Commentary Magazine


Topic: Porter

Shot Trying to Escape?

It is one of the memorable lines in Casablanca (which has many of them): “We haven’t quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.” But the remark has a grim reality to it in the actual North Africa of 2010.

When last we heard of the tragedy in the Western Sahara, the former police chief of the Polisario Front, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had managed to leave the refugee camps, spoke out against the Polisario Front and embraced an autonomy plan put forth by Morocco, which would put an end to the humanitarian crisis and the virtual imprisonment of Sahrawis in squalid refugee camps. Sidi Mouloud, who was kidnapped as a child from Morocco by the Soviet-style “liberation” group, had feared for his life once he broke with the Polisario Front. Sure enough, he was snatched up by the Polisario Front henchmen, an act that elicited calls of outrage from humanitarian groups. Now we hear:

Sahrawi activist Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was shot while trying to flee physical and mental torture at his place of detention for over five weeks by the Polisario militia and the Algerian authorities, a statement by the Action Committee for the Release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said on Saturday.

The Committee says that the activist’s family received information stating that Mustapha Salma got shot by one of the guards and he is now sustaining injury in his leg.

The Polisario Front has denied the shooting. But Sidi Mouloud’s father and other family members insist that their contacts in the camps are telling them that he was indeed shot. There is an obvious solution: produce and release Sidi Mouloud. One group has already condemned the shooting:

“This detention and subsequent shooting are the actions of a dictatorial guerrilla group trying to control the thoughts, beliefs, desires, and wishes of the people it holds hostage in camps,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.

We await demands for his release from other groups, such as Human Rights Watch (which, as of the time of this writing, has not responded to my request for comment), the UN, and the U.S. government (which supported the autonomy plan, but — as with so much else — has not followed through with meaningful action to end the human rights crisis or to confront Algeria or the Polisario Front, which are blocking a resolution of the dispute over the Western Sahara). At some point, you wonder when European elites and the Polisario Front’s left-leaning sympathizers will recognize who the human rights abusers are in this equation.

It is one of the memorable lines in Casablanca (which has many of them): “We haven’t quite decided yet whether he committed suicide or died trying to escape.” But the remark has a grim reality to it in the actual North Africa of 2010.

When last we heard of the tragedy in the Western Sahara, the former police chief of the Polisario Front, Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, who had managed to leave the refugee camps, spoke out against the Polisario Front and embraced an autonomy plan put forth by Morocco, which would put an end to the humanitarian crisis and the virtual imprisonment of Sahrawis in squalid refugee camps. Sidi Mouloud, who was kidnapped as a child from Morocco by the Soviet-style “liberation” group, had feared for his life once he broke with the Polisario Front. Sure enough, he was snatched up by the Polisario Front henchmen, an act that elicited calls of outrage from humanitarian groups. Now we hear:

Sahrawi activist Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was shot while trying to flee physical and mental torture at his place of detention for over five weeks by the Polisario militia and the Algerian authorities, a statement by the Action Committee for the Release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud said on Saturday.

The Committee says that the activist’s family received information stating that Mustapha Salma got shot by one of the guards and he is now sustaining injury in his leg.

The Polisario Front has denied the shooting. But Sidi Mouloud’s father and other family members insist that their contacts in the camps are telling them that he was indeed shot. There is an obvious solution: produce and release Sidi Mouloud. One group has already condemned the shooting:

“This detention and subsequent shooting are the actions of a dictatorial guerrilla group trying to control the thoughts, beliefs, desires, and wishes of the people it holds hostage in camps,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights.

We await demands for his release from other groups, such as Human Rights Watch (which, as of the time of this writing, has not responded to my request for comment), the UN, and the U.S. government (which supported the autonomy plan, but — as with so much else — has not followed through with meaningful action to end the human rights crisis or to confront Algeria or the Polisario Front, which are blocking a resolution of the dispute over the Western Sahara). At some point, you wonder when European elites and the Polisario Front’s left-leaning sympathizers will recognize who the human rights abusers are in this equation.

Read Less

Where Is the International Community When You Need It?

When we had last left the story of the ongoing tragedy in Western Sahara, the chief of police of the Polisario Front (the “liberation group” that has blocked a plan for autonomy put forth by Morocco and continues to warehouse Sahrawis in dismal conditions) had denounced his own rebel movement and championed the Moroccan autonomy plan, despite fears he would be arrested. He fled to Mauritania and was planning on rejoining his family in the Tindouf camps and continuing his advocacy. But the Polisario Front would have none of it:

Polisario top security official Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was arrested on Tuesday evening by the militia of the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front upon his arrival in the border post leading to the Tindouf camps, coming from the Mauritanian territory, international media reported.

Polisario militiamen, who were on board of two vehicles, arrested Ould Sidi Mouloud, in the region of Mhiriz, before taking him to unknown destination, according to Al Arabiya sources.

