tv Chris Whipple The Spymasters CSPAN October 17, 2020 11:55pm-1:01am EDT
we know from working-class communities, which again, demographically black voters most often are. brown voters most often ar are, what you don't have is the combination of time and money you have lost a day of play if it takes between five and seven hours that is a poll tax. >> thank you for joining us here at the center for national security of florida law we are delighted to bring you the conversation with me today is award-winning author journalist documentary maker his new book is the spymaster showing history and the future.
>> thank you for having me. >> when i started it this will be too much information i cannot take it in is based on your knowledge and research over 70 interviews. and billy it is not so much about the cia director but the relationship to the white house and the president. do you agree? >> thank you for your kind words because what i really tried to do above all else is to humanize these directors
and with his cast of characters those that were the quintessential cia director is a james bond character cigarette in one hand and the dry martini and another to walk into the oval office to tell lbj the domino theory was god and then going forward to me was the corleone of the cia and then you have okc and an amazing cast the characters all the way up to gina haskell the first woman to run the cia. the book focuses a lot on the relationship between the president and the cia director it's almost an impossible balancing act for a cia
director because he or she have to tell the president a hard truth will also keeping the president's ear that is a tough challenge in the best of times and in the current times is practically mission impossible. >> i saw the call me from over the weekend? but it's one of the things that the relationship is generally and how much harder it was under trump. so going down outline a little bit, is the worst relationship? i think i know you will say who has the best? >> and that is a fascinating
character to me who is a brilliant guy and on the ideological spectrum he left to joke about the fact he was president for students of mccarthy and 68 and with the vietnam war because he thought it was winnable and we were not doing enough to the clinton and where is he would like when water is was to me the clinton's just is not like him after the first briefing which went on and on evidently at some length goals the left and bill clinton turned to one of his advisers and said i never want to see that man again. and he almost never did. literally had one meeting with the president and at one point
a freak accident on the south lawn of the white house a small plane crashed and killed the pilot and afterwords was he said to the house that was me trying to get an appointment with bill clinto clinton. is not a very productive relationship and had his demise over the james scandal that case is the most serious and the american intelligence history. it happened on his watch and essentially ended his tenure. >> what about the relationship? >> there are a number of contenders for the best. i would say that bob gates and george h.w. bush had a very good relationship. . . . .
a great white house chief of staff also served cia directors well. it's no coincidence, in my view that it's the gold standard. there were other great chiefs and cia directors but that was right up there with the best. that's partly because it had a lot to do with the fact that the director for obama was 70 years old, he'd been around the block, he served in congress, he is comfortable in the power and
knew the white house and he could walk into the oval office and closed the door and tell barack obama what he didn't want to hear. that is essential in both jobs. >> you portrayed him as being not just an honest broker but like a brilliant strategist. >> he was. one of the great stories i felt in that chapter is about the time the director of national intelligence made the mistake of trying to take on leanne bureaucratic struggle over who would appoint the chiefs. i guess you could, on paper, make the argument the director of national intelligence outranked leon and therefore
they ought to make that appointment but in the real world, blair should have known that was turf jealously guarded. they knew that and blair sent out a directive without informing them to all the stations saying he would be appointing the new station chi chief. they waited about a half hour and set up another message saying disregard the previous message. this was not a fair fight. he went to the white house but leon knew exactly who had his back on this one. not only barack obama but vice president joe biden who have nothing to referee on this one.
