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Larry Johnson: House Intel Chief Misses the Boat

House Intel Chief Misses the Boat

By Larry C. Johnson
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Monday 10 July 2006

Today's news from Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane that the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Peter Hoekstra, sent a nasty-gram to the White House complaining of being kept in the dark on intelligence matters is significant, but misleading. It is significant because Hoekstra is staunch defender of the Bush administration and yet is now willing to insist that his committee must be briefed on intel operations. So far, so good. What the reporters missed is the underlying message in Hoekstra's letter - that the Bush administration is being too soft on the intel community, particularly the CIA, and that the CIA is a rogue political actor.

Marcy Wheeler, "Emptywheel," offers a good overview of Hoekstra's craziness on this issue. What caught my eye is Hoekstra's outrage over news that Steven Kappes, the former director of operations at the CIA who resigned because of a dispute with Porter Goss, was coming back to the agency as the deputy director. Once you understand how extreme and venomous Hoekstra's world view toward the CIA is, we can begin to understand why many intelligence officers, regardless of political persuasion, have lost confidence in Congressional oversight of the intelligence community.

For those not familiar with the details on the initial Kappes flap, here's the rundown.

Hoekstra's letter to Bush starts with the following complaint:

I understand that Mr. Kappes is a capable, well-qualified, and well-liked former Directorate of Operations (DO) case officer ... There has been much public and private speculation about the politicization of the Agency. I am convinced that this politicization was under way well before Porter Goss became the Director. In fact, I have been long concerned that a strong and well-positioned group within the Agency intentionally undermined the administration and its policies. This argument is supported by the Ambassador Wilson/Valerie Plame events, as well as by the string of unauthorized disclosures from an organization that prides itself with being able to keep secrets. I have come to the belief that, despite his service to the DO, Mr. Kappes may have been part of this group.

What was Kappes' sin? He stood up for his subordinates who were being bullied by political hacks that Porter Goss installed in management positions at the CIA. Goss wanted to appoint a former CIA officer, Michael Kostiw, as the executive director of the CIA. Kostiw had a secret, however - he left the CIA in the 1980s after being accused of shoplifting.

Goss's gang reacted by verbally attacking CIA officers and blaming them for the leak to the press that helped kill Kostiw's appointment. Those CIA officers pushed back. Goss intervened and insisted on reassigning those officers. Kappes stood firm and said no. As a result, Kappes and his deputy resigned.

Are you following this? Professional CIA officers had qualms about putting a guy accused of shoplifting in the number three position at the CIA. I guess in a Republican Congress it is a status symbol to have someone accused of criminal activity on your staff. The CIA, however, has a different standard. Some, like Kappes, had the crazy idea that leaders ought to set an example of honor and integrity.

Once you understand these details then you will realize that Peter Hoekstra's definition of politicization is a CIA officer who speaks out against corrupt cronyism. Hoekstra and the rest of the extreme right believe fervently that Kappes was part of an old guard committed first and foremost to protecting CIA's bureaucratic perks and undermining Bush's policies. Whenever the CIA dared to disagree with a pet Bush administration claim, such as the now-discredited reports that Iraq was trying to acquire uranium yellowcake from Niger, the right interpreted this as rank insubordination rather than sound advice. Intelligence officers like Kappes found themselves labeled as disloyal simply for trying to ensure that the president had the right information and the best people working for him.

In the 1980s, the CIA learned to accept Congressional oversight as a key part of the intelligence process. The CIA was not always enthusiastic about having to share info with House and Senate intel committees but came to accept this as the price of doing business. Now, under the disgraceful tenures of Pat Roberts, head of the Senate Intel Committee, and Peter Hoekstra, his House counterpart, the oversight process has been taken hostage by extreme Republican political operatives who are concerned first and foremost with protecting the Bush administration and covering up how the intelligence community was pressured to help cook the books to make the case for going to war in Iraq.

The Bush administration continues with its plan to convert the intelligence community into clerks with rubber stamps, eager to embrace right-wing fantasies. Fortunately, there are still professionals inside the CIA and other intelligence organizations resisting this madness. If they fail and Bush succeeds, our nation's very security is in jeopardy. With guys like Hoekstra continuing in power, the future is bleak.


Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and US State Department's Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC's Nightline, NBC's Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications, including Security Management Magazine, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and aviation security around the world.

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