President Barack Obama has approved creation of a new, special terrorism-era interrogation unit to be supervised by the White House, a top aide said Monday [August 24], further distancing his administration from President George W. Bush's detainee policies.Three primary thoughts come to me about this:
. . .
The unit would be led by an FBI official, with a deputy director from somewhere in the government's vast intelligence apparatus, and members from across agencies. It will be directly supervised by the White House, but the senior administration officials insisted the unit's agency bosses will make operational decisions, not the White House. [emphasis added]
Obama spokesman announces interrogation unit, August 24, 2009
- First, the statement that "the unit's agency bosses will make operational decisions, not the White House" is simply not believable. Or, more accurately, one could say it will be true as long as the unit's bosses make their decisions the way the White House people tell them to.
- Second, this effectively takes the CIA out of foreign intelligence collection, their primary charter since 1947. Charles Krauthammer is right:
And lastly, and most importantly, the interrogation of high-level enemy terrorists has been removed from the CIA. It's now in the hands of the FBI and White House.
Now, what's left? Signal intelligence is not CIA, it's NSA. Human intelligence — any important intelligence — is not CIA anymore. It's in the FBI and the White House.
So it is Central Intelligence, but it doesn't gather intelligence. All that's left is analyzing intelligence. Well, you don't need $30 billion a year for analysis. You can hire the RAND corporation who will do it at 1/100th of the cost and save billions of dollars that you could waste on the Cash for Clunkers and purchase every secondhand car in America.
This is a real institutional problem...The Obama administration has relegated the CIA to the role it had pre-9/11. And we know what that resulted in.
- Third, and to my mind most important, this move ignores (and probably violates) the law. Statutes give responsibility and authority for foreign intelligence operations to the CIA, and give responsibility and authority for domestic intelligence operations to the FBI. By law the CIA is allowed no domestic role, and the FBI is allowed no foreign role in intelligence.
Meanwhile, consider President Obama's choice to run the CIA, Leon Panetta. He is consistently being countermanded, denigrated, ignored, and now cut out of the process by which the decisions affecting his agency are being made. Worse yet, in the view of Obama's inner circle, he has dared to stand up to them and defend his agency including, reportedly, in an angry shouting match in the White House. And for that impertinence, apparently, he has had his primary mission involuntarily amputated.
To his credit, Panetta has not backed down. Instead, he finalized a decision on Thursday, August 27, that the CIA will pay the legal costs of employees caught up in the investigations announced August 24 by Attorney General Eric Holder. (One factor in that decision may be that Holder apparently intends a broader investigation than he has yet admitted. That same news article notes that "Unnamed Federal officials also said that they expect the inquiry, which will be conducted by veteran Federal prosecutor John H. Durham, to involve many more individuals than the small group of intelligence officers and contractors implicated in the CIA Inspector General report that prompted Holder to order the inquiry." [emphasis added])
To summarize: The transfer of foreign intelligence responsibility and authority to the FBI is improper and probably illegal. And the reasons behind this action appear to be unrelated to the excuse being used.