as they went into adjudicate, leon turned to him and said joe, is it still 9:30 a.m. tomorrow biden said yes and blair knew he was a dead man walking. >> this book is not just about the white house cia directors but it's also a chronicle of american foreign policy and not just things we are learning from behind the scenes but the major events taking place in american foreign policy over 45 decades. number of things obviously event on our minds lately, 9/11, perhaps the most obvious one but the killing of bin laden but there was one incident that i think a lot of readers in our audience knows that much about, i just wanted to know if you
were to that store because i felt like i am so embarrassed i don't know this story so now i am grateful. >> don't be embarrassed because a lot of people don't know it. in fact, the first half of the story i tell in the book about him has never been reported before and it's an absolutely unbelievable story the last three or four decades. he was far and away, the most wanted terrorist in the middle east by both the cia going all by the way back to the worst day in cia history which was tommy of beirut of the embassy in beirut which killed so many cia officers and other americans at the time. subsequently, it was determined
was probably this operation, the dawn of that whole era of truck bomb terrorism that was the beginning, a really pivotal time and from then on, he had more american and israeli blood on his hands than anyone. the operational genius of hezbollah. they call it terrorism because he was so elusive, literally had one photograph with him and they could never keep up with him. he was wearing disguises, he developed pioneer use of shakes charge, a sophisticated ied that essentially drove the israelis out of lebanon and it was that lethal and he killed the israeli
general, figuring he was withdrawn. in short, is the most wanted guy and the other two most wanted guys were the general of syria and an iranian general named soleimani whose name may bring about since he was killed in january this year. in any event, cia tried to track down him and i tell the story of an operation on bill clinton's watch at the end of his presidency, cia director in which they track them down beirut and discovered visiting his mistresses flat and he would visit her and he would beat her as it turned out, the cia listed her set him up and grabbed him and bundle him down and onto a
boat and off to a battleship offshore. the operation failed and another decade went by before the cia finally tracked him down in damascus so i tell that story in detail how the joint cia operation, they finally got him and tracked him as he was driving around damascus in his suv. they decided they couldn't plant the bomb in a phone, he discarded phones too often but he always had his suv and they wound up, cia building a bomb, they had a technical marvel because they had to replace the whole back door of the suv without the bodyguards noticing
and mesh paint color exactly. they did all this and pulled the trigger and at one time, in one moment while surveilling him and waiting for the moment to strike, they looked and looked again and realized someone leaning on his car talking with him was guess who, general soleimani and they thought my god, it is a two, we can take them both out. they said permission, permission was denied. his only judgment target. they waited and soleimani went off and they finally did get him so it is an unbelievable story and also, the whole delegate association because the
assassination has always been a fraught proposition as the cia, it has been prohibited for decades. in this case, it went through contortions to the israelis pull the trigger rather than the americans pushed signed off on the deal as long as nobody ever talked about it. and nobody does talk about it, to this day except in part, to me for this chapter, as i wrote in the book. >> you have a whole page you exit from your interviews where you ask a number of cia directors what happened and it's just no comment, no comment, no, which i guess, that comes with the territory it's a story to eventually get to know. >> john brennan who finally gets
frustrated being asked repeatedly for comment, he finally looked at me and said he died quickly. that was his comment. >> that's more than you got from the others. >> from many other directors. >> one thing i wanted to ask you don't really talk about the use of military generals to be head of the cia. i was under how we should think about that. just kind of, there is a way in which these are distinct authorizations for the activity and what did you learn about that particular mixing of
expertise? >> it is a mixed bag. and the two directors get into it, each of them really capable and really interesting characters. hayden tells the story about first when he arrived, he runs the nsa national security agency and he was so general not quite retired. when he arrived at the cia. went to the so-called bubble, the auditorium of the cia to make his first address the troops and as he was speaking when he came to the end of this is remarks, he took questions and somebody's hand shot up and he said what would you like us to call you?
hagan, was famously eloquent and articulate, he was thrown for a minute. he didn't know how to answer. he said whatever makes you comfortable. don't call me general, call me whatever you want to call me and he said in retrospect, that was the most important thing he sa said. there is, the cia calls, something called four-star general disease and what it means is that military people sometimes arrived at the cia certainly directors have arrived on occasion with a very well developed sense of entitlement. used to have 50 people, when he was in afghanistan to cater to his every win.
this was a bit of a problem, it was a culture shock. different cultures. when you are a commanding general, you are accustomed to the different way of life, operating in having people at your beck and call. he got over that and i think the cia culture but in the beginning, it was rocky for him. he had only just really adjusted to the cia culture when he met his untimely demise by sharing classified information with his mistress. in the book, i ask him about that and it is fascinating. >> you have excerpt from her which i thought was interesting,
that could be a teaser for the next section of the book. what about when directors are asked or told by president to vote for locke? what did you learn about that process and how it plays out, they could be different directors? >> to me, that might be the most fascinating theme in the book. because it's a continuous thing from the beginning all the way up to our current cia director and i am privileged of getting to know the widow of rachel helms, previously mentioned essential cia, old-school cia director, sent these last summer but i spent a lot of time the summer before, she was 95 and full of terrific stories about husband and she said you know,
they were all asked to do things they shouldn't have done and i said, like what's? we got into it and we talked about the fact that helms was a flawed character, he was brilliant and smooth and i love the stories about holding his own on a dance floor, 1975 station in a room, they were dancing with iran. quite a character but his relationship with lbj is fascinating because domestic achievements and the great society, he was exasperated by the vietnam war.
