Sunday, November 14, 2004

I grow concerned about the tone

It appears President Bush is extending his "with us or against us" foreign policy into personnel decisions at our national spy agency.

CIA insiders are griping about Bush's newly appointed CIA director, Porter Goss, and his apparent moves to get rid of employees believed to have been "disloyal" to Bush. Deputy director John McLaughlin, a 32-year agency veteran who preceded Goss as interim director, has already announced his retirement. So have Stephen Kappes, deputy director of clandestine services, and Michael Scheuer, former leader of the agency's station in charge of pursuing Osama bin Laden. Scheuer is also the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror, a scathing criticism of U.S. policies in the Middle East and their impact on fighting terrorism.

At about the same time as Bush appointed Goss, a former Republican congressman from Florida who U.S. Sen. John Rockefeller IV and other critics warned could politicize the agency, Bush also signed executive orders to create a national counterterrorism center and expand the CIA director's role in setting budget priorities. In other words, Bush has increased the CIA director's power and is now apparently moving to consolidate support for his policies within the agency.

The dangers of purging political opponents from an agency that's supposed to provide unbiased advice and intelligence to the president should be obvious. The CIA has already been under fire in the last year for overstated and unsupported reports on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and many intelligence insiders complained that agency leaders succumbed to pressure before the Iraq war to tell the Bush administration what it wanted to hear about WMD. Forcing dissenters out of the CIA isn't the right way to ensure that presidents get fair, impartial intelligence reports that always tell the truth, even if they don't want to hear it.

Let's hope that this round of CIA resignations is just the usual housecleaning that accompanies every change of leadership at a federal agency and not a harbinger of something more troubling.

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