Rift between CIA and Obama transition team continues

During the past several weeks we have been reporting that US President-Elect Barack Obama’s plans for the CIA have “created anxiety in the ranks of the agency’s clandestine service”, as the The New York Times put it. The Agency has effectively warned Obama a that he “may have difficulty finding a candidate who can be embraced by both veteran officials at the agency and the left flank of the Democratic Party”. It is believed that Obama is trying to alleviate the agency’s “anxiety” by proposing to retain the CIA’s current leadership. On Tuesday the Democratic Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Silvestre Rees of Texas, was enlisted by the CIA to pressure Obama to “keep the country’s current national intelligence director and CIA chief in place for some time to ensure continuity in US intelligence programs”. In explaining his stance, Rees said simply that “[t]here’s got to be some continuity, and the leadership of both the CIA and the DNI [Director of National Intelligence] is going to be pivotal to keeping us safe and secure”. Members of the intelligence community are even pressuring the US State Department to deny the Obama transition team access to classified legal reports and memos relating to CIA and NSA programs, until they can secure a firm commitment that the current intelligence leadership will not be removed. And there are signs that the US Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, is easily giving in to these pressures: last week Mukasey told journalists that the State Department “has reservations about granting the [Obama transition] team’s request to review” the classified material. He was apparently unchallenged by reporters when he said that the Department was “reluctant to provide the opinions to Obama’s team without permission from the two intelligence agencies whose activities they address”. Not surprisingly, the classified documents in question “contain the legal rationale of the NSA’s warrantless spying program and the CIA’s detention and interrogation policies, among other intelligence initiatives” –i.e. the very operations that NSA and CIA are afraid might get them in trouble if the Obama Administration decides to pursue those responsible for authorizing them. [JF]

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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