By RAY MCGOVERN
Hats off to Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times for ferreting
out what it was that sent CIA Director Leon Panetta scurrying over to Congress in late
According to Mazzetti, Panettas top lieutenants, many of them holdovers from the last administration, had just told him that, under President Bush, they had farmed out assassinations to their Blackwater subsidiary. I use they advisedly, since the CIA holdovers that had kept Panetta in the dark continue to function as Panettas top managers.
Panetta abruptly stopped the project and contritely briefed the intelligence committees. Until now, it was not clear what had prompted Panetta to set up hurried consultations with the intelligence oversight committees of the House and Senate.
An odd odor still hangs over the affair. After being briefed by Panetta, one committee member described him as stunned that his lingering lieutenants had kept information on the program from him until nearly five months into his tenure. Yet there is not the faintest hint that anyone on either committee dared to ask why Panetta continues to leave such tainted officials in very senior positions.
Anyone know why he does not send them packing?
Mazzetti quotes officials as admitting that the C.I.A. did not have a formal contract with Blackwater for a program with lethal authority. Putting out contracts on other people, I suppose you might call it, without a contract. What Mazzetti does not mention and what he, like the vast majority of Americans, may not know is that there is a one-sentence umbrella contract available for use as authorization for such activities. It creates a structural fault, so to speak, and a legal loophole through which Bush and Cheney drove a Mack truck of lawlessness.
Bush administration lawyers were not the first to read considerable
leeway into that loophole created by just one sentence in the language of the National
Security Act of 1947. The sentence can be (ab)used as authorization for all manner of
crime irrespective of existing law or executive order.
A Cheney-esque unitary executive perspective and a dismissive attitude toward lawmakers reinforced the Bush teams predilection to exploit the ambiguous language, taking it further than it had ever been taken in the past.
The Act (as slightly amended) stipulates that the CIA Director shall:
Perform such functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security as the President or the National Security Council may from time to time direct.
Theres the umbrella contract. While more than one past President (I served under seven during my tenure at CIA) has taken advantage of that open language, the Bush administration translated the dodging into a new art form. This, in turn, was sustained by Frankenstein cottage industries like Blackwater to launch and operate the administrations own Gestapo. I use the word advisedly; do not blanch before it.
As for outsourcing, it is nothing new. The earlier Nazi Gestapo enjoyed umbrella authorization from the Fuhrer; they and the SS knew what was wanted, and famously followed orders. There was absolutely no need to go back to supreme authority for approval to contract out some of their work. And German legislators turned out to be even more intimidated than ours if you can imagine it.
As for an American Presidents freedom of action, all a President
need do is surround himself with eager co-conspirators like the sycophant former Director
of Central Intelligence, George Tenet (not to mention his, and Panettas, lingering
lieutenants), who give allegiance to their secret world of unchecked power, rather than to
the Constitution of the United States. True, a Vice President thoroughly versed in using
the levers of power also can be a valuable asset.
But the sine quo non for successful subversion of our Constitutional process is this: cowardly members of Congress so afraid of being painted pastel on terrorism that they abdicate their oversight responsibility. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney may have misunderestimated some things, but not Congress. They held it in scorn and contempt, and the Congress behavior gave them every reason to believe they were right.
The Bush White House gave very high priority to terrorification of Congress and it paid off handsomely. The most senior congressional leaders caved, winking even at torture, kidnapping, warrantless eavesdropping, etc., etc., etc.
And on the subject of contracting, Congress oversight role was, in a real sense, contracted out to eight invertebrate leaders from the House and Senate. Their see-no-evil acquiescence in whatever Bush and Cheney painted as a weapon in the so-called war on terror was driven solely by the lawmakers felt need to appear tough on terrorism.
After 9/11 everything changed, is certainly an overused aphorism. But it does apply to what happened to the spirit and soul of our country after President Bush was given the pulpit at the National Cathedral. Vengeance is ours, said the President. And the vast majority of Christian leaders were cowed into razoring out of their Bibles Blessed are the Peacemakers.
