Saturday, August 30, 2008

Why CIA Veterans are Scared of McCain

Four years ago, the candidate called the CIA a "rogue organization;" now he’s advised by a former Chalabi promoter and Agency-basher. No wonder the spooks are spooked.

By Laura Rozen
August 29, 2008

This is part 1 of a two-part series on the main presidential candidates’ intelligence policies. Next week we'll look at Barack Obama.

Tall, broad-shouldered, mustached, Michael Kostiw looks like the former oil man and CIA case officer in Africa he once was. Now, as Republican staff director for Senator John McCain on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, Kostiw, 61, is probably the closest top former CIA official to the Republican presidential candidate, and is discussed as a possible candidate for a senior intelligence position should McCain win the presidency. But his relationship with his former Agency is complex. Standing in his large office in the Senate Russell building on a quiet day during August Congressional recess, Kostiw shows off a pair of wooden statuettes that were given to him by an African nation's ambassador—and long-time top official in his country’s government—to Washington. The envoy, Kostiw says, is an old contact that he proposed trying to recruit two decades ago when he was a CIA case officer in the country. But his Agency boss at the time waved him off the recruitment, saying "that guy isn't going anywhere."

It's a small but telling anecdote in an almost two hour conversation with a man whose career trajectory from CIA Soviet East Europe division operations officer to Texaco oilman to co-chair of the International Republican Institute to top Porter Goss and McCain Senate aide may signal what a McCain presidency would mean for the intelligence community—and why many from the CIA are quietly worried about a McCain presidency. The Bush years have been brutal for the CIA, which was pilloried for getting Iraq intelligence wrong while accused of downplaying and withholding intelligence from the White House that would have justified military action. Many current and former US spies expect a McCain administration guided by neoconservatives to treat them with hostility and mistrust. They also say McCain would likely weaken the CIA by giving broad new spying authorities to the Pentagon, which the CIA officials believe is more amenable to giving policymakers the intelligence they want, while being subject to less Congressional oversight.

These critics point especially to the McCain campaign's top national security advisor Randy Scheunemann—who ran a front group promoting war with Iraq and the fabrications of controversial Iraqi exile politician Ahmad Chalabi, the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, and who has lobbied for aggressive NATO expansion. Scheunemann's record, they argue, encapsulates everything wrong with the past eight years of Bush leadership on intelligence issues, from a penchant for foreign policy freelancing and secret contacts with unreliable fabricators to neoconservatives' disdain for the perceived bureaucratic timidity of the CIA and State Department, to their avowed hostility for diplomacy with adversaries. If McCain wins, "the military has won," says one former senior CIA officer. "We will no longer have a civilian intelligence arm. Yes, we will have analysts. But we won’t have any real civilian intelligence capability."

"McCain would be an absolute disaster," says a second senior recently retired US intelligence operations officer. "He is prejudiced against the CIA. The day after the 2004 election when Bush won, McCain came on TV and gave an interview in which he said something to the effect of, 'The CIA tried to sabotage this election. They’ve made their bed and now they have to lay in it.' … I used to like McCain but he is inconsistent." Columnist Robert Novak quoted McCain in November 2004 as saying, "With CIA leaks intended to harm the re-election campaign of the president of the United States, it is not only dysfunctional but a rogue organization."


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