So much for freedom of travel. So much for freedom of speech. Earlier in the day, Sidi Mouloud, we are told, “urged the United Nations and all international human rights organizations to support him to preserve his right of free speech and his physical integrity.” Not quickly enough, it turns out.

And where is the “international community”? Humanitarian groups have called on the UN to take action. For example:

The Leadership Council for Human Rights this morning called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to seek the release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the 42 year old police inspector of the Polisario.

Sidi Mouloud was arrested yesterday by Algerian and Polisario authorities after speaking out in favor of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Western Sahara.

“Not only is Sidi Mouloud’s arrest illegal — all he did was speak his mind; I don’t remember freedom of speech having been removed from the list of fundamental rights — it raises concerns for his overall safety,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights. “The last senior figure to come out in support of the Autonomy Plan, Mahfoud Ali Beiba, had a sudden and unexpected heart attack immediately after his announcement.”

We should not get our hopes up that the UN will spring him. But this does raise once again a fundamental question. Morocco has presented an autonomy plan to the UN, which the Obama administration supports, but the UN has done nothing while Algeria and its pets in the Polisario Front maintain their grip on the throats of the Sahrawis and commit violations of human rights. Why doesn’t the UN agree to the plan and then use its persuasive powers (we keep hearing they have some) to implement it? Oh, is the UN Human Rights Council too busy bashing Israel?

The Obami have great faith in the efficacy of multi-lateral institutions. Perhaps it’s time to put that faith to the test and challenge the UN to end the suffering and the abuse of fundamental rights in Western Sahara.

When we had last left the story of the ongoing tragedy in Western Sahara, the chief of police of the Polisario Front (the “liberation group” that has blocked a plan for autonomy put forth by Morocco and continues to warehouse Sahrawis in dismal conditions) had denounced his own rebel movement and championed the Moroccan autonomy plan, despite fears he would be arrested. He fled to Mauritania and was planning on rejoining his family in the Tindouf camps and continuing his advocacy. But the Polisario Front would have none of it:

Polisario top security official Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud was arrested on Tuesday evening by the militia of the Western Sahara’s Polisario Front upon his arrival in the border post leading to the Tindouf camps, coming from the Mauritanian territory, international media reported.

Polisario militiamen, who were on board of two vehicles, arrested Ould Sidi Mouloud, in the region of Mhiriz, before taking him to unknown destination, according to Al Arabiya sources.

So much for freedom of travel. So much for freedom of speech. Earlier in the day, Sidi Mouloud, we are told, “urged the United Nations and all international human rights organizations to support him to preserve his right of free speech and his physical integrity.” Not quickly enough, it turns out.

And where is the “international community”? Humanitarian groups have called on the UN to take action. For example:

The Leadership Council for Human Rights this morning called on the International Committee of the Red Cross to seek the release of Mustapha Salma Ould Sidi Mouloud, the 42 year old police inspector of the Polisario.

Sidi Mouloud was arrested yesterday by Algerian and Polisario authorities after speaking out in favor of the Moroccan Autonomy Plan for the Western Sahara.

“Not only is Sidi Mouloud’s arrest illegal — all he did was speak his mind; I don’t remember freedom of speech having been removed from the list of fundamental rights — it raises concerns for his overall safety,” stated Kathryn Cameron Porter, Founder and President of the Leadership Council for Human Rights. “The last senior figure to come out in support of the Autonomy Plan, Mahfoud Ali Beiba, had a sudden and unexpected heart attack immediately after his announcement.”

We should not get our hopes up that the UN will spring him. But this does raise once again a fundamental question. Morocco has presented an autonomy plan to the UN, which the Obama administration supports, but the UN has done nothing while Algeria and its pets in the Polisario Front maintain their grip on the throats of the Sahrawis and commit violations of human rights. Why doesn’t the UN agree to the plan and then use its persuasive powers (we keep hearing they have some) to implement it? Oh, is the UN Human Rights Council too busy bashing Israel?

The Obami have great faith in the efficacy of multi-lateral institutions. Perhaps it’s time to put that faith to the test and challenge the UN to end the suffering and the abuse of fundamental rights in Western Sahara.

Read Less

Is President Bush the Real Author of the Iran NIE?

I recently had a chance to sit down over coffee with Donald Rumsfeld, now in private life, to discuss intelligence issues and some other related subjects. In the course of our conversation (as I recalled this morning on the anniversary of December 7, 1941), Rumsfeld brought up the subject of Roberta Wohlstetter’s magisterial book, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. He especially pointed me to the book’s introduction by Thomas Schelling, which opens up a short and very brilliant discussion of the nature of surprise, a copy of which Rumsfeld had on hand to give me.  

