Keeping Up With ‘The Americans’

Pop culture fascination with the covert continues to crest. Under Bush besides the torture porn of ’24’, NCIS began its long run exalting ‘warfighters’ and hierarchical obediance. We endured the Bournes’ editing and celebrated a more brutal Bond.

And it continues. “Homeland” has become a ‘Starbuckian’ touchstone. “Argo” and “Zero Dark Thirty” pull crowds. Even lighter, sillier cable fare like the CW’s “Nikita” and USA’s “Burn Notice” name check espionage argot.

And Comrades, Remember The Paco Rabanne
And Comrades, Remember The Paco Rabanne

So what to make of FX’s new series, “The Americans”? Larval CIA employee Joseph Weisberg (1990-94, no overseas) launched it all. He runs with the 2010 ‘Anna Chapman Spy Ring’ sensationalism but places his ostensibly married Soviet ‘illegal’ couple in Reagan’s 1981 America. The producers add some “Californication”-esque gestures; within the pilot’s first hour the female Soviet spy fellates a hapless presidential confidante, ostentatiously wiping her mouth afterwards and is later shown raped brutally. She also asks said confidante, supra, if he liked her finger up his ass. Quelle shock!

If It’s Phil Collins, It Must Be The 80’s

But is it any good?

When credits rolled, we asked “What did we just see?” It’s all preposterous, of course, as it must be. A show survives if it entertains. Here, the team generously drops gratuitous and titillating details to provide a modicum of verisimilitude – beyond say, “Burn Notice”. Yet for all that “The Americans” likely will be a soap opera.

The Soviet husband likes American malls and wants to defect. The wife is fiercely opposed, clinging to a memory of Moscow in 1962. And their kids! Already their young boy seems to have the hots for the next door neighbor’s daughter. Her dad’s an FBI counter-intelligence agent (yes, really). Oh, and there’s a KGB general. He pops up somehow at the end in D.C. to tell the female spy he’s fighting off extremists in Moscow while defending the motherland.

The atmosphere is the show’s real star and asset. Like Miami Vice, the show wants us to notice the music, style and set decorating. The clothes accurately are post 70s muted browns and not the much later, stereotypical big hair, neon and mullets. (Watch for Members Only jackets in future eps). They’ve gone the extra mile recreating 1981 on a basic cable budget. The music from Phil Collins to Pat Benatar is true to that year’s charts. (The only bum note was using The Who’s ‘Eminence Front’ as the FX TV ad campaign, which was from 1982).

Still, atmosphere can carry only so far. A soap opera requires caricatures acting broadly. The show’s premise and conceit point the other way. And nothing suggests ambition to deconstruct the American self-image through the eyes of its Soviet protagonists. Leaving us with what, precisely?

We doubt we’ll stick around after initial novelty dissipates. Aside from name-check fan service, it feels like Oakland, no there, there. (For that matter, we’ve never been able to sit through a re-watching of the recent “Tinker, Tailor” remake; the original BBC show remains sublime). Many pulp series have overcome inauspicious pilots. Will be interesting to see if we’re given a reason to care in time.

Riding The General Staff

Tawdry inconsequentiality sums up the Petraeus matter. Petraeus and Allen, two Imperial Viceroys from CENCTOM, strode across the globe with more direct and indirect power regionally than any U.S. diplomat or civilian, outstripping in many ways their Roman forebears. Yet the Pro Consuls are socially seduced by shameless con artists. How does this happen?

Jill Kelley, the Philadelphia native, is apparently a ruthless social climber only five years in Tampa. Her apparent wealth masking profound insolvency, alleged IRS fraud, and a litany of creditor lawsuits for staggering sums. Her potentially sociopathic sister knows both generals well enough to finagle two ineffective letters of character support in her child custody war. A judge saw more clearly than the two Titans of CENTCOM. He rejected them, noting her mendacity and untrustworthiness are well known to the court.

‘Camp whores’ (of both genders) are a well known sociological phenomenon. Yet these two did little more than play hostess at various functions. None are obviously stunningly attractive outside the Jersey Shore framework. But flaunt a lifestyle vastly beyond their means. Something else must explain their extraordinary access. It’s not about Petraeus or Allen individually, but a systemic phenomenon.

Reports now indicate that Petraeus used to arrive at Kelley’s parties in military motorcade with 28 Tampa police as escorts. Kelley in return offered expensive cigars, bottle service and musical serenades. It’s corrupt from both sides. Why does CENTCOM condone this?

