Getting Their Backs

by digby

According to CQ, the CIA is worried that Obama won't "have their backs" when they do something wrong:

“I was with a group of intelligence officers today,” Roger Cressey, a counterterrorism official in the Clinton White House, said on MSNBC Thursday night, “and I think the most important thing for the president to say is, ‘We’ve got your back.’ That ‘we want you to take risks — risks that conform with our law and our values as a country.’

“What the intelligence community is afraid of more than anything is the game of ‘Gotcha,’” Cressey said. “Which is, if they make a mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, the White House doesn’t support them, they’re left out to dry, and Congress crushes them. And then you get into that risk-averse mentality, which we saw for awhile. So that is what they want. They want support, so they know that the president is going to be behind them. But also that he’s going to lead them.”

I doubt that there will be any problem if these "risks" actually do conform to our law and values --- and aren't stupid plans that were done without being properly understood, like the Bay of Pigs.

This article discusses a scenario in which the CIA blows up a car they mistakenly believes contains bin Laden, and asks whether or not the Obama administration will stand by them. But that's not what this is really all about. It's important to remember that this was at the heart of what Cheney and Addington's War On Terror legal reasoning was all about. The John Yoo Torture Memo of 2002, was written at the CIA's request that the Bush administration "get their backs." Just last March Bush vetoed the bill which would have required the CIA to adhere to the rules set forth in the Army Field manual in order to protect the CIA from being held culpable for torture.

The CIA will put a lot of pressure on Obama over this. They even got the ambitious wimp McCain to vote against the Field Manual (anti-waterboarding) bill, despite what it might do to his reputation, on the heels of his earlier cave-in on the Military Commissions Act. They are dead serious about being allowed to do what they feel "needs to be done" with the full backing of the president. And they always hold the security of the United States hostage when they do it ("we'll become too 'risk averse' and then you'll all die!")

Up until now, we have been dealing with electoral necessities (or what the Democrats perceived as being electoral necessities.) Now we are going to see perceived institutional necessities coming to the fore and the Democrats are going to have a much different relationship with these issues than they had before.

On torture, there can be no more blurring of definitions. There is plenty of scholarship that shows that there are better ways of obtaining reliable intelligence. Torture is not only immoral, it's lazy and counterproductive --- and is likely used most often out of some misplaced notion that being known to be brutal and ruthless is helpful to America's reputation. That is wrong. The CIA needs to know up front that Obama will not have their back if they engage in torture --- and that the torture legal framework under Bush is no longer operative in any way. There really is no other choice on this and I expect that he will do it. He knows very well that his foreign policy will be in complete shambles the minute it is leaked --- and it will be --- that the Obama administration has sanctioned torture, either through commission or omission. His great opportunity across the world to prove that America has changed will be lost.