Arguing that the actions of the Attorney General are essentially putting this country at greater risk of terrorist attack, a bipartisan team of seven former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency wrote to President Obama today urging him to direct Attorney General Eric Holder to close the criminal investigation looking into whether any CIA officers went beyond what they were told was legal in their interrogations during counterterrorism investigations.
Allowing future investigations and prosecutions “will seriously damage the willingness of many other intelligence officers to take risks to protect the country,” the seven men 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.”
Moreover, they argue, “public disclosure about past intelligence operations can only help Al Qaeda elude US intelligence and plan future operations. Disclosures about CIA collection operations have and will continue to make it harder for intelligence officers to maintain the momentum of operations that have saved lives and helped protect America from further attacks.”
The seven former directors are Michael Hayden and Porter Goss, who served under President George W. Bush; George Tenet, who served under Bush and President Bill Clinton; John Deutch and R. James Woolsey, who served under Clinton; William Webster, who served under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan; and James R. Schlesinger, who served under President Richard Nixon.
You can read their letter HERE.
The seven men also argue that violations of the law have already been investigated, with the CIA having “forwarded fewer than 20 instances where Agency officers appeared to have acted beyond their existing legal authorities,” and career prosecutors under the supervision of the US Attorney determining that one prosecution was warranted, of a CIA contractor, who was later convicted.
“They determined that prosecutions were not warranted in the other cases,” the former CIA directors write. “In a number of these cases the CIA subsequently took administrative disciplinary steps against the individuals involved. Attorney General Holder’s decision to re-open the criminal investigation creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute. Moreover, there is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused.”
In response, the current CIA director, Leon Panetta, said through a spokesman that he “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. 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.”
Living former CIA directors who did not sign the letter include Robert Gates, the current Secretary of Defense, who served under President Clintons and George HW Bush; former President George HW Bush, who served under Nixon and President Jimmy Carter; and Admiral Stansfield Turner (Ret.), who served under Carter.
The former directors who wrote the letter also argue that a “certain result of these reopened investigations is the serious damage done to our intelligence community’s ability to obtain the cooperation of foreign intelligence agencies,” which are “already greatly concerned about the United States’ inability to maintain any secrets.”