Kelley tried to get her house declared the other day a diplomatic mission because of a flimsy volunteer certificate bestowing the awesome title of ‘Honorary Ambassader’ [for cheese whiz, or the like]. This is the person who trades personal emails with the Titans of CENTCOM? She has those bona fides. Besides 30,000 pages of emails with General Allen. Her intimacy with Allen involves flying up from Tampa to see him in Washington, D.C. Evidence suggests she had some similar access to Petraeus.

A foreign intelligence service couldn’t design a more useful penetration of Imperial Viceroys. Especially when Jill Kelley is millions in debt and fighting foreclosure and her sister, she of the court order, just declared $3.5 MM bankruptcy. There are a dozen intelligence services that would toss some coin for their access and then guided/targeted collection efforts.

Apparently, to penetrate an American Viceroy you just need some decent tits a good profile, cigars, a foreclosed Mercedes, ruthless self-promotion and South Philly/Jersey shore moxi. The Chinese might well be dumbfounded at the ease and minimal funds involved.

The Affair and Petraeus

Quick thoughts. We’re somewhat sympathetic to both original ‘sinners.’ Everyone probably knows an ex that did not take a breakup well (or been that ex). Sure, she pursued him. He was the alpha male in a system based on latent crypto-homoerotic glorification of the top dog. He made the mistake. To sociological analysis noting the affair began 2 months at CIA without his accustomed staff, etc. we repeat the above: he made the mistake. Full stop.

re Petraeus’ departure and reducing CIA paramilitary interest, history teaches it’s the President, not the Director that determines this. CIA built up its capacities in every major military conflict to compete with and complement the Pentagon. Stan Turner’s famous 1978 ‘Halloween Massacre’ under Carter was in part (though not entirely) a house cleaning of paramilitary personnel from Vietnam. Few can say that his refocus on technical collection by itself improved things.

Current CIA paramilitary interest began in the Fall of 2001 and grew in a steady line. If you’re here you likely agree the drone program is out of control. What calls itself CIA these days still responds to White House interest, priorities and wishes (spoken or unspoken). Obama must be the one to set new priorities, not a Director.

We agree the FBI’s role is both ominous and pathetic. We also agree the underlying emails should not be sufficient for an FBI investigation. One silver lining: people see that the Bureau does not need a court to access all of their email and Cloud data from 6 months ago. The Bare-Chested Dude (take that, Cigarette Smoking Man!) adds to the entire South Philly/Jersey Shore-in-Tampa motif. His circumventing Bureau Protocol to ignite Congress directly a further warning that the FBI can not be trusted to control information.

Should Petraeus have resigned? Yes. Not because of all the pontification of blackmail, etc. That same 1959 mindset has always been used to enforce needlessly orthodox lifestyle preferences. It’s been rolled back in many areas. Had he chosen to remain, he would of necessity be defending his actions and be perceived as bureaucratically weakened, internally and externally.


These past days may be the only time ever among grown men, we’ve heard someone actually say “Look at those arms, pretty hot, eh?” So there’s that.

Oh Kendall, For Fidel?

When we heard the DGI yet again suborned some State types while we bit into a steak fajita at Chipotle Mexican Grill, liberated from Gringo McDonald’s imperialism since 2006, we mused what functionary had fallen for one of Cuba’s greatest natural resources. Maybe she was even a natural blonde.

First up, in a world with human beings, we are going to get penetrated. Sure as the Sun rises. We can manage the risk. Minimize the risk. But it’s going to happen — especially lately given the reaction to the Warlord’s Authoritarianism. On this we are serious: seeds planted in appalled reaction to Bush-Cheney may yield bitter fruit for us regarding agents in place for the coming decades. WFO has its work cut out for it.

DGI Versus Uncle Sam, Super Genius And Acme Tech

Second, the DGI simply are first rate. For their own internal doctrine, training and culture. But also because they understand how to push in this case American buttons. They also understand that American techno-fetishism remains undimmed, especially the so-called box. As you know, having watched both “Chuck” on NBC and possibly a Bond flick, the ‘box’ is really nothing more than a series of galvanic skin response measurements along with other biologic stress recorders. What calls itself CIA today and others still swear by the whole thing. To our ultimate loss.

