Deep Thought

Would CIA have spent the last eight years lying to Congress to hide Dick Cheney’s torture chambers if Bill Clinton had not "looked forward" but instead pursued Iran-Contra fully?

  1. behindthefall says:

    Sorry I’m slow this AM … You write “Would Congress …” I was expecting “Would the CIA …”

  2. emptywheel says:

    Nope, I’m the slow one. Typo fixed, thanks.

    Jeebus. These typos are so much more devastating in posts of 30 words than in posts of 3000.

  3. FormerFed says:

    Good morning EW. Not sure the CIA would have changed their behavior – with leaders like Tenet and Goss the attitude of an agency can be bent in certain ways.

    Not to say that Iran-Contra shouldn’t have been pursued or that we ought not to have a complete housecleaning of the CIA in its current form. The Augean stables need a flushing out every few years.

    • emptywheel says:

      You’re probably right. And people like Jack Goldsmith actually believed we needed to go big this time around to compensate for conservatism imbued by Iran-COntra.

      So I guess they can come up with any excuse to break the law.

      • FormerFed says:

        It is my experience with the Intel crowd that if they can shove it behind the Green Door or into some super secret compartment, then they feel safer to do what they want to do.

        IMO, that is why they fight any type of oversight so vehemently – witness the latest effort to fight opening the kimono to more members of Congress.

        • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

          I always find your comments extraordinarily helpful, as I’m (obviously) one of the commenters without your in-depth institutional knowledge. It’s always very educational to read your insights.

          • Loo Hoo. says:

            I appreciate your comments.

            And I think the answer to EW’s deep thought quesition is NO. I’m looking forward to the potential fight between congress and Obama.

            • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

              Very kind of you, Loo Hoo. IIRC, you’ve been in education as a teacher?
              If so, I think that what FormerFed points to — in terms of the caliber of leadership, how they view their role, what/whom they are loyal to — is often overlooked but absolutely critical.

              For instance, you’ve probably seen the impact of a good principal on a school; or the despicable weight of a bad administrator. Same dynamic occurs with managers in divisions of companies; good people tend to gravitate to work for good people.

              I think that there’s a layer FormerFed points to that is really, absolutely critical but gets far too little discussion — well, except perhaps by Tom Peters and astute business consultants.

          • FormerFed says:

            My goodness – well thank you. I try to be factual, but that doesn’t mean I don’t go around the bend some time. Have a great day!

  4. behindthefall says:

    However, that typo contained a world of truth. The overarching impression that I got from the Iran-Contra hearings was that, in contrast to the Watergate hearings, Congress did not *want* toknow the truth. They, in effect *did* lie to themselves.

    (Another poisonous side-effect of Reagan’s pushing American exceptionalism, among other things.)

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      The only thing that I dimly remember, and I’m not sure where I heard it, was that at some point someone wrote a book — I think that it was Gary Sick? — that stated that someone within the Reagan-Bush campaign paid off the Iranians to keep the hostages until after the 1980 election.

      I figured that if the rot went that deep, America was basically done for.
      And I missed the I-C hearings, and also anything about BCCI, which would probably have been a critical piece to help understand the shape of this subversive beast.

      FWIW, it’s my hunch that 80% of the economic problems in the US could be addressed if we actually dug into the amount of money laundering, offshoring, and banking corruption (including CDOs and CDS’s). Because it sure looks as if part of that pattern of easy-to-siphon-easy-to-hide money must have been set up to enable the kinds of black ops that we still don’t know about.

      The financial fraud and corrupt financial system (including Wall Street and insurance derivatives) seem like they must surely be one side of the coin; the other being intel.

      Congress can try to avoid investigations, but if they do then I figure the US is toast.
      The financial necessity may make the investigations inevitable.
      At that level, it’s not at all about partisanship, but it is about economic survival IMVHO.

