The CIA has a long history of helping to kill leaders around the world

According to North Korea’s ministry of state security, the CIA has not abandoned its old ways. In a statement on Friday, it accused that the CIA and South Korea’s intelligence service of being behind an alleged recent an assassination attempt on its leader Kim Jong-un.

Killer Politicians

What rulers crave most is deniability. But with the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his own government, the poisoning of former Russian spies living in the United Kingdom, and whispers that the head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, may have been executed in China, the curtain has been slipping more than usual of late. In Riyadh, Moscow, and even Beijing, the political class is scrambling to cover up its lethal ways.

Andrew Jackson, was a cold-blooded murderer, slaveowner, and ethnic cleanser of native Americans. For Harry Truman, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima spared him the likely high cost of invading Japan. But the second atomic bombing, of Nagasaki, was utterly indefensible and took place through sheer bureaucratic momentum: the bombing apparently occurred without Truman’s explicit order.

.. Since 1947, the deniability of presidential murder has been facilitated by the CIA, which has served as a secret army (and sometime death squad) for American presidents. The CIA has been a party to murders and mayhem in all parts of the world, with almost no oversight or accountability for its countless assassinations. It is possible, though not definitively proved, that the CIA even assassinated UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.

.. Many mass killings by presidents have involved the conventional military. Lyndon Johnson escalated US military intervention in Vietnam on the pretext of a North Vietnamese attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. Richard Nixon went further: by carpet-bombing Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, he sought to instill in the Soviet Union the fear that he was an irrational leader capable of anything. (Nixon’s willingness to implement his “madman theory” is perhaps the self-fulfilling proof of his madness.) In the end, the Johnson-Nixon American war in Indochina cost millions of innocent lives. There was never a true accounting, and perhaps the opposite: plenty of precedents for later mass killings by US forces.

.. The mass killings in Iraq under George W. Bush are of course better known, because the US-led war there was made for TV. A supposedly civilized country engaged in “shock and awe” to overthrow another country’s government on utterly false pretenses. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians died as a result.

Barack Obama was widely attacked by the right for being too soft, yet he, too, notched up quite a death toll. His administration repeatedly approved drone attacks that killed not only terrorists, but also innocents and US citizens who opposed America’s bloody wars in Muslim countries. He signed the presidential finding authorizing the CIA to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in overthrowing the Syrian government. That “covert” operation (hardly discussed in the polite pages of the New York Times) led to an ongoing civil war that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and millions displaced from their homes. He used NATO airstrikes to overthrow Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, resulting in a failed state and ongoing violence.

.. Under Trump, the US has abetted Saudi Arabia’s mass murder (including of children) in Yemen by selling it bombs and advanced weapons with almost no awareness, oversight, or accountability by the Congress or the public. Murder committed out of view of the media is almost no longer murder at all.

When the curtain slips, as with the Khashoggi killing, we briefly see the world as it is. A Washington Post columnist is lured to a brutal death and dismembered by America’s close “ally.” The American-Israeli-Saudi big lie that Iran is at the center of global terrorism, a claim refuted by the data, is briefly threatened by the embarrassing disclosure of Khashoggi’s grisly end. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who ostensibly ordered the operation, is put in charge of the “investigation” of the case; the Saudis duly cashier a few senior officials; and Trump, a master of non-stop lies, parrots official Saudi tall tales about a rogue operation.

A few government and business leaders have postponed visits to Saudi Arabia. The list of announced withdrawals from a glitzy investment conference is a who’s who of America’s military-industrial complex: top Wall Street bankers, CEOs of major media companies, and senior officials of military contractors, such as Airbus’s defense chief.

.. Political scientists should test the following hypothesis: countries led by presidents (as in the US) and non-constitutional monarchs (as in Saudi Arabia), rather than by parliaments and prime ministers, are especially vulnerable to murderous politics. Parliaments provide no guarantees of restraint, but one-man rule in foreign policy, as in the US and Saudi Arabia, almost guarantees massive bloodletting.