In the old days, ever wander into a facility and noticed piles of change around soda machines or on the floor? Alot easier to do and be able to say ‘no’ to stealing at the office and not worry about a sweaty guilty flashback to that Mountain Dew you scrounged coming back to bite you in the ass because you get a crappy read on what should have been a pass. Not entirely apocryphal. Now you’re at FSI studying Urdu while it gets ‘cleared up.’ Better today, but the whole process still largely governs by fear and is art, not science, at its best.

Unfortunately for the High Priests some individuals and even whole ethnic elements have different response patterns. Advocates deny it, but the facts are that some Latin personalities for a variety of reasons seem able to defeat the box. The DGI has kicked CIA’s ass time and time again by sending people whom CIA tested, passed, trusted and of course we got burned big time. We are not talking about small little ops. Over decades this has been going on. It’s a Warners Brothers cartoon, folks. Some slavic personalities are also able to manage their stress reactions and continue to give false positives. And then there are mediocrities like Ames. . . But the Cult of Box makes Apple enthusiasts look like Walmart zomboids.

Look, Dear, This Is Building True Socialism !! Under Fidel Everyone Has A Free Sun Tan !!

The Name Is Myers, Kendall Myers

Kendall went to State ostensibly to avoid the box. We knew him tangentially back in the 1980s. For personal reasons unrelated to this blog already aware of his purely academic limitations, we largely stayed clear. Apparently, he had some private epiphany in the 1978 time frame. Let me emphasize that to distinguish what the major papers are reporting as specific dates: *timeframe*.

Learning he betrayed the country for some contrived love for Fidel remains unconvincing at this remove although it was 1978 with ‘Hey, Hey, LBJ’ still echoing in the air and Khmer Rouge Chic affectation still rampant. Nonetheless, Fidel has, um, vast quantities of Cuban ‘natural resources’. For whatever reason, even if not the brightest bulb around, Kendall had to know the DGI of all the Soviet Bloc related services ranked near the top at false flag operations. Perhaps other shoes may drop. We will close with one thought about that. If we’re wrong, and it was all truly a simple awakening to the joys of building socialism, ell that boy just ain’t right, as they say. Perhaps, if Plato takes his case and the usual deal fall through, he may offer creative extenuating circumstances.

PLATO: Your Honor, Defendant respectfully asks that Exhibit 1959(c) be entered into evidence.

JUDGE: What is it, Counsel?

PLATO: This is the K-Tel Top 10 List For 1978. THIS on the radio. Day after day, week after week, haunting my client and his wife, Your Honor. As they started promising careers to defend this Nation against her enemies. May I?

JUDGE: Proceed.

PLATO: The Bee Gees, “Stayin Alive”. Then, Debbie Boone, “You Light Up My Life”, followed again by The Bee Gees, “How Deep Is Your Love” . . . (turn to US Prosecutor). Even a man of iron will would break and weep like a child. I could go on . . . and all in heavy rotation.

US Prosecutor: Oh God, I had no idea. How could we have known?

JUDGE: Counsel, is the Court being offered ‘The Bee Gees Defense”?

Levity in an otherwise bleak situation. Now there is one item I will add from personal background so must do so very carefully. My opacity here is not based on games but a desire to inform while being respectful and careful. Myers very, very, very early on had an issue which caused certain people to propose denying him a security clearance. This would be in the 1977/78 time frame. This is not speculation. It was unrelated to ‘Cuba’. And he eventually did get his clearance.

The matter was not box related (his handlers more than he, we suspect, determined he would be wise to stay clear of the off kilter (because of JJA and Church/ Pike Committees) but still formidable Agency. Besides, the DGI finds mid-level assets useful. CIA then and what calls itself CIA now were and are heavily compartmentalized. State, by comparison, is a Doris Day pillow party.

Like a legal matter, fact patterns are essential, especially dates and time. And my memory is not what it was once was. But his issue was in the 1977/78 period. I can’t say for certain which even plausibly could be construed as even a potential chicken or egg. If there is any causal relationship at all.

But am sipping coffee Sunday morning, wondering. And shuddering at Plato’s revelations . . . someone call Turley and get the Spanish judge.

Blinking In The Sunlight

The aftermath of Obama’s release of the torture memo continues to activate profound anxieties only tangentially related to the actual crimes committed. Most interesting to us is how it shines a light on those in the Democratic party who acquiesced to the Warlord’s extra-legal ideology. Daschle, Pelosi, Rockefeller, Harman, etc. are likely it seems to the Stiftung complicit either overtly or by omission.