      • NCDem says:

        I think there is more to our current financial problems than just what we have seen thus far in the news. I keep going back to the article by Dawn Kopecki when she was at BusinessWeek.…..3_2210.htm

        When the president of the US cedes authority to the head of Intelligence the right to propagate financial crimes and then ask SEC or FBI to stop investigations of said crimes, you then no longer have a democracy.

        • klynn says:

          When the president of the US cedes authority to the head of Intelligence the right to propagate financial crimes and then ask SEC or FBI to stop investigations of said crimes, you then no longer have a democracy.

          Excellent, excellent point.

  5. Xenos says:

    Here is another deep thought: If Bill Clinton had “pursued Iran-Contra fully” would he have made it to his second term with a rogue intelligence agency sytematically trying to bring him down? Maybe nothing as dramatic as a coup, but the CIA/DOD/Wall Street/Big Oil complex could have coordinated in such a way as to make governing impossible.

  6. behindthefall says:

    They all, even the Dems, cut themselves off at the legs, IMO, when they ditched that magnificent lawyer who was getting Ollie North to spill his guts. As soon as that started to happen one afternoon, the next day, as I recall, the lawyer was canned, and nothing further was accomplished.

    Watergate scared D.C. so badly that I really can’t recall a serious investigation since then.

  7. SmileySam says:

    I have been making comments along the same lines as this post for years, but I believe we could of, should of punished Nixon and Agnew more. If we had it is possible, but not probable, that we could of stopped Iran Contra. So many of the Neocons date back to the Nixon era that if we had come down on them harder they might never of found another job in Washington, ever.

  8. WilliamOckham says:

    This is an important point. It is instructive to compare the FBI with the CIA in this regard. Even with all the obvious differences (law enforcement vs. covert ops, part of DOJ vs. own agency, etc.), the FBI was much more restrained by the threat of accountability than the CIA. The FBI wasn’t a group of angels in this whole mess (there’s a whole list of FBI wrongdoing that I am sure Mary will be along to list for me), but the agency didn’t have near the hubris that the CIA displayed.

    The main reason is that the FBI has been held to account in the past for some serious wrongdoing and never got the free pass that the CIA got in Iran-Contra. Iran-Contra undid all the good of the Church and Pike committees.

    • Mary says:

      LOL – I won’t, at least not a list. I can just see you thinking, “good lord, as soon as I say something not rabid about an institution, she’ll pop up and pontificate about how bad they were too.”

      I do think you see a big part of the institutional difference in a story Mayer relates from Cloonan. Cloonan is questioning al-Libi (I know, there are too many *al-libi*s but the one who suicided in Libya after having given the CIA what Cheney wanted via live burial and Egyptian torture).

      Whatever the motive, several days into what the FBI regarded as winning al-Libi’s trust, a young Arabic speaking CIA officer named “Albert,” who had previously worked for Cloonan at the FBI as a junior language specialist, burst into the room where Fincher was questioning al-Libi and started shouting at the prisoner “You’re going to Egypt!” he yelled. “And while you’re there, I’m going to find your mother, and fuck her!”

      Seems like, institutionally, Albert found his niche.

      • WilliamOckham says:

        Oh no, I was just thinking that you keep up that stuff much better than I do. I was really about to write NSLs, the guy who supposedly had a radio in his hotel room on 9/11 (see you probably remember his name and I’d have google it), ….

        • Mary says:


          I’m usually really really bad at names (I remember cases by “the guy who did this and this happened and they said that — instead of X v. Y) and I’m exactly what you’d expect from a Kentucky girl on names that aren’t Johnson and Hatfield, but Higazy is definitely one that sticks with me.

  9. Leen says:

    Is it the CIA directly or those “enhanced interrogator contractors” that no one seems to be talking about out loud?

    From the bit I’ve read about Tenet he sounds fairly pissed off about being hung out to dry

  10. alabama says:

    I don’t think so. Good work was done, but 43 undid it right away.

    These people from the Ivy League–Bush, Clinton, Bush Obama–just hate democracy through and through. They hate it in their bones. And whether or not they happen to occupy elective office, they run the show.

