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What the Hell is Going on with the CIA IG?
Monday, 15 October 2007 10:38
by Larry C. Johnson

IG means Inspector General. Normally, the IG operates outside the boundaries of political influence and cronyism.  This week we learned that CIA Director Michael Hayden has launched an investigation of the IG. This comes in the wake of the IG–a man named John Helgerson–investigating torture and other abuses by CIA officers. Sure looks like an effort to shut down Mr. Helgerson. So what the hell is going on?

Here’s the link for the New York Times story:
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, has ordered an unusual internal inquiry into the work of the agency’s inspector general, whose aggressive investigations of the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation programs and other matters have created resentment among agency operatives.

A small team working for General Hayden is looking into the conduct of the agency’s watchdog office, which is led by Inspector General John L. Helgerson. Current and former government officials said the review had caused anxiety and anger in Mr. Helgerson’s office and aroused concern on Capitol Hill that it posed a conflict of interest.

The review is particularly focused on complaints that Mr. Helgerson’s office has not acted as a fair and impartial judge of agency operations but instead has begun a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.
Let’s put this into context. Two years ago John Helgerson produced a report highly critical of CIA officials for their failures to act to prevent the attacks on 9-11. Helgerson’s report went beyond simple Monday morning quarterbacking. For example, he took CIA Director Tenet and his Deputy, John McLaughlin, to task for declaring war in the wake of the August 1998 Al Qaeda attacks in East Africa but failing to follow up on that declaration. Helgerson’s report was hard hitting and unprecedented. In my experience, senior officials rarely have been called on the carpet for their errors and omissions.

I know John Helgerson from my days at the CIA. He was a Deputy to Richard Kerr and had a reputation for being a “go-along, get-along” kind of guy. He’s come along way baby. He has a pair of steel basketballs between his legs.

I’ve asked some former colleagues for their views. Here are some of their comments.

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Colleague Uno:
there is no question that Helgerson is simply doing his job….but that the Director, the DO, and the General Counsel’s office are embarrassed by the product of Helgerson’s staff….the Director was embarrassed by the Hill’s opposition to John Rizzo (an absurdly stupid choice) as General Counsel; the lawyers are embarrassed by the IG’s investigation of actions that the General Counsel’s office encouraged; and of course the DO doesn’t like being second-guessed by the IG investigations. Hayden, like any outsider, wants to be accepted by the DO culture and has sucked up to them from day one; sure there are some DO officers who know they are breaking the law but see no way out; the CIA lawyers (unlike the JAG heroes who fought against torture and abuse) are particularly pathetic in this one and have worked closely with the Justice Department (the land of Yoo) to get special exemptions for illegal renditions.

Colleague Dos:
The below are two pieces of information that I have from reliable, informed sources. I am not using them to offer any judgment of Helgerson or the IG, my own dealings with Helgerson indicate that he is a man of considerable intellectual and personal stature. I just offer them to you so that you might gain some insight into the current situation.
1. When Dusty Foggo took over as IG, there were some twenty or so open IG investigations on renditions, black sites and field interrogations. He was briefed on them, and asked when they were going to be concluded. He was told that many of them were open ended, that is, that all of the persons that could be interviewed and documents (including cables) that could be reviewed were exhausted. However, the IG was just going to keep the investigation open to “see what developed in the future”. This had the effect of putting those under investigation in career limbo, because you can’t be promoted or, in the case of senior assignments, be selected as long as there is an open IG investigation on you. Dusty objected to this. Of course, Dusty was an intellectual lightweight (albeit a nice guy to party with if that is your taste) compared to Helgerson. Helgerson prevailed because no one wanted to take the steps that one must under the law to investigate a statutory IG. This is probably because Helgerson was technically correct in his work, he has a reputation for that.

