Rowan Scarborough, longtime national-security correspondent, currently at the Washington Examiner, is author of the new, alarming book, Sabotage: America’s Enemies within the CIA. He took some questions Wednesday from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: So how damning is what’s public from the 9/11 Inspector General’s report, released Tuesday?
Rowan Scarborough: It is further evidence of bumbling at the CIA. The CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, hailed by George Tenet as command central in a war on al Qaeda, comes off as complacent. It never developed a comprehensive strategy for fighting al Qaeda before 9/11 and never did a strategic analysis of al Qaeda itself. The IG report is a complete counter to Tenet’s book, At the Center of the Storm, which portrayed the CIA as fully engaged in watching al Qaeda. It was not. For example, it ignored intelligence on Khalid Sheik Muhammed, 9/11 mastermind.
Lopez: Was any of it a surprise to you?
Scarborough: That CIA IG John Helgerson would push so hard for disciplinary proceedings against Tenet and other managers. The CIA, according to my sources, rarely holds anyone accountable.
Lopez: What the heck was the president thinking giving Tenet the Medal of Freedom?
Scarborough: On the one hand, Bush truly liked the back-slapping Tenet. Bush, by nature, is not a second-guesser and is loyal to a fault, so Tenet stayed until he wanted to go in 2004. The medal? Part of it was political. I’m sure Bush feared another ex-aide bashing him in print. In the end, I guess it worked. Tenet’s memoirs criticized Bush aides, but not the president, who came out looking pretty good.
Lopez: Was General Hayden wrong to not want the report released?
Scarborough: Yes. It should have been released in 2005 right after the 9/11 commission report. Who can keep track of so many reports. It would be faint history by now.
Lopez: Hillary Clinton seems to count her years as First Lady as executive experience…so what would you ask her about the CIA during those 12 years?
Scarborough: Why did President Clinton look at the CIA as a budget cash cow, instead of maintaining, or improving, its capacity to watch Islamic terrorists?
Lopez: Is there anyone at the CIA remotely serious about reforming the place?
Scarborough: It is hard to say. Porter Goss tried and got chewed up and spit out by the bureaucracy. Goss said he tried “tough love.” Director Michael Hayden is trying to be both counselor and boss. It will take years to rebuild the clandestine service.
Lopez: Should Congressman Pete Hoekstra — someone who truly gets the threat we face and the mess that is our intelligence — be CIA chief?
Scarborough: The bureaucracy would not tolerate Hoeskstra. Mass resignations. Negative leaks. He would not last as long as Goss did.
Lopez: The CIA is the explanation for the Dubai Ports disaster?
Scarborough: No. In my book, I report how the U.A.E. allowed the U.S. To place agents inside their network of global ports. They are good places to have spies. It is one reason why Bush went to bat for the deal. He views U.A.E. as a good ally.
Lopez: Is the CIA flying blind on Iran?
Scarborough: Mostly. After talking to CIA sources, I do not believe we have any spies inside the regime and know very little about how the ruling mullahs operate and how they convey orders.
Lopez: When you call the CIA a “rogue” agency, it sounds beyond repair. Is it?
Scarborough: That is a description I took from Sen. John McCain. After watching the bureaucracy rebel against Goss, he termed it a rogue agency. Michael Ledeen told me that Moses could not fix the CIA. Maybe Hayden can.