Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

August 25, 2009

The High Value Shuffle

Filed under: General Homeland Security,Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Legal Issues,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on August 25, 2009

The Washington Post’s Anne E. Kornblut broke the story yesterday of the expected creation of a new inter-agency elite group of interrogators know as the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (aka the “HIG”) who will “question key terrorism suspects” as “part of a broader effort to revamp U.S. policy on detention and interrogation.” The White House confirmed that the President had indeed signed off on the HIG, which will be overseen by the White House and National Security Council and housed at the FBI.  The new group will be expected to follow the Army Field Manual, unless its “scientific research program for interrogation,” which it will also oversee, supports otherwise.

Where does the HIG leave the CIA? And how about the ODNI, whose “goal is to effectively integrate foreign, military and domestic intelligence in defense of the homeland and of United States interests abroad.” By all accounts, yesterday wasn’t a good day for intelligence agencies.  It remains unclear what role either organization will have in the HIG, though the White House has said they will have seats at the table.  One wonders whether that means that they will be at the kiddie table down the hall, far away from the adult table where serious discussions are happening. The CIA was having an especially bad day, as the New York Times reported that Attorney General Eric Holder named John H. Durham, a veteran federal prosecutor out of Connecticut, to examine how the CIA treated prisoners and whether a full criminal investigation of CIA employees and contractors for abuse was merited.

While it is clear that President Obama is trying to distinguish his Administration’s interrogation and detention policies from that of his predecessor, what is not so clear is how the creation of the HIG will accomplish that.  If the CIA’s policies and procedures of most concern were generated and supported by some in the White House in the Bush Administration, how will creating a unit that reports directly back to the White House eliminate potentially potential influence, regardless of who is in the White House?  Does the creation of the group at the FBI mean that we are merging even further the legal and procedural regimes that govern criminal and intelligence cases?

Perhaps these questions will be answered when more details about the HIG emerge.  Until then, it feels a lot like a High Value (And potentially High Cost) Shuffling of Chairs in areas in need of serious oversight and analysis.

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2 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 25, 2009 @ 10:07 am

Great post and great timing. My guess is that so-little of value added has come to this White House from the INTEL side that this was an effort to get “something of value” from the expenditure of almost $70B in any given fiscal year (direct and indirect costs of INTEL policy and ops and now including of course the Special Prosecutor)! What is clear is that the fall-out from the 2004 INTEL Reform Act has not finished falling out. Perhaps when the next “big one” does not happen or does happen interested citizens will be able to see what the INTEL investment has brought. I will withhold judgement because have not seen any public info on the new FBI operation but hoping that Congress and others that might have insight will be briefed and also hoping of course that MAIN DOJ will not be kept in the dark by the FBI as to what their new group is doing. Also be interesting to see whether any of the legal rationale and opining by the BUSH DOJ is truly trashcanned or rejected in part and incorporated in part in new opinions by OLC and others. I do find it quite disturbing the the OLC opinions relating to torture were simpley rescinded with no explanation of why they were legally defective. After all if Obama Adminstration is one term followed by Republican Restoration who is to say the opinions will not then just be made newly operative. Oddly I have yet to learn o serious line by line legal critque of the Bush DOJ opinions by the academic world of law, but then may be my ignorance. I do know that the fundamental doctrine of a unitary Presidency is hogwash legally or from any standpoint. The President is both Commander-In-Chief and also Chief Executive under the Constitution. This is not unitary in any way shape or form. Very interested in how civil liberties and Constitutional rights of detainees will be protected and adjudicated. Or are these all going to be “enemy combatants?”

Comment by William R. Cumming

August 26, 2009 @ 10:26 am

WASHINGTON TIMES reporting Brennan will head this unit for WHITE HOUSE!

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