "don't blame me, the White House told me it was okay." The White House said, "don't blame me, John Yoo told me it was okay."

Turns my stomach. And I left out a lot of others: doctors, psychiatrists, media, Gangs of Eight (who knew more than nothing), prison guards. Probably a lot more.

--------------
As for Cheney's (latest) secret shit. I would be surprised at nothing. A program to find Atlantis and set it up as a rendition site/vacation retreat--with dungeons, and hookers, and man-size crypts, and jugglers, and clowns...? Not too reckless and stupid for Cheney+Bush.

But I wouldn't rule out a good-ol' "destabilizaton" (like what we were up to in Iran, but bigger and more evil. Real men, and all. I guess plans to assassinate Iran's leaders would cover this. Sy Hersh probably has it right.

&y

Assassination sounds right because given everything that's already happened, there's not much left to be discovered. Also, assassination was made explicitly illegal in the 70s, hence would require the utmost secrecy.

It could concern assassination/abduction of French, British and other European citizens in their home countries, since US forces seem to have pretty much assumed that right already in African, Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries.

"what's wrong with the idea to completely shut down the CIA? "

I'd be happy with confining their scope to the collection of intelligence.

The people who had that clever idea should be fired, since they apparently do not believe in accountable government.

Our entire "intelligence community" (the term is itself an evil Reagan-era euphemism) doesn't believe in accountable government.

Got to agree with Hilzoy, and with Yglesias, who observes* that the idea that investigations into 'intelligence' abuses might derail Obama's agenda vis a vis the congressional GOP is a moot point (was always a moot point, I'm afraid).

*no link on purpose. sorry, but don't trust typepad. It's MY's lead post at the moment.

Jonnybutter, I'm more concerned about derailing by the media than by the congressional Republicans. The Very Serious People of the media will find any attempt to hold people from the previous administration accountable to be quite distressing. It's not bipartisan, and nonbipartisan things are only acceptable when Republicans are pushing them.

As long as there is suspicion that crimes may have been committed, the Dept of Justice is obligated to investigate. If President Obama wishes for the investigation to not occur, he can issue presidential pardons to those involved. However, he will then face significant backlash from those who are hungering for prosecutions and trials. Presidential pardon of Richard Nixon was one of the major factors in President Ford not winning reelection.

byrningman,

You may be remembering the FALSE story reported by dawn.com that supposedly had Hersh saying he had proof Cheney's "death squad" was behind the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Hersh denied the next day and dawn.com put up a correction.

I don't think so, I feel like I read Hersh or someone like him talking about the CIA reconstituting an assassination capability in the wake of 9/11, and in fact I feel like this has been mooted in several places by non-clueless journalists.

I've never heard of dawn.com, though, and I've never heard of any rumour about killing Benazir Bhutto, which seems silly anyway.

Yup, here's Hersh.

A blackmailing program would also be a possibility. That there was eavesdropping on at least one congressbeing is on the record, as is the GOP hacking Dem servers. And since I assume that there are few congressbeings/politicians in leading position having no skeletons in the closet and that that neither CIA nor Chainbush would have scruples to use such info, I'd consider this to be of high probability.
That does not exclude other sordid things of course.

Those of us of a certain age remember that we went through a version of this in the 70's

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_Committee

Which was supposed to straighten out the "intelligence community", which had grown full of arrogance and bullsh*t in the years since the end of WW2.

"Oh yessir, Congress, we'll be good, we really will, we promise, we do!"

Lasted roughly until Iran/contra, and the criminal Ollie North (a convicted felon, btw) and his attorney who wasn't a potted plant. [Look it up, it ws one of the highlights of those hearings.]

"And that's without even getting into all those covert actions that worked out so well, like toppling Mossadegh, or the exploding conch shells."

The responsibility for the former doesn't at all lie with the CIA; it lies with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who commanded it; the CIA and MI6 merely did what they were instructed to do; should they have rebelled against lawful orders from the President and Prime Minister.

Similarly, the assassination attempts on Castro were ordered by John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy; not by the CIA. Neither was assassination against U.S. law at the time. If Congress had wanted it to be, they could have passed a law saying so.

I'm all for castigating the CIA for violating laws when they do so, but neither of these cases is remotely an example of anything like that.

