David Ignatius: CIA's Senior Apologist
by: Melvin A. Goodman | May 8, 2010
David Ignatius, The Washington Post's self-appointed apologist
for the Central Intelligence Agency, has struck again. Last
year, Ignatius argued that it was "just plain nuts"
to investigate the CIA's assassination program because "nobody
had been killed." He lambasted Attorney General Eric
Holder for considering the appointment of a prosecutor to
investigate possible CIA war crimes because these "unauthorized
practices" merely involved "kicks, threats and
other abuse." Now, Ignatius argues that CIA Director
Leon Panetta has left his "mark on the CIA," foolishly
crediting the director with stepping up aggressive operations
in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa and waging the
"most aggressive operation in the history of the agency"
against al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
The CIA and its National Clandestine Service (NCS) have
conducted a successful campaign against Panetta, who has
sustained the culture of cover-up that has governed the
agency since William Casey and Robert Gates collaborated
to hide the crimes of Iran-Contra. Panetta has lobbied the
administration to limit the investigation of possible crimes
that include torture and abuse as well as erroneous renditions.
He supported the heavy redaction of the Inspector General's
report of 2004, which is the most authoritative account
on record of the CIA's interrogation practices and the use
of torture and abuse against detainees.
Panetta has demonstrated no concern with the CIA's destruction
of nearly 100 interrogation videotapes, and he has made
sure that the Obama administration has not appointed a new
statutory Inspector General to replace John Helgerson, who
retired more than fifteen months ago. The senior members
of the NCS, who would be threatened by any independent investigation
of their actions, have convinced Panetta to leave vacant
the position of statutory IG for the first time in the more
than two decades since the law was passed to create the
Panetta has also blocked release of an investigation of
the cover-up of CIA's shoot-down of a missionary plane in
Peru in 2001 that led to the deaths of a missionary and
her seven-month-old daughter. An IG report from Helgerson
documented the CIA's failure to follow presidential orders
controlling the operation. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Michigan),
whose district is home to the family of the victims, is
the only congressman to express interest in this case, but
he has received no support from the leaders of the Congressional
intelligence committees. Panetta has used his Hill background
effectively to make sure that there are no embarrassing
Ignatius ignores the fact that Panetta's "mark"
on the CIA includes two major intelligence failures that
took place last December. There was the intelligence analysis
failure on Christmas Day, when the CIA and other intelligence
agencies missed reporting that could have prevented a Nigerian
suicide bomber from boarding a US commercial jetliner. Several
days later, a suicide bomber succeeded in killing six CIA
officers and contractors in an operation that totally ignored
clandestine tradecraft. Ignatius foolishly credits Panetta
with more aggressive techniques in the fight against al-Qaeda,
forgetting that policy is made elsewhere. The credit belongs
to the Obama administration, not to an intelligence agency.
Ignatius also foolishly credits Panetta with "choosing
his own deputy, Michael Morell," who "defies the
preppy, blue-blood CIA stereotype." Blue bloods left
the CIA several decades ago even before the Cold War ended.
Morell, in fact, is a CIA careerist, a protégé
of his predecessor, Steve Kappes, who was the ideological
driver of torture and abuse as well as extraordinary renditions.
Morell will allow the senior members of the NCS to continue
to run the CIA, and he will make sure that CIA remains without
a statutory IG.
Finally, Ignatius credits Panetta with a five-year plan
to create a more diverse workforce; to improve the study
of foreign languages, and to recruit more operational officers
with nonofficial cover. If Ignatius had done a little research,
he would have found that these boilerplate recommendations
were central to the five-year plans of Panetta's three predecessors
(George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden). The more
things change, the more they stay the same.
One change is likely to take place, however. Ignatius will
continue to be an apologist for the CIA, but he may no longer
be The Washington Post's leading apologist. With the hiring
of Marc Thiessen, a former speechwriter for the Bush administration,
the Post now employs the man who wrote speeches for both
President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney justifying
torture and abuse, secret prisons and renditions. He will
certainly try, but not even Ignatius will be able to top
the efforts of Thiessen.
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