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Tilting at Windmills

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February 14, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

MARTYR OR FOP?....So what's going on at the CIA these days? Here's the London Times on the firing of Robert Grenier, the CIA's chief counterterrorism guy:

The CIAs top counter-terrorism official was fired last week because he opposed detaining Al-Qaeda suspects in secret prisons abroad, sending them to other countries for interrogation and using forms of torture such as water boarding, intelligence sources have claimed.

....Vincent Cannistraro, a former head of counter-terrorism at the agency, said: It is not that Grenier wasnt aggressive enough, it is that he wasnt with the programme. He expressed misgivings about the secret prisons in Europe and the rendition of terrorists.

Grenier also opposed excessive interrogation, such as strapping suspects to boards and dunking them in water, according to Cannistraro.

Over at TPMCafe, here is Larry Johnson on the same subject:

Some outside the Agency see this as part of a political vendetta. Folks I've communicated with who are knowledgeable and have dealt with him say this is good news.

Before becoming the Chief of CTC, Robert Grenier (aka Bob) had been the CIA Chief in Islamabad during and after 9-11 . When the CIA started fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan in October of 2001, Grenier was one of the foot draggers. I'm told he took the Pakistani position on everything and was at constant odds with the Chiefs of the Counter Terrorism Center (Cofer Black and Hank Crumpton) on key issues of the war. US military personnel who worked with Grenier during his time in Pakistan remarked that he was always a dapper dresser and worked banker's hours. They joked that he was well rested during the war. His men, however, were in the office around the clock. Case officers I know and respect viewed him as personally ambitious and not a stand up guy. He would not take a spear in the chest for anyone.

So: fired for refusing to torture suspects with enough relish, or fired for being an indolent fop? Beats me, but I thought the competing storylines here were interesting. Stay tuned to see if Grenier says anything in his own defense.

Kevin Drum 12:25 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (39)

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Comments

Hey! Stop posting! We can't keep up!

What was this post about, again?

Posted by: craigie on February 14, 2006 at 12:31 PM | PERMALINK

So: fired for refusing to torture suspects with enough relish, or fired for being an indolent fop?

These don't seem at all mutually exclusive. I think the subtext is: fired for being too intellectual.

Posted by: craigie on February 14, 2006 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

I think, despite my respect for larry johnson, the evidence is always that the bush people fire people for competence, not incompetence. So either Grenier was incomptent but resigned voluntarily to spend more time with his family, or he was too comptent/wouldn't go along with torture and he was fired for not being a team player. I can't think of anyone--not a single person--who was fired by the bush people for actual incomptence. The proof? eventually if grenier was simply incomptent we will see him back working for bush in an advisory capacity. as they used to say on buffy the vampire slayer you get more air time dead than you do alive on some shows.

aimai

Posted by: aimai on February 14, 2006 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

So: fired for refusing to torture suspects with enough relish, or fired for being an indolent fop?

Well, is there evidence that this administration, other than in this case, doesn't tolerate indolent fops? Is there evidence that this administration, other than in this case, doesn't tolerate people not being "with the programme" when it comes to absolute, unquestioning support even when a policy is patently ineffective and/or illegal?

Either or both could well be true of him, but which seems credible as an explanation for him being dismissed by this Administration?

Posted by: cmdicely on February 14, 2006 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

water boarding"

Yes, that gets the Islamics everytime, being forced to go surfing.

Posted by: Matt on February 14, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

I've always wanted to be a fop, but I've never been able to pull it off. Is there a manual?

Posted by: C.J.Colucci on February 14, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Not willing to waterboard??? How unamerican. Fire the fag. Probably a commie, too.

Posted by: elfranko on February 14, 2006 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

I second the idea that these two opinions aren't mutually exclusive. He could be both a fop and realize that torturing people isn't a good idea.

I am also interested in how this post also shows how much image can affect peoples' judgements. Just because he ONLY works 40 hours a week doesn't automatically mean he wasn't doing his job. Too many people look at input rather than the output. In other words look only how much people are there rather than what they really produce.

Second, it appears that many people are judging him as not caring because he didn't hit the panic button. But hitting the panic button can be damaging as often as useful. In fact, I'd argue that the US hitting the panic button on terrorism has been massively damaging to our national interests.

All that parading around yelling about "War on Terrorism!" has badly damaged our national ability to plan rationally on what we should do to minimize our vulnerabilities to terrorism.

And I'm intentionally saying "minimize our vulnerabilities" not defeat terrorism. Because there is no one source of terrorism to defeat. But there lots of ways we can reduce how vulnerable we are.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on February 14, 2006 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

These don't seem at all mutually exclusive. I think the subtext is: fired for being too intellectual. Posted by: craigie

Actually, seems he should have been fired after 9/11 for siding with Pakistan, which had been a supporter of the Taliban since before they were known as the Taliban.

The CIA broke down into two camps during the Soviet-Afghan war: those who thought backing "moderate" factions (chiefly what became the Northern Alliance) so that they could continue to tie-up the Soviets indefinitely, and the idiots who want to escalate the thing into a full-blown war. This latter group won, with the full support of Pakistan. The legacy of this were/are the Taliban and the people who organized and carried the 9/11 attacks.

