The Justice Department investigation into CIA torture allegations may have already jeopardized American intelligence capabilities, seven former CIA directors told President Obama. In a letter, the spy chiefs urge him to reverse Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to re-review case files of a dozen interrogations for possible criminal prosecution. Letter to President Obama from Former DCIs and DCIAs (2).pdf
"Not only will some members of the intelligence community be subjected to costly financial and other burdens from what amounts to endless criminal investigations, but this approach will seriously damage the willingness of many other intelligence officers to take risks to protect the country," the directors write. "In our judgment such risk-taking is vital to success in the long and difficult fight against the terrorists who continue to threaten us."
The letter also criticizes the disclosure of information about interrogation methodology. In what amounts to a lecture of sorts, the directors write that "[s]uccess in intelligence often depends on surprise and deception and on creating uncertainty in the mind of an enemy." The administration must be mindful, they write, that public disclosure about past intelligence operations "can only help Al Qaeda elude U.S. intelligence and plan future operations."
Finally, they warn that U.S. intelligence liaison relationships with other countries is in jeopardy because these countries worry that the U.S. can't keep secrets -- and secrecy is often a prerequisite for intelligence sharing.
"As a result of the zeal on the part of some to uncover every action taken in the post-9/11 period, many countries may decide that they can no longer safely share intelligence or cooperate with us on future counter-terrorist operations. They simply cannot rely on our promises of secrecy," the authors write.
The authors provided no specifics to back up their contentions.
The signees include every living CIA director from 1973 to the present, with the exception of Robert Gates, who is now the Secretary of Defense and former President George H.W. Bush. The first signee, Robert A. Schlesinger, presided over the release of the so-called "Family Jewels," which implicated
his agency in a massive, illegal domestic wiretapping operation. Three of the directors -- Porter Goss, Michael Hayden and George Tenet -- were directly responsible for authorizing and overseeing the CIA's interrogation program, which was known inside the agency as "GST."
"Director Panetta appreciates the President's strong support
for the men and women of the CIA. His focus, and that of the agency as a whole,
is on the national security challenges of today and tomorrow," said Paul Gimigliano, the CIA's spokesman, in a statement. "The Director has
stood up for those who followed legal guidance on interrogation, and he will
continue to do so. The CIA is cooperating with the official reviews now in
progress, in part to see that they move as expeditiously as possible. The goal
is to ensure that current agency operations--on which the safety of our country
depends--center on protecting the nation."
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is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.