In Part Two of this Q & A with Coleen Rowley, the former FBI agent discusses bureaucratic arrogance, psychopathic leadership, and why strict adherence to just war doctrine, not “humanitarian” intervention, will lead to a safer world. In addition, Rowley offers her thoughts on the U.S. response to the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war, AIPAC’s political influence in Washington, among other issues.
By  on January 10th, 2014 |

Coleen Rowley, in our last session we discussed the need to have a more frank public discourse about the moral implications of the for-pay soldiery. I’d like to start off the second part of this interview by asking you about the other end of the military spectrum: how our democracy and our security are affected by power-hungry generals.
The 2000 film about the Cuban Missile Crisis, 13 Days starring Kevin Costner, dramatically depicted President Kennedy’s struggle to get control of the U.S. military’s top brass, particularly General Curtis LeMay who was intent on dragging our country into war with Cuba. This struggle between democratically-elected presidents and military generals, a struggle literally over our national destiny, does not appear to be letting up.
For example, in his new memoir to be released next week, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates is reported to describe President Obama’s deep-seated distrust of the military’s top brass over the war in Afghanistan.
According to Bob Woodward’s account of Gates’ upcoming book in the Washington Post:

“Gen. David H. Petraeus, then the central commander in charge of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, made remarks to the press suggesting he was not comfortable with setting a fixed date to start withdrawal. 
At a March 3, 2011, National Security Council meeting, Gates writes, the president opened with a ‘blast.’ Obama criticized the military for ‘popping off in the press’ and said he would push back hard against any delay in beginning the withdrawal. According to Gates, Obama concluded, ‘If I believe I am being gamed . . .’ and left the sentence hanging there with the clear implication the consequences would be dire.”
I find this ongoing phenomenon of the U.S. military’s top brass trying to outmaneuver sitting U.S. presidents – and definitely trying to outmaneuver the American people – to be among the greatest threats to our freedom and our democracy.

