It’s amazing what people will do when they are selling books. Former Obama CIA director and Pentagon chief Leon Panetta is sounding like a war hawk in promoting Worthy Fights, his new book about the foreign policy disasters of the Obama administration.
Obama has “lost his way,” Panetta says, hoping people won’t notice how Panetta guided the way for much of the time, from one disaster to another.
When he took the CIA job, Panetta was known as a far-left California congressman who had worked feverishly to undermine President Ronald Reagan’s anti-communist policies. Panetta was naïve, to put it charitably, about the communist threat. As AIM reported, he even had communist connections. The book shows nothing has really changed.
Nevertheless, some have jumped on Panetta’s recent criticism of Obama’s Middle East policies, especially his comments about Obama’s no-win war against ISIS. This makes Panetta look tough, as he prepares to accept an award named after Ronald Reagan on November 15.
Panetta’s new friends have conveniently ignored the part of the book that demonstrates how Panetta failed to anticipate the rise of Putin’s Russia and its aggressive turn. The story, of course, is more damaging than Panetta lets on, and it is bigger than anything having to do with ISIS. Panetta’s dealings with Russia constitute a scandal.
The media are making it a case of Panetta vs. Obama, rather than highlighting how the Obama/Panetta approach to Russia was even more misguided than the handling of the current Middle East quagmire.
Panetta’s latest media appearance was with Bill O’Reilly on the Fox News Channel, and the subject of Russia came up. According to a summary of the interview, O’Reilly “asked whether we have been dealing with Putin from strength, and Panetta said that he would have taken a very tough position with him. He said he would have provided military aid to Ukraine, resurrected the issue of missile defense, strengthened NATO, and provided an additional energy resource to other countries so that Russia could not blackmail them.”
This sounds all well and good, except that being tough with Putin and his KGB thugs wasn’t the policy when Panetta was in charge. All of these Panetta comments have conveniently come after the fact. Once again, Panetta is sounding tough, in order to make his acceptance of the Reagan award seem logical.
But the book has some very troubling aspects. Panetta says he believes that the “superpower conflict of the Cold War” is over, but also notes that his meeting with Alexander Vasilyevich Bortnikov, the head of the secret police—the FSB—was held in a building that still contained a bust of Vladimir Lenin.
Now, if the KGB and the Soviet Union are no more, as Panetta says, why is a bust of Lenin, the leader of the Soviet revolution, still on display?
Strangely, there is a reference to Putin and his “KGB years,” having been a Soviet spy, but nothing of substance about his work in East Germany, where he had been based. And there is nothing about the Russian regime being dominated by the FSB, formerly the KGB. These are strange omissions for a former CIA director.
In his book, however, there are some hints of the real Leon Panetta because there is obviously a record of what he said and did. Panetta talks about an “occasionally candid relationship” he developed with Mikhail Fradkov, the head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR. He writes that Fradkov wanted “to share information and collaborate on some common operational activities.” It appears that Panetta complied, at least to some extent.
Panetta writes about having dinner and drinks in Moscow with Fradkov and discussing how the U.S. and Russia “could share intelligence on issues of common interest.”
During one meeting, Panetta says Fradkov talked about Russia becoming a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Panetta seemed to not understand why the WTO was being brought up. But getting into the WTO and obtaining Permanent Normal Trade Relations from Obama and Congress were major victories for the Putin regime, as it successfully attracted more Western capital.
It’s not clear how deep Panetta’s relationship with the Russian spies became.
Panetta says the “old Cold Warriors in the CIA’s Clandestine Service” told him he was “wasting [his] time” in meetings with Fradkov, that the “Russians would never share, and they’d use the whole thing as a ruse to get close to our officers and try to recruit them as spies…” But Panetta went ahead with the “cooperation” anyway.
The use of the term “Cold Warriors” is used to imply, as Obama suggested during his famous debate with Mitt Romney, that modern-day critics of Russia are living in the past.
Panetta clearly thought something useful could come from playing into the hands of the Russians. What a strange approach for a CIA director to take. Panetta even says they developed a degree of “trust.”
By the way, what “intelligence” did Panetta’s CIA share with the Russians? And what did the CIA get in return?
It seems clear that Panetta and Obama were on the same page regarding Russia. Indeed, this is why Panetta was chosen for the important positions of CIA director and Secretary of Defense. Obama knew what he was getting when he picked the far-left Congressman from Santa Cruz for these sensitive positions.
In 2010, however, Russian agents were apprehended by the FBI in the U.S. and accused of trying to acquire sensitive nuclear information from the U.S. Government. Panetta writes that the highest levels of the Obama administration were concerned that the scandal would undermine “the overall relationship with Russia,” as if it was positive at that time. He goes on to say that the U.S. subsequently held “productive” meetings with then-Russian President Medvedev, despite the spy scandal.
Productive? In what sense? Panetta carefully omits this part of the story.