    It’s a stupid, ugly show–an unnecessary show. But it’s theirs and they love it.

    • emptywheel says:

      I hope that rule doesn’t extend to those of us who attended “Little Three” schools (though I gotta say, Amherst has had more than its share of spooks-in-chief).

      • alabama says:

        I think it happens wherever people prefer the wrong idea about “election,” which is just about everywhere (one of my favorite sites on the subject is called “yaleslavery” )….

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Maybe they ran the show in the 80s and 90s, but I suspect that I could make a reasonable case that today some kid with lip piercings and tattoos, who reads tons of sci-fi and plays in a band, and who has a lot of coding ability, could give them a run for their money. Those kinds of ‘kids’ don’t have much respect for Ivy League credentials or fat portfolios (which, IMVHO, is refreshing).

      But the finest that I’ve been fortunate to meet do care about truth; anyone who lies to those brainy, non-traditional innovators is stupider than mud. And anyone who screws them out of money is unbelievably stupid.

  11. foothillsmike says:

    I loved John Stewart’s piece last week about the CIA trying to hire former wall streeters and banksters. Why, he asked, would any body want to hire someone who ruined the banks and the economy, causing massive unemployement Oh wait.

  12. al75 says:

    Iran-Contra was the template for Iraq, agreed – even many of the same players, Elliot Abrams et. al. Dusty Foggo got started in Honduras running guns (and possibly whores) for contras and visiting GOP congressmen.

    HW Bush was deeply involved in IC behind the scenes. Gene Hasslfuss (sp?) a shot-down contra supply pilot, had HWB’s chief of staff’s phone # in his wallet when he was captured. Dan Rather tried to confront GHWB about this, and was shouted down – behavior at the time hailed by the MSM as “presidential” on Bush41’s part.

    But is Clinton the one to blame? Bush41 pardoned SecDef Weinberger, and the Dem Senate investigation, the “Liman Commission” was a tepid effort that immunized Ollie North for minimal testimony – which North later used to overturn his own conviction in criminal court.

    In other words, it seems to me that the rot went very deep on both sides of the aisle. BCCI was happening around the same time. God knows what secret deals were made, what dirty chits were called in by Bush41 and his cronies.

    Yes, Big Bill rolled in the shit, but the cesspool is the environment he inherited, and the one he had to operate in.

    • Leen says:

      Always appreciated John Dean’s perspective on how to take some of these rats slipping in and out of one administration after another committing crimes and operating outside of congressional oversight
      Refocusing the Impeachment Movement on Administration Officials Below the President and Vice-President:
      Why Not Have A Realistic Debate, with Charges that Could Actually Result in Convictions?
      By JOHN W. DEAN

      John Dean’s latest on the torture issue
      Expert Advice On Dealing With A Prior Administration’s Use of Torture

      “Still, we must all hope that the Obama Administration makes more than a non-decision type of decision, and does not merely resolve the matter by silence and inaction. There are, in fact, precedents, and studies, that illuminate the grave problems confronting a democracy in making a choice when faced with the options of prosecuting and punishing versus forgiving and forgetting. I discovered this material some years ago when studying authoritarian governance.”

      ### John Dean”non decision type of decision” really like that line

  13. Leen says:

    From John Dean’s article having to do with torture

    “The Case for Prosecuting and Punishing the Use of Torture

    Based on Huntington’s analysis, which is applicable to our country as well as to a newly-established democracy, there are a number of arguments for holding a prior administration accountable for torture through prosecutions and punishments:

    (1) “Truth and justice require it.” The Obama Administration “has the moral duty to punish vicious crimes against humanity.

    (2) “Prosecution is a moral obligation owed to the victims and their families.”

    (3) “Democracy is based on law, and the point must be made that neither high officials nor [the] military … are above the law.” Citing a judge who was critical of a government amnesty proposal, Huntington added: “Democracy isn’t just freedom of opinion, the right to hold elections, and so forth. It’s the rule of law. Without equal application of the law, democracy is dead. The government is acting like a husband whose wife is cheating on him. He knows it, everybody knows it, but he goes on insisting that everything is fine and praying every day that he isn’t going to be forced to confront the truth, because then he’d have to do something about it.”