What Will Mueller Do? The Answer Might Lie in a By-the-Book Past

Many agents who worked under him say this personality made him the perfect person to remake the bureau after the Sept. 11 attacks. Others chafed at his unrelenting style. A common criticism is that, after 12 years in office, he had filled the F.B.I.’s senior ranks with two types of people:

  1. big personalities whose naturally intense styles matched his, and
  2. those who ultimately submitted to his will.

It is not that he was uncaring; colleagues recall his compassion during difficult periods in their lives. Rather, he is focused — at the expense of nearly everything else — on the job.

“He didn’t care about internal politics. He doesn’t care about people’s reactions to things,” Ms. Arguedas said.

.. When Mr. Mueller learned that C.I.A. officers were waterboarding prisoners, locking them in coffins, chaining them to walls and keeping them awake for days, he famously ordered his F.B.I. agents not to participate.

For Democrats and human rights advocates, it was a laudatory but ultimately mealy-mouthed response. The F.B.I., after all, has the authority to investigate torture and prison abuses.

“Why did you not take more substantial steps to stop the interrogation techniques that your own F.B.I. agents were telling you were illegal?” Representative Robert Wexler, Democrat of Florida, asked in 2008.

For Mr. Mueller, the answer was obvious. The Justice Department had declared the C.I.A. tactics legal, and it was not his job to challenge that conclusion.

.. That may be why Mr. Mueller has allowed negotiations to drag on for more than eight months over whether Mr. Trump will sit for an interview. Forcing the issue with a subpoena would test the limits of executive power, and Mr. Mueller does not make such moves lightly.

  1. .. “He wants the public to believe he gave the president every opportunity to have his side heard.”
  2. .. She opposed a Justice Department policy shielding federal prosecutors from oversight by state ethics officials, and she suspected he felt the same way. But he refused to budge, even privately. “It’s an institution,” she said, “and you follow the rules.”
  3. .. He is heard from so infrequently that, when Robert De Niro and Kate McKinnon portrayed him on “Saturday Night Live,” neither even tried to mimic his voice. For someone who spent more than a decade in some of Washington’s most important jobs, Mr. Mueller is most often seen in brief archival video clips or old photographs.

    . For someone who spent more than a decade in some of Washington’s most important jobs, Mr. Mueller is most often seen in brief archival video clips or old photographs.

    .. A less splashy finale suits Mr. Mueller. He likes letting documents do the talking, and as a prosecutor and F.B.I. director, colleagues said, he regularly excised hyperbole or flourish from his prepared public comments.

    .. One of the defining moments of his F.B.I. tenure came in 2004, when Mr. Mueller and the deputy attorney general, James B. Comey, raced to the hospital room of the ailing attorney general, John Ashcroft.

    .. When Mr. Mueller next appeared before Congress, Democrats had to claw to extract even the barest confirmation from Mr. Mueller. “I don’t dispute what Mr. Comey says,” he said bluntly. Mr. Mueller had a powerful political story but went to great lengths to avoid fueling the fight.

    .. “I guess it covered very generally what had happened in the moments before,” Mr. Mueller said, not giving an inch.

    “And what had happened in the moments before?”

    “Well, again,” Mr. Mueller said, “I resist getting into conversations.”

    That moment revealed not only Mr. Mueller’s reluctance to be drawn into a political fight, but also the contrast with Mr. Comey, who would succeed him at the F.B.I. While the two men share mutual respect, friends say the two have never been personally close — despite Mr. Trump’s efforts to paint them as such. Among their biggest differences, Mr. Comey was at ease in the limelight and made contentious decisions in the name of transparency during the investigation of Hillary Clinton.

    .. Mr. Mueller has always preferred to let others do the talking. If, as special counsel, he unearths evidence that Mr. Trump committed a crime, former colleagues say they are certain he will try to hold Mr. Trump accountable. But if the evidence is not clear cut, they say, he will not feel compelled to tell a story just because it involves the president.

    .. Mr. Pistole and others said they had no doubt that Mr. Mueller was bothered by Mr. Trump’s tweets accusing the F.B.I. and the Justice Department — two agencies he dedicated his life to — of being part of a “deep state” working against his presidency.