“Surprise, when it happens to a government,” wrote Schelling,

is likely to be a complicated, diffuse, bureaucratic thing. It includes neglect of responsibility, but also responsibility so poorly defined or so ambiguously delegated that, like a string of pearls too precious to wear, is too sensitive to give to those who need it. It includes the alarm that fails to work, but also the unalert watchman, but also the one who knows he’ll be chewed out by his superior if he gets higher authority out of bed. It includes the contingencies that occur to no one, but also those that everyone assumes somebody else is taking care of. It includes straightforward procrastination, but also decisions protracted by internal disagreement. It includes, in addition, the inability of individual human beings to rise to the occasion until they are sure it is the occasion — which is usually too late. (Unlike movies, real life provides no musical background to tip us off to the climax.) Finally, as at Pearl Harbor, surprise may include some measure of genuine novelty introduced by the enemy, and possibly some sheer bad luck.

This text, and presumably the attack on Pearl Harbor itself — Rumsfeld was nine years old when it occurred — seems to have had a profound influence on the former Secretary of Defense. When he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearings on the still-innocent date of January 11, 2001, he was asked a simple but highly pertinent question by Senator Pat Roberts: “What’s the one big thing that keeps you up at night?”

“Intelligence,” is what Rumsfeld replied without missing a beat. And the “importance of considerably improving our intelligence capabilities so that we know more about what people think and how they behave.”

Alas, improving our intelligence capabilities is one thing President Bush has conspicuously failed to do. Our country fell victim to a first intelligence failure on his watch on September 11, 2001, in an attack on our homeland that in both casualties and costs was more devastating than the Japanese surprise attack of 1941. Our country was then led into a war in part on the basis of an erroneous intelligence estimate about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Since September 11 we have poured immense resources into improving intelligence and embarked on numerous reforms, including both a 100-day and a 500-day plan to “integrate” the intelligence community’s diverse components. But as we see from the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about Iran — shoddily argued on its face, with the facts it puts forward directly contradicting its own starkly stated finding that the Iranian nuclear-weapons program came to a halt in 2003 — the fundamental problem of our intelligence community remains intractably in place. Some very low-quality people, who have few inhibitions about smuggling their politics into intelligence findings, continue to occupy positions of high responsibility in the bureaucracy.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs? We can blame some of this on Bush’s first CIA director, George Tenet. And we can also point a finger at Tenet’s successor, the far less canny but equally hapless Porter Goss, who was forced out of the job within half a year. And we can question many of the decisions taken by John Negroponte and Mike McConnell, the two directors, successively, of the new post of Director of National Intelligence.

But who appointed all these people? Who kept the Clinton holdover George Tenet in office after September 11 and then, even after the Iraq-WMD “slam-dunk” fiasco, awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor? Who appointed Porter Goss to run the CIA and failed to back him up when he tried to clean house? Who acquiesced in the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is emerging as a clumsy and duplicative bureaucratic behemoth, far more focused on drawing and redrawing the organizational charts of the intelligence community than on getting the intelligence itself straight, as the latest NIE demonstrates?

Looking back over the past seven years, I believe it is increasingly apparent that President Bush’s failure to reform the intelligence community — to manage even to gain control of it — is emerging as the largest blot on his presidency. Accused of politicizing the intelligence community, the President has manifestly failed to depoliticize it, with ramifications now spreading across the globe, including the prospect of Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapons while the U.S. turns a blind eye. 

“Neglect of responsibility,” wrote Schelling, is one of the factors that lead governments to be taken by surprise. Such neglect already cost us dearly on September 11, 2001. We are now fully into the age of weapons of mass destruction, and it may cost us far more the next time around.

I recently had a chance to sit down over coffee with Donald Rumsfeld, now in private life, to discuss intelligence issues and some other related subjects. In the course of our conversation (as I recalled this morning on the anniversary of December 7, 1941), Rumsfeld brought up the subject of Roberta Wohlstetter’s magisterial book, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision. He especially pointed me to the book’s introduction by Thomas Schelling, which opens up a short and very brilliant discussion of the nature of surprise, a copy of which Rumsfeld had on hand to give me.  

“Surprise, when it happens to a government,” wrote Schelling,

is likely to be a complicated, diffuse, bureaucratic thing. It includes neglect of responsibility, but also responsibility so poorly defined or so ambiguously delegated that, like a string of pearls too precious to wear, is too sensitive to give to those who need it. It includes the alarm that fails to work, but also the unalert watchman, but also the one who knows he’ll be chewed out by his superior if he gets higher authority out of bed. It includes the contingencies that occur to no one, but also those that everyone assumes somebody else is taking care of. It includes straightforward procrastination, but also decisions protracted by internal disagreement. It includes, in addition, the inability of individual human beings to rise to the occasion until they are sure it is the occasion — which is usually too late. (Unlike movies, real life provides no musical background to tip us off to the climax.) Finally, as at Pearl Harbor, surprise may include some measure of genuine novelty introduced by the enemy, and possibly some sheer bad luck.

This text, and presumably the attack on Pearl Harbor itself — Rumsfeld was nine years old when it occurred — seems to have had a profound influence on the former Secretary of Defense. When he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearings on the still-innocent date of January 11, 2001, he was asked a simple but highly pertinent question by Senator Pat Roberts: “What’s the one big thing that keeps you up at night?”