"An assassination program seems the likely choice (didn't Seymour Hersh or someone already claim that Cheney had such a program)"

I'd put a fairly strong bet that what's referred to there is SOCOM, not CIA; the former has far more experience with that sort of thing, and far more history of such tasking, contrary to popular myth.

One can make a firm argument that either the CIA should never have been legally allowed, by Congress and/or the President to engage in illegal activities, or one could pick activities in which the CIA actually violated the law (which are not small in number), but, again, the CIA almost always did so in accord with orders from high authority.

"or the exploding conch shells."

Really, Hilzoy, your own link points this out (incredibly well-documented fact):

Operation Freedom was another plot to kill Castro. President John F. Kennedy assigned the job to his brother Robert Kennedy. What followed were incredible and fantastic attempts, the kind we expect to see in James Bond movies.
Bobby Kennedy signed off on all this stuff.

"Also, assassination was made explicitly illegal in the 70s, hence would require the utmost secrecy."

No, it wasn't; this is another myth. It's merely an Executive Order issued by Gerald Ford, which any subsequent President could have modified at whim; Section 5;

[...] (g) Prohibition of Assassination. No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.
Note also the weasel word "political." Obviously killing of "terrorists" who don't hold political office aren't apt to be defined as "political assassination."

"Political assassination" has always, under U.S. presidential mandate since then, been specifically interpreted as the killing of a foreign elected official, or at least, in some cases, of a candidate for office. It has never been interpreted as killing anyone in any other category.

Such killings are apt to fall under the "Special activities" you'll find referred to in various places in Executive Order 11905.

I'm not defending this; I just want people to be clear about the facts of what they're discussing, rather than confused about history.

"I've never heard of dawn.com"

Dawn has been for umpty years the largest Pakistani English-language newspaper; it's as credible as any news source in Pakistan is going to be.

Which is to say that, like any news source anywhere, it can get major facts entirely wrong, particularly sensational ones. It's tabloidy at times, and offers good analysis at other times, and everything else in between.

"Yup, here's Hersh."

Setting aside that Hersh in speeches is a lot less responsible, or generally accurate, and is far more inclined to be sensation and far less reliable, than he is in his journalism, note what he's quoted as saying: "Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or to the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving,” Hersh said."

"[N]ot talking... to the CIA station chief...."

As I said, while it's not impossible for CIA assets or officers to be involved (for one thing, these days officers are tasked back and forth, and there's a fair amount of colloboration), Special Operations Command of the Department of Defense is, I strongly suspect, far more likely to be involved in any such killings.

Though there's nothing impossible about some being done by one, some by the other, and some colloboratively, to be sure.

"...and I've never heard of any rumour about killing Benazir Bhutto, which seems silly anyway."

I don't understand what you mean by this. She was killed, and there are about eight billion reasons attributed in Pakistan as to why, and by whom.

"...as is the GOP hacking Dem servers."

There wasn't any "hacking" that I recall. It simply was a case of the Democratic staffers being stupid enough to not password protect their computers under standard Windows computer sharing used on a general Congressional server/router. The GOP staffers simply read what was perfectly clearly available to anyone. This was completely unethical, but absolutely no "hacking" was involved in any sense "hacking" is used save by the completely ignorant. See here for some history.

Possibly you're thinking of some other case I'm unaware of?

More interesting is the history of Manuel Miranda. Guess what he's doing currently. Here is a lovely recent quote.

Those of us of a certain age remember that we went through a version of this in the 70's

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_Committee

I for one feel like there's a strong need for another Church Committee. The stuff that's been going on in America in the name of security, and is still going on, strikes me as far more important, and more deleterious to the country in the long term than any impact it might have on Obama's supposed agenda.

Moreover, the idea of prosecuting lower-level people while the people with real power get off scot-free sticks in my craw.

Though we may not like it, the fact is that there is a great deal of resistance, political resistance, to going after high-level officials from the previous administration.

But look at recent history - as more information has come out about the torture policies, the demands for more investigations and accountability have gotten louder. It's a virtuous circle.

Moreover, the idea of prosecuting lower-level people while the people with real power get off scot-free sticks in my craw.

If you want to give up the prosecution of low level offenders, that's fine, but you have to accept the fact that doing so makes it less likely that high level offenders will ever get prosecuted. The CIA is quite sensitive to being made to take the fall and it seems likely that they got their authorization to lock people in tiny boxes in writing. Prosecuting CIA officers will force all that evidence into the public eye and will give them incentive to testify against the higher ups.

