The appointment of John Deutch to an advisory panel on spy satellites violates President Obama’s pledge to hold everyone in his administration to the highest ethical standards.
Deutch, who headed the CIA from May 1995 to December 1996, agreed in writing in January 2001 to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents. Just after that, President Clinton pardoned him and 175 others as Clinton was leaving office. Deutch’s infraction was thus more serious than Tim Geithner’s or Tom Daschle’s failure to pay income taxes.
“Deutch essentially walked away from what is one of the most egregious cases of mishandling of classified information that I have ever seen, short of espionage,” Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said after the pardon was announced.
Deutch placed 17,000 CIA files, including files classified TOP SECRET/CODEWORD and those referring to highly sensitive covert operations, on his unclassified home computers. One such file was a memo to Clinton and then-Vice President Al Gore. It noted that the information was so sensitive that Deutch was sending it to only a few other people, including FBI Director Louis Freeh and Secretary of State Warren Christopher.
Because the computers connected to the Internet, and because Deutch often gave out his e-mail address, foreign intelligence services could easily have downloaded classified material from his computer.
CIA technicians discovered the security breach in December 1996 when they visited Deutch’s house and asked to see his agency computers as he was preparing to leave office. The CIA had agreed to give him a no-fee consulting contract for one year allowing him to keep the three Macintosh computers.
L. Britt Snider, the CIA’s inspector general, launched an investigation and gave a copy of his report to Congress and the Justice Department. Snider noted that the CIA initially conducted its own internal investigation of Deutch’s use of home computers, but he concluded the review was a sham. Actions taken by Deutch’s aides had the “effect of delaying a prompt investigation” of the matter, Snider’s report said.
“It was apparent from our investigation,” Snider told me for my book “The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror,” that Deutch “felt he could do pretty much as he pleased. What’s more, nobody really wanted to challenge him.”
In August 1999, George Tenet, Deutch’s successor as director of Central Intelligence, yanked Deutch’s security clearances. By then, Deutch had returned to MIT’s Chemistry Department, where he has continued as a professor. Because Deutch could no longer obtain a security clearance, he could not act as a consultant on classified matters. In 2007, CIA Director Michael Hayden reinstated Deutch’s clearances so he could consult with him, along with other former CIA directors.
Aside from his security breaches, Deutch was instrumental in imposing a risk-averse atmosphere on the CIA. If a potential asset had been involved in so-called human rights violations — a euphemism for having knocked someone off or engaged in torture — or had had substantial criminal violations, top agency officials had to sign off on the recruitment, a process that could take a month or two.
Yet that kind of person was exactly what the CIA needed to penetrate organizations like al-Qaida. Placing restrictions of that sort on spy recruitment was like requiring FBI agents to obtain high-level approval to recruit Sammy Gravano, who murdered 19 people, before he could present evidence against John Gotti and the Mafia. Who else would know about a Mafia boss’ crimes besides another murderer?
“The human rights violation rule had a chilling effect on recruitment,” former CIA official William Lofgren told me. “If faced with two possible recruitments, are you going to go after the one with a human rights violation or the one with no human rights violation?”
The result was that “people retired in place or left,” Lofgren said. “Our spirit was broken. At the CIA, you have to be able to inspire people to take outrageous risks. Deutch didn’t care about us at all.”
Clinton did not ask Deutch to continue at the CIA during his second term in office. When Deutch left the CIA, agency employees breathed a sigh of relief. A former deputy secretary of defense, Deutch would tell fellow guests at Washington dinner parties that the military was far superior to the CIA. A watered-down version of his comments made its way into a piece about him in the New York Times Magazine. According to the Dec. 10, 1995 article, Deutch did not find many first-class minds in the ranks of the CIA’s clandestine service.
During recent conformation hearings on Leon Panetta’s nomination to be CIA director, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., asked Panetta whether he thought the selection of Deutch by Dennis Blair, Obama’s director of National Intelligence (DNI), was appropriate. Panetta said he would talk with Blair about it.
Privately, Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., vice chairman of the intelligence committee, has expressed his disapproval to Blair, according to a source.
A spokeswoman for Blair said the DNI is “seeking to benefit from the technical expertise of some national experts, and Mr. Deutch is among those who will be called on from time to time.”
White House insiders say Obama was aware of most of the tax problems of his recent nominees but decided he could skate by and go ahead with them anyway. Deutch’s appointment is but another example of that hubris.
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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