“Intelligence,” is what Rumsfeld replied without missing a beat. And the “importance of considerably improving our intelligence capabilities so that we know more about what people think and how they behave.”

Alas, improving our intelligence capabilities is one thing President Bush has conspicuously failed to do. Our country fell victim to a first intelligence failure on his watch on September 11, 2001, in an attack on our homeland that in both casualties and costs was more devastating than the Japanese surprise attack of 1941. Our country was then led into a war in part on the basis of an erroneous intelligence estimate about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.

Since September 11 we have poured immense resources into improving intelligence and embarked on numerous reforms, including both a 100-day and a 500-day plan to “integrate” the intelligence community’s diverse components. But as we see from the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) about Iran — shoddily argued on its face, with the facts it puts forward directly contradicting its own starkly stated finding that the Iranian nuclear-weapons program came to a halt in 2003 — the fundamental problem of our intelligence community remains intractably in place. Some very low-quality people, who have few inhibitions about smuggling their politics into intelligence findings, continue to occupy positions of high responsibility in the bureaucracy.

Who is responsible for this state of affairs? We can blame some of this on Bush’s first CIA director, George Tenet. And we can also point a finger at Tenet’s successor, the far less canny but equally hapless Porter Goss, who was forced out of the job within half a year. And we can question many of the decisions taken by John Negroponte and Mike McConnell, the two directors, successively, of the new post of Director of National Intelligence.

But who appointed all these people? Who kept the Clinton holdover George Tenet in office after September 11 and then, even after the Iraq-WMD “slam-dunk” fiasco, awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor? Who appointed Porter Goss to run the CIA and failed to back him up when he tried to clean house? Who acquiesced in the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which is emerging as a clumsy and duplicative bureaucratic behemoth, far more focused on drawing and redrawing the organizational charts of the intelligence community than on getting the intelligence itself straight, as the latest NIE demonstrates?

Looking back over the past seven years, I believe it is increasingly apparent that President Bush’s failure to reform the intelligence community — to manage even to gain control of it — is emerging as the largest blot on his presidency. Accused of politicizing the intelligence community, the President has manifestly failed to depoliticize it, with ramifications now spreading across the globe, including the prospect of Iran’s obtaining nuclear weapons while the U.S. turns a blind eye. 

“Neglect of responsibility,” wrote Schelling, is one of the factors that lead governments to be taken by surprise. Such neglect already cost us dearly on September 11, 2001. We are now fully into the age of weapons of mass destruction, and it may cost us far more the next time around.

Read Less

Who is Michael J. Sulick and Does al Qaeda Have a Mole Inside the CIA?

Michael J. Sulick is the man CIA Director General Michael Hayden has put in charge of gathering HUMINT, i.e., human intelligence, i.e., old fashioned man-on-man, man-on-woman, and woman-on-man espionage.

According to Newsweek, “Sulick learned his tradecraft—the James Bond side of spying—in the old Soviet Union. Like other Western spies, he learned to follow ‘Moscow Rules,’ the rigorous countersurveillance measures used to avoid detection by the ubiquitous KGB.”

Sulick quit the agency in September 2004 in a highly public row with Porter Goss, the CIA director who ended getting chewed up by the agency’s permanent bureaucracy, readily helped along in the chewing by his own staff, one member of whom had an old shoplifting charge on his résumé.

The CIA has been repeatedly castigated for weakness in collecting HUMINT. And one root cause of its perpetual weakness is undoubtedly our national fascination with technology, which has led us to invest in hugely expensive satellite-reconnaissance systems while neglecting the relatively cheap art of recruiting spies in enemy ranks.

In the war on terrorism, HUMINT is essential. Satellites are good for tracking tanks and other masses of mobile metal, but communications-interception aside, they are far less valuable for finding out the whereabouts of an Osama bin Laden or a Genghis Khan.

But at the same time, not all HUMINT targets are the same. Soviet diplomats and KGB agents were one kind of target–many of them liked to drink, have sex, and spend money, and some even admired America—all of which made them susceptible to recruitment. Al-Qaeda cell members are something else. They do not like to drink or to admire America; whatever they might do in private with their multiple wives, they are far more puritanical in their attitude toward sex, and among suicide bombers money is seen as having little value in the world to come.

All of this makes them a hard target. And all of this raises a question: if Sulick cut his teeth playing by the “Moscow Rules,” is he the best man for the job?

Read More

Michael J. Sulick is the man CIA Director General Michael Hayden has put in charge of gathering HUMINT, i.e., human intelligence, i.e., old fashioned man-on-man, man-on-woman, and woman-on-man espionage.

According to Newsweek, “Sulick learned his tradecraft—the James Bond side of spying—in the old Soviet Union. Like other Western spies, he learned to follow ‘Moscow Rules,’ the rigorous countersurveillance measures used to avoid detection by the ubiquitous KGB.”

