As a former British MI6 field operative who worked hand-in-glove with incredibly brave CIA officers, I don't understand why the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted in favor of the Democrat initiative to make public its findings on alleged CIA torture on terrorist suspects. Nor do I understand why president Obama has supported the SIC's decision.
The CIA hasn't denied that it ran what it called an "enhanced interrogation" program. I know for a fact it did run such a program, and I also know the accurate term for it was "torture": Waterboarding is drowning and it's one of the worst experiences an individual can experience. Just one involuntary gulp of water makes your body convulse in agony and your mind cry out for life.
The SIC claims that no actionable intelligence was derived from such techniques; the CIA refutes this. Whoever's right, torture must be anathema to intelligence officers who should be sufficiently skilled to elicit secrets from others by using their minds. If field agents resort to torture, they have failed themselves and those they serve.
The politician who seemed most shocked by the report's findings is California Democrat and SIC chairperson, Senator Dianne Feinstein. She has said, "This is not what Americans do."
Aside from the fact that it clearly is what some Americans do, I agree with her sentiment. Long ago, Great Britain concluded that its foreign policy should be determined by one principal: what we do overseas must determine how we wish to be perceived at home. If we beat another country up, then Britain should be judged a bully. If we don't, then the opposite should be the judgment.
The fact some Americans may have been allowed to do torture is reason why some question whether certain U.S. politicians are too immature to be guardians of the world's moral compass. CIA torture is brutish, counterproductive, and unbecoming of a sophisticated intelligence agency.
But that wrong doesn't mean another wrong needs to be enacted.
The lead agencies at the forefront of the war on terror include MI6, the CIA, NSA and its UK equivalent GCHQ, their foreign allies, and special military operations units like the SAS, DEVGRU SEALs, SBS, and Delta. All of the men and women I know in these organizations have an overriding sense of professionalism and desire to protect the West.
They risk their lives every day, and they do so willingly because they believe they are protecting the greater good.
And to do their job, they need their identities and covers protected.
I operated under deep cover in hostile locations where I would have been incarcerated and possibly executed if caught. At that time, the one thing I feared the most was being compromised by UK politicians who were security cleared to know what I was doing. Thankfully, all British policy makers kept their mouths shut.
That's not happening in the U.S.
I worry that members of America's special operations community may be compromised for the sake of political point scoring.
I'm also opposed to the trend within the Obama administration to play into a Julian Assange and Edward Snowden-supporting audience by making secrets public. The U.K. and the U.S. is part of the "Five Eyes agreement," alongside Canada, New Zealand and Australia. This unprecedented alliance enables the sharing of intelligence that saves a significant number of American lives. However, given previous leaks and disclosures within the States and the recent SIC vote, the non-U.S. members of the alliance will now be concerned that if they share their intelligence with Obama their foreign sources may be compromised.
If MI6 declares to the CIA the name of a foreign asset and says that the source knows the identity of a terrorist, and the CIA grabs that terrorist and improperly tortures him, and the U.S. senate then discloses to the public details of what the CIA did and why it did it, the courageous MI6 asset may be compromised and he will likely be killed by the countrymen he's spying on.
The CIA needs to be privately and demonstrably held to account for its weak and intellectually moribund actions. But, the United States will suffer if it further capitulates to the increasing clamor from certain groups within the States to make everything public on the basis "the public has a right to know the facts." The American public has many rights, but as far as I'm aware it has no right to information that could jeopardize U.S. national security.
There is still time for the SIC to reconsider its decision to disclose to the public details of what it alleges the CIA has done. If that's not possible, prior to publication of the findings I hope the SIC report is rigorously scrutinized and vetted by impartial professionals who understand the nature of secret work.