Oh, and by the way, this years opium harvest was fantastic.

Posted by: Jeff II on February 14, 2006 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

The first story about Grenier may turn out to be true, but don't be gullible here. Anyone who is fired for a good reason (laziness, incompetence, etc.) has a huge incentive to claim that they were really fired because they were too honorable for the job (or they weren't appreciated, or the boss had a vendetta against them, etc.).

Posted by: Niels Jackson on February 14, 2006 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK
Actually, seems he should have been fired after 9/11 for siding with Pakistan, which had been a supporter of the Taliban since before they were known as the Taliban.

Before they were known as the Taliban, they were supported by Pakistan, the CIA, and a lot of other people.

After 9/11, and while still maintaining connections with al-Qaeda linked terror groups (particularly in Kashmir), they were named a major non-NATO ally.

If people should be fired for taking their side, shouldn't we start with George W. Bush and then work our way down?

Posted by: cmdicely on February 14, 2006 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

This is character assassination of the foulest sort: "one of the foot draggers", "took the Pakistani position on everything", "at constant odds", "dapper dresser", "banker's hours", "well rested", "personally ambitious and not a stand up guy", and the topper, "would not take a spear in the chest for anyone." Ick. I feel slimey just having read it.

--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on February 14, 2006 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a test-- had Mr. Grenier enthusiastically supported secret prisons and the use of torture, do you think he still would have been fired?

Posted by: Constantine on February 14, 2006 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Not to provoke a dead horse, but --where's Drudge?

Posted by: cld on February 14, 2006 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Good point HR Laughed.

One account is a list of opinionated charges - the other is straightforward. One he was lazy, etc, the other he was against torture.

Nice way to figure out which one is more plausible.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on February 14, 2006 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, and by the way, this years opium harvest was fantastic.

I know! You should see the display at the local Whole Foods!

Posted by: craigie on February 14, 2006 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

See I never go down that aisle at Whole Foods because the hemp socks are so annoying. I better check it out.

Posted by: shortstop on February 14, 2006 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

Before they were known as the Taliban, they were supported by Pakistan, the CIA, and a lot of other people.

That's what I wrote.

While Bush should not only be fired, but tried and executed for treason, the Taliban and the evil that is Pakistan existed long before Shrub even sobered up enough to pretended to be governor of Texas.

After 9/11, and while still maintaining connections with al-Qaeda linked terror groups (particularly in Kashmir), they were named a major non-NATO ally. Posted by: cmdicely

Who? Certainly no one connected with the Taliban or al-Qaeda. Nominal Western support for the Taliban ended before Clinton was out of offfice. The UN passed two different resolutions condemning the Taliban for human righst abuses and descretion of cultural treasures.

Furthermore, Kashmir is a whole country away from Afghanistan, and the "rebels" there, al-Qaeda connected or otherwise, were, are concerned with "liberating" Kashmir from India.

Posted by: Jeff II on February 14, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

From the Los Angeles Times, 7 February 2006:

One former senior CIA official said that it might have been difficult for Grenier to escape his predecessor's shadow.

"There's a saying we have," the former official said. "The two worst officers are always your successor and your predecessor."

Sounds to me like Grenier's successor is aiming both barrels.

--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on February 14, 2006 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Man, my posts are illiterate lately. That last one was typed while rearranging my tights and trying to soothe a diva photographer on the phone. Thank God I don't have gum in my mouth, too.

Posted by: shortstop on February 14, 2006 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

Man, my posts are illiterate lately. That last one was typed while rearranging my tights . . .
Posted by: shortstop

Wow! Was the a gratuitous VD smirk or what?

Posted by: Jeff II on February 14, 2006 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

Those are hemp tights, right?

Posted by: craigie on February 14, 2006 at 1:26 PM | PERMALINK

Those are hemp tights, right? Posted by: craigie

Gee, Craigie, talk about lowering the tone here. I'm sure they're cotton. Hemps a bit coarse (as am I) for undergarments.

Posted by: Jeff II on February 14, 2006 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Wow! Was the a gratuitous VD smirk or what?

Bwa! Well, who knew you guys were so susceptible? Jeesus!

Posted by: shortstop on February 14, 2006 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely and others:

actually, most of the Taliban leadership was not involved in the war with the Soviets. Mullah Omar and others were actually comfortably esconced in madrassas in Pakistan.

after the Soviet withdrawal, the Taliban first appeared...(with Pakistani support) and filled the governmental vacuum.

its inaccurate to say that the U.S. ever supported the Taliban.

btw, I am amused that Larry Johnson's word was considered absolute here on the Plame matter but apparently not on Grenier.

Posted by: Nathan on February 14, 2006 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

*sigh* Why does Robert Grenier hate America?

Posted by: Stefan on February 14, 2006 at 1:38 PM | PERMALINK
actually, most of the Taliban leadership was not involved in the war with the Soviets. Mullah Omar and others were actually comfortably esconced in madrassas in Pakistan.