Sulick quit the agency in September 2004 in a highly public row with Porter Goss, the CIA director who ended getting chewed up by the agency’s permanent bureaucracy, readily helped along in the chewing by his own staff, one member of whom had an old shoplifting charge on his résumé.

The CIA has been repeatedly castigated for weakness in collecting HUMINT. And one root cause of its perpetual weakness is undoubtedly our national fascination with technology, which has led us to invest in hugely expensive satellite-reconnaissance systems while neglecting the relatively cheap art of recruiting spies in enemy ranks.

In the war on terrorism, HUMINT is essential. Satellites are good for tracking tanks and other masses of mobile metal, but communications-interception aside, they are far less valuable for finding out the whereabouts of an Osama bin Laden or a Genghis Khan.

But at the same time, not all HUMINT targets are the same. Soviet diplomats and KGB agents were one kind of target–many of them liked to drink, have sex, and spend money, and some even admired America—all of which made them susceptible to recruitment. Al-Qaeda cell members are something else. They do not like to drink or to admire America; whatever they might do in private with their multiple wives, they are far more puritanical in their attitude toward sex, and among suicide bombers money is seen as having little value in the world to come.

All of this makes them a hard target. And all of this raises a question: if Sulick cut his teeth playing by the “Moscow Rules,” is he the best man for the job?

To Sulick’s credit, as evidenced by the talk he gave last month at the Harvard Seminar on Intelligence, Command, and Control, he has an acute understanding of what he is up against:

Unlike the Soviet Union—one large land mass—the terrorists operate in very small cells. They cross borders easily. They’re very compartmented. They screen their recruits probably better than the U.S. government does. They can work in a bank, in the real-estate industry, or for an Islamic relief organization. Basically they are less vulnerable as targets to all the other means of intelligence collection the United States has at its disposal. In the cold war, the satellites in the sky could see if Russian missiles were moving between silos or if troops were moving. The NSA was even able to intercept conversations between members of the Politburo as they traveled around Moscow in their cars. You can’t do that with terrorists. You don’t know where to point those eyes and ears in the sky unless you have a human agent—a spy—who tells you where to direct those things.

Unfortunately, though, Sulick didn’t offer much in the way of a solution beyond having the CIA and FBI work more closely with local police departments in tracking suspects in places like New York City. That’s a great idea, but it’s not the same thing as working to recruit operatives in Londonistan or Waziristan.

In part, the CIA, and Sulick himself, might be hamstrung, and traumatized, by our cold-war past. Key counterintelligence officials—Aldrich Ames in the CIA, Robert Hanssen in the FBI—were working for the other side. Could this happen again?

Sulick not only believes it’s a possibility, he’s actively troubled by it, and believes that the implications would be far graver than they were in the cold war:

What if you had somebody like Robert Hanssen working for al Qaeda? Try to imagine that! All the stuff that Hanssen and other spies gave away was in the cold war. Nobody was locked in combat. There was time to compensate, take countermeasures, for what those spies gave away. You’re not going to have that time in the war on terrorism. Imagine that you hire somebody, because you need a speaker of Farsi or Arabic, and that person is a spy. That allows the terrorists to launch attacks a lot more easily when they know what the intelligence community’s capabilities are and who their assets are. That’s my big bugaboo: the terrorist spy.

In short, we’re engaged in an intelligence war and we’re on the defensive, worried about an al-Qaeda mole in our ranks even as we are unable to place a mole in theirs.

This is not exactly an encouraging indicator of our progress in the war on terrorism. But it is difficult, for one simple reason, to be harshly critical of Sulick and the CIA: I know that I don’t know what I don’t know.

Read Less

The Leak Wars

“The government’s ability to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects overseas allowed the United States to obtain information that helped lead to the arrests last week of three Islamic militants accused of planning bomb attacks in Germany, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told Senators on Monday”–the New York Times, September 11, 2007

This is curious. Here we have our top spy revealing one of our nation’s most sensitive secrets, involving not only sources and methods but also that holy of holies: communications intelligence. 

If, say, the fruits of an ongoing U.S. surveillance program had been something uncovered and published by the New York Times for all the world to read, would a whole host of critics, including me, be up in arms? What is going on?

Read More

“The government’s ability to eavesdrop on terrorism suspects overseas allowed the United States to obtain information that helped lead to the arrests last week of three Islamic militants accused of planning bomb attacks in Germany, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, told Senators on Monday”–the New York Times, September 11, 2007

This is curious. Here we have our top spy revealing one of our nation’s most sensitive secrets, involving not only sources and methods but also that holy of holies: communications intelligence. 

If, say, the fruits of an ongoing U.S. surveillance program had been something uncovered and published by the New York Times for all the world to read, would a whole host of critics, including me, be up in arms? What is going on?

The conundrum is easily resolved. First, McConnell, as the nation’s top intelligence officer, and unlike any reporter or editor at the Times, is in a position to evaluate whether a given disclosure will cause damage to American security.

