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Former Bush officials rally behind CIA officer involved in torture tape scandal

Nothing brings former colleagues together like enhanced interrogation. This week, former Bush administration officials John Yoo and Marc Thiessen rallied to the defense of a newly promoted CIA officer under pressure for her reported support of enhanced interrogation in the aftermath of 9/11.

The officer in question was recently appointed acting director of the CIA's clandestine service, the branch responsible for sending spies overseas and running the drone program. Though the officer remains undercover, her promotion came under scrutiny last week after the Washington Post revealed that she helped run the interrogation program and personally signed off on the destruction of videotapes documenting interrogation, including a tape that shows Abu Zubaydah "vomiting and screaming" while getting waterboarded. The cable authorizing the tape's destruction appears below:

On Wednesday, John Yoo, one of the Bush administration's top legal advisors, criticized CIA director John Brennan for not making the woman in question the permanent director of the clandestine service. (The CIA is considering other spies for the job, but maintains that she's a "strong candidate.") But Yoo isn't having any of this dithering on Brennan's part.

"Because of the heat from the Left during his confirmation, Brennan is blocking the most qualified operative to head the CIA's key division because of her involvement in interrogations," he wrote for National Review. "This is the very politicization of the CIA that conservatives feared when Brennan was nominated."

Yoo has long maintained that enhanced interrogation or torture was necessary for intelligence gathering purposes in the aftermath of 9/11, and thinks current CIA officers shouldn't be penalized for promoting such tactics.

Marc Thiessen, a former Bush speechwriter, also rallied to the CIA officer's defense in a Tuesday op-ed for the Washington Post.

"This is an outrage," he wrote. "According to several former senior CIA officials I spoke with, the officer is highly respected and unquestionably qualified for this post."

Instead of glossing over the CIA officer's role in destroying the torture tapes, like Yoo did, Thiessen accused the Post of making up lies about her involvement in that decision.

The Post reported incorrectly that the officer in question "signed off on the 2005 decision to destroy videotapes of prisoners" undergoing enhanced interrogation. In fact, while she helped her then-boss, former clandestine service chief Jose Rodriguez, draft the cable ordering the tapes' destruction, the decision was made by Rodriguez and Rodriguez alone.

The claim was unusual because the Post was by no means alone in reporting that the woman in question actively lobbied for the tapes' destruction. Here's the New York Times:

Several former C.I.A. officers said she was a strong advocate for getting rid of the tapes, which had been sitting for years inside a safe in the agency's station in Bangkok. "She and Jose were the two main drivers for years for getting the tapes destroyed," said one former senior C.I.A. officer.

When FP asked the CIA if the woman in question did actually sign off on the documents as reported, spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said "it would be inappropriate to comment directly on a specific communication such as the one you note."

Thiessen and Yoo are the first prominent officials to defend the acting director. Last week, Glenn Carle, a former CIA officer who spent 23 years in the clandestine service, opposed her promotion in an interview with FP. "We should repudiate these sorts of practices, whatever the pressures and judgments of the moment were," he said.

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Is this the first unfiltered threat out of North Korea?

Determining what's a credible threat out of North Korea is something of a fool's errand. Official ultimatums by Pyongyang routinely evaporate into nothing. But what happens when U.S. spies uncover threats never intended for mass consumption? CNN's Jethro Mullen, Barbara Starr, and Joe Sterling appear to have picked up on such a red flag:

Communication intercepts in recent days also seem to show that Pyongyang could be planning to launch a mobile ballistic missile in the coming days or weeks, another official said.

The story notes that this communication intercept comes as the North moved a missile of "considerable range" to its east coast for a potential strike or test launch. There are conflicting reports about the capability of that missile: Japanese media reports suggested it was a KN-08, a long-range missile that if operable could reach the United States, but South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin said the missile was not capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

Either way, the uncovering of an actual threat as opposed to a telegraphed threat marks a new development in this month-long East Asian standoff.

But that doesn't mean it's time to batten down the hatches. For starters, North Korea doesn't have a nuclear bomb small enough to mount on a long-range missile even though it's working on such a weapon, reports the Associated Press. Other experts say Pyongyang doesn't have enough bomb fuel to back up its nuclear threats. And despite the announcement that it's restarting its nuclear plant, it could be years before North Korea actually churns out more weaponized fuel. So while the regime can still further inflame tensions -- which it appears dead set on doing -- the nuclear threat only holds so much plausibility.