Steven Kappes Leaves the Agency, Again

Here’s one of the more curious details about yesterday’s surprise news that Steven Kappes was leaving the CIA.

Best as I can tell, the White House has not yet issued a statement about his retirement (at least not via the White House press list). Not even in a week when one of the key issues for which Kappes gets some credit, the elimination of loose nukes (in Kappes case, in connection with Libya), was much in the news. Obviously, Obama doesn’t have to nominate Kappes’ replacement and get it approved by the Senate, but wouldn’t you think the White House would have had a “thank you for all your service” comment prepared?

House Intelligence Committee Chair Silvestre Reyes’ statement mentioned Kappes’ departure, but not until he spent two paragraphs lauding Kappes’ replacement, first.

I want to extend my congratulations to Mike Morell for his selection to serve as the next Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.  I have had the pleasure of knowing Mike and, for the past nine years I have worked with him on a broad range of subjects. He is an exemplary CIA officer.Throughout his 30-year career with the agency, Mike has served with distinction. Whether serving at the Director’s right hand, leading the agency’s team of analysts, or serving as the principal briefer to the President, Mike’s diligence and commitment to duty, and to his country, will serve him well as he assumes his new role.

I know the agency appreciates the job Steve Kappes has done for the nation during his tenure. I will miss Steve’s insight and candor, and I wish him all the best as he moves on to his post-agency career.

CIA Director Leon Panetta’s statement does take the traditional form–lauding the retiring officer first, before announcing his replacement. Read more

Steven Kappes and Ibn Sheikh al-Libi

Jeff Stein has a long profile of Steven Kappes in the Washingtonian that challenges Kappes’ reputation for competence. For example, he points out how Kappes tried to get Jeff Castelli–the guy in charge of the notoriously incompetent Abu Omar rendition–placed in charge of CIA’s NY office. And he describes how Kappes helped the officer in charge of the Salt Pit prison avoid accountability for killing Gul Rahman.

But I’m particularly interested in two details, and the implications of them. Stein reminds us that, during the Obama transition period, Kappes tried to retain CIA’s ability to torture.

When Obama’s intelligence transition team had visited Langley, it had gotten a pitch from Kappes and other CIA officials to “retain the option of reestablishing secret prisons and using aggressive interrogation methods,” according to an anecdote buried in a Washington Post story.

“It was one of the most deeply disturbing experiences I have had,” David Boren, the moderate Oklahoma Democrat and former Senate Intelligence committee chair who led the transition team, told the Post.

Now couple that with Stein’s description of the earliest negotiations between Libya and the US.

In March 2003, leader Muammar Qaddafi signaled that he was ready to jump-start his on-again, off-again campaign to end his long diplomatic and commercial isolation, get off Washington’s list of terrorist states, and get back into the oil business with the West. Two years earlier, he’d dispatched one of his top operatives, Michigan State–educated Mousa Kousa, to a clandestine meeting in London with top CIA and British intelligence officials. Kousa carried with him the names of some of Osama bin Laden’s closest associates, including Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, a Libyan who would soon be the first major catch in the CIA’s pursuit of al-Qaeda. But with Qaddafi dragging his feet on final payouts over Libya’s 1988 downing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, negotiations stalled. [my emphasis]

Stein’s revelation that Qaddafi tried to get back in the good graces of the US by providing information on bin Laden’s associates is news to me. But I’m particularly intrigued that Kousa claimed that Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was one of “Osama bin Laden’s closest associates.”

He wasn’t (though he was “close” to al Qaeda).

Read more