Do you think it is improper for prosecutors to target low level criminals specifically to gain testimony that facilitates the conviction of mob bosses? If not, what is the principled basis for objecting to the conviction of people who lock prisoners in tiny boxes or leave them exposed to the elements to freeze to death?

"I for one feel like there's a strong need for another Church Committee."

I for one feel like almost everyone shouldn't remember the Church Committee and forget the Pike Committee, incidentally.

People always refer to Church, and almost never to Pike, although the Pike Committee's work was at least as important.

Also, I'd like to point out that in my discussion above of Gerald Ford's Executive Order 11905 banning "political assassination" that it was superseded by Ronald Reagan's EO 12333, which in turn was superseded by George W. Bush's EO 12370.

To get around the four link limit, the rest in the next comment.

Regarding this, Barton Gellman of the WaPo reported on page 1 of October 28, 2001 of the paper that:

Armed with new authority from President Bush for a global campaign against al Qaeda, the Central Intelligence Agency is contemplating clandestine missions expressly aimed at killing specified individuals for the first time since the assassination scandals and consequent legal restraints of the 1970s.

Drawing on two classified legal memoranda, one written for President Bill Clinton in 1998 [probably Presidential Decision Directive 62] and one since the attacks of Sept. 11, the Bush administration has concluded that executive orders banning assassination do not prevent the president from lawfully singling out a terrorist for death by covert action. The CIA is reluctant to accept a broad grant of authority to hunt and kill U.S. enemies at its discretion, knowledgeable sources said. But the agency is willing and believes itself able to take the lives of terrorists designated by the president.

Clinton authorized covert lethal force against al Qaeda beginning in 1998, and The Washington Post reported last Sunday that Bush has signed a more encompassing intelligence "finding" that calls for attacks on newly identified weaknesses in Osama bin Laden's communications, security apparatus and infrastructure.

Bush's directive broadens the class of potential targets beyond bin Laden and his immediate circle of operational planners, and also beyond the present boundaries of the fight in Afghanistan, officials said. But it also holds the potential to target violence more narrowly than its precedents of the past 25 years because previous findings did not permit explicit planning for the death of an individual.

Bush and his national security Cabinet have been plain about their intention to find and kill bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader the administration blames for the Sept. 11 attacks.

The public face of that campaign is a conventional war in Afghanistan using uniformed troops. Yet inside the CIA and elsewhere in government, according to sources, much of the debate turns on the scope of a targeted killing campaign. How wide should the government draw the circle around bin Laden? And in which countries -- among the 40 or so where al Qaeda is believed to operate -- may such efforts be attempted?

Though there are differences on those matters, some officials observed that the agency is surprisingly undivided in its willingness to undertake the mission.

"There's nothing involved in this operation that isn't being debated by somebody somewhere, but our responsibilities are pretty clear to those who have the top secret code-word clearance and the need to know," said a senior intelligence official.

There's more there, but it really shouldn't be news to anyone that we've been aiming drone missiles at individuals for a good many years now. Shooting them with guns, running them over with cars, and using other methods, isn't morally different, once you've decided it's okay to do this to "enemies."

Oh, and pre-emptively, let me stated again that the fact that I am describing this history does not mean I am advocating any part of it, nor cheerleading for it, etc. I mention this given that these sorts of misinterpretations of descriptions tend to happen a lot.

"Prosecuting CIA officers will force all that evidence into the public eye and will give them incentive to testify against the higher ups."

I'd like to believe it would work the way you suggest. I really truly do, pinky swear. I absolutely, and most emphatically, believe Yoo, Addington, Cheney, Bush, etc., should go to jail for what they've done regarding torture, etc.

But given that, as you say, "The CIA is quite sensitive to being made to take the fall and it seems likely that they got their authorization to lock people in tiny boxes in writing," I don't, as a matter of practicality, really see it as likely that a failed prosecution of lower level operatives -- not those who actually violated the guidelines they were given, but those who followed them, no matter that the violate the international Convention On Torture -- will lead to such prosecution of higher-ups. I don't really follow how that work. In fact, I suspect such attempts to prosecute lower level operatives might not even get to a trial phrase, given their ability to put legal authorizations into the record.

