CIA director John Brennan apparently has decided to postpone and reverse the appointment of the first woman to head the CIA Directorate of Operations (which controls all covert operations and spying). According to press reports, Brennan has prevented the woman, whose identity is classified, from assuming the post because of her involvement with the interrogation and detention decisions after 9/11. According to the Washington Post, she is already the acting head of the directorate and the most qualified person for the job, but Brennan has appointed an outside panel of former CIA officers to review her and other candidates for the job — something that the CIA has never done before.
This is a lot more serious than the hypocrisy of the diversity-crazed Obama administration’s blocking the first woman for this most sensitive and important of intelligence positions. This is the very politicization of the CIA that conservatives feared when Brennan was nominated. Brennan has bent with the political winds, first defending the interrogations for producing intelligence that prevented future attacks, but — when Obama won the election — allegedly spreading the word that he was against the interrogations all along. Brennan carried out the drone program, which kills not just terrorists but innocent civilians. But now, because of the heat from the left during his confirmation, Brennan is blocking the most qualified operative to head the CIA’s key division because of her involvement in interrogations. Clearly, diversity only goes so far for the left.
More serious still, Brennan’s politicization of the appointment furthers the Obama administration’s degrading of our intelligence resources. First the president and his advisers accused these officers of torture and launched an independent-counsel investigation, even though these officers’ record of success would have been unimaginable in the months after 9/11. Their work did more than locate Osama bin Laden; it has prevented al-Qaeda from launching another successful attack on the United States for the last eleven-plus years — a feat no one would have predicted in September 2001. Then the president resorted to drones to achieve short-term successes, but at the cost of using up the intelligence gained from those interrogations without replenishing it. CIA officers are demoralized, some of the most experienced are leaving, and the best and brightest aren’t joining. This will cause long-term damage to the CIA.
The closest analogy is to President Carter’s housecleaning of the CIA when he took office. Attacking Watergate, Vietnam, and the CIA, Carter and his CIA director, Admiral Stansfield Turner, took a buzzsaw to the Directorate of Operations, eliminating 820 positions out of 4,730 and pushing many senior operatives into retirement. They believed that technical means of collection would replace spies and covert operatives. CIA agents instead became risk-averse, and the nation missed the signs of the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. We may suffer the same fate now — witness the failure to effectively intervene in Syria, the failure in Benghazi, and the ongoing difficulties against al-Qaeda in Africa.
The Obama administration may be turning Zero Dark Thirty into a historical period piece, rather than an example of what the CIA can achieve in the future.