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Is Obama Trying to Kill the CIA?

8:25 AM, May 28, 2009 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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On April 16, Barack Obama released memos detailing harsh interrogation techniques employed by CIA officers. A former top CIA official told me that the move had "devastated morale" at the Agency. Then, when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brazenly accused CIA officials of lying to her and misleading Congress, the Obama White House did nothing to defend the CIA against her evidence-free claims.

Yesterday, the AP's Pamela Hess reported that Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, who is close to Obama, is seeking to replace CIA station chiefs at US embassies abroad with his own personnel.

The nation's two intelligence chiefs are locked in a turf battle over overseas posts, forcing National Security Adviser James L. Jones to mediate, according to current and former government officials.

The jockeying between CIA Director Leon Panetta and National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair centers on Blair's effort to choose his own representatives at U.S. embassies instead of relying only on CIA station chiefs. Current and former U.S. officials described the dispute on the condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of intelligence issues.

Blair's office was created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to better coordinate intelligence gathering and make sure critical information isn't overlooked. But former and current CIA officials warn that his plan could do just the opposite - creating competing chains of command inside U.S. embassies and potentially fouling up intelligence operations. They also worry it could complicate the delicate relationships between U.S. and foreign intelligence services, and leave ambassadors confused about where to turn for intelligence advice.

CIA station chiefs posted in American embassies have handled the national intelligence role abroad for the last four years, but Blair wants the option of designating other intelligence specialists for the job. That prompted strong objections from Panetta.

And this morning, the Los Angeles Times reports on the Obama administration's aggressive efforts to shift the U.S. counterterrorism operation from one focused on intelligence and the military to one in which law enforcement dominates.

The FBI and Justice Department plan to significantly expand their role in global counter-terrorism operations, part of a U.S. policy shift that will replace a CIA-dominated system of clandestine detentions and interrogations with one built around transparent investigations and prosecutions.

Under the "global justice" initiative, which has been in the works for several months, FBI agents will have a central role in overseas counter-terrorism cases. They will expand their questioning of suspects and evidence-gathering to try to ensure that criminal prosecutions are an option, officials familiar with the effort said.

Though the initiative is a work in progress, some senior counter-terrorism officials and administration policy-makers envision it as key to the national security strategy President Obama laid out last week -- one that presumes most accused terrorists have the right to contest the charges against them in a "legitimate" setting.

The approach effectively reverses a mainstay of the Bush administration's war on terrorism, in which global counter-terrorism was treated primarily as an intelligence and military problem, not a law enforcement one. That policy led to the establishment of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; harsh interrogations; and detentions without trials.

All of which raises an interesting question: Was Leon Panetta hired primarily to oversee the dismantling of the CIA?