I tend to think -- and I certainly could be wrong about this, of course, as it's a matter of political judgment, not fact -- that the only really way to prosecute people at least at the level of Yoo, Bybee, Addington, etc., is to decide to do it, at least at the level of the Justice Department, by appointing dedicated prosecutors, as Holder is suggested to be strongly considering at least in the case of low-level operatives who clearly violated the law, and the proceeding from there.

I hope I'm wrong. But, then, Iran-Contra didn't exactly work out the way I'd have emphatically preferred, either.

(Bush should have been impeached and Reagan gone to jail, for violating the Boland amendment and Pell amendment as regards the contras, and for illegally selling arms to Iran: I'm quite sure that if Bill Clinton had been caught in massive illegal weapons sales of missiles, etc., to Iran, that he would have been impeached for that. But IOKIYAR who is a "traitor" as regards Iran.)

Incidentally, I doubt Von is reading this thread, and this is a digression back to our old debate about the wonderfulness of backing the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia, but once again I invite Von's attention to how these things blowback.

(I'd email von if I had an email address for him.)

I don't, as a matter of practicality, really see it as likely that a failed prosecution of lower level operatives will lead to such prosecution of higher-ups. I don't really follow how that work.

Regardless of how likely a prosecution of high level offenders is, the probability of successfully prosecuting such people goes up when you prosecute low level offenders. Now, you might think the probabilities are small either way, but I don't think you can realistically claim that prosecuting lower level offenders doesn't increase the probability of successfully prosecuting higher level offenders. Even if the lower level prosecutions fail, they still force you to get the higher level offender's orders and authorizations on the record. And they can create political momentum for higher level prosecutions: if the media cover testimony that the vice President watched live video feeds of people getting tortured, that can change the political environment regarding his prosecution.

In any event, prosecutions of lower level offenders don't have to be completely successful in order to do significant good. Prosecutors can hound defendants and make their lives miserable even if they don't have a solid case; who wants to spend years of their life under a pall and tens of thousands of dollars fighting the government in court even if they're eventually proved right? It seems much easier to plead down to a lower level charge with a slap on the wrist in exchange for testifying against one's superiors. Now, I'm not really thrilled about prosecutors abusing their power to make difficult cases stick, but we as a society have decided that's perfectly OK when it comes to all sorts of criminals, so I don't think we should give special treatment to CIA officers.

Even failed prosecutions can have a significant deterrent effect. Right now we live in a world where CIA officers apparently believe they can torture people if they have the right piece of paper. Presumably, they believe that they can rape and mutilate people if they get the right piece of paper. Regardless of what authority they have, I don't think they should believe they can do these things. If that means we have to ruin the lives of a few amoral monsters for a few years, then that's OK with me. It seems like that's the only way we'll ever get CIA officers who say no when asked to torture people. We owe it to our future victims.

I tend to think -- and I certainly could be wrong about this, of course, as it's a matter of political judgment, not fact -- that the only really way to prosecute people at least at the level of Yoo, Bybee, Addington, etc., is to decide to do it, at least at the level of the Justice Department, by appointing dedicated prosecutors, as Holder is suggested to be strongly considering at least in the case of low-level operatives who clearly violated the law, and the proceeding from there.

Prosecuting low level offenders doesn't impede this process at all. In fact, such prosecutions may be necessary to bring about the political and legal climate in which high level prosecutions can work.

I hope I'm wrong. But, then, Iran-Contra didn't exactly work out the way I'd have emphatically preferred, either.

There are many failed murder prosecutions. But no one thinks we should stop prosecuting murderers. I don't find arguments of the form "We can't do X because we tried X before once 20 years ago and it didn't work out so well" to be very persuasive. Do you?

"Presumably, they believe that they can rape and mutilate people if they get the right piece of paper."

I'm assuming you're not actually referring to "the CIA," but to the Clandestine Services. The overwhelming majority of CIA employees work for the the Directorate of Support, the he Directorate of Science & Technology, and the the Directorate of Intelligence, none of whom are apt to have even the faintest possibility of doing such things in the course of their jobs.

So far as I can tell from the historical record, only a minority of members of what's now known as the Clandestine Service (formerly the Directorate of Operations, to simplify), would possibly go along with what you suggest, as well. I mention this because I hate over-generalizations.

"There are many failed murder prosecutions. But no one thinks we should stop prosecuting murderers."

This misses my point entirely. Your argument that "Even if the lower level prosecutions fail, they still force you to get the higher level offender's orders and authorizations on the record. And they can create political momentum for higher level prosecutions: if the media cover testimony that the vice President watched live video feeds of people getting tortured, that can change the political environment regarding his prosecution" is much more convincing, although I'm by no means wholly convinced. But it's at least on point, and a fair argument.