Second, McConnell has the authority, under law, to declassify information when he determines it is in the national interest. The New York Times claims the same authority under the First Amendment. But the First Amendment is compatible with a whole range of restrictions on the press, as in the law of libel, the laws governing commercial speech, and so forth. By contrast, the idea that the media is not obligated to follow laws currently on the books restricting publication of national-defense information flies in the face of both reason and precedent.  

Third, in disclosing the success of the U.S. surveillance program in averting a disaster in Germany, McConnell was not revealing anything new. Why not? Because the Times had already compromised the key facts about the scope of National Security Agency surveillance in a series of stories that began in December 2005.

The fact that even after the Times had tipped them off, terrorists continue to use readily interceptible telephones and email demonstrates how difficult it is for them to find alternative means of rapid long-distance communication. But that is by no means a justification for what the Times did. A host of governments officials–Democrats and Republicans alike–have attested to the damage inflicted on U.S. counterterrorism efforts by the Times’s reporting.

CIA Director General Michael V. Hayden, speaking earlier this week at the Council on Foreign Relations, addressed the problem. His words are worth quoting at length:

Revelations of sources and methods or what seems to me to be an impulse to drag anything CIA does to the darkest corner of the room can make it very difficult for us to perform our vital work. When our operations are exposed–you know, the legal, authorized operations overseen by Congress–when those operations are exposed, it reduces the space and it damages the tools we use to protect Americans.

After the press report on how banking records in the international Swiss network could be monitored, I read a claim that this leak–and I’m quoting now–”bears no resemblance to security breaches”. . . I could not disagree more strongly. In a war that largely depends on our success on collecting intelligence on the enemy, publishing information on our sources and methods can be just as damaging as revelations of troop or ship movements have been in the past. Now the compromise to safety can be both immediate and lasting, and it extends beyond specific individuals. Each revelation of our methods in tracking terrorists, tracking WMD, tracking other threats allows our enemies to cover their tracks and change their practices. We’ll respond, but it takes us valuable time to readjust.

Now, some are out there who say there’s no evidence that leaks of classified information have actually harmed national security. As CIA director, I’m telling you there is and they have. Let me give you just two examples. In one case, leaks provided ammunition for a government to prosecute and imprison one of our sources whose family was also endangered. The revelations had an immediate chilling affect on our ability to collect [intelligence] against a top priority target. In another, a spate of media reports cost us several promising counterterrorism and counter-proliferation assets. Sources not even involved in the operation that was exposed lost confidence that their relationship with us could be kept secret and so they stopped reporting.
. . . On their own, journalists often simply don’t have all the facts needed to make the call on whether the information can be released without harm. I’ve heard some justify a release based on their view of the sensitivity of their story’s content with no understanding of the effect the release may have on the intelligence source at the heart of the story. . . [W]he the media claims an oversight role on clandestine operations, it moves that clandestine operation into an arena where we cannot clarify, we cannot explain, we cannot defend our actions without doing even further damage to our national security.

It’s important–as I say this, it’s important to bear in mind that my agency is subject to another oversight mechanism that has full access to our operations and takes our security requirements into account, it’s your representatives in Congress.

George Tenet and Porter Goss, George Bush’s previous CIA directors, never said anything nearly as sustained or lucid on this vital subject–and they and we paid for their silence with an accelerating flow of leaks appearing in the media. It is unlikely that Hayden’s caution will be heeded by many in the press, least of all at the New York Times. But the issue, at least, has finally been joined in a serious way by the Bush administration.

Read Less

Bookshelf

• I know a not-inconsiderable number of people—most of them well on the far side of fifty—who sincerely believe that nothing good has happened to American popular music since Elvis Presley first swiveled his hips on The Ed Sullivan Show. Such frustrated folk will find much solace in The Voodoo That They Did So Well: The Wizards Who Invented the New York Stage (Ivan R. Dee, 230 pp., $24.95), a collection of the essays about American popular song and its makers that Stefan Kanfer has been publishing in City Journal for the past few years.

Read More

• I know a not-inconsiderable number of people—most of them well on the far side of fifty—who sincerely believe that nothing good has happened to American popular music since Elvis Presley first swiveled his hips on The Ed Sullivan Show. Such frustrated folk will find much solace in The Voodoo That They Did So Well: The Wizards Who Invented the New York Stage (Ivan R. Dee, 230 pp., $24.95), a collection of the essays about American popular song and its makers that Stefan Kanfer has been publishing in City Journal for the past few years.

In addition to fervent appreciations of Irving Berlin, the Gershwin brothers, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, and Stephen Sondheim, The Voodoo That They Did So Well contains a profile of Lorenzo da Ponte (about whom I recently wrote in this space) and a pair of affectionate essays about vaudeville and Yiddish theater. All eight pieces proceed from the dolorous assumptions that (1) things ain’t what they used to be and (2) we shall never be again as we were:

Professional mourners constantly bemoan the unintelligence of the young. As a guest professor at various universities in and around the city I have not found this lament valid: the current generation of college students is as bright as my own or any other. But I have found a surprising incuriosity about popular history—just the sort of subject youth ought to find compelling. The reasons are manifest. The internet, video games, DVD’s, iPods, and all the rest have pushed literature from center stage; the cacophony of rock, hip-hop, and grunge has obscured, and sometimes buried, some of the greatest popular melodies and lyrics ever written.