Clergy and Congress clapped, and so did the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM). Dont you remember?
Congress Stormy Applause
And our Congress? During the Presidents infamous
State-of-the-Union address on Jan. 28, 2003 (yes, the one with the
uranium-from-Africa-to-Iraq and other make-believe), Bush got the most unbridled applause
when, after bragging about the 3,000 suspected terrorists whom he said had
been arrested, he added:
And many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.
The lawmakers reaction and the cheering that followed in the FCM reminded me of the short italicized note that Pravda regularly tacked onto the bottom of paragraphs recording similarly fulsome leadership speeches: Burniye aplodismenty; vce stoyat! Stormy applause; all rise! Even so, Soviet leaders generally avoided (as not quite presidential) seeking applause for thinly veiled allusions to extrajudicial killing.
and Fawning Over Creeps
It is Congress that is collectively responsible for abdicating its
oversight responsibility, while cheering creeps like Cofer Black, CIAs top
counter-terrorism official from 1999 to May 2002 and now one of Blackwaters senior
On Sept. 26, 2002 in his prepared testimony to the Joint Congressional Inquiry on 9/11, the swashbuckling Black said this about operational flexibility:
"All I want to say is that there was before 9/11 and after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves came off. ... I know that we are on the right track today and as a result we are safer as a nation. No Limits aggressive, relentless, worldwide pursuit of any terrorist who threatens us is the only way to go and is the bottom line.
What were those gloves to which you referred, Mr. Black? Do you mean that legal restrictions were gone? And No Limits? Is it the case that there now are no limitations on your pursuit of terrorists? Whence do you derive that kind of authority, Mr. Black? These are just some of the pertinent questions that members of the congressional panel apparently felt would be impertinent to ask.
And authorization? In the Bush/Cheney White House, all it took was a presidential signature, like the one appearing in broad strokes of felt-tipped pen under the two-page executive memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002.
Last December the Senate Armed Forces Committee, without dissent, concluded that this memo, opened the door to abuse by exempting al Qaeda and Taliban detainees from Geneva protections. Alberto Gonzales, in a felicitous but inadvertent blunder, released that memo five years ago. It is a smoking gun. Someone, please, tell the FCM.
As for assassinations, the special presidential memoranda (often referred to as Findings) that authorized covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced. They will, in due course, if the patriotic truth tellers who have now discussed assassination with the Times and Washington Post continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths. Such oaths are aimed at protecting secrets, not crimes.
CIA operative Gary Schroen has told National Public Radio that, just days after 9/11, Cofer Black sent him to Afghanistan with orders to Capture bin Laden, kill him, and bring his head back in a box on dry ice. As for other al Qaeda leaders, Black reportedly said, I want their heads up on pikes.
Schroen told NPR he had been stunned that, for the first time in 30 years of service, he had received orders to kill targets rather than to capture them. Contacted by the radio network, Black would not confirm the exact words of the order to Schroen, but did not dispute Schroens account.
This quaint tone reverberated among macho, Bush-friendly pundits. Washington Post veteran Jim Hoagland, for example, published an open letter to President Bush on Oct. 31, 2001. It was no Halloween prank.
In his letter, Hoagland strongly endorsed what he termed the wish for Osama bin Ladens head on a pike, an objective he attributed to Bushs generals and diplomats. The consummate insider, Hoagland then virtually gave the real neoconservative game plan away by giving Bush the following ordering of priorities:
The need to deal with Iraqs continuing accumulation of biological and chemical weapons and the technology to build a nuclear bomb can in no way be lessened by the demands of the Afghan campaign. You must conduct that campaign so that you can pivot quickly from it to end the threat Saddam Husseins regime poses.
I have the feeling we are in for many more chapters recording how the lawlessness and savagery of post-9/11 Washington played out during the last seven years of the Bush/Cheney administration.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing
arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was a CIA analyst
for 27 years and now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals
for Sanity (VIPS).
This article appeared first on Consortiumnews.com. http://www.counterpunch.org/mcgovern08212009.html