Oh say can you see

All the more reason to be thankful that the American people according to recent polls continue to have personal and institutional faith in the Obama presidency. It helps that there is trust somewhere. Congress is not likely to distinguish itself handling the torture inquiry as a matter of day-to-day political acumen. That’s a lead pipe cinch where Republicans are concerned. Still, congressional leaders’ moral contamination will be only the proverbial icing on the cake.

A Different Kind Of Expendiency

So the OLC final torture memos are out. They make grim reading.

History helps put them into a broader context. How a new ruling regime attempts to radicalize and eventually suborn legal norms into ideological formlessness is an important barometer of their progress in freeing themselves from the despised Older Order’s shackles. The shirt or barracks color is not particularly relevant. It’s a manifestation of sociological and political science basic precepts.

The post immediate post-9/11 period and these memos are the more extreme examples of this phenomenon. But it would be a mistake to buy into that singular cause and effect narrative. The intent and even initial processes were pre-existing. Same process, albeit without the extra voltive charge of these examples, rolled down other silos of American life, government and expertise for 8 years: from the environment, NASA and science, civil economic and health safety regulations, etc. Professional isolation and insularity of each silo arising from American regulatory/legal/government complexities prevented an overall societal awareness to dawn for years.

Running on, running blind

CIA again both helped cause and bore the biggest brunt of the radicalist imperative. It was in many respects a no win situation.

White House demands for CIA to ‘act’ in response to this or that burning political imperative over the decades taught the Agency the hard way caution and bureaucratic self preservation. CIA learned the D.C. game of hard knocks – who would end up holding the bag when tempers and emotions cooled? White Houses and staff come and go. That this cynical caution was one of many reasons ushering in the Agency’s twilight and final destruction is also arguably true.

Obama’s decision to provide indemnification for officers and contractors who relied in good faith on OLC legal opinions is the correct if painful one. Without question a bureaucratic CYA element involved. But it’s also true that an officer or contractor is not expected to be a constitutional scholar. One familiar with constitutional law, the personalities at CIA, WH and OLC and customs and norms reading these memos easily sees their shoddy, subpar and brazenly amateurish analysis. And many officers wisely dodged this entire tar patch knowing its moral and career implications.

Government can not function if the government provides its employees the allegedly highest caliber legal sanction and then later subjects them to retroactive punitive measures based on demos’ current mood. Moreover, the statutory provisions for indemnification is a decades long established defense and Community legal framework to protect those providing governmental services from crushing liability. (Everything from space shuttle launches, etc.) It was the right call.

As Anon noted here last nite, not every situation is Nuremberg. It’s a facile historical factoid debased in a Youtube ‘public intellectual’ world. Administration defense and indemnification as set forth is limited to those officers and contractors operating in strict compliance with the appalling OLC green light. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the program exceeded in the field. Video destruction, etc. assumes greater saliency in this light.

Stabilization of liberal democracy remains our primary goal post-Warlord. War crimes do not have statute of limitations. Those who knowingly orchestrated OLC’s debasement and set the overall radicalization process in motion remain subject to prosecution. Obama is right to ignore the Olbermanns of the world and focus his immediate political capital going forward if by doing so the door remains open for creating the necessary factual record for a future reckoning.

Timing is also critical. The rump Movement *needs* a stab in the back betrayal meme and political theater to accelerate reconstitution. What a Pyhrric victory for Olbermann et al.’s heedless, zealous calls for prosecution to assist its over soon return.

A Long Bedtime Story

“Once upon a time* . . . a frightened people created a new machine. They made this machine to feel safe. You see, just before, while they were sleeping, bad things came creeping in the night. One even bit many people and took them away.

The machine would protect the people. It would never sleep, never tire, never stop looking at the bad things. The peoples’ warriors with it on the walls and lawgivers would always keep the machine working.

So the people went back to sleep.

After a while their dreams turned scary. Some of them woke up. And they saw why. The machine had grown very big. It no longer stayed on the walls. Some trusted warriors and lawgivers in secret added many links to the machine’s leash. Some did this hoping the growing machine would not attack them. Others wanted to tame the machine for their own plans. And when the machine got hungry, they all closed their eyes. At night the machine would crawl inside. And eat some of the sleeping people.

Scary Monsters And Super Creeps

Those people who woke up and saw all this cried out in fear. Many of their friends and neighbors still slept.

