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Barack Obama's presidency

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Old Hands Picked for CIA Oversight

By Melvin A. Goodman
September 11, 2009

Editor’s Note: Congressional Republicans and the Obama administration continue to turn to supposedly trustworthy “old hands” for jobs with the power to pry loose embarrassing CIA secrets or impose stronger oversight on the spy agency.

In this guest essay, former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman examines two recent appointments that fit this troubling mold:

The appointment of former Central Intelligence Agency director Michael Hayden to the Public Interest Declassification Board(PIDB) and former Sen. Warren Rudman to the CIA’s External Advisory Board (EAB) will ensure less openness in the intelligence community and more obduracy in the CIA.

The late Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan created the PIDB in the 1990s to reduce the “torment of secrecy,” which denied important information on national security to the American people. The EAB was designed to deal with the complexities of managing the CIA and to improve the access of intelligence information to the Congress and the American people.

Hayden and Rudman have a Cold War preoccupation with secrecy and have never been known for improving access. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, is responsible for the Hayden appointment; CIA Director Leon Panetta appointed Rudman, a New Hampshire Republican.

As Steven Aftergood, editor of Secrecy News, noted, Hayden is “not well known as a classification critic or a proponent of declassification.” As director of the National Security Agency (NSA), Hayden instituted the warrantless eavesdropping program that violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution that prohibits unlawful seizures and searches.

In defending warrantless eavesdropping during a talk at the National Press Club in January 2006, Hayden argued that the Fourth Amendment did not stipulate the necessity of “probable cause” for a search warrant, which of course the amendment does.

Hayden also conceded that he relied on advice for the surveillance program from White House lawyers and never considered consulting the legal staff of NSA.

Soon after arriving at the CIA as director, Hayden began an unprecedented investigation of the Office of the Inspector General, which had been critical of the CIA’s renditions and interrogations programs. Hayden even targeted the statutory inspector general of the CIA, John Helgerson, who had recommended the creation of “accountability boards” for CIA officers, including former Director George Tenet, who were involved in 9/11 intelligence failures.

The failure of the chairmen of the congressional oversight committees to come to Helgerson’s defense made it extremely difficult for the IG to do his job and he announced his retirement seven months ago.

The White House and the CIA have still not named a replacement for Helgerson, which is particularly damaging in view of the high-level investigations of CIA detentions and interrogations programs as well as the numerous secret prisons or “black sites” established after 9/11, inquires that would benefit from an aggressive Office of the Inspector General.

In addition to naming Rudman to the EAB, Panetta has made the former senator the director’s special advisor on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s (SSCI) special inquiry of past practices in detentions and interrogations.

Panetta has his own review group within the CIA on these practices, but has prominently placed current members of the National Clandestine Service (NCS) in the group. The Rudman appointment and the use of NCS officers do not augur well for genuine openness with the Senate inquiry. The NCS has been a major player in the culture of cover-up at the CIA, including the destruction of the 92 torture tapes that has been investigated by the FBI for nearly two years.

By placing Rudman as an intermediary between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA’s review group, Panetta has ensured himself that the most damaging information on detentions and interrogations will never see the light of day. Rudman was the most active member of the Senate Intelligence Committee in trying to block CIA officials from testifying against the nomination of Robert Gates as CIA director in 1991.

Rudman actually branded those few individuals willing to come forward as “McCarthyites” in an effort to marginalize their testimony and to make sure additional witnesses would not testify or submit written affidavits against Bob Gates. There is ample evidence, moreover, of Rudman’s strong, even bellicose, partisan politicking over the years.

One of the greatest unknown scandals within the intelligence community is the over-classification of government documents in order to keep important information out of the hands of the American people. It costs billions of dollars for government and industry to classify documents, with several million individuals in the government and private industry having the right to classify information.

Government vaults hold over 1.5 billion pages of classified information that are more than twenty-five years old and, thus, unavailable to scholars and researchers, let along the general public. Documents are typically classified to hide embarrassing political information, not secrets.

Greater respect for openness might have prevented the policies that led to the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, the CIA’s network of secret prisons, and the CIA’s detentions and interrogations programs.

Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, spent 42 years with the CIA, the National War College, and the U.S. Army. His latest book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. [This story originally appeared at The Public Record.]

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