    (4) “Prosecution is necessary to deter further violations of human rights by [future] officials.”

    (5) “Prosecution is essential to establish the viability of the democratic system.” If the Republicans and Bush/Cheney apologists can prevent prosecution though political influence, democracy does not really exist.

    (6) Even if the worst “crimes are not prosecuted, at a very minimum it is necessary to bring into the open the extent of the crimes and the identity of those responsible and thus establish a full and unchallengeable public record. The principle of accountability is essential to democracy, and accountability requires ‘exposing the truth’ and insisting ‘that people not be scarified for the greater good…’.”


    Seems like John Dean may need to change this line in this section of his article

    The Case for Forgiving and Forgetting the Use of Torture
    “(3) Because many Democrats were aware of the use of torture by the Bush/Cheney Administration — specifically, Congressional Democrats who were briefed on its use — it would be unfair to prosecute Republicans but not Democrats.”

  14. WTFOver says:

    Was The CIA Hiding Cheney’s “Executive Assassination Ring”?…..28864.html

    The revelation from seven Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee that they were misled about a critical CIA program has sparked a debate that touches on the most sensitive areas of national security policy. What program, exactly, was being kept secret?

    No one is answering the question, citing the sensitivities that come when discussing classified intelligence matters. But in various conversations with sources on and off the Hill, two general theories have emerged. The first is that the CIA was keeping quiet about the use of waterboarding on terrorist suspects. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said she was misled by the intelligence agency on that very subject. It’s also the story told to the Huffington Post by a source with knowledge of the letter the seven House Democrats penned to CIA chief Leon Panetta, in which they complained about being misled.

    But the dates don’t line up. In their letter, the lawmakers note that members of Congress were “misled” for “a number of years, from 2001 to this week.” Pelosi, however, contended that the CIA lied to her about the use of harsh interrogation techniques during the fall of 2002.

    And in a conversation with the Huffington Post, Rep. Anna Eshoo, (D-Calif.), one of the letter’s signatories, said that Panetta “stopped the program the day after he was informed.” Waterboarding was ended as a practice during the Bush years.

    So what are the “significant actions” that these seven lawmakers insist were kept from Congress? Another theory being bandied about concerns an “executive assassination ring” that was allegedly set up and answered to former Vice President Dick Cheney. The New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh, building off earlier reporting from the New York Times, dropped news of the possibility that such a ring existed in a March 2009 discussion sponsored by the University of Minnesota.

    “It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently,” Hersh said. “They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. …

    “Congress has no oversight of it,” he added. “It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.”

    Asked if this was the basis of her letter to Panetta, Eshoo said she could not discuss what was a “highly classified program.” She did, however, note that when Panetta told House Intelligence Committee members what it was that had been kept secret, “the whole committee was stunned, even Republicans.”

    • Leen says:

      Remember what Seymour Hersh was inferring way back when

      At the end of one answer by Hersh about how these things tend to happen, Jacobs asked: “And do they continue to happen to this day?”

      Replied Hersh:

      “Yuh. After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. That does happen.

      “Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command — JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. …

      “Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

      “Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.

      “It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.

      “In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.

      “I’ve had people say to me — five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’

      “But they’re not gonna get before a committee.”

      Hersh, the best-known investigative reporter of his generation, writes about these kinds of issues for The New Yorker. He has written often about JSOC, including, last July that:…..ation_ring

  15. WTFOver says:

    Watch Who You’re Calling a Liar

    Leon Panetta orders internal probe of secret spy program after some members of Congress say CIA misled them

    CIA director Leon Panetta has ordered an internal inquiry into the agency’s handling of a contentious and still highly-classified intelligence program that has caused a heated dispute between the CIA and Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. The move by Panetta appears to be an implicit acknowledgement by the agency that it should have disclosed information about the post-9/11 secret program to Congress much earlier than it did.