So the small group of people built and gathered around two campfires. To decide what to do. The machine frightened them. The betrayal by the warriors and lawgivers angered them. But some of them also remembered the bad things still outside.

They asked the warriors and lawgivers to sit in the lights. Why did they do this? Some told their story. Some were ashamed and lied. And some were happy with the new machine. They knew the machine got hungry. But they claimed the bad things outside were even bigger than before.

The people around the campfires saw that they were few. So many, many more of their friends still slept. And the machine still prowled around them in the darkness.

A debate lasted all night until the campfires burned out. The people still awake got strength from the new morning sun. They decided to make a new chain. This new chain would be shorter. The machine would stay. They could not unmake it now. But back on the walls. It would not eat sleeping people again. But just in case, because bad things were out there, too, the new chain could be made longer. But only if the lawgivers and warriors asked and got permission. Only then would they get the new chain’s extra links. The machine bowed its head, closed its eyes and let the people put on the new chain. It slowly returned to the wall.

Then the people went back to sleep. And soon came again the scary dreams.


Our friend Comment asks us about a recent item in Salon reporting on potential investigations of ‘abuse of executive power’ by Congress in 2009. Our reaction is threefold.

First, if once is tragedy, second is farce, the third decadent, then the fourth time is without doubt just an NBC prime time reality show.

* In the mythic sense

[Read more…]

Bringing In the Competition

Lacon: It’s the oldest question of all, George [Smiley]. Who can spy on the spies? Who can smell out the fox without running with him?

Smiley: Then go to the competition. Go to the security people. They’re the experts; they’ll do you a job.

Lacon: The Minister won’t have that. You know perfectly well how he and Alleline feel about the competition. Rightly so, if I may say so. A lot of ex-colonial administrators ploughing through Circus papers: you might as well bring in the army to investigate the navy!

Smiley: That’s no comparison at all.

Lacon: Very well, the Minister would rather live with a damp roof over his head than see his castle pulled down by outsiders.

Tinker, Tailor


Everyone is abuzz about the Audacity of Iowans and their Midwestern common sense. We’ll leave it all to the other blogs, the pundits and frankly you, Dear Reader. Candidly, what can be said, has been said. At least as we see it. Less is indeed more.

Instead, we are watching the internal, inside baseball game of DoJ and Bureau pursuing the destruction of the CIA water boarding videos. Back in the mythical but also somewhat real heyday of the Agency, the cultural, socio-economic and substantive differences between Hoover’s Bureau and the Oh So Social/Pale Male Yale crew truly was an intergalactic void, especially for the clandestine service. The tides of history (to mix imagery) have eroded the differences significantly.

The major reason is human capital. First with the Halloween Massacre in the late Seventies under Turner, then the first levee en masse under Casey (discussed at STSOZ 1.0), the wasting away under Woolsey and Tenet and the latest mass scoopage, Agency is simply now a bureaucracy. It is still true that an intelligence perspective is different often times than a law enforcement viewpoint (the latter being concerned about preserving evidence and a successful conviction). In this instance, however, that is exactly what we need. The Bureau supremely equipped to do this job and should. Turn the Agency upside down and shake.

Consider first that Goss and Hayden have largely emasculated the independence of the Inspector General’s office. There can be little faith in the Agency’s ability to make an honest and complete investigation. Add the fact that the Agency overlawyered the 9/11 Commission request for documents like a Cravath litigation team. Destruction of evidence and potential misdirection or misrepresentations to the 9/11 Commission deserve the criminal expertise the Bureau and DoJ can bring to bear.

We are less than thrilled about Congress getting involved at this point. Heat over light is not helpful. The fact that the Bureau resisted the water boarding to begin with (rightly so in the Stiftung’s p.o.v.) is not driving this post. Rather, it is the Agency’s blatant ass-covering and potential misrepresentations that deserve investigation and possible sanction.

The Agency is never in an easy place, especially when The Man or The Man’s Man (Cheney) are pushing to “go” button. It’s always a tricky thing for Agency people to deal with a WH that says “don’t worry, the President wants this done and you will be protected” — usually that means the Agency is left hanging. As seen during Casey’s tenure and when the family jewels came out in the 1970s. Which leaves bureaucrats having to weigh obeying political orders from the Man/the Man’s Man while looking down the road at consequences. As we see now with the tapes.

The fact is that more than a few officers refused to do this (not only for the above but for the same or similar reasons as the Bureau — i.e., it doesn’t work, there are better techniques, etc.). But no matter how many legal opinions you get (from inside the Agency, or from Fredo or DoJ), if you dance the dance, then you can’t sneak out the back door without paying the admission fee.

