Ex-officers say war on terror tactics hurt CIA
They call for code of conduct to restore agency's credibility


By TOD ROBBERSON / The Dallas Morning News
01:20 AM CDT on Saturday, June 2, 2007

A week after 9/11, Vice President Dick Cheney warned that for America to defend itself from future attacks, it would need to work "the dark side" and get involved in a "mean, nasty, dangerous, dirty business."

But as tales from the dark side continue to emerge concerning CIA kidnappings and harsh interrogation methods, former U.S. intelligence leaders are asking whether America should begin imposing standards of morality for agents to follow.

Two former senior CIA officers raised the question separately in recent speeches in Dallas, saying the agency's credibility has been compromised by the political slanting of intelligence and the treatment of prisoners in legally and morally dubious ways.

"Intelligence is vital in the war on terror," said James Olson, the CIA officer in residence at Texas A&M's Bush School of Government and Public Service. But, he asked an audience at the World Affairs Council of Dallas-Fort Worth, "How far are you willing to have us go? ... To what extent are you prepared to redefine or to stretch the moral limits? Are you prepared to fight this war dirty?"

The answers to "these difficult questions will go a long way toward defining who we are as a people, what kind of country we are, and also how we're perceived around the world. We need to get it right," Mr. Olson said.

Congress is raising some of the same questions. A funding bill approved last week by the Senate Intelligence Committee would boost the budgets for U.S. spy agencies but called for a review of the CIA's detention and interrogation program for terrorism suspects. The committee acknowledged that the program had produced valuable information but questioned whether it was the "best means" to obtain "full and reliable intelligence" and expressed concern about damage to the country's reputation.

Even though America's enemies might not honor international human rights conventions, Mr. Olson questioned whether the United States should stoop to their level.

"It's very tempting for us to say, 'We'll fight back the same way,' " he said. "If we fight with no rules, at what point do we betray the values that we are fighting so hard to uphold? At what point do we become them?"

Attorney General Al Gonzales has condemned torture and abuse by U.S. intelligence personnel as unacceptable but also has argued that nonstate entities, such as al-Qaeda, do not necessarily fall under all the human rights protections of the Geneva Conventions. In testimony on Capitol Hill, he has described various interrogation techniques, such as the simulated drowning known as "waterboarding," as acceptable "stress and duress" tactics necessary to obtain intelligence and prevent potential terrorist attacks.

Internal dissent
Increasingly, those charged with conducting interrogations and obtaining raw intelligence from captured terrorism suspects are challenging the techniques and procedures they are told to employ.

A Navy lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. Matt Diaz, was convicted May 17 for revealing the names of 500 prisoners held incommunicado at the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility. The Bush administration argued that the prisoners' names needed to be kept secret to protect intelligence methods and sources, but Cmdr. Diaz argued that the secret detentions were unconstitutional and violated international law.

Tony Lagouranis, a former interrogator with a military intelligence battalion at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, so strongly objected to the methods he and his colleagues used to get information that he decided to expose them in a new book, Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey Through Iraq.

"Leaving Iraq, I couldn't get over the feeling that I had accomplished almost nothing; I had not helped advance our goal of rebuilding the country and, in fact, I had done horrible things that probably turned Iraqis against us," he wrote.

Ray McGovern, an ex-CIA senior analyst who presented the daily intelligence briefing for President Bush's father, former President George Bush, told the Dallas Democratic Forum that the agency was designed to provide the government with politically unvarnished information about significant developments abroad.

By putting intelligence above political agendas, he said, the president was assured of getting the most accurate picture possible as he made crucial decisions. "Think of what an asset, what an indispensable tool, that is for any president making sensible decisions," he said.

But since the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, Mr. McGovern said, political motives have encroached on the CIA's mission, rendering its product questionable. "This president has frittered that [asset] away," he said.

The White House on Friday disputed the assertion that intelligence was politicized, citing congressional and bipartisan independent committees that found no evidence of political pressure to influence prewar assessments of Iraq's weapons programs.

Lack of guidelines
Mr. Olson, who described himself as being "all for taking a hard line and taking the gloves off," nevertheless said the lack of clearly defined moral limits might actually hamper U.S. intelligence-gatherers, rather than help them, because they are left constantly in doubt about the legality of their actions.

"All too often, our intelligence personnel out there fighting terrorists are left with ambiguity, uncertainty and even potential criminal liability," Mr. Olson said.

"Almost without exception, my colleagues are all taking out personal liability insurance to protect themselves from prosecution for things they are doing in the line of duty. ... That's an awful way to fight the war on terror," he said.

"Since there's not enough clarity on what the moral limits are, the result is that our people are hanging too far back. They're becoming risk averse," Mr. Olson said.

Although he and Mr. McGovern hold sharply differing political views about the war on terrorism, they agree that Congress needs to take a more active oversight role and establish a clear set of moral guideposts for the intelligence community to follow.

Mr. Olson recently published a book, Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying, which poses various scenarios in which intelligence agents are faced with morally or ethically questionable decisions, such as whether to use blackmail or torture to obtain information.

Mr. McGovern said in an interview that establishing moral limits to techniques used by the intelligence community would also improve the reliability of the information obtained. A confession or other information gained through torture is far less reliable, he said, because "you can get people to say anything you want" by methodically inflicting severe pain.

He added that agents involved in covert action need to be brought under a tighter framework of supervision to ensure they are abiding by the law. "You have this very perceptible loosening of the things that make us different as a country: the rule of law," Mr. McGovern said.

A clearer code of morality would help agents and their managers know when to stand up and say no to illegal orders, the former intelligence officials said.

"Nobody has the guts to do that anymore," Mr. McGovern said. "You get these guys in who salute the president instead of remembering that they are sworn to protect the Constitution – not the president."