WASHINGTON -- During the 2008 campaign, then-Sen. Barack Obama railed against the intelligence programs implemented under President George W. Bush and vowed to end practices like extraordinary rendition and the "enhanced interrogation techniques" that many considered torture. Almost immediately after his election, President-elect Obama was lobbied heavily by CIA Director Michael Hayden, a Bush appointee, to leave the existing policies in place.
In The Obamians, a forthcoming book chronicling the president's foreign policy that was obtained before publication by The Huffington Post, author James Mann details how Obama was subjected to "a classic example of the ways in which America's permanent government bureaucracies, like the CIA, maneuver to win over a new president and to preserve the status quo." Hayden, Mann concludes, achieved some major successes.
According to Mann, the CIA's efforts began in a Chicago meeting with Obama and his foreign policy advisers less than a month after the November election. Hayden, who was a four-star Air Force general and director of the National Security Agency before taking over the CIA, sought to convince the president-elect that his agency's programs were already sharply limited and required no further restraint.
"Fewer than one hundred people had ever been detained under the CIA program," he reportedly told Obama. "And of these, less than one third had ever had 'techniques' applied to them -- that is, special methods that exceeded or 'enhanced' the usual methods of interrogation."
Obama reportedly asked about those "techniques," prompting Hayden to demonstrate a series of moves on an aide, mimicking "grabs" and "slaps" that had been approved for use.
Hayden, Mann writes, considered such techniques "relatively minor" and "took pride in the fact that he had scaled back the [interrogation] program." In response to Vice President-elect Joe Biden's question, he denied that the CIA was handing over terrorist suspects to other countries to be tortured, insisting that his agency "bore moral and legal responsibility for what happened to everyone subjected to rendition."
"You can disagree with the policy, but we did not move them because they can be tortured," Hayden insisted, according to Mann.
The meeting was only the first step in the CIA's fight to save its programs, Mann writes:
Privately, Hayden and some senior intelligence officials had a name for it: the "Aw, shit!" campaign. The idea was to make incoming Obama officials realize that they needed to be pragmatic; that the realities of American foreign policy didn't fit into the world as they had imagined it from the outside; that they couldn't live up to all their campaign statements and promises for change. Once Obama and his aides realized the hard truths of what American policy required -- so it was hoped -- the incoming officials of the new administration would say to themselves, 'Aw, shit!' and abandon the position they had taken before coming to office.
At the time, it appeared the "Aw, shit!" moment would never come. Shortly after his inauguration, Obama signed an executive order ending the kinds of interrogation practices that Hayden had vividly demonstrated while in Chicago. The CIA director had lobbied for the executive order to include a phrase stating that the restrictions were in place "unless otherwise ordered by the president" -- a loophole that would have allowed the CIA wide latitude to secretly maneuver around the new rules while still claiming presidential backing. Hayden's suggestion was ignored, and less than a month later he was replaced as head of the spy agency by Leon Panetta.
But while Obama ended Hayden's intelligence career and the interrogation techniques, Mann points out that the incoming president "decided to preserve -- or, in some instances, expand -- many parts of the counterterrorism program it had inherited from the Bush administration." Rendition and indefinite detention without trial remain in the policy books, while the prison at Guantanamo Bay stays open despite Obama's efforts. White House Counsel Greg Craig, who had helped craft the interrogation order and was a leading advocate of a sharp break with Bush-era intelligence policies, left the administration before 2009 was over.
"There was no single scatological moment of the kind that Hayden had envisioned," Mann writes. "But on the many issues, the president's views 'evolved,' and the policies of his predecessor stayed put."