December 9, 2014

The Feinstein Report - a lame duck attack on the CIA?

Note to my readers: This differs from my usual analysis and ventures into political commentary. The subject matter is germane to the Middle East but involves U.S. politics. If you are not interested in my opinion on domestic politics, now is the time to hit the "BACK" button.

Outgoing Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
"There may never be the right time to release this report. The instability we see today will not be resolved in months or years, but this report is too important to shelve indefinitely."

Yes and no, Senator. Your first statement was correct, your second was not.

The report that you believe needed to be released today is the work of the staffers of only the Democratic members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI). That fact alone calls into question the credibility of the report.

I have downloaded the 500+ page redacted executive summary (download it here) of the $40 million 6000+ page report based on over six million pages of data. I will read it, as I consider it part of my role as a CNN military analyst to do so, but it seems to me that when one political party selects what is in the report, it cannot be unbiased.

One thing that struck me from the outset was Senator Feinstein's description of the major findings in the executive summary. Of the 20 findings, not one was positive. For a period of time, I was an Air Force intelligence officer - an Arabic-speaking case officer - assigned to the CIA Directorate of Operations (DO). The DO was considered the combat arm of the intelligence community - when I was there, you did not run an operation for over five years without positive results. No results, no operation.

So what we have is a partisan report. The staffers, probably none of whom have ever served as professional intelligence officers, did not bother to interview any of the interrogators or analysts who were involved in the program they sought to evaluate.

I must confess that I am disappointed in the SSCI staff. That staff was - 15 years ago - a truly bipartisan committee with professional non-partisan staffers.* That means that the staff worked for the committee, not individual members. That is no longer the case - staffers are hired by, and are loyal to, individual members. That is what I call partisan, not professional. Unfortunately, some media outlets merely have accepted the report as the gospel.

Many will point to the remarks of Senator John McCain. I have nothing but respect for the former Navy pilot and prisoner of war, but I do disagree with his assessment of the efficacy of torture. His torturers were there to inflict pain to acquire information for propaganda purposees, while a professional intelligence service can be effective in extracting useful intelligence information - the Germans in World War II were quite skilled at it.

The timing of this is suspect. When questioned by CNN's Wolf Blitzer about the possibility that the release of this report might place American troops or diplomats abroad in danger, she said that if people were killed because of the release of the report, she would "feel badly" about it. I will let the readers determine their own reaction to that.

I am sorry to have to say this, but I have come to the conclusion that the release of this report just weeks before the senator loses her position as chair of the SSCI is nothing more than a lame-duck attack on the CIA. I am not sure why the senator chose to take this action, but I am not buying Vice President Joe Biden "transparency makes us stronger" kumbaya drivel.

I view this as nothing more than a blatant attempt by this Administration (who I believe pressured Senator Feinstein to do this - she is usually much smarter than this) to embarrass former President Bush and to strike out at the Republican Party, the party that the American body politic believes needs to be in control of the Senate and House of Representatives.

This report contributes nothing to the debate - it merely opens an old wound at a time when we need to confront external threats to the country, not revive an old internal, partisan battle.

This was not the right time - perhaps, as the Senator says, there may never be a "right time" to release this.


* Disclosure: My wife was a professional (not partisan) staffer on the SSCI.