Siobhan Gorman reports on the U.S. spychief.
Spychief Mike McConnell is drafting a plan to protect America’s cyberspace that will raise privacy issues and make the current debate over surveillance law look like “a walk in the park,” McConnell tells The New Yorker in the issue set to hit newsstands Monday. “This is going to be a goat rope on the Hill. My prediction is that we’re going to screw around with this until something horrendous happens.”
At issue, McConnell acknowledges, is that in order to accomplish his plan, the government must have the ability to read all the information crossing the Internet in the United States in order to protect it from abuse. Congressional aides tell The Journal that they, too, are also anticipating a fight over civil liberties that will rival the battles over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
Part of the lawmakers’ ire, they have said, is the paltry information the administration has provided. The cyberspace security initiative was first reported in September by The Baltimore Sun, and some congressional aides say that lawmakers have still learned more from the media than they did from the few Top Secret briefings they have received hours before the administration requested money in November to jump start the program.
In a series of interviews that began in July, McConnell also weighs in on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In the past six years, McConnell says, U.S. intelligence agencies have stopped “many, many” terrorist attacks. But his deputy David Shedd says that in the search for America’s most-wanted terrorist, “the trail is cold.” McConnell says that while bin Laden is believed to be in the tribal region of Pakistan, the U.S. will not invade the country to chase him down. You cannot indiscriminately attack a sovereign nation,” he says, adding, though, that if the U.S. can pinpoint his location, “we’ll bring it to closure.”
On interrogation policy, McConnell said he reviewed the secret U.S. policy on interrogation and evaluated it with the advice of the doctors who oversee the process. “Our policies are not torture,” he said, defining torture as “excruciatingly painful to the point of forcing someone to say something because of the pain.”
Asked specifically about waterboarding, McConnell appears to suggest waterboarding would be torture, but he then backtracks.
“If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can’t imagine how painful!” McConnell says. “Whether it’s torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture.” Asked later about that comment, McConnell says he did not mean to suggest he personally condemned it. “You can do waterboarding lots of different ways,” he says. “I assume you can get to the point that a person is actually drowning.” Yet McConnell declined to be more specific, because “if it ever is determined to be torture, there will be a huge penalty to be paid for anyone engaging in it.”
On McConnell’s apparent equivocation on waterboarding, CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said in a statement today that, McConnell’s comments amount to “a very strong endorsement of the value of CIA’s detention and interrogation program,” noting that McConnell also said the interrogation program has saved “tons” of lives. Mansfield added that the procedures have been deemed lawful by the Department of Justice, approved by the National Security Council, and shared with congressional intelligence committees.
McConnell, a South Carolina native, also reveals that he fancies himself a fabulous dancer.
Article printed from Washington Wire - WSJ.com: http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire
URL to article: http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2008/01/13/dancing-spychief-wants-to-tap-into-cyberspace/