But I never said anything remotely like, as the equivalent of your analogy to murderers would be and to paraphrase it, "we can never prosecute those responsible for torture or illegal or immoral covert activities, therefore we should never try."

My point was simply that successful prosecutions of lower level people tend to lead to them turning on their superiors, whereas failed prosecutions do not. That's all.

And I'd rather just straightforwardly go after those responsible for the policies. Although you characterize those responsible for carrying them out as "amoral monsters," and that's certainly arguable, I tend to think it's a vast over-generalization, and that there's never going to be a shortage of those willing to either obey orders, or bend orders, to do what they think, rightly or wrongly, is necessary to protect their country.

There are quite a few recorded cases of people who engaged in such interrogations coming to the conclusion that what they were doing is wrong, and quitting, and objecting, so suggesting that everyone involved was/is an "amoral monster" just doesn't seem factually supportable to me, and I don't think it actually helps very much in understanding how and why these things happen.

I've linked this story here before on ObWi, but I have no idea if you were around to read it at the time or not. If not, I highly recommend it to you and everyone. "Jeff" is exceptional, but I don't at all believe he, or Marc Garlasco, or Ian Fishback, are unique in their morality amongst those assigned to interrogation. I could dig up similar stories I've read on others, if I felt like bothering. These people are not all "amoral monsters."

I'm quite sure that a number of sadists were involved in many interrogations, particularly those who had no training in interrogation; so many armed forces personnel were assigned, without training, to interrogations in Iraq, and I assume in Afghanistan, that that's inevitable, and we have testimony to that effect.

But I don't expect that many of the actual trained interrogators of the CIA or other professional interrogators were motivated because of personal sadism, but because they felt they were serving a just cause, and that the lines that had been drawn did not, in general, go too far.

I think it's entirely fair to say that this was very poor judgment, but it's different from saying that all such people are "monsters."

" I don't find arguments of the form 'We can't do X because we tried X before once 20 years ago and it didn't work out so well' to be very persuasive. Do you?"

I didn't make any such argument whatever. I noted that Iran-Contra didn't work out for entirely different reasons than anything to do with any point about why engaging in prosecutions that will fail don't tend to lead to such people turning on their superiors. In the case of Iran-Contras, the prosecutions of mid-level characters were able to be successful, and in such cases did lead to prosecution of higher level prosecutions.

My point about Iran-Contra was simply what I said: that I hope I'm wrong, and that's an example of my hope working out to be wrong. That's all I wrote in that comment as regards Iran-Contra, and it's why it was a parenthetical comment. I didn't put it in as an entirely separate paragraph, and a parenthetical, because I had no point in doing so.

I'm quite sure that a number of sadists were involved in many interrogations, particularly those who had no training in interrogation; so many armed forces personnel were assigned, without training, to interrogations in Iraq, and I assume in Afghanistan, that that's inevitable, and we have testimony to that effect.

I don't really care whether people who torture are sadists or sincerely trying to serve their country. Either way, they've committed an enormous injustice. They should be prosecuted. The precise reason that they tortured doesn't seem relevant to the question of whether they should be prosecuted. It might be a relevant consideration during sentencing. Likewise, whether or not they belatedly realized that putting human beings in tiny boxes was morally wrong isn't relevant to the question of whether they should be prosecuted.

"I don't really care whether people who torture are sadists or sincerely trying to serve their country. Either way, they've committed an enormous injustice. They should be prosecuted. The precise reason that they tortured doesn't seem relevant to the question of whether they should be prosecuted."

And, again, I didn't make any such argument; the point I was making there was what I wrote: "I think it's entirely fair to say that this was very poor judgment, but it's different from saying that all such people are 'monsters.'"

Or that they're all "amoral monsters" simply because all CIA employees, no matter what their work is, are amoral monsters.

What relevance you imagine this has to the question of whether they should all be prosecuted, I don't know, unless Congress has passed a law against being an "amoral monster" that I've missed.

I realize that it's entirely possible that I'm unclear by doing things like separating different points into different paragraphs, and the like, or that I'm simply just being unclear in what I'm writing, and not noticing it.

I would like to emphasize, though, that this is a primary reason one structures paragraphs: to separate different points; it isn't just to randomly break up text for no reason at all.

