President Obama’s release of memos on CIA interrogation tactics could send the agency into a “dark age” leading to another successful terrorist attack, Charles Allen, who recently left as chief of intelligence of the Department of Homeland Security, tells Newsmax.
“I feel that we’re headed into a very dark period that could last up to a decade, where we’re not going to be very courageous because we’re going to get potentially punished,” Allen says.
From 2005 until Jan. 20 of this year, Allen was undersecretary of Homeland Security for Intelligence and Analysis, detailed to DHS from the CIA. In the Newsmax interview, Allen repudiated a controversial report issued by his former office warning law enforcement about the potential for violence from returning military forces.
The report said that fears of possible new restrictions on firearms, as well as the return of military veterans facing problems returning to civilian life, could “lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.”
Calling the report “ill-advised,” “rambling,” and “not professionally written,” Allen observes, “It was sort of a situational awareness alert, but it seemed to be poorly written and not based on empirical data to support some of the judgments, particularly the issue relating to veterans.”
Allen is a legendary figure in American intelligence circles. Having joined the CIA in 1958, he has served as a deputy director of the Counterterrorism Center and as the national intelligence officer for counterterrorism.
When the 9/11 attacks occurred, Allen was a special assistant to the director of Central Intelligence. In that role, Allen coordinated spy satellite coverage. As he told me for my book “The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror,” for three days after 9/11, he slept on an air mattress in his office.
Allen cites the chilling effect John Deutch, as director of Central Intelligence, had on the CIA. In September 1995, Deutch issued instructions requiring high-level approval for recruitment of assets with so-called human rights violations. Deutch fired two agency officials because they had recruited Guatemalan assets who had engaged in political assassination.
“Deutch said we should recruit people who were not hardened terrorists,” Allen says. “He said you could always propose such a recruitment up to the director if necessary. But you didn’t want to bring up somebody that was highly controversial. You wouldn’t waste your time to try to justify the recruitment.”
The risk-averse atmosphere generated by Deutch impaired the agency’s ability to detect the 9/11 plot, Allen says. As a result, “When al-Qaida began to build in 1996, we didn’t have direct penetration at the level that was required,” he says.
Allen says Obama’s release of the memos and condemnation of the tactics used, along with criticism from members of Congress who were briefed on the coercive interrogation techniques back in 2002, is a “debacle” that is once again creating an “extremely risk-averse atmosphere.”
“There’s going to be a tendency not to take risks, and not to go against our hardest targets,” Allen says. “We’re talking about doing operations in certain areas of the world which are hostile or are denied areas. We need to take risks, to put people in under deep cover with little or no protection. Or to do a technical operation or to recruit a terrorist. I don’t know now whether we’ll come up with those kind of forward-leaning, cutting-edge intelligence operations.”
At the same time, “We have Sen. Patrick Leahy calling for a truth commission,” Allen says. “Leahy was banished from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for leaking information,” he says, referring to Leahy’s admission in 1987 that he leaked material about the Iran Contra affair to an NBC reporter. “Now it seems he is vindictive toward the agency and our officers. So I think there’s a very decidedly adverse atmosphere that’s been created.”
The need for a strong CIA has never been greater, Allen says.
“The threat of proliferation and the spread of weapons and technology are occurring,” he says. “This is a time when we need HUMINT operations [intelligence from human assets] and technical operations beyond where we are. We are doing some things that are exciting, using HUMINT-enabled technical collection, some of which is stunning. But will that be sustained and continued and intensified? And will we take the risks that go with that?”
At this point, “It’s incumbent on the administration to now go out of its way, in a whole series of ways, to reassure not just CIA but the intelligence community as a whole, that we need to move ahead with real vigor,” Allen says. Otherwise, “Over a five year period, unless we continue at the same aggressive level that we have been at since Sept. 11, we are likely going to suffer another attack,” Allen says.
Allen says al-Qaida could initiate a series of attacks.
“That could create the consternation in this country that one major attack would incur,” he says. “We’re not a hardened society. The British never shut down the tube the day of the explosions in London in 2005. The trains ran, the airports remained open, the buses ran, except for the one that had its top ripped off. We’re not in that frame of operation. So I think it would have a very devastating effect.”
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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