As we reported at the time, just before the spy scandal broke, a $4 billion deal had been announced between Boeing and a Russian firm. During the visit of Medvedev to the U.S., Cisco Systems had announced it was going to spend $1 billion in Russia, in part to develop a Moscow version of Silicon Valley. The United States Export-Import Bank had also announced a new deal to underwrite—with U.S. taxpayer dollars—U.S. business exports to Russia. Plus, Obama had submitted a U.S.-Russian nuclear cooperation agreement, backed by powerful business interests, to the U.S. Congress.
All of this was clearly in jeopardy if the Russian spy scandal led to additional revelations of Russian spying on the American government and businesses. So the scandal had to go away—and quickly. Panetta helped negotiate that outcome. Ten agents were sent back to Russia, in exchange for four Russian prisoners.
Panetta writes that Vice President Biden and national security adviser Tom Donilon “asked the right questions” about the arrests of the Russian agents, such as would the arrests “undermine Medvedev,” or undermine the “overall relationship with Russia.”
The “right questions?” Their concern was for business with Russia, not countering Russian spying in the U.S.
Hence, the administration bought into the notion of Medvedev, a stooge of Vladimir Putin, as somehow being a moderate. And clearly, Panetta and his associates in the CIA thought the relationship with Russia was going well. What a disgrace. This is an intelligence failure that continues to reverberate, as Putin calculates his next aggressive move in Europe.
What fools they were. Medvedev and Putin must be laughing themselves silly as they read Worthy Fights. They are playing the Obama administration like a sock puppet.
Panetta admits that he thought, “perhaps naively, that we could look for ways to cooperate [with the Russians] in areas such as Chechen terrorism, where we had common enemies.” Shouldn’t a CIA director rely on evidence of Russian intentions, such as the spy scandal, rather than foolish notions of working with the Putin regime no matter what?
Naiveté isn’t the word for it. With that statement, Panetta displays gross ignorance over the Soviet/Russian roots of terrorism, and the evidence that the Russian secret police, the FSB, are behind acts of so-called Chechen terrorism in Russia itself.
On the matter of China, Panetta is equally foolish. He writes that the U.S. and China “have much in common—we both seek stability, open markets, and growth…”
Has he noticed the Sino-Soviet alliance that is developing? Russia and China are scheduled to sign more than 30 agreements during the annual Russia-China Prime Ministers summit on October 13.
Moscow’s RT television channel quotes Putin as saying that trade with China is “a priority for the Kremlin,” and that this choice was made “many years ago.”
Why wasn’t Panetta paying attention? Perhaps he was too busy taking notes for the book he was planning to write, for which he got a reported advance of nearly $3 million.
There are other strange things in the book, such as Panetta’s claim that the CIA was “keeping tabs” on leaders in places like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Ecuador.
Those in charge of Nicaragua are the Marxist Sandinistas that Panetta used to support as a congressman.
Whatever “keeping tabs” is supposed to mean, nothing of substance under the Obama/Panetta administration was done to undermine the communist march through the hemisphere. Indeed, one can argue that the Marxists made even more headway.
But very few people are paying attention to this, as Panetta makes the rounds of the TV talk shows.
Panetta’s disastrous reign as CIA director, and then as Pentagon chief, confirms the warnings we issued about the former leftist Congressman. His pro-communist record as a member of Congress included inserting a tribute in the Congressional Record to one of his constituents, Lucy Haessler, calling her a “woman of peace” for her work in the pro-Soviet Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. Panetta put the tribute in the record without displaying any indication of its Soviet sponsorship or casting doubt on the organization’s commitment to “peace.”
He also issued a tribute to identified Communist Party member Hugh DeLacy in the Congressional Record in 1983.
A series of “Dear Hugh” and “Dear Leon” letters discovered by blogger Trevor Loudon in the Hugh DeLacy papers at the University of Washington proved that Panetta had a working and cordial relationship with him. In fact, Panetta provided DeLacy, a key contact of a communist spy ring, with sensitive documents.
The coverage of Panetta’s new book is a diversion from the intelligence failures that Panetta is responsible for.
Having played a major role in jeopardizing America’s national security, he is now running around selling a book and looking like a tough guy on foreign policy. It’s a shame people are falling for it.
Panetta ought to send his $3 million advance to the Ukrainians, so they can buy a few weapons to use against Putin’s thugs. But this won’t begin to make up for the Obama administration’s failure to support their fight for freedom.
Anti-Americanism is on the march worldwide, and Panetta’s fingerprints are all over the unfolding disasters. That’s why he’s spending his TV time criticizing his boss.
This is not a case of disloyalty; it’s shifting the blame for policies that have proven to be disastrous, from one end of the earth to the other.
It is also a commentary on America’s decline that a man of this character and caliber should receive the “Ronald Reagan Peace Through Strength Award.”
Cliff Kincaid is the Director of the AIM Center for Investigative Journalism, and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org