To quote Steve McGarret: “Book ’em, Danno.”

Worth Noting (Updated With Non-Sequitur Addendum)

Normally/historically, the Stiftung never really cared that much about NIEs. A dirty secret? The old DCIs often parked/shunted aside less than stellar people by detailing them to the National Intelligence Council. NIEs have only become truly sexy and politically potent the last 7 years with a few exceptions. And NIEs (except for the nearly pornographic October 2002 example) are typically written in a fashion similar to a Wall Street opinion letter for a transaction such as an LBO or asset-back financing: with enough carve outs, caveats and contingent penumbras that no matter what actually transpired the drafters would be able to produce language saying “See, we were right on top of it.” We won’t even go into the savage battles to bury divergent views into footnotes almost invariably never read (unfortunately, because often the footnotes are the most interesting and reveaiing). Theoretically, things are different now. So they say.

OK, it is important to note that the new NIE on Tehran abandoning the military nuclear program uses the barometer “high confidence”. One presumes after the October 2002 fiasco, a unanimous NIE on this topic is closer to sound as a pound than before. Even so, let’s now move on.

NIEs are never intended nor should be allowed to dictate policy outcomes. It is an assessment. Nothing more. Just as it is as wrong for Cheney and Bush to misuse a NIE so too with Harry Reid or the Opposition. We won’t go into a lengthy rote detailing of the intelligence cycle (it was done on STSOZ 1.0 — search there for intelligence cycle). Intelligence provides processed information for the policy customer/consumer. Intelligence never should weigh in on policy or dictate policy. We’re Old Skool on that one. So in the scheme of things, we don’t think this particular NIE necessarily will foreclose the Warlord’s thinking on the subject. Policy makers are not bound by the intelligence community (whether unanimous or not) nor should they be.

The above is not disagreement with the alleged NIE contents. Or support (heaven forbid) of the Warlord’s regime. Long time readers know that we concluded back in early 2006 that we would not see Iranian strikes — because of Iraq, igniting further regional dynamics, insufficient intelligence on the entire nuclear infrastructure and the inevitable explosion of Persian nationalism. This NIE confirms the Iranian standown in the equation. Our own assessment of the *policy* constraints remains unchanged. Perhaps your mileage varies.


Not Worth Noting

Tonight NBC’s wretched series “Heroes” dissolved in a Frankenstein-esque pastishe of ideas tossed together because of the writers’ strike. Here, the strike makes no difference this sophomore season. Almost everything that made its debut last year so much fun cavalierly tossed overboard. Back when record companies meant something, albums were albums, A&R men and women would ply disc jockeys with money and coke. There was also a music ndustry jinx — the so-called “sophomore slump”. Bands with bit hit debut albums sometimes followed it up with a turkey. To be avoided at all costs.

Heroes got nailed by that jinx televison-wise big time. Some of the random programming on YouTube shows better pacing, character development and arc development. We became fans last year because of the clever reveals of secrets — it was the anti-Lost — big secrets would be exposed every other week like a roller coaster. Plus it packed a joyous celebration of the current J-Pop/American-Pop fused sensibilites. Now? If the show never came back the Stiftung would not miss it — the so called “wham!” surprises tonight (the season ‘finale’) merely clumsy, contrived and mechanical. We believe this show’s nose dive is more steep than 24’s calamitous (and unintentionally hilarious) last season. Heroes’ creator, Tim Kring, also is an unlikely pilot to pull out a miracle recovery.

Let it crash. The Stiftung gives Heroes just one and a half Leos out of five.

A Story From A Bye Gone Era . . .

The Setting: The Faculty Club of an Ivy League School

The Two Participants: A Legendary Professor, OSS Veteran and Friend of Bill Casey and a man entering adulthood.

We talked about alot of things over the years by this time, being very comfortable with each other and confident in each other’s commitment. For example, it went unremarked that the Professor would make a sudden unannounced visit to Bolivia. Or that a week later Klaus Barbie was given up. That’s the way the world worked.

The subject of this one lunch (out of many conversations) was the Agency and its uselessness. Inevitably, the topic of The Mole hung in mid air. The certitude of penetration was an article of High Faith. Casey even shared it. (You may not know this Dear Reader, but Casey may have been the only senior American national security official never to really need a scrambler phone — his normal conversations were so garbled and mumbled that a Cray would melt trying to keep up without training).

