Let’s pretend we are a foreign intelligence service trying to assess the state of American counterterrorism efforts. Piece together several recent bits of open-source information:
Source A: This Washington Post article, which notes that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was transformed from an uncooperative detainee, who provided only bits of information that were “outdated, inaccurate or incomplete,” into the CIA’s “preeminent source” on al-Qaeda after he “was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques.” Following this ordeal, he even lectured agency officers for hours in 2005 and 2006 on the inner workings of al-Qaeda.
Source B: Another Washington Post article, which notes that:
Morale has sagged at the CIA following the release of additional portions of an inspector general’s review of the agency’s interrogation program and the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate possible abuses by interrogators, according to former intelligence officials, especially those associated with the program. . . .
A retired former senior CIA official said that since the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate the agency’s interrogation tactics, he has received many calls from serving intelligence officers, some in high management positions, seeking advice about new jobs or lawyers. “This is a bad one,” he said.
Source C: A Wall Street Journal article by former spook Reuel Gerecht:
Langley, once again, probably cannot field a competent group of counterterrorist interrogators. It’s a very good guess that the organization right now has no volunteers coming forward for this work, and those who are currently indentured will free themselves from this profession as soon as possible. . . .
A good case officer with Middle Eastern languages and a penchant for understanding Islamic radicalism would now have to be insane to accept an assignment that detailed him to interrogate Islamic terrorist suspects. No self-respecting case officer wants to be constantly surveilled by his boss. That’s not the way the intelligence business works, which is, when it works, an idiosyncratic, intimate affair. We should be horrified by the idea that holy warriors will now be questioned by operatives who tolerate all the cover-your-tush paperwork, who don’t mind being videoed when they go to work, who want to be second-guessed by their CIA bosses, let alone by FBI agents, and intelligence-committee Congressional staffers, and now White House officials.
If you were forced to reach a conclusion –or an “estimate,” in intelligence parlance — what would it be? It would be easy to conclude with a “high degree of confidence” that one of the most effective intelligence-gathering tactics in the war on terrorism — the aggressive interrogation of captured terrorists — has been eliminated and, along the way, the agency charged with being on the front lines of the war has been severely degraded in operational effectiveness. In other words, the Obama administration has taken some of the most effective changes implemented by the Bush administration and reversed them in what could be a Carter-style emasculation of American intelligence capabilities.
If you are a foreign intelligence service hostile to the United States, you cannot but rejoice. And if you are friendly, you cannot but weep.