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To tie this in with your civilian government experience at the FBI, in your public statements over the last decade-plus, you have made it clear that it was the negligence and arrogance of some in the FBI that essentially tossed the investigation of the 9/11 twentieth hijacker, Zacharias Moussoui, under the bus – an investigation that would have unraveled the 9/11 terrorist plot, saved 3,000 lives on that horrific day, and changed the course of our nation’s history in a more positive direction.
This may be asking a lot, but can you offer some words of hope to the American people who already know that bureaucratic arrogance, both civilian and military, has, at least in the first 13 years of this young century, already failed to protect our domestic security, failed to protect our privacy, and is forever pushing us into wars that the country does not want.
Before my opinion on where any true hope for people actually resides, let me first say that I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in anything that a political opportunist and chameleon like Robert Gates says, whose own well-documented, sordid history implicates him in everything from the “October Surprise” Iran hostage situation perfidy; to Iran-Contra covert weapons deals; to politicizing intelligence to fit Ronald Reagan’s cold war policies; to costly, deceitful surges that served only to prolong the misery of the wars on both Iraq and Afghanistan.
It would be far too kind to attribute Gates’ history to simple “bureaucratic arrogance.” And sadly he’s not the only one. This seems to be the general way the game is played and the ladder climbed in Washington D.C.
The Moussaoui case in Minnesota falling victim before 9-11 to criminal negligence, as the FBI case agent Harry Samit later testified, occurred at lower levels of management due to several reasons: long-standing misinterpretations of law, career risk averseness, stove-piping of intelligence, lack of sharing between intelligence agencies and true bureaucratic arrogance.
In 2010, I wrote an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times, asking: “WikiLeaks and 9-11: What If?” It was an attempt to debunk the myth that governmental secrecy is somehow helping protect us when it’s quite the opposite. Secrecy is pernicious. Secrecy is what allows so much killing and wrongdoing to occur and then be covered up.
But at the highest pinnacles, we often will find such sorry examples of rather psychopathic “leadership.” (Note, however, that I use the “psychopath” term in its broadest, neutral manner, as described in the newest psychological research, for example, in Kevin Dutton’s The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach Us about Success.)
Leadership, not only government and military but in business and certain other professions, inherently overlaps with many of the same psychological attributes, including super-sized egos, associated with high scores on the psychopathy test scale. If such traits can be kept under control, they often lead to success. I have a power-point talk I’ve given on this topic which I’ll soon be posting online.
Regarding the question about hope, just as real criminal psychopathy is mostly incurable, I don’t think there’s much hope of changing the Robert Gateses, the politicians, military generals and CEOs operating at the highest levels. And I don’t think we should waste much time in such delusions.
Real hope lies with the 99% of all non-psychopathic people if they can finally see through and break free of the propaganda they tend to be vulnerable to which prey on their emotions of fear, hate, greed, false pride and blind loyalty and which serve to manipulate them. Even in democracies, people tend to always long for the “benevolent dictator” type leader whom they can fully trust and depend on to abdicate their own responsibilities for governing themselves. That’s the lazy way out and it’s based on a lot of wishful-thinking.
But I think there are finally some signs that people, not only in the U.S. but all over the world, are getting off the couch and taking on more responsibility to educate and inform themselves and then actually do something. They are becoming more critical thinking and then more active, engaged and courageous citizens.
As a recent New York Times article reports, about the handful of anti-Vietnam War activists who took on J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO and served as a large impetus for the Church Committee reforms, it only takes a few determined thoughtful people of conscience to make a difference.
Thank you for this helpful distinction between government psychopaths and more generic bureaucratic arrogance. Both, it seems, can lead to real horrors.
Speaking of horrors, now I’d like to turn to Syria, and ask you about the sarin gas attacks of last August, which the U.S. and French governments are convinced were perpetrated by the regime of Bashar al-Assad. I don’t know if Assad is technically a psychopath, but he sure seems like a real sicko, along with his brother.
As we know, and as President Obama, Secretary Kerry, and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power have all repeatedly stated, the use of chemical weapons is major breach of international law. As a someone who spent 24 years in federal law enforcement, do you see any dangers to the international human rights landscape stemming from the international community treating a criminal like Bashar al-Assad as a legitimate interlocutor on the world stage?
I think the jury is still out as to who was responsible for the August 21 sarin attacks. The evidence that Kerry et al. tried to say existed but which has to this day been kept secret, seems even more flimsy at this point. The expert Brown Moses and the U.N. have had to revise their original findings, and the New York Times recently had to back off its original claims which were based on Human Rights Watch’s “trajectory theory.”
I hope more evidence will be adduced so that this horrible war crime can eventually be solved, adjudicated in court, and persons held responsible, whether they be found to be on the Assad side or the rebel side, or a proxy country’s forces.
In any event, the original red line plan called by Obama for limited US bombing of Syria as punishment, not to mention it was based on flimsy evidence, was a terrible idea as it could have launched another major war and would have served no purpose other than to kill more innocents.
I agree with you, however, in the words of one commenter, “once the heretofore reliable diplomatic and PR template the U.S. uses to start its wars unexpectedly failed in Syria, the whole country rapidly dropped out of the mainstream media. What had been a crisis of such importance that it supposedly necessitated a major air war now barely registers at all. The government-journalistic complex has no use for Syria for the time being, so it disappears.”
Hopefully the US, Russia and other countries will use their influence to push Syria and its rebels to come to a peace agreement. Jimmy Carter has just put forth sound, basic principles for a Syrian peace.
Another Syria-related question. Putting aside the limits of our current political discourse – indeed at this point we’re just struggling to save the Fourth Amendment and save the First Amendment from being chilled all the more – from a moral standpoint, I’d like to get your take on a concept to stem international human rights atrocities like the use of chemical weapons: namely, the U.S., working in conjunction with international allies, would create a specific kind of hybrid law enforcement-military force organization, an organization specifically designed to nab bad guys like Bashar al-Assad, and bring them to a holding cell until they are indicted by the International Criminal Court. The military force component of such a hybrid organization would be comprised of men and women who would be spurred to participate strictly out of deep moral conviction, not at all a desire to get a paycheck, as there would be none. What do you think about something like this to enforce already established international laws, to say nothing of enforcing future moral advancements in international law?
I’m opposed to the Responsiblity to Protect doctrine (R2P) and the exploitation of international humanitarian and human rights laws to trump the more fundamental jus ad bellum law, the Kellogg Briand Treaty, Nuremberg Principle and UN Charter which makes launching wars of aggression the “supreme crime.”
I think the U.S and NATO have thus far used R2P opportunistically and have ended up destroying the countries the US said its “humanitarian intervention” was designed to help.
I also agree with Martin Luther King who said, “Don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America to be policeman of the world.”