I yield to no one in my disdain for the spoiled fruits of modernity, but I’ve been listening to rock for 40 years without any obvious ill effects—and with no diminishment of my appreciation for what Alec Wilder referred to as “the professional tradition” in American songwriting. As I explained in COMMENTARY a couple of years ago, the fact that they no longer write ’em like they used to doesn’t necessarily mean that what they write now isn’t worth hearing.

Stefan Kanfer isn’t having any of it. So far as I can tell from the pages of The Voodoo That They Did So Well, rock is a closed book to him. Indeed, he doesn’t even seem to like most of Sondheim’s work, though he clearly respects it and has warm words for A Little Night Music and Sweeney Todd:

Save for a handful of numbers, it is unlikely that fifty years from now popular entertainers will sing his songs and that the general public—those uncelebrated people who finally determine what Broadway and Tin Pan Alley figures enter the pantheon—will cherish them.

As for what Kanfer likes . . . well, the table of contents will tell you that, and I’m not so sure that there’s much point in reading further. If you already know and like the songs of Messrs. Berlin, Gershwin, Gershwin, Porter, and Rodgers, I doubt you’ll find that The Voodoo That They Did So Well sheds very much light on what makes them tick. Kanfer is an asserter, not an explainer, and unless you agree with him up front about the greatness of Messrs. Berlin, Gershwin, Gershwin, Porter, and Rodgers, you’re not likely to come away persuaded that they’re better than the music with which you grew up, or that you need to run right out and buy a stack of original-cast albums.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the great pre-rock songwriters with all my heart, and I’ve never had much use for hip-hop or grunge, either. But their work, wonderful though it was, is neither the beginning nor the end of American popular music, and to suppose otherwise is to sentence yourself to the same aesthetic prison that Evelyn Waugh inhabited. “His strongest tastes were negative,” Waugh wrote of himself (more or less) in The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold. “He abhorred plastics, Picasso, sunbathing, and jazz—everything in fact that had happened in his own lifetime. The tiny kindling of charity which came to him through his religion sufficed only to temper his disgust and change it to boredom.” To be disgusted and bored with the world as it is may be an appropriate response to things as they are, but it isn’t much fun, nor is it a good way to get anything done.

Read Less

Bush’s Worst Blunder?

George W. Bush has made his share of serious mistakes. Back in April, I noted here that one of the worst, to my mind, was awarding America’s highest honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to his CIA director George Tenet, a holdover from the Clinton administration, who presided over a series of critical intelligence failures and let the country down.

But I wrote that before I had completed reading Tenet’s own account of his directorship, and I explicitly reserved the right to change my mind. Now that I have finished his memoir and written an article about it for the July-August Commentary, has my assessment changed?

Read More

George W. Bush has made his share of serious mistakes. Back in April, I noted here that one of the worst, to my mind, was awarding America’s highest honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, to his CIA director George Tenet, a holdover from the Clinton administration, who presided over a series of critical intelligence failures and let the country down.

But I wrote that before I had completed reading Tenet’s own account of his directorship, and I explicitly reserved the right to change my mind. Now that I have finished his memoir and written an article about it for the July-August Commentary, has my assessment changed?

The answer is: yes and no. Tenet himself discusses the medal in his book and is disarmingly self-deprecating. When he was informed by Brett Kavanaugh, a presidential assistant, that President Bush wanted to honor him with the Medal of Freedom, he writes that:

I was not at all sure I wanted to accept. We had not found weapons of mass destruction and postwar Iraq hadn’t been the cakewalk that some had suggested it would be.

I asked Kavanaugh why the President wanted to honor me, and to read the proposed citation. It was all about the CIA’s work against terrorism, not Iraq. Fair enough, I thought. Perhaps I could accept a medal on that basis, not for me so much as for the agency.

But if Tenet had mixed feelings accepting the award, what prompted President Bush to bestow it on him in the first place? Was it because Tenet had named the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, after Bush’s father, or was it a way—a successful way—to hedge in advance against criticism from Tenet? The answer is still unclear

Far more central than the medal issue is whether, after deciding to keep Tenet in his administration in January 2001, Bush should have fired him on September 11. My own view, given the catastrophe that had just taken place and given all the CIA fiascos that were to follow, is that by September 12, that action was overdue.

But there is another side of the coin. We had just been attacked massively on our own soil. Within the U.S. government there was a widespread conviction that a second wave of terrorism, possibly with weapons of mass destruction, was on the way. This was not a propitious moment to reshuffle the deck in a frontline counterterrorism agency.