The madrassas in Pakistan were not uninvolved in the war; they were part of the support network for it, and a major source of recruits, and part of what the CIA and Pakistani intelligence supported to propel the war.

after the Soviet withdrawal, the Taliban first appeared...(with Pakistani support) and filled the governmental vacuum.

Yeah, that's when something known as the Taliban first emerged.


its inaccurate to say that the U.S. ever supported the Taliban.

It is no less accurate to say that the US supported the Taliban before they formally existed than to say that Pakistan did.

btw, I am amused that Larry Johnson's word was considered absolute here on the Plame matter but apparently not on Grenier.

Who took it as "absolute"?

Posted by: cmdicely on February 14, 2006 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

actually, most of the Taliban leadership was not involved in the war with the Soviets. Mullah Omar and others were actually comfortably esconced in madrassas in Pakistan. Posted by: Nathan

You are wrong.

Al Qaeda and those people that came to be known as the Taliban were heavily involved with the Afghan war and (again) got their military wherewithall for the U.S.

Those people initially running the CIA station in Pakistan knew that shifting support to these elements would result in blow back. These people were pushed aside by know-nothings in Congress and the Reagan administration, and were replaced by people in the CIA that hated commies above all else and were content to use whatever proxies they could find to fight them (which pretty much sums up the agencies legacy from the 1970s to 1980s). In fact, some of the same people who fucked up so badly in Latin American with the Contras and such were involved with Afghanistan.

Posted by: Jeff II on February 14, 2006 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

He would not take a spear in the chest for anyone.

So, neither would Bush, Cheney, Frist, Hastert, or Rice.

Yet, miraculously, they all still have jobs.

Cheney even gets to violate Texas law, shoot a fellow hunter in the face, and only get a warning.

Posted by: Advocate for God on February 14, 2006 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

Cheney even gets to violate Texas law, shoot a fellow hunter in the face, and only get a warning.

Shoot first, write late-night monologue jokes later. Strong and wrong, baby, strong and wrong!

Posted by: craigie on February 14, 2006 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

btw, I am amused that Larry Johnson's word was considered absolute here on the Plame matter but apparently not on Grenier.

Johnson's word? He just writes what he's told by sources [one would hope] he trusts.

And it's always good to remember the wise words of Dr. Gregory House, particularly when talking to spooks with an agenda: "Everyone lies."

--
HRlaughed

Posted by: HRlaughed on February 14, 2006 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

You are wrong. Al Qaeda and those people that came to be known as the Taliban were heavily involved with the Afghan war and (again) got their military wherewithall for the U.S.

No, he's quite right. The Afghan war in the 1980s was fought primarily by the Afghans. While the Afghan resistance was funded heavily by the CIA, Pakistan, the Chinese, and the Gulf Arabs, the Arab volunteers themselves were militarily negligible and never numbered more than a few hundred or a few thousand in the field at any one time. (The Afghans thought the Arabs were soft, didn't know how to fight and, being a desert people, were unsuited for mountain combat).

While bin Laden and a few men who would later form Al Qaeda in the early to mid-90s did indeed fight in Afghanistan, they were never part of the primary effort and their role has been heavily mythologized by their supporters. The main Arab contribution to the resistance was in providing funding and equipment, not fighters.

The Taliban, meanwhile (which translates roughly to "the Seminarians") only came to power around 1994, five years after the Soviet withdrawal. They arose as a band of law and order vigilantes who hanged several warlords who'd been raping young boys and girls in a border town, and then rapidly swept through most of the country.

Posted by: Stefan on February 14, 2006 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

If he was that incompetant at his post in Pakistan, then how on earth did he get promoted to be head of counter-terrorism ops back in DC? Given that they already promoted him once after his supposed poor ability was demonstrated, it's hard to believe that same lack of ability would now cause him to be fired.

Posted by: Doug T on February 14, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Doug T: Given that they already promoted him once after his supposed poor ability was demonstrated, it's hard to believe that same lack of ability would now cause him to be fired.

Conservative rationalization knows no logic.

It is sufficient that at any moment a conservative be prepared to say whatever will best serve their own self-interest, without regard to truth, logic, law, morality, or sense of personal responsibility.

It is the "logic" of an arrogant faith in their own superiority which justifies all actions and statements as "righteous", independent of any objective criteria.

Posted by: Advocate for God on February 14, 2006 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

The End

Posted by: parrot on February 14, 2006 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

Look. For another 2 years, they are going to do waterboarding, etc, etc.

If the guy is a prick and he can't follow orders once the decision is made. Out is good.

Objections are fine, raising them is fine but the whole issue of waterboarding has been dealt with in public opinion. Bush is President. Congress/Senate have investigated and haven't banned it. If at that point, you can't do it - get the fuck out the way.

Posted by: McA on February 14, 2006 at 11:08 PM | PERMALINK

Too many people look at input rather than the output. In other words look only how much people are there rather than what they really produce.

Posted by: James on February 15, 2006 at 4:33 AM | PERMALINK

The current turmoil at CIA will put this nation at risk...

I think...

Posted by: Mike on February 15, 2006 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

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