There are numerous proposals for reform of the United Nations and its Security Council which ought to be considered as I’m sure there are some good and bad ideas amongst them.
There is already, a well-established process for execution of international arrest warrants that usually works pretty well in most cases.
I’m very interested in the quote you gave from Martin Luther King, Jr.. King’s statement, “Don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America to be policemen of the world,” was made in the historical context of the Vietnam War, which in my view was among the worst evils ever perpetrated by the United States government.
I don’t believe any American, or any human being for that matter, should ever be compelled to engage in an act of war, or a military intervention of any kind, that goes against his or her own conscience, which is why I think the right of conscientious objection must be enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. Yet if any grown adult of sound mind is willing to take a personal physical risk to protect other beings in instances of genocide – like the 1994 Rwandan genocide, for example – and would not be party to any mission that relies on drone warfare, or similar types of technology that may come down the line, I find it hard to put that motivation in the same category as the motivation of LBJ, Robert McNamara and the other architects of the Vietnam War who were clearly the focal point of MLK’s denunciations about American arrogance.
If genocide and ethnic cleansing remain a feature of human behavior – and I believe enforcement of international law is the best guard against such killing – do you think future generations who live in democratic, at-peace countries, including hopefully our own, must have their moral own responses to foreign genocide and other atrocities essentially pre-determined by the moral error and wickedness of the McNamaras of the past? Or is it better to learn from the latter’s record of utter destruction and carnage, and endeavor to make sure such human life-devouring designs never happen, or are even conceived of by government officials for that matter?
Although the Vietnam War was indeed an egregious and horrible mistake on many levels, I would not single it out as anywhere near the worst. History is replete with senseless, terrible wars that have been sold on false premises. I could write a book describing the various lies and noble causes that have been used to manipulate groups of people or whole countries into wars. But most wars, at least most that the U.S. has gotten itself involved in, are “a racket” fought for war profiteers as General Smedley Butler declared after having fought in many at the turn of the century and having finally seen the truth. Other good analyses are contained in War Is A Lie by David Swanson and War Is A Force that Gives US Meaning by former war correspondent Chris Hedges.
Nor do I think that LBJ and McNamara were any more wicked than most war presidents, war department chiefs, or foreign leaders that launch wars. Power corrupts and war destroys. Hitler and Pol Pot might top the list but General Curtis LeMay seems to be one of the worst US war leaders in history to me. He admitted that it if the U.S. had lost WWII, he would have been prosecuted for firebombing civilians. And if he’d gotten his way during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we probably would not be having this conversation as we’d all be dead.
So I very much agree that we should do everything through diplomatic and other means to prevent such “human life-devouring designs,” i.e. wars from breaking out. Once started, they are easy to ratchet up and hard to stop. A number of well-known peace activists are actually starting anew movement to abolish war, inspired by having kept Obama from bombing Syria.
I agree that adherence to international law is a main way to prevent wars, especially adherence to jus ad bellum (just war theory), the Kellogg Briand Treaty that made war illegal, the Nuremberg Principles, and the U.N. Charter. We should push the U.S. to support the International Criminal Court and to submit to its jurisdiction to settle disputes. Unfortunately there have been Office of Legal Counsel opinions written over the last 20 plus years,telling the President he does not need to abide by international treaties, even those that have been signed and ratified by the Senate, possibly including the U.N. Charter.
Humanitarian aid, especially when handled by non-governmental entities, helps alleviate suffering and conflict and should be expanded. But I’m wary of arming other countries or rebel fighters in other countries. Military weapons and armaments should not be called “aid” as it often is. Also I’m wary of the R2P doctrine serving as justification for “humanitarian intervention” and “humanitarian wars”.
Here at Tikkun Daily, and on other blogs, there is intense debate about Israel policy, specifically the state of play in the U.S. – Israel relationship. I worry that the anger toward Israel among many on the left, as well as the right, is misdirected and often amounts to a de-legitimization of the Jewish state itself, and equally worrisome, a de-legitimization of the organized American Jewish community’s exercise of First Amendment rights to advocate for whichever Israel policies its members may favor. The now-commonplace use of the term “The Israel Lobby,” is particularly worrisome to me. What are your thoughts on this hotly-debated subject?
I’ll be frank. I’m not a fan of AIPAC and its associated PACs and lobbies for a whole host of reasons. The main reason is I think their pro-war lobbying has been very destructive to the interests of the people of the Mideast, Arab and Israeli, not to mention US interests. So while I don’t support AIPAC, I do support the several other Jewish communal organizations which engage in lobbying for peace.
Yes, AIPAC and similar lobbies should have the same free speech rights as any other lobby or special interest group, but the “Citizens United” case that said money is speech (and corporations are persons) was wrongly decided. All big money donations are a corrupting influence on representative government.
The last question I have is a bit broader. I happen to believe that by the time tyrannical conduct has presented itself, be it in the private or public sector, there is a kind of brainwashing that has already taken place that enabled the tyrannical mindset to take shape: namely, a brainwashing that skews a person’s sense of the natural connection between innate human need and innate human dignity.
Babies, for instance, seem to be fully aware of their innate human dignity. They may not express it in the most ear-pleasing fashion, but when babies cry they are expressing their utter dissatisfaction at something or another, physical or emotional. When they cry, they are telling us that their human needs, as they construe them, are not being met and that their caregivers need to do something about it, and pronto. That expression, I believe, is essential to asserting their human dignity. Somewhere along the line in the human socialization process, it seems that instead of simply advancing our ability to express what our human needs are in more mature, sophisticated ways with each stage of life, many people get the message that making any such claim on those innate human needs is somehow untoward. Thus, the natural connection between human need and human dignity becomes altogether severed.
As our human dignity must be tethered to something if it is be realized, it seems those people who became severed from their ability to express their human needs will go looking elsewhere to make their human dignity realized and tangible. Tragically, it seems many go the route of domination over others, be it economic, social, political, physical, religious or what have you, as a way to make their human dignity tangible.
If tyranny is to be avoided, I think we need not only laws and governance structures to keep in check the tyrannical impusles of individuals who seek government power and authority, we must, on a cultural level, endeavor to find ways to constantly reaffirm the innate dignity of all human beings, which must include an affirmation of the natural tie between human dignity and human need. What are your thoughts on this linkage?
I recommend the book by David Callahan that came out in 2004, The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, which I think aptly describes this cultural phenomenon and challenge of our time. The wealth disparity between a fraction of the upper 1% and most other Americans, not to mention the rest of the world, has only grown more obscene since this book came out. The book description reads:

