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Just when we'd thought we'd heard all the worst from the Senate's report on the CIA's torture program, along comes even more. Not only did the CIA do some pretty horrific stuff that violated the law without gaining any significant intelligence, it also turns out that one of the key players in the program appears to have been stunningly bad at her job -- and kept getting promoted. In fact, it appears that her dismal performance was one reason for the CIA's refusal to allow the Intelligence Committee report to identify people by pseudonym: It would have made it too easy to recognize that one top official had screwed up again and again.


The story was initially broken by NBC News investigative reporter Matthew Cole, and elaborated on by Jane Mayer at the New Yorker, and you really owe it to yourself to take some time to read both pieces. You may want to have some something padded under your chin, because your jaw will be dropping a lot. We can't improve on Mayer's summary:

[The officer] appears to have been a source of years’ worth of terrible judgment, with tragic consequences for the United States. Her story runs through the entire report. She dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.

And instead of getting fired for incompetence -- or being tried and jailed for the harm she did, said one former intelligence agent to NBC, as she deserves -- she kept getting promoted, up to the equivalent rank in the CIA of being a general in the military. She currently serves (if that's the word) "as the head of the C.I.A.’s global-jihad unit. In that perch, she oversees the targeting of terror suspects around the world." We're tempted to call her "Natasha," but that cartoon character was a much better spy whose talents were overshadowed by an incompetent partner. As it is, she was one of several real models for the main character in the movie Zero Dark Thirty, which depicted the CIA as steely-eyed professionals who got excellent results from torturing people. You know, a work of Hollywood fiction.

Among other achievements, before 9/11, the officer supervised the CIA unit tasked with tracking al Qaeda members, and it was one of her underlings who knew that two of the hijackers had entered the U.S., but never passed the information along to the FBI. Says Mayer:

Amazingly, perhaps, more than thirteen years after the 9/11 attacks, no one at the C.I.A. has ever been publicly held responsible for this failure. Evidently, the C.I.A. was adamant in its negotiations with the White House and the Senate Intelligence Committee that the American public never learn the names of anyone directly involved in this failure.

After 9/11, the official went on to supervise waterboardings and other torture; she personally participated in the waterboarding of 9/11 planner Khalid Sheikh Mohammed ("KSM"), and was a central figure in one spectacular waste of time: After misreading intelligence from another terrorist, she became convinced that al Qaeda was planning to recruit African-American Muslims in the United States to attack gas stations. She then had KSM tortured by waterboarding and being slammed against a wall until he gave up the plot that she wanted to hear -- that he had tried to recruit American Muslims living in Montana to do terrorist attacks -- which he recanted months later, explaining that he had simply given the torturers what they wanted to hear. We may never know how many CIA agents scoured Montana looking for those nonexistent black Muslim agents. Perhaps Yr Editrix should keep an eye open -- they might still be around.

The agent was also a key figure in the detention and torture of a German Muslim, Khalid al-Masri, who was tortured for three months at a black site in Afghanistan, even though the CIA quickly figured out that he wasn't a member of al Qaeda, knew nothing about any terror plots, and had been scooped up for no reason whatsoever. He was released after five months of captivity and given 14,500 Euros for his troubles.

And then on top of all those successes, the analyst testified, both before Congress and to an internal Inspector General, that the CIA torture program was a stunning success and had led to lots of arrests of terrorists -- claims the Senate report says "were almost entirely inaccurate." In other memos, she stated -- again, with no basis in reality -- that the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed alone had "saved at least several hundred, possibly thousands, of lives."

A former CIA agent who had been part of the program told NBC's Matthew Cole that the unnamed intelligence expert lady frequently "exaggerated the interrogation program's success" and that he considered the Senate report roughly "85 percent" accurate in its assessment of the program:

"There is a horrendous degree of intellectual dishonesty in the building," the former senior official said, referring to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. "(The expert) suffers from that as well — and you can see it in the report." The former official said he did not believe the expert lied intentionally.

Look, mistakes were made, but her intentions were good, and now she's gotten the promotion she earned. Hasn't she suffered enough for keeping us safe? You'd all be singing a different tune if Muslim terrorism actually had gotten a foothold in Montana, wouldn't you?

[NBC News / New Yorker]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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