Saturday, August 14, 2004

Lack of Anonymity

In late June, noted author Anonymous wrote Imperial Hubris: How the West is Losing the War on Terror. Anonymous is actually Michael Scheuer, an analyst (non-covert) who headed the CIA's counterterrorism task force against Osama bin Laden. Scheuer's identity is well-known to most of the press, but the Jack Shafer article linked in the title to this post asks why the NY Times and Washington Post have not outed him. After all, Shafer notes, Scheuer has repeatedly stated in interviews (i.e., through a screen like interviews with mobsters who were in witness protection) and through his publisher that he did not want his identity shielded and the press is supposed to try to FIND THINGS OUT.

For The Monk, however, there are two more pernicious aspects to the Scheuer story. First, as Shafer noted, the CIA could have stopped him from publishing his screed but did not:

Current and former CIA employees who write for publication (books, articles, novels, letters to the editor) must submit to the agency for pre-publication approval anything that might touch on agency business. (Diet and gardening books and the like are exempt.) John Hollister Hedley, who chaired the CIA's Publications Review Board for three years in the late '90s, writes in the CIA's Studies in Intelligence that tougher restrictions apply to current CIA employees than former ones. The PRB will block former employees from disclosing classified information that might damage national security, but as a matter of policy it doesn't throttle opinions that may cause the agency discomfort or embarrassment. A tougher three-part test exists for current employees. The agency can "deny permission to publish statements or opinions that could impair the author's performance of duties, interfere with the authorized functions of the Agency, or have an adverse impact on US foreign relations," Hedley writes.

Surely Scheuer's forceful opinions in Imperial Hubris trigger one or two of these three trip-wires, especially given the ease with [the Boston Phoenix's Jason] Vest uncovered his CIA identity.

The fact that the CIA would not halt publication of this type of anti-US policy commentary in the year of a presidential election, authored by an analyst who is supposed to synthesize the information that is so crucial to the policies he derides says a great deal about how the CIA is running an agenda separate from the President. Indeed, the fact that the CIA recently shut Scheuer up, as Shafer notes, is evidence that some high-ranking members of the CIA had a contrary agenda and the agency is trying to lie low during the confirmation of Porter Goss so that Goss has no more excuses to perform a huge housecleaning (which he currently may be unlikely to do).

Second, the book itself may well shed some insight into WHY the CIA has failed so miserably in counterterrorism -- the analysts view the Middle East through a faulty prism. Scheuer describes Osama Bin Laden, et al., as insurgents, not terrorists. He claims that draining the terrorist swamp in Iraq only makes for more terrorism, and said the liberation of Afghanistan was insufficient. He is also an anti-Semitic crank, disparaging the only democracy in the Middle East as this excerpt at shows:

[Publishers' Weekly review]: . . . The author makes some challenging remarks regarding Israel ("Surely there can be no other historical example of a faraway, theocracy-in-all-but-name of only six million people that ultimately controls the extent and even the occurrence of an important portion of political discourse and national security debate in a country of 270-plus million people that prides itself on religious toleration, separation of church and state, and freedom of speech") while playing down the extent to which the Taliban itself was a corrupt theocratic regime.

Basically, the Clinton and Bush Administrations were relying for their bin Laden information on the analysis of a unit headed by someone who sees no value in the only democracy in the Middle East (and instead likens it to the Taliban, much like any International ANSWER activist would), cannot identify an unquestionable terrorist as such, and gives credence to the anti-Israel and anti-western grievances of the Arab world by saying that the US should address them to take away the underlying reasons for Islamic anti-Americanism. The problems in the CIA therefore go far deeper than whether this man should have been allowed to publish his book whilst supposedly working on the same issues he discusses for the US's prime intelligence agency.

Hat-tip: Outside the Beltway for pointing The Monk to the Shafer piece.

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