WPost’s Ignatius Forgives the CIA Again and Again

By Melvin A. Goodman 
Aug 26th, 2009

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius simply cannot get off the wheel he spins for the Central Intelligence Agency. Only two days after the release of the 2004 CIA study of the detention and interrogation program, which provides sordid and sadistic details of an illegal and immoral program, Ignatius still opposes any criminal review of the conduct of CIA officers and echoes the CIA line that it is “glad to be out” of the interrogation business.

He even cites deputy director of the CIA, Stephen Kappes, one of the key ideological drivers for the policy of detention and interrogation, as someone who “doesn’t want to have anything to do with interrogation.”

Ignatius strongly believes that it is time for the CIA to “get on with it,” which was the signature line of former CIA director Richard Helms, who Ignatius considers the “savviest spymaster this country has produced.” Let’s forget that Helms lied to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1973 on the overthrow of the elected government in Chile and that a grand jury was called to see if he should be indicted for perjury.

Let’s forget that the Justice Department brought a lesser charge against Helms, who pleaded nolo contendere, and was fined $2,000 and given a two-year suspended prison sentence. And let’s forget that Helms was the major supporter of James Jesus Angleton, the crazed head of CIA counterintelligence for 20 years, who believed that the KGB had successfully penetrated the Agency.

We called Angleton “The Ghost” when I was at the CIA because no one had ever seen the man. And it was “The Ghost” who befriended Kim Philby, the Soviet spy from British intelligence, introduced him to high-level CIA officials, and defended him to the end. So much for counterintelligence.

In his efforts to prevent any investigation of the CIA’s interrogation program, Ignatius has also forgotten the lessons of the Nuremberg Trials in 1945-1946. The International Tribunal taught us that crimes committed by individuals for state purposes were the responsibility of those individuals and punishable by state law. And, most importantly, following orders was not a defense. But Ignatius believes that all of the relevant evidence on torture and abuse was seen by “career prosecutors, who decided against bringing cases.” So, let’s forget that the career prosecutors were employed by the politicized Justice Department of the Bush administration and that they reported to a politically-appointed assistant attorney general.

Ignatius believes that investigation and accountability will hurt the Agency. It will actually restore the credibility of the Agency and lead to greater cooperation from important foreign intelligence services, which is essential to combating terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It was CIA crimes such as secret prisons and extraordinary renditions that hurt the Agency, and led to reticence about sharing intelligence. For example, there is no intelligence service within the European Union that would assist in a rendition by the CIA; no EU country that would permit the CIA to transport a prisoner by aircraft; no EU country that would agree to a secret prison or “black site” within its borders.

Ignatius also reveals that he knows nothing about loyal dissent. He argues that “questioning presidential orders isn’t really the job” of the CIA leadership, “especially when those orders are backed by Justice Department legal opinions.” This country has fought two unnecessary wars in the past 45 years with the deaths of more than 60,000 American men and women simply because high-level officials failed to expose the deceptions and manipulations of the Johnson and Bush administrations.

In supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ignatius and the Washington Post appear enamored with U.S. military power, with the Post providing few opportunities for contrarian voices to be heard. The mainstream media, particularly the Post, has been far too complacent in holding the Bush and Obama administration’s feet to the fire in the case of these wars.

Finally, Ignatius claims that the CIA resorted to independent contractors for help in “waterboarding” and assassination programs because of a lack of expertise. In fact, the CIA turned to outside help in these egregious areas because it was trying to avoid accountability and there was internal resistance to both programs. There were many officers in the National Clandestine Service opposed to the renditions and detentions program; the Office of Medical Service had serious problems with the waterboarding program, which is outlined in the 2004 Inspector General Program.

Presumably, there were some greybeards around who mentioned that resorting to Blackwater to run an assassination program resembled the CIA’s contacts with the Mafia in the early 1960s to kill Castro. The CIA assassination program led to the Church Commission hearings in the 1970s, which placed restrictions on covert action programs and created a congressional oversight process that has fallen into disarray.

It is unbelievable that Ignatius could read the chilling and appalling 2004 IG report and not temper some of his views. His continued support of the CIA points to fanaticism and reminds me of Stalin’s reference to Western journalists who defended Soviet policy—he called them “useful idiots.”


Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, is The Public Record’s National Security and Intelligence columnist. He spent 42 years with the CIA, the National War College, and the U.S. Army. His latest book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA.

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