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Politicizing Intelligence?

6:44 PM, Jan 26, 2009 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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The New Yorker's Jane Mayer reports on Barack Obama's executive order on interrogations. She writes:

Across the Potomac River, at the C.I.A.'s headquarters, in Langley, Virginia, however, there was considerably less jubilation. Top C.I.A. officials have argued for years that so-called "enhanced" interrogation techniques have yielded lifesaving intelligence breakthroughs. "They disagree in some respect," Craig admitted. Among the hard questions that Obama left open, in fact, is whether the C.I.A. will have to follow the same interrogation rules as the military. While the President has clearly put an end to cruel tactics, Craig said that Obama "is somewhat sympathetic to the spies' argument that their mission and circumstances are different."

Despite such sentiments, Obama's executive orders will undoubtedly rein in the C.I.A. Waterboarding, for instance, has gone the way of the rack, now that the C.I.A. is strictly bound by customary interpretations of the Geneva Conventions. This decision, too, was the result of intense deliberation. During the transition period, unknown to the public, Obama's legal, intelligence, and national-security advisers visited Langley for two long sessions with current and former intelligence-community members. They debated whether a ban on brutal interrogation practices would hurt their ability to gather intelligence, and the advisers asked the intelligence veterans to prepare a cost-benefit analysis. The conclusions may surprise defenders of harsh interrogation tactics. "There was unanimity among Obama's expert advisers," Craig said, "that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence."

So "top CIA officials" say that enhanced interrogation techniques "have yielded lifesaving intelligence breakthroughs," but "Obama's expert advisers," some of whom he met on the campaign trail, nonetheless concluded "that to change the practices would not in any material way affect the collection of intelligence."

In the Bush administration this might have been called politicizing intelligence.

(H/T Ben Smith.)