    CIA and congressional officials have refused to describe the nature of the covert program, but insisted it is not connected to the CIA’s use of controversial “enhanced” interrogation techniques.

  16. kgb999 says:

    See, I went the other direction with this. I wonder to what extent Clinton’s expansion of the Regan covert rendition program inspired the Bush administration’s thought on how to handle difficult detainees and their interrogation.

    “…The first time I proposed a snatch, in 1993, the White House Counsel, Lloyd Cutler, demanded a meeting with the President to explain how it violated international law. Clinton had seemed to be siding with Cutler until Al Gore belatedly joined the meeting, having just flown overnight from South Africa. Clinton recapped the arguments on both sides for Gore: “Lloyd says this. Dick says that. Gore laughed and said, ‘That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.’”

    -Richard Clark

    Extra-legal snatches were formally institutionalized in a 1995 executive order, with the CIA making clear it had the resources to track, capture, and transport terrorist suspects globally — including access to a small fleet of aircraft. You think it was a failure to pursue Iran-Contra that led to the Bush detainee program? It seems to me Clinton had the ball all teed up, Bush just had to whack it. He simply cut out the middle man.

  17. fatster says:


    House overwhelmingly rejects signing statement
    “We do this not just on behalf of this institution, but on behalf of this democracy,” said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.). “There’s kind of a unilateralism, an undemocratic, unreachable way about these signing statements.”…..07-09.html

  18. WTFOver says:

    CIA, Secrecy, Lies, Pelosi, and Politics…..d-Politics

    This is one of the more convoluted stories of the week. Intelligence Appropriations is up this week, and in Republicans want to use the opportunity to further their “Pelosi lied” storyline (they only think illegal torture’s a problem if a Democrat who wasn’t responsible for ordering it might have known about it).

    This has the hallmarks of becoming a rather major scandal for the CIA. It’s a bad time for the administration to be arguing for more secrecy in intelligence matters.

  19. 4jkb4ia says:

    Re Ivy League contempt for democracy,
    Ginsburg –a graduate of Harvard Law and a former faculty member of Columbia Law.
    Brennan — a graduate of Harvard Law
    Dawn Johnsen–both Yale College and Yale Law School

  20. orionATL says:

    it’s very simple;

    if a democratic president won’t fight, or fight back, he/she won’t gain ground.

    nor will you gain respect.

    nor will you attract adherents.

    and nothing is so obvious as the fact that national democratic politicians simply will not fight – they won’t fight back, won’t fight for principle, they won’t fight at all.

    i’m not sure why this is the case, but i am sure this astonishing democratic behavior underlies the national “sense” of the democratic leaders as weak flakes.

    on a related topic, when was the last time you heard a national democrat espouse a “populist”, i.e., anti-establishment, viewpoint?

    rush limbaugh and the republican commercial provocateurs own “populism”.

    why should they?

    they should not.

    but then, look at the number of “bought” democratic senators.

    a “bought” senator is not going to be a populist.

    • Leen says:

      if Obama and Holder keep avoiding the underlying current of lies, torture, unnecessary wars, outing undercover agents etc etc. There is no way to move forward without accountability. That is unless they are satisfied with a nation of zombies heading for a cliff

  21. orionATL says:

    [email protected]

    i have begun wondering, how is it that all the caring political action, all the progressive legislation, all the oversight,

    is being initiated in the house.

    the united states senate? the worlds most important deliberative body?

    is beginning to smell like a dead body.

    the senate democrats, and the senate in toto, leave the impression they could give a rat’s ass about national needs, bill of rights abuses, national health care.

    it really is time to “clean house” of democrats in the senate. if republican win those seats so be it.

    there are way too many old, bought, tired, unconcerned-with-the-nation’s-wellbeing democrats.

    in terms of just running the government, check the last june “federal times” for a chart showing the number of appropriations bills reported out of committee and voted on by the house.

    then look at the u.s, senate’s record of (in)action.

    the senate ain’t bein’ run well.