lbj leaned on him very hard, as only lbj could do and told him on no uncertain terms, he wanted intelligence showing the domestic protesters against the vietnam war being controlled by foreign communist powers. helms protested and said it's not charter and lbj said i'm well aware of that, i wanted. helms should have known better but he but the law and set up an operation called mh chaos. it was illegal domestic surveillance of protesters who had every right to protest. at the end of the day, he came up with no evidence of any foreign counters control so it helps with fraud but at the end of the day, helms stood up to
nixon as the most important time when the crunch came during the watergate scandal. nixon's white house chief of staff called him into the white house and told him famously to shut down the fbi investigation into watergate. helms was having none of it and he stood up for the rule of law and arguably saved the cia. that was the earliest example of a cia director who had to deal with that kind of pressure but so many have asked and time and again, president will ask them to do stuff they shouldn't be doing including, i love the way bob gates put it, usually you got a really difficult problem, the state department says that the military handle it.
the military says that the diplomats handle it and they also let's let the cia to. cia is warm -- one former director said you should never abolish it because they wouldn't have anyone to blame. the fact of the matter, over the last five or six decades, when the cia gets in trouble, it's usually because presidents have asked them to do stuff they shouldn't be doing. >> did they get in trouble? >> do they get in trouble? >> you said, did they actually be held accountable in trouble? >> they have been certainly blamed time and again. the other classic language, in this town, there are only successes and intelligence failures.
certainly cia was blamed for 9/11, a failure of imagination, all kinds of things but basically the cia, the deputy said people would come up to me and say how does it feel job the worst intelligence failure since pearl harbor? the truth is, and i have a detailed chapter on this, in july 2001, george and rich, had of the al qaeda unit went over the bush white house, he slammed his fist on the table and said got to go on a war footing now. essentially, they blew the whistle and nobody heard.
this was, in my view, less of an intelligence failure and what about policy failure. white house failure to heed their warnings. fast-forward to 2020 and we are now suffering catastrophic consequences of a president who ignored warnings in his daily brief throughout the month of january and 200,000 americans are dead. >> one thing to talk about for both stories, which is a little different is the abandonment of procedural norms under this president, particularly in terms of the principal committee meetings, can you talk about that? it doesn't just come out of the blue. >> this is a white house that
not only has declared war on process and norms, this is essentially declaring war on government from day one. i'll never forget the outgoing white house chief of staff saying when the clock strikes noon january 20, we were sitting in his office waiting for the chief of staff and his staff to arrive and nobody showed up. he waited an hour or more and finally turned off the lights and left. to me, that's a metaphor for this presidency but it is not the first time process and norms have been abandoned one case is 9/11, one of the things i learned in the book, we did a documentary in 2015, we told the
story of the july 10, 2001 meeting. in the book, i went deeper and talked to a number of really persuasive sources in the white house and cia who said essentially, all you have to do in july 2001, was called percival speech and that's the heads of cia, fbi vice president or national security advisor and the department heads and you shake the tree. you shake the tree with all those people at the table, stuff falls. a number of people told me they think had rice called the principals meeting, they would have discovered they were on
u.s. soil and had been for months. this was a failure to communicate between cia and fbi but that is the stuff like it's found out when you go through that kind of process so this is not the first presidency to fa fail, follow some of the norms. in this case, they were living in a kind of time for. they couldn't believe a bunch of guys beards and caves in afghanistan would blow up the world trade center. they said they thought terrors were lefties, stay up all night, drink champagne and blow stuff up during the day. >> there were people trying to
get that message to causal so i think it's one of those things we haven't quite known and we need to reflect on so the war on government. going through the book, iran. every director time and time again has to deal with iran. almost always in a crisis situation or more than one is his situation. soleimani and others. i don't know how to ask this but i want to know where you think and what period of time to think we have the best understanding of and relationship with iraq? >> we certainly had a very close
relationship with the wrong guy around. that is one of my favorite chapters in the book because it happened on his watch at cia director but it was arguably the greatest intelligence failure of the 20th century. it is certainly a huge fiasco but in terms of intelligence failures, failure to see was as weak as he was in on the verge of collapse was a fiasco. one of the reasons, quite frankly, we had almost willfully blinded ourselves and part of it was because he had the deal with
him in which he basically said if you'll give us access to your listening post on the soviet union, we will look the other way, we will not pay attention to your political opponents and we rely on the secret for all our intelligence so get into all of this in the book and that whole relationship between turner and jimmy carter and all of that, to me is really fascinating. one of the caveats about all of this, one of the great resources i spoke to was still, a brilliant guy. some of you may know him, he's still very active and very
persuasive voice on foreign affairs our intelligence was terrible during this whole. and we often just completely misunderstand other societies and this was the classic example and certainly vietnam before iran the classic example. it's just not understanding society but at the end of the day, you have to wonder if we had known that it was on the verge of collapse, what would policymakers have done with that knowledge? what exactly could we have done to have changed the pivotal moment in history books with there have been any way to arrive at the it?