And even with hindsight there is another reason why it is less than clear that firing Tenet might not have made a significant difference in the way things turned out. After all, when Tenet finally did step down, Bush’s replacement, Porter Goss, was also profoundly flawed, with key members of his management team caught up in tawdry scandal, and he was rapidly chewed up by the bureaucracy.

One of the lessons that one takes away from all this is that fixing the CIA is not a simple matter of changing its leadership. It is true that a fish rots from the head. But if one cuts off the head of a stinking fish, the rot does not go away.

Read Less

Bookshelf

• It’s been a long time between books for Hilton Kramer, whose last collection was published six years ago and who hasn’t brought out a volume of art criticism since 1985. The Triumph of Modernism: The Art World, 1985-2005 (Ivan R. Dee, 368 pp., $27.50) contains 55 essays and reviews, the most substantial of which are a series of pieces dealing with the history of and prospects for abstract art. In between these essays are sandwiched a goodly number of columns originally published in the New York Observer in which Kramer comments pithily on many of his favorite artists (Helen Frankenthaler, Alex Katz, Fairfield Porter) and some of his least favorite (Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol). Like Clement Greenberg before him, Kramer is a master of the short review, and it is a pleasure to see how he manages to say so much in so little space.

Kramer is best known for his unfavorable reviews, and in recent years he has spent an ever-increasing share of his time commenting on politics. As a result, too many younger readers are unaware that he is one of the best critical advocates we have. I saw several of the shows reviewed in The Triumph of Modernism when I was first starting to take a serious interest in art, and I vividly remember how reading what Kramer had to say about such critically undervalued modern painters as Porter, Arthur Dove, and Richard Diebenkorn helped give shape to my inchoate excitement. For all his gifts as a demolition man, it is this aspect of his work that continues to mean the most to me. Nothing is harder to write than a good review, and nobody writes better ones than Hilton Kramer.

• Rare is the scholar who can write intelligibly for a popular audience. Daniel J. Levitin, a rock musician and record producer turned neuroscientist, has mastered that priceless skill, and in This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (Dutton, 314 pp., $24.95) he summarizes with charm and flair the current state of research into the psychology of musical perception and cognition. Levitin believes that the human brain is biologically hardwired to find meaning in music, a conclusion sharply at odds with that of a growing number of evolutionary psychologists who have decided that it is a fundamentally meaningless form of what Steven Pinker calls “auditory cheesecake.” I expect you’ll be inclined to disagree with them after reading This Is Your Brain on Music, though, and not just because you want to. To be sure, Levitin’s style is so relentlessly breezy that it hardly seems possible that he could be a bona fide scientist, much less an important one. He is, though, and you can trust him to give you the lowdown on what happens inside your head when you listen to Mozart—or Stevie Wonder.

• It’s been a long time between books for Hilton Kramer, whose last collection was published six years ago and who hasn’t brought out a volume of art criticism since 1985. The Triumph of Modernism: The Art World, 1985-2005 (Ivan R. Dee, 368 pp., $27.50) contains 55 essays and reviews, the most substantial of which are a series of pieces dealing with the history of and prospects for abstract art. In between these essays are sandwiched a goodly number of columns originally published in the New York Observer in which Kramer comments pithily on many of his favorite artists (Helen Frankenthaler, Alex Katz, Fairfield Porter) and some of his least favorite (Robert Mapplethorpe, Andy Warhol). Like Clement Greenberg before him, Kramer is a master of the short review, and it is a pleasure to see how he manages to say so much in so little space.

Kramer is best known for his unfavorable reviews, and in recent years he has spent an ever-increasing share of his time commenting on politics. As a result, too many younger readers are unaware that he is one of the best critical advocates we have. I saw several of the shows reviewed in The Triumph of Modernism when I was first starting to take a serious interest in art, and I vividly remember how reading what Kramer had to say about such critically undervalued modern painters as Porter, Arthur Dove, and Richard Diebenkorn helped give shape to my inchoate excitement. For all his gifts as a demolition man, it is this aspect of his work that continues to mean the most to me. Nothing is harder to write than a good review, and nobody writes better ones than Hilton Kramer.

• Rare is the scholar who can write intelligibly for a popular audience. Daniel J. Levitin, a rock musician and record producer turned neuroscientist, has mastered that priceless skill, and in This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession (Dutton, 314 pp., $24.95) he summarizes with charm and flair the current state of research into the psychology of musical perception and cognition. Levitin believes that the human brain is biologically hardwired to find meaning in music, a conclusion sharply at odds with that of a growing number of evolutionary psychologists who have decided that it is a fundamentally meaningless form of what Steven Pinker calls “auditory cheesecake.” I expect you’ll be inclined to disagree with them after reading This Is Your Brain on Music, though, and not just because you want to. To be sure, Levitin’s style is so relentlessly breezy that it hardly seems possible that he could be a bona fide scientist, much less an important one. He is, though, and you can trust him to give you the lowdown on what happens inside your head when you listen to Mozart—or Stevie Wonder.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.