2. As unsexy as it is, some of the current Hayden investigation actually revolves around the IG audit staff. There is a contract audit animal called a “liaison auditor” that is assigned to component contract teams to mass-preaudit contract proposals, particularly on sole source contracts. Under normal audit “yellow book” rules (the “yellow book” is the USG-wide audit standards manual), all auditors’ reference papers and notes are supposed to be reviewed by a supervisory auditor. Because of overwhelming contract numbers due to GWOT, DO liaison auditors were exempted from this requirement and declared en masse “technical experts”. Other auditors complained, so the IG audit staff broke off a team of auditors to “audit itself”; not just the liaison auditors, but everyone. This is currently underway and, needless to say, not only looks suspicious but has created resentment among the audited who, themselves, are overworked. Interestingly, there is a high correlation between those auditors being audited and those objecting to departure from the yellow book. (This is a test: How many times can you say “audit” or some derivative thereof in a sentence?)
Don’t know whether you every experienced the IG during your time with the Agency, but my experience has been that, while they are generally fair, the IG environment produces some oddly self-righteous, “my shit doesn’t stink” individuals among those who choose it as a career. Helgerson is a great, strong personality; I don’t know whether he succumbed to the enticements of playing God or not. I certainly hope not.
There is a split in the CIA with respect to Helgerson. Some believe he is using 20/20 hindsight to go after officers who were doing their jobs. Others believe he is doing the right thing and upholding the honor of the intelligence professional.

This is not the first time we’ve seen CIA officers put in the political and legal trick box. When the Iran/Contra scandal broke it was a watershed event. Prior to 1986, CIA officers, especially Division and Office Chiefs, protected lower level officers who carried out orders on projects that turned shitty. Not so with Iran Contra. The CIA Chief of Station in Costa Rica dutifully followed verbal orders from Alan Fiers, Chief of the Central American Task Force, Oliver North (NSC official), and Eliot Abrams (Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America) to conduct covert operations in support of the war against Nicaragua’s Sandinistas.   That Chief of Station, who trusted those men to back him up, subsequently was abandoned to the legal process and virtually bankrupted.  He made the mistake of trusting his leaders and lost his CIA career.

Another friend of mine, a savvy, experienced officer, was asked to do similar things. He insisted, however, on getting everything in writing. If he did not get it on paper he did not do it. He ended his time with CIA without a cloud over his head.

The betrayal of many CIA officers who worked the Central American project by CIA Operations Chief Clair George (Bill Casey was incapacitated medically and not blamed for the subsequent witch hunt) left a bitter taste in the mouth of the DO and was a significant cause of the rise of the “risk averse” behavior among Ops officers.  Hence the watchword, “don’t do anything unless you have it in writing”.

So here we are 20 years later. CIA officers, at least some, used torture on terrorist suspects. They did so with the full permission and blessing of George W. Bush and his Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez. But just because your boss says it is right to torture does not make it so. That theme was explored in the famous Spencer Tracy movie, Judgment at Nuremberg.  Nazi Judges were held accountable for helping facilitate the Holacaust even though they did not run the death camps nor did they incarcerate Jews there.

Something important is going on inside the CIA. There are people of all political stripes on the inside. But there usually is a consensus that honor and professionalism should be the hallmark of intelligence work. You don’t recruit sources with torture. You recruit good sources by building relationships.  The leak that Hayden is going after Helgerson is an alarm bell.

I know from Gary Berntsen, author of Jawbreaker, who cornered Bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001, that he did not wrest info from Taliban and Al Qaeda terrorists by employing torture. Another friend of mine, who is still undercover, told me a similar story of his time on the ground in Afghanistan. Both men realized that the mission of getting good, reliable info from terrorists was not achieved by using torture. Building rapport and trust was the name of the game.

It does appear that the current Director of the CIA, Michael Hayden, is trying to tell John Helgerson to shut up and sit down. What truly puzzles me is that there is no specific charge of misconduct by Helgerson in the current leaks. In fact, Helgerson has sat on explosive information in the past without leaking info to the press. It appears that Helgerson has made the mistake of reporting that the king is naked. John’s future, economically and professionally, is secure regardless of what Hayden does. I am not worried about Helgerson. John earned his retirement. I am worried about what happens to the CIA officers still on the job. What is at risk is the independence and competence of the CIA. Most of the officers I know are men and women of exceptional character and integrity. They understand that torture and violation of international conventions to achieve a temporary tactical advantage can, in the long run, weaken and even destroy the effectiveness of the CIA. If Hayden succeeds in bullying and shutting down Helgerson (I am assuming that Helgerson is guilty only of embarrassing the CIA) then Hayden is putting our nation at risk.

It is time for the Congress–the House and Senate Intelligence Committees–to get off of their collective asses and figure out what the hell is going on.
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