So what to do? The Agency was dead, killed by Church, Pike, Colby, weak Executives and fearful careerists. And that was in addition to the Mole.

Casey, being an SEC/transactional lawyer, devised what any Wall Street solution would demand — the perfect ‘go around’. Use the Agency as cover and route his intelligence priorities (and the President’s) elsewhere. The Sovs would think they had a peak in the cupboard shelf, the hated Congress could claim they were overseeing things (HA!) and the Agency drones would, well, continue droning. The Mole would still do damage of course, because of inter-agency sharing issues. (The Professor, the Stiftung and a then young John Lehman at the peak of his 600 ship Navy hey day — CBGs steaming into Vladivostok! talked about the Mole still later). But at that Faculty lunch, the conversation drifted on how useful the Agency as a dead horse carcass might actually be. Not only operationally to do the work needed doing. But even to help set up the Mole for a mistake. (Note this conversation happened years before Ames walked into the Embassy).

And to top it all off, the Professor, more used to lecturing and telling Cold War jokes drew a picture on a napkin ala Laffer. (One my favorites of his jokes was he used to say he could have ended the Cold War in 1955 if he had been a good Boy Scout and had a grenade with him when he walked by Khruschev’s car — well, Dear Reader, we’re talking about the hard core of the hard core. And know that the Stiftung still recalls him with deep fondness and warm memories).

The napkin diagram of course later turned out to be years later almost identical to the so-called famous ‘Enterprise’ Casey set up operationalizing the NSC to escape congressional oversight. David Addington was a close Casey assistant at the time of the lunch conversation and later went over to the House Committee to subvert it from within. The rest, as they say, is l’histoire.


Past as Prologue

This in many ways is the backdrop to what happened since 2001. Casey in his wildest dreams never contemplated using the Vice President’s office as a covert arm of government. Or having a unified government allow him to outsource untold billions upon billions of dollars to ‘Foundations’, Beltway Bandits, the usual Iron Triangle stooges, and God knows what else. In fact, Gates, Hayden, the hapless McConnell, Clapper (Cambone’s successor) et al. couldn’t unravel what’s been done, determine the cells activated, the cash cash buried or escrowed, even if they cared enough to try — and even if they really understood what Cheney and Addington wanted to and actually did do. These funded entities likely will outlast all of the current incumbents and their successors, too.

It is so much more than Blackwater. (The Stiftung isn’t even going to bother swinging by the hearings). Or CACI buying Athena Solutions/MZM or CACI/DYNCORP escaping Abu Ghraib, etc. or sole source non-compete contracting or the massive abuse of GSA contracting vehicles to cover improper contracts, etc. Or even which defense firm is helping draft the PDB, etc. All outrages. All small in the overall picture.

When we see people chase the kite string we don’t know whether to laugh or just turn on the football game. This is why the Stiftung ignores pablum in 2007 you see the media complaining about the CIA/Community’s ossification during and after the Cold War and what it needs to do now “to win the war on terrorism.” That Community, that structure is gone. Done. Visible parts and names remain. A silhouette here or there. Yet making comparisons then and now frankly borders on the willfully ignorant if not delusional.

Casey’s dream back in the day was to create a new kind of Operational Entity. It would be self-funded, completely operationally independent. An Entity that would and could escape any oversight (and law) and would remain on mission and loyal to the cause. And in fact, such an Entity likely would use and abuse the official U.S. Community as cover or scapegoat when necessary or expedient. His goal, and Addington/Cheney’s goal never had anything to do about empirical accuracy. Or all the other Ancien regime complaints Zegart and others make.

And until the Democrats, the Oppositionists and those careerists who have not yet switched badge colors in the Community absorb this fundamental, primal lesson, all of them, well they are simply boxing smoke rings. We don’t hold out much hope.

Nothing to See, Move Along

What we’ve been saying when the Triassic was young and those vicious mammals a future nightmare.

No penalties.  Although the cruelest thing Tenet ever did was let Scheuer loose and wander aimless across the landscape of public discourse.  That and crying on 60 Minutes.  One wanted the Don to slap George on both cheeks and declaim in disgust, “You can start acting like a man!”

It’s all rather pointless in any event — as the community literally dwindles to a handful of full time public servants surrounded by agenda-driven contractors, and the like, one can just imagine a future IG report, full of sound and fury . . .