Oh, yes, and all this stuff I've been going on about, as regards state sanctioned killing, assassinations, what the CIA's secret programs might be, etc.?

Current Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON -- A secret Central Intelligence Agency initiative terminated by Director Leon Panetta was an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives, according to former intelligence officials familiar with the matter.

[...]

According to current and former government officials, the agency spent money on planning and possibly some training. It was acting on a 2001 presidential legal pronouncement, known as a finding, which authorized the CIA to pursue such efforts. The initiative hadn't become fully operational at the time Mr. Panetta ended it.

In 2001, the CIA also examined the subject of targeted assassinations of al Qaeda leaders, according to three former intelligence officials. It appears that those discussions tapered off within six months. It isn't clear whether they were an early part of the CIA initiative that Mr. Panetta stopped.

[...]

The official noted that Congress had long been briefed on the finding, and that the CIA effort wasn't so much a program as "many ideas suggested over the course of years." It hadn't come close to fruition, he added.

Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said little had been spent on the efforts -- closer to $1 million than $50 million. "The idea for this kind of program was tossed around in fits and starts," he said.

Senior CIA leaders were briefed two or three times on the most recent iteration of the initiative, the last time in the spring of 2008. At that time, CIA brass said that the effort should be narrowed and that Congress should be briefed if the preparations reached a critical stage, a former senior intelligence official said.

Amid the high alert following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a small CIA unit examined the potential for targeted assassinations of al Qaeda operatives, according to the three former officials. The Ford administration had banned assassinations in the response to investigations into intelligence abuses in the 1970s. Some officials who advocated the approach were seeking to build teams of CIA and military Special Forces commandos to emulate what the Israelis did after the Munich Olympics terrorist attacks, said another former intelligence official.

"It was straight out of the movies," one of the former intelligence officials said. "It was like: Let's kill them all."

The former official said he had been told that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney didn't support such an operation. The effort appeared to die out after about six months, he said.

So the initial question, at least, seems to have been answered.

And, again, I didn't make any such argument; the point I was making there was what I wrote: "I think it's entirely fair to say that this was very poor judgment, but it's different from saying that all such people are 'monsters.'"

Which such people? I don't think that all CIA employees are amoral monsters but I think the ones that tortured people are. As you say, most CIA employees are office workers who had little to do with torture and thus would not be impacted by prosecuting torturers.

Or that they're all "amoral monsters" simply because all CIA employees, no matter what their work is, are amoral monsters.

I really don't understand why you're addressing a claim that I never made, namely the one that all CIA employees are amoral monsters. This is very strange. Perhaps you read too quickly.

You wrote: "Prosecuting CIA officers will force all that evidence into the public eye and will give them incentive to testify against the higher ups."

You wrote: "we as a society have decided that's perfectly OK when it comes to all sorts of criminals, so I don't think we should give special treatment to CIA officers."

You wrote: "Right now we live in a world where CIA officers apparently believe they can torture people if they have the right piece of paper. Presumably, they believe that they can rape and mutilate people if they get the right piece of paper. Regardless of what authority they have, I don't think they should believe they can do these things. If that means we have to ruin the lives of a few amoral monsters for a few years, then that's OK with me."

You simply referred to "CIA officers," i.e., all of them: repeatedly. Over and over and over again. Maybe you meant to qualify that, but you didn't, in fact, qualify your statements, in multiple such statements.

If you'd meant to qualify that you weren't referring to all CIA officers (and I'm perfectly willing to believe that that's not what you meant), it probably would have been helpful to have actually done qualified that you did not, in fact, mean "CIA officers," but a far narrower category of people, and saved us both a lot of unnecessary typing.

"Perhaps you read too quickly."

Or maybe not.

I also made a point about all CIA/military interrogators not being "amoral monsters," as well, incidentally.

If you'd meant to qualify that you weren't referring to all CIA officers (and I'm perfectly willing to believe that that's not what you meant), it probably would have been helpful to have actually done qualified that you did not, in fact, mean "CIA officers," but a far narrower category of people, and saved us both a lot of unnecessary typing.

Gary, this is more than a little absurd. I repeatedly qualified my statements as regarding CIA officers who were involved in torture and were putting people in tiny boxes. The fact that you ignored such qualifications does not mean they don't exist. I don't think a reasonable person reading my comments would adduce that I believe that all CIA employees should be prosecuted for engaging in torture. That reading is simply ridiculous.

