With her recent review of my book, Courting Disaster,Jane Mayer may have done a service to future generations of public servants. The week her article appeared in The New Yorker, former CIA director Mike Hayden handed it out in his class at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy as an example of all that is wrong with intelligence journalism today.
Little wonder General Hayden chose Mayer’s piece as a teaching moment. Her review is replete with factual errors, contradictions, and straw men. She repeatedly misrepresents what is said in my book, and leaves out vital details that undermine her arguments.
Mayer declares categorically that “the Bush administration’s interrogation policies . . . yielded no appreciable intelligence benefit.” Really? She must not have been listening when Barack Obama’s director of national intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, declared: “High value information came from [CIA] interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qaeda organization that was attacking this country.” She must have forgotten that when she herself interviewed Leon Panetta, Obama’s CIA director, he told her, “Important information was gathered from these detainees. [The CIA program] provided information that was acted upon.” And she must have forgotten her 2007 interview (also quoted in the Panetta article) with John Brennan (now Obama’s homeland-security advisor), in which she asked him if enhanced interrogation techniques “were necessary to keep America safe,” and he replied: “Would the U.S. be handicapped if the CIA was not, in fact, able to carry out these types of detention and debriefing activities? I would say yes.”
And these are just the assessments of senior officials of the Obama administration. Former director of national intelligence John Negroponte, a career diplomat who has worked for presidents of both parties, has said: “This has been one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable . . . human intelligence program with respect to Al Qaeda. It has given us invaluable information that has saved American lives.” Former CIA director George Tenet — appointed to the job by President Clinton — has declared: “I know that this program has saved lives. I know we’ve disrupted plots. I know this program alone is worth more than what the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency put together have been able to tell us.” Former CIA director Mike Hayden — a career military officer appointed by Clinton to run the National Security Agency and then by Bush to run the CIA — has said: “The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer. It really did work.” And former director of national intelligence Mike McConnell — also a career officer who served as NSA director under Clinton — told me that the CIA interrogation program “gained us information that, in my view, saved lives”(Courting Disaster, pp. 119–120).
In her review, Mayer asks us to accept that all of these CIA directors and directors of national intelligence from both Democratic and Republican administrations are wrong, and she is right. Readers can judge for themselves.