i'm not sure the odds are all that great that we would have been smart enough to figure out what to do. i loved his book on richard, my first boss, by the way. just about the human -- just about how badly we have misunderstood so many of these complex from vietnam to iran to bosnia to our current situation so we are obviously human beings are terribly flawed and diplomats are as well. >> are you suggesting there is not much of a learning curve? >> i think the cia is much more capable today than it was in
9/11 congress essentially had to metal and the intelligence community it created the office of the director office of national intelligence and those confused everyone. and at this point and then to defend the restructuring and of course the dni office and then brennan came in and said he could have never run the cia it was a 24/7 job without your knitting the other intelligence services and they have a point. what made that relationship
work because they figured out how to make it work he did not want to step on the friends toes he wanted to help coordinate the other agencies and brennan was doing his job as he saw fit and it worked. is very rocky is the beginning and earlier in the beginning quite frankly showing up at langley he was greeted at the gates nobody at cia wanted to be meddled with by the dni but it is a system of restructuring that is much
more successfully now but the problem now of course currently the director of national intelligence in my opinion is a partisan hack who has been serving the presidents partisan purposes rather than an honest broker of intelligence. that is a serious problem. host: we are a lot of questions but one is about torture. so my question is how do you see the cia a on what happened? is there a general sense what
is your thoughts? >> first of all with the enhanced interrogation techniques to simply say what the cia term was. and they gave me a hard time for supposedly referring to it that way. so first of all michael hayden said to me for our documentary that if the president wants to water board anybody ever again he better bring buckets because the agency is not going down that road again and i think he's right. it is illegal in my view and it should be in my view it is
immoral it's not something the united states of america should be doing if you talk to david patraeus who has some experience with is in charge the more detainees than anyone on the face of the earth he will tell you where you have information is having interrogators and you don't get effective intelligence through torture. having said that, i felt it's important to get inside the heads of the directors under whose watch that took place. if you talk to george tenet , he will give you and impassioned argument that he
can believe that the's tech meets were the only way to prevent what he thought was a second wave of attacks that were imminent after 9/11. that second wave of attacks never occurred. he would argue some did produce intelligence to disrupt plots and save lives. mike morel, another acting director not exactly the arch conservative he will tell you know question in his mind those so-called enhanced interrogation techniques provided actionable intelligence that was the
apprehension of terrorist and give specific examples they are arguing therefore not that we should be doing it anymore but simply to say that it is not as simple as it has been portrayed. the last thing i will say the senate majority report that is so damning and very thorough in many ways and convincing about the in efficacy of those techniques, they never interviewed any of those directors on whose watch it happened. none of them were interviewed. 's if you want to get a sense of what they were thinking inside their heads you can find it in my chapter. host: besides the illegal and immoral part.
a number of people have asked about our relationship right now with trump and the rest of the world so to talk about activities with our allies and how does the cia see its position in the world what is been willing to take over time and the question about whether coordination of intelligence sources and businesses et cetera in the current context?
>> it's a hard question to answer in particular because we have a cia director that flies under the radar to give no interview and trained as a covert operative and she doesn't talk a lot about but it was she and mike pompeo had given interviews for the book because i believe the cia director has to be honest program intelligence not only to the president but to the american people and the cia director should take interviews. the real great ones were not afraid of tough questions like bob gates so that is my little
speech about their unwillingness to give interviews. having said that, it's hard to know very much how much the cia relationship. gina haskell has a very close relationship with british intelligence and the two time station chief in london. i have a great story in the book when she was rising through the ranks haskell formed a friendship with the unlikeliest mentor imaginable and that was josé rodriguez the architect of the enhanced interrogation technique to become a feminist mentor and she was thinking about becoming the chief in geneva way so listen girl that's not
good enough for you. you have to go to london that's what you have to go and she did. so that is a little digression but the british intelligence and cia has a good relationship it's hard to know the effect the trump presidency has been but we all remember the time when donald trump met in the oval office with russian officials and he blurted out the details of an operation in the middle east. there is real concern among allies and other countries this president cannot be trusted with intelligence. that's a fact there were other
problems like this president is not curious he thinks he knows everything worth knowing , he thinks he can share stuff with vladimir putin. that is a problem. i will tell you bob woodward reports dan coats was concerned this president with russia might have something on this president i can simply tell you that coats is hardly alone among the high-ranking intelligence officials who believe the same thing especially after helsinki one told me he could think of no
other rational possibilities except the russians have a compromise for a financial relationship with trump. it's a good thing when it comes to cia relations with other intelligence services. >> so the wisdom is they have to do it now and china is not a huge part how do you see china how robust do you think the cia can handle that? and the doj increasing role so
now it is the unusual position inside the administration so our listeners are asking and i am asking you. >> so this is a huge challenge for the cia. and to be unusually successful to roll up cia assets in recent years in "the new york times" is reported on it. china is coming on strong as a competitor. as everyone knows and it is a huge challenge for the cia going forward maybe the biggest challenge.