I mean really: did you honestly believe that I was suggesting the US government should charge every single one of the tens of thousands of CIA employees and contractors with torture? Did you ever think that calls for prosecution are implicitly limited to those people have done something criminal?

Turbulence, getting back to your point that those committing torture should be punished, whether or not they thought they were doing so for 'good' reasons and with legal authority, I fully agree. After all, aren't we all supposed to know that following orders never absolves one from individual responsibility?

Yes, it's annoying if the higher-ups go unpunished, but equally we could say that if the message gets out that torturers will be punished, then it will be harder for the next round of higher-ups to find anybody to carry out their plans.

Also, I don't see why prosecuting the 'buttons' (been watching the Godfather again recently) excludes the possibility of prosecuting more senior people, and indeed it seems like the opposite is true.

A hypothetical marine shooting kids in an Iraqi village ought to be prosecuted, I don't see why some CIA (or whatever org) person torturing someone is any different.

This was completely unethical, but absolutely no "hacking" was involved in any sense "hacking" is used save by the completely ignorant. See here for some history.

a) I thought there was also some phishing/password-spying etc. involved.
b) The German legal definition of hacking seems to be a bit broader, covering more or less any unauthorized access to files on a computer (protected or not). Admittedly German lawmakers are pretty ignorant as far as modern technology is concerned.

Top political aides have expressed concern that such an investigation might spawn partisan debates that could overtake Obama's ambitious legislative agenda.

Oh no! Partisan debates??!?? My heavens, that just wouldnt do.

Good thing we never have those in Washington. If we avoid investigations, surely the Republicans in Congress will continue to work hand-in-hand with Democrats, as they have been.

"A hypothetical marine shooting kids in an Iraqi village ought to be prosecuted,"

No, a hypothetical Marine violating reasonable Rules of Engagement by shooting kids in an Iraqi8 village ought to be prosecuted. If a twelve-year-old is pointing an AK-47 at you and firing it at you, shooting him or her isn't criminal and shouldn't be.

"a) I thought there was also some phishing/password-spying etc. involved."

Not in the Miranda/congressional case, no. It was just a matter of clicking on the icons for the shared computers on the Windows network. So far as everything I've read has said, and as I've cited.

"covering more or less any unauthorized access to files on a computer (protected or not)"

It's not even clear that it was "unauthorized," as opposed to unethical. If someone sends you a memo that's supposed to go only to members of your party, it's unethical to read it, but it's difficult to say in what sense it would be "unauthorized," absent some, to use a once famous phrase, "controlling authority."

You can read a bunch of articles about it here, if you care.

I hold no brief for Miranda, who is scum, or the Republicans, but in this case their defense, aside from the ethics of it, but on the facts, appear to have been quite correct. Here:

[...] A technician hired by the new judiciary chairman, Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, apparently made a mistake that allowed anyone to access newly created accounts on a Judiciary Committee server shared by both parties -- even though the accounts were supposed to restrict access only to those with the right password.
Again:
[...] An unnamed Republican source tells Kane that the memos were available to "a handful or more" staffers from both parties via the "My Network Places" icon on their computers. (Most Windows users can easily access My Network Places by clicking "Start" or by locating the icon on their desktops.) Once entering the My Network Places area, users can root around all sorts of unrestricted files stored on their local network's computers. Try this at work! You'll be astonished at what you find.

If the Democrats' files weren't password-protected—and I've yet to see anybody report that they were—it's hard to imagine that the Republican clicking his way to them committed a computer crime. Naughty and unethical, maybe, and maybe deserving of a Senate sanction. But the criminal outrage of the century by political dirty tricksters engaging in surveillance, no.

So far as I can tell, these are the facts. They favor the Republicans, but life is like that sometimes. In the end, the inquiry petered out into nothingness, because there was nothing actually there beyond Republicans taking unethical advantage of a moronic mistake by Democratic staffers.

You raise an interesting question: can anyone name a single significant successful operation performed by the CIA since its creation?

You named a number of significant failures -- installing the Shah of Iran, the Bay of Pigs, the Iraq war, &c. I'd add toppling Allende to the list -- the man was legally elected, and hadn't done anything beyond nationalizing resources owned by some companies near and dear to America's heart.

So, have they done *anything* of ay significance successfully?

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Whatnot


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