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Why I Resigned From the CIA
The agency did its job, but higher-ups endangered the nation.
By Michael Scheuer
Michael Scheuer, a 22-year
veteran of the CIA, wrote "Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing
the War on Terror" (Brassey's Inc., 2004) under the pseudonym Anonymous.
The Central Intelligence Agency is the best
place to work in the United States. No federal agency has a smarter, more
dedicated or harder-working set of individuals than the CIA's women and
men. I had intended to work at the CIA for the duration of my career, and
I left it with deep regret and a great sense of personal loss. I was neither
forced out nor pressed to resign. Resigning was my decision alone.
I cannot state these facts more clearly, and I fiercely deny the accusations
that I am a disgruntled former employee. I am, however, a disgruntled American
one who decided that being a good citizen was no longer compatible with
being a good member of the CIA's Senior Intelligence Service.
I do not profess a broad expertise in international
affairs, but between January 1996 and June 1999 I was in charge of running
operations against Al Qaeda from Washington. When it comes to this small
slice of the large U.S. national security pie, I speak with firsthand
experience (and for several score of CIA officers) when I state categorically
that during this time senior White House officials repeatedly refused to
act on sound intelligence that provided multiple chances to eliminate Osama
bin Laden either by capture or by U.S. military attack. I witnessed
and documented, along with dozens of other CIA officers, instances where
life-risking intelligence-gathering work of the agency's men and women in
the field was wasted.
Because of classification issues, I argued this point only obliquely in
my book "Imperial Hubris," but it is a fact and fortunately,
no American has to depend on my word alone. The 9/11 commission report documents
most of the occasions on which senior U.S. bureaucrats and policymakers
had the chance to attack Bin Laden in 1998-1999. It is mystifying that the
American public has not been outraged over these missed opportunities.
In the most memorable and cloying moment of the 9/11 commission's public
hearings, former White House terrorism advisor Richard Clarke apologized
to the American people for the failure of the U.S. intelligence community
to protect them. This statement has become, like the 9/11 report, American
scripture carved in stone, literally true and unquestionable.
Clearly, Clarke had the duty to apologize for the government's ineffectiveness
as regards terrorism, but I reject his intimation that the clandestine service
failed the nation.
Now, I must add that I was never charged with deciding whether to act against
Bin Laden. That decision properly belongs solely to senior White House officials.
However, as a now-private American citizen, it is my right to question their
judgment; I am entitled to know why the protection of Americans most selfishly,
my own children and grandchildren was not the top priority of the senior
officials who refused to act on the opportunities to attack Bin Laden provided
by the clandestine service.
Each of these officials have publicly argued that the intelligence was
not "good enough" to act, but they almost always neglect to say
that they were repeatedly advised that the intelligence was not going to
get better and that Bin Laden was going to kill thousands of Americans if
he was not stopped.
At each opportunity provided by the clandestine service, senior bureaucrats
and policymakers decided not to act. The 9/11 report documents the fact
that the chances to capture or attack Bin Laden were passed by because there
were worries that shrapnel might hit a mosque and offend Muslim opinion;
that a United Arab Emirates prince meeting Bin Laden clandestinely in the
Afghan desert might be killed; and that the CIA might be accused of assassination
if Bin Laden was killed in an effort to capture him.
Of course, it is not my opinion but that of the American people that counts.
Perhaps a starting point is for Americans to ask why no member of Congress'
Graham-Goss investigation or the Kean-Hamilton commissioners ever directly
asked Clarke, former national security advisor Samuel R. "Sandy"
Berger, CIA Director George J. Tenet, former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh,
former Secretary of State William S. Cohen or any of the rest of the witnesses
why they never erred on the side of protecting Americans; why international
opinion was ultimately more important than the Americans who leaped from
the World Trade Center; and why the intelligence was "good enough"
to save the life of an Arab prince dining with bin Laden, but not "good
enough" to cause the government to act on behalf of Americans.
At day's end, it may be worth pausing the intelligence reform process long
enough to determine what role personal failure, bureaucratic warfare which
the Department of Defense continues waging today and a lack of moral courage
played in getting the United States to 9/11. Lacking this accounting, the
debate over intelligence reform will, I believe, simply lock into place
a bureaucratic mind-set that believes intelligence is never "good enough"
to take a risk to protect the lives of Americans.
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