by Larry C. Johnson

Dana Priest’s Wednesday scoop in the Washington Post that the CIA has several secret prisons holding suspected terrorists in “friendly” nations, including some in the former Soviet Union and East Bloc, has folks legitimately outraged and wanting to ask tough questions. Based on preliminary checks I’ve made with folks who “know”, the story is solid. What fascinates me in light of the Libby indictment, however, is who tipped her off? There are two likely scenarios:

Scenario One — Priest was tipped by CIA personnel, most likely recently retired, who think Porter Goss is being far too accommodating of President Bush and Don Rumsfeld. The CIA wants to play tough with terrorists, but does not want to stray into the arena where the Agency can be accused of massive human rights violations. CIA officers who I know personally, who have been on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, are uniformly opposed to torture and alarmed by the push into the twilight zone beyond the Geneva Conventions. Yet, there are some CIA officers who are carrying out these orders without asking too many questions. The few remaining Grey beards who have been through previous scandals (Does the Church Committee ring a bell?) are legitimately worried that the acts committed in the name of fighting the war on terrorism will be used to further discredit what is left of the CIA. In other words, this was a preemptive strike by CIA officers not happy with Goss who want to put the Director on the defensive and stop his ongoing effort to politicize the Directorate of Operations.

Scenario Two — Priest was tipped by NSC insiders who, angered over the Libby affair and paranoid that the CIA is trying to weaken the Bush Presidency, decided to drive a stake in the heart of the CIA. With the focus on the CIA trying to fend off Congressional investigators there is a chance that the focus on the outing of CIA officer Valerie Wilson will shift to the misdeeds of the CIA clandestine service.

My money is on Scenario One, but that is just an opinion. Regardless of who leaked this information the story is terrible news for the CIA. It conjures up once again the image of a rogue elephant run amuck. It may even ensnare the current head of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism, Hank Crumpton, who was working in the Counter Terrorism Center at CIA when these “prisons” were set up. That, in my opinion, would be awful because the early word on Crumpton is that he is the best talent the S/CT shop has had in many years and is making significant strides in trying to coordinate the U.S. Government’s chaotic and disjointed counter terrorism effort. Just some initial thoughts.


Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and U.S. State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC’s Nightline, NBC’s Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News, and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications, including Security Management Magazine, the New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and aviation security around the world. Further bio details.

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