Sunday 27 February 2005
Top Former CIA Agent Condemns New Terror War
Robert Baer Exposes the Other Matrix -
The CIA's 'Worldwide Attack Matrix'
A running joke in Washington late last year held that Langley, the CIA's home in Virginia, was changing its name to Fallujah after the restive Iraqi town then held by insurgents. Like Fallujah, Langley - according to some White House wags - was full of rebels that needed to be cleared out. And like in Fallujah, there would inevitably be lots of casualties along the way.
But putting the jokes and bravado aside, many at the CIA's longtime base already knew that the winds of change were blowing their way, and were well aware of the reason why. George W. Bush, his eyes by then firmly fixed on a second term, was consolidating his position. It was time to rein in those agencies and their operatives that were not always singing from the same political hymnal as the President and those closest to him.
In the months that followed, a new CIA chief, Porter Goss, would be appointed - as would a new director of national intelligence: John Negroponte. And there would be other changes too, in tactics and operations.
It is totally reactionary. It's like they woke up on 9-11 and just started shooting at anybody and anything.
All of this has since set alarm bells ringing among human rights activists and security analysts who claim "hardmen" are back at the CIA helm with a whole suitcase full of revamped dirty tricks ranging from political assassinations and death squads to the shuttling of detainees to interrogation and torture facilities worldwide. Few people know more about how the CIA operates on the ground than former agent Robert Baer, one of the agency's top field operatives of the past quarter-century.
The Seasoned Veteran
An Arabic speaker, Baer spent most of his long career running agents in the souks and back alleys of the Middle East, before becoming disillusioned with what he saw as interference by Washington politicians in the CIA's efforts to root out terrorists.
He believes that at precisely the time when terrorist threats were escalating globally, the agency that should have been monitoring them was being "scrubbed clean" instead.
I put it to him that since 9-11, the cost of being complacent has been recognized and that the CIA is now getting its hands dirty again.
"Yes," says Baer, "but in the wrong direction.
"It is totally reactionary," he insists. "It's like they woke up on 9-11 and just started shooting at anybody and anything."
To give just one example, he says that what is referred to as "extraordinary renditions" - the controversial practice of secretly spiriting suspects to other countries without due process - is not only wrong, but often counterproductive for gathering intelligence.
"They are picking up people really with nothing against them, hoping to catch someone because they have no information about these networks."
According to Baer, what happened after 9-11 was a kind of knee-jerk reaction by the CIA, taking in thousands of contractors and dispatching everybody they could, at the expense of real expertise and experienced operatives.
This desperation, he says, led to a "do anything approach" and "that's why we ended up with Guantanamo and arresting a lot of people that were innocent."
The Other Matrix
It was on September 15, 2001, just a few days after the attacks on New York and Washington, that George Tenet - then director of the CIA - produced a top secret document known as the 'Worldwide Attack Matrix,' for ratification by President Bush.
It was, in effect, a licence to kill. Among the actions already under way or being recommended in the document were those ranging from "routine propaganda to lethal covert action in preparation for military attacks." Implemented as outlined, the Matrix, "would give the CIA the broadest and most lethal authority in its history."
Since then the agency has hacked into foreign banks, used secret prisons overseas and spent millions bankrolling "friendly" Muslim intelligence services. They have assassinated al-Qaeda leaders, spirited prisoners to nations with brutal human rights records and amassed countless files.
Some might say this is what secret services do anyway, but there are concerns about how far the CIA is prepared to go.
It was, in effect, a licence to kill.
"Everything I've heard anecdotally about the primary suspects connected to September 11 says they are being truly tortured. They are not [merely] being made to feel uncomfortable," says Baer.
What did he know about the "Worldwide Attack Matrix," and was it the blueprint for current CIA activities?
"I think it was the blueprint right after 9-11. I don't know specifics about it, but I know what matrices are. You collect what you believe to be facts and identify people and get rid of them. Either by arresting them, or getting local government to arrest them, or kidnapping them and putting them in the extraordinary rendition system."
The Matrix document as drafted and presented to Bush specified targets in 80 countries around the world. The CIA even prepared a Memorandum Of Notification, which would allow the agency to have virtual carte blanche to conduct political assasinations abroad.
Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez recently accused the CIA of having a hand in the military coup that briefly deposed him in 2002, and says the agency were hatching just such an assassination plot against him as outlined in the Matrix.
Baer is quick to point out, however, that while such strategies are drawn up on paper, they only work if there is the political will to see them through. So the question is, does that political will exist, and who in turn is calling the shots now in the CIA's war on terror?
"I think it's the Attorney General and the President who are basically taking the attitude of murder in the cathedral, and ‘who will rid me of these guys, these 'terrorists?'," says Baer, noting that people further down the line are quick to interpret the orders as they see fit.
Certainly that political will is around today, insists Baer, "more so than in the 80s."
"It's Like Joining a Criminal Organization"
Having received the CIA's intelligence medal in 1997, and having served in Beirut and Iraq at their worst, he knows all about what CIA orders often involve.
While Baer sees the agency's move towards getting tough as necessary, he says it is being done with scarcely believable clumsiness. Recruits able to get inside terrorist groups, recruits with language and specialist skills or with proper backgrounds, are not being admitted to the CIA in any numbers.
"To have got into Baghdad before the war you would have had to put people next to Saddam's sons - dirty oil traders, dirty arms traders, people that got their hands dirty.
"It's like joining a criminal organization. You have to prove yourself. You have to do that to get inside, if that's you goal."
He also sees it as an uncomfortable necessity, "to do favours for such groups. And doing favours for them means getting exceptions under US law like trading oil with Saddam."
The danger, he says, is that the intelligence services might succumb to what he calls "pagan ethics."
Are the likes of new CIA director Porter Goss and National intelligence director John Negroponte the sort of men to succumb to "pagan ethics?" And what of their so called "clearing out" of the CIA house recently?
"Oh come on, the guy who oversaw collection on Iraq got it completely wrong and was promoted, what kind of house-cleaning is that?
"You don't reappoint the captain of the Titanic after he loses the boat," Baer complains.
If he could, Baer would do one thing immediately to improve the CIA's efficiency on the ground: change the clearance system to get recruits who can go places operatives can't at the moment.
"What you need is some Lawrence of Arabia kind of guy. He may not get you the keys to the kingdom, but at least he's familiar with the players."
© 2005 The Sunday Herald
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