so this is a case where i think gina haskell has to be really really careful the way in which donald trump has succeeded to politicize the top levels of the intelligence community would make richard nixon blush. he has really compromised intelligence and politicize this and many top jobs are unfilled or empty so that makes gina haskell's job as the honest broker of intelligence but only to the president but congress and the american people that much more
difficult and so much more important and critical at this time. and the fact the doj investigation that seems spacious at best or aimed at trying to prosecute intelligence officers for doing their job jobs, is something gina haskell has to be very very careful. she really needs to have the backs of her employees and her record is mixed on that. and through that intelligence prefer under the bus and the briefer said it was no big deal we all know now her name is beth evidently she is on
her way out and it's not clear who will replace her. gina haskell's silence was deafening when they threw her under the best in my view i think the cia responsibility is to the public there were so many things wrong with that statement and then it's a bigger deal. so this is a perilous time right now for the intelligence community and a lot is riding on haskell. >> so if you look ahead to the future and afterwords is
somebody said one of the top three recommendations to give the cia more restraint is anything you would recommend. >> then that starts in november. this is not the first time we had president who was convinced of the deep state full of little enemies hell-bent on bringing him down. and they thought house where is this martinis sipping elitist nixon was wrong and trump is wrong. he has taken it to another level and believes the
intelligence committee compared to not see you germany and has level of contempt that makes it impossible to brief them where to have the right information when history making decisions are made so that overwhelming parity has to be in november to get someone into the oval office who respects intelligence and the truth so that's what the cia does. >> so the question of what do we know then and now? have learned enough lessons with the plaintiff you with the intelligence community and
2016 that this election can be protected one way or another? >> we are more aware of the nature of the soviet threat obviously that is an advantage going into this and in august 2016 my book actually opens burning the midnight oil the seventh for cia headquarters and up in the canopy to figure out and he realizes but at that moment in august 2016 he didn't know about the whole social media component of it without
machinery so there are those that said 201 - - 2016 was a strategic intelligence failure on the cia part. and of the russian attack and obviously there looking closely but it's a problem in the president of the united states denies this reality and pretends it is not happening. it's hard to mobilize ineffective effort to stop the russian attack. that would be my answer. we have a better idea but it's hard to know exactly.
>> so what brings you hope cracks and what is the topic of your next book? >> the next is in the works which i cannot talk about but this will sound a little bit corny at the risk that i have a whole chapter on george w one - - h.w. bush with there's no greater defender he love that job. one of the things that strikes me getting to know a lot of people out there, at the end of the day they are human beings having political opinions there are vast
differences the analyst to tend to be geeky intellectuals doing their work on paper and those covert operatives who are breaking laws all over the world. that the vast majority of them are good at keeping their heads down trying to do their jobs to produce honest intelligence and don't pay a lot of attention to whoever is at the oval office at any given moment. that may sound pollyanna and a little bit corny but when you can see how dedicated most of them are.
>> so that doesn't have to to rely on the person on top. >> it helps. there is no question about it. it is critical people at the cia believe the cia director has their backs the leon panetta and the bob gates. >> thank you for a wonderful conversation i know the audience has like this there is a button you can push you will like it and i will tell you that right now. thank you so much we will talk again soon. >> my pleasure thank you for having me.
the basis of that argument in the book is if you are going to talk about whatever, racism, kids in cage cages, whatever it is , it has to be funny. you can tackle the issue but you put her craft a beautiful joke around it because gratuitously with those epithets with that shock value, on - - schumer that's not what we do. so i am a lesbian and they came out in the mid- nineties
but i came out on stage every time they talk about their family. and i had so much material. i never talked about my partner because that's boring frankly but then oh my god. but also and that i'm doing this material and after a few minutes to say is the same stuff we are going through. and with the late nineties and early 2000's it is interesting how far to go to that
community we have come so far and then in the early 2000's and it really was. >> with all those people that are allowed to get married why menendez. and that she is a 12 -year-old student. it is infuriating and i wrote this and i want is a in houston and a guy came up to me after the show and said i understand it. oh my god the power of comedy