    As for the president’s remarks about Mr. Mueller and his team personally? “I wouldn’t be surprised if he is somewhat unconscious about all of this,” Ms. Haag said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in one ear and out the other.”

  4. .. Mr. Mueller has shown that he is interested in investigating Mr. Trump’s tweets when they might be evidence of a crime. Everything else is just background noise.
  5. “He’s going to find out what there is to find out, and he’s going to say it in the most straightforward, neutral way possible,” Ms. Arguedas said. “And then he’s going to walk away, because his job will be done. He won’t go on any talk shows, and he won’t write a book.”

How Important Is the Protest Against Trump from the National-Security Establishment?

During the past few years, we have learned that, almost no matter how outrageous or potentially dangerous Donald Trump’s actions and words are, senior Republicans in Congress, on whose support Trump ultimately depends, won’t break with him. If anything, Trump’s grip on the Republican Party, and particularly on its process of selecting candidates, seems to be getting stronger.

It is therefore tempting to dismiss the growing protests against Trump’s decision to revoke the former C.I.A. director John Brennan’s security clearance as just another summer squall in the nation’s capital, one that will quickly blow over. But possibly—just possibly—this could turn out to be a significant political moment.

The blowback intensified on Thursday, when seven former C.I.A. directors issued a public letter supporting Brennan and denouncing the President’s decision. “We all agree that the president’s action regarding John Brennan and the threats of similar actions against other former officials has nothing to do with who should and should not hold security clearances—and everything to do with an attempt to stifle free speech,” the letter said. The letter’s signatories included

  1. William Webster,
  2. George Tenet,
  3. Porter Goss,
  4. Michael Hayden,
  5. Leon Panetta,
  6. David Petraeus, and
  7. Robert Gates,

whose tenures as the head of the C.I.A. spanned five Presidents, from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama.

That is quite a list. Even the stoutest Trump defenders will have difficulty describing the letter as a partisan political ambush, although, of course, that will not stop them from trying.

.. In asking the President to revoke his security clearance, he was taking a step that could have negative financial consequences for him and his family.

(Many retired military and intelligence figures parlay their security clearances into valuable consulting gigs.)

.. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter that McRaven’s letter “could well be the closest we have come to a Joseph Welch ‘Have you left no sense of decency?’ moment that in many ways broke the McCarthy fever.”

.. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Twitter that McRaven’s letter “could well be the closest we have come to a Joseph Welch ‘Have you left no sense of decency?’ moment that in many ways broke the McCarthy fever.”

.. the former C.I.A. chiefs didn’t go as far as McRaven did. They didn’t attack Trump’s over-all record, call him an embarrassment, or ask him to revoke their security clearances in solidarity with Brennan. But, Haass noted, “They were willing to put their names to something that will not go down well in the White House. It is one thing to take on an individual like John Brennan. But I don’t think the White House counted on this type of reaction. These are patriots. Many of them have served in the military. A lot of members of the Trump base will respect these people.”

.. For months now, Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and pro-Trump media figures like Sean Hannity have been vilifying former senior government officials with long and distinguished records, including Brennan; James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence; and James Comey, the former F.B.I. director.

In the coming days and weeks, the vilification campaign may well extend to McRaven and the former intelligence chiefs who signed the public letter. Will Trump’s base care more about them than they did about Clapper?

.. On Capitol Hill, some Democrats have expressed concerns that Trump’s actions are intended to silence people who might serve as witnesses in any eventual impeachment process or other legal proceeding. Most senior Republicans, predictably enough, are keeping quiet or expressing support for the President’s treatment of Brennan. The “President has full authority to revoke [Brennan’s] security clearance as head of the executive branch,” Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said.

..  especially in the run-up to the midterms, Republicans are unlikely to come out strongly against Trump’s actions, much less hold hearings on them. But he pointed out that, back in 1954, a substantial amount of time—six months—elapsed between Welch’s exasperated remonstration of McCarthy and the Senate’s historic vote to censure the Wisconsin senator, which put an end to his reign of terror.

.. “Sometimes, only in retrospect do actions or words emerge as a key moment, or a tipping point. We’ll only know in retrospect if this is one of those moments.”