Callahan blames the dog-eat-dog economic climate of the past twenty years: An unfettered market and unprecedented economic inequality have corroded our values and threaten to corrupt the equal opportunity we cherish. Callahan’s “Winning Class” has created a separate moral reality where it cheats without consequences-while the “Anxious Class” believes choosing not to cheat could cancel its only shot at success in a winner-take-all world.

I agree with Callahan as to why and how this kind of cultural norming of cheating to get ahead to “dominate and lord over other human beings” is occurring, but I think there are probably even more reasons than what Callahan describes. This drive for success is far from the mainstream religious concept of living righteously and humbly according to the Golden Rule, respecting others. It is more in line with “prosperity theology.”
All human behavior is essentially molded by carrot and stick, incentives and disincentives and a large majority of all people are susceptible to having their emotional buttons pushed.
It is actually easy to push otherwise good people to do very bad things through such cultural pressures, dehumanization of others, and pressing their emotional buttons: fear, hate, greed, false pride and blind loyalty.
Encouraging the opposite traits in people would seem a step in the right direction: courage, love, generosity, humility and critical thinking.
Coleen Rowley, thank you for your public service, your contributions as a citizen, and for sharing your insights with Tikkun Daily readers.

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One Comment

  1. jthebrh May 22, 2014 at 11:34 PM

    Tikkun: Q & A with Coleen Rowley, F.B.I. Whistleblower: Part Two | Rise Up Times

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