Barack Obama is getting high marks from the intelligence community for the way he responds to daily intelligence briefings.
Three weeks before the election, Obama and John McCain began receiving intelligence briefings similar to what is available to members of the Senate and House intelligence committees. After the election, the president-elect began receiving essentially the same briefings President Bush receives.
“Obama is a quick study,” says one intelligence official. “He absorbs a lot of information, digests it, and asks strategic questions.”
“He has a way of being reflective about what we give him,” says another intelligence official.
The initial briefings after the election were given by Mike Morell, the CIA’s director for intelligence. In that post, he is in charge of analysis. Morell was with President Bush on 9/11 and gave him intelligence briefings then after Air Force One departed from Florida.
More recently, Morell has assigned members of his staff to brief Obama. The briefings are given wherever Obama happens to be. Whereas Bush receives briefings six days a week, Obama has requested daily briefings.
Intelligence officials say they assume that as Obama learns about the threats, he will become more realistic about some of the foreign policy positions he enunciated during the campaign.
At the same time, intelligence officials are troubled by the fact that Obama decided against appointing John Brennan, a deputy to former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, to be director of the CIA because Brennan served at the agency when it supposedly used torture as an interrogation technique.
The news that Brennan was Obama’s leading candidate provoked an outcry from left-leaning Obama supporters. In fact, the CIA does not believe outright torture produces reliable results and has never used it. Frightening prisoners with waterboarding is another matter. The technique was used on three terrorists, including Abu Zubaydah, Osama bin Laden’s field commander or chief of operations, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 plot.
In both cases, these and other coercive techniques — like subjecting prisoners to frigid temperatures or forcing them to stand for hours — have worked and have led to a takedown of other key al-Qaida operatives when they were planning more attacks that could have killed tens of thousands of Americans.
Before such procedures were used, the Justice Department reviewed them and determined that they were legally permissible.
As the interrogation of Zubaydah and other detained terrorists progressed, the CIA briefed the chairs, ranking members, and majority and minority staff directors of the House and Senate intelligence committees on the details of the procedures used. The CIA has not used waterboarding since early 2003.
Since terrorists are now aware that they will not be drowned, the technique has become useless.
Ironically, Brennan, who has been an adviser to Obama, was a critic of the war in Iraq after the invasion.
“If Obama is excluding from consideration anyone who was with the agency when coercive techniques were used, he will not be choosing from a pool of very experienced people,” says one intelligence official.
The more ominous message Obama is sending is that intelligence officers who take risks — even if approved by the Justice Department and congressional leaders — to thwart plots may suffer consequences. That same risk-averse atmosphere generated under President Clinton is what contributed to the CIA’s inability to uncover the 9/11 plot.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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