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Byron York Goes Soft On Crazy Larry Johnson

Clearly this site has a fan in Byron York at the National Review:

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Crackpot Larry Johnson

‘Mr. Counterterrorism Guru’

He says he’s not, but others say he is


On July 10, 2001, the New York Times published an opinion article titled “The Declining Terrorist Threat.” It was written by Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA analyst and State Department counterterrorism official, who argued that Americans spent too much time worrying about terrorist attacks that would likely never come. “Judging from news reports and the portrayal of villains in our popular entertainment,” Johnson wrote, “Americans are bedeviled by fantasies about terrorism.” And then:

They seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal. They are likely to think that the United States is the most popular target of terrorists. And they almost certainly have the impression that extremist Islamic groups cause most terrorism. None of these beliefs are based in fact.

Surveying the security situation around the world, Johnson sought to reassure readers. “The greatest risk is clear: if you are drilling for oil in Colombia — or in nations like Ecuador, Nigeria or Indonesia — you should take appropriate precautions,” he wrote. “Otherwise Americans have little to fear.”

Two months later, the planes of September 11 crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. And Larry Johnson became known, at least in the eyes of some of his former colleagues, as the author of perhaps the most embarrassing op-ed ever published. “The worst,” says one such colleague. “On an issue of national interest, has there ever been a worse prognostication in the history of man?”

Probably not. Yet Johnson’s career as a commentator did not just continue after September 11 — it thrived.

In recent years, Johnson, who says he is a registered Republican, has made a new career of using his CIA credentials to bash the Bush administration. He has become a favorite not only of the left-wing blogosphere — on his website, called No Quarter, he writes entries like “Frog-March the Bastard,” which was a call for the indictment of Karl Rove — but also of the nation’s biggest newspapers and cable news networks. If you’re a reporter looking for a quote criticizing the president about warrantless surveillance, or about the CIA’s “secret prisons,” or about the troubled efforts to reform the spy agency, Johnson is your man. In just the last few months, his observations about intelligence matters have appeared in or on the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New York Daily News, the Sunday Times of London, the Guardian, the Associated Press, Knight-Ridder, National Public Radio, CNN, MSNBC, and more.

Why does Johnson receive such attention? Compared with some of the CIA’s other critics, like Bob Baer, who spent 21 years as a case officer, or Milt Bearden, who spent 30 years at the agency and left as a high-ranking official, Johnson’s credentials are a little thin. He worked there as an analyst, not as a top manager or a covert agent, for all of four years, 1985 to 1989, which means it has been 17 years since he was employed by the CIA. And his specialty wasn’t the Middle East or terrorism; instead, he dealt with issues related to Central America, a subject he’s rarely called on to comment about today. What experience he had with terrorism came not at the CIA but at the State Department, where he worked mostly on transportation-security issues from 1989 to 1993.

So why the demand for Johnson’s opinions? “He’s willing to say very bold things,” says a former intelligence official. “If you say things that are balanced and reasoned and calm, they’re less likely to ask you back than if you throw some bombs.”

That is certainly true, but perhaps the biggest reason for Johnson’s prominence these days is his connection to Valerie Plame Wilson, the woman at the center of the CIA-leak investigation. Although they’ve never been characterized as close friends, Johnson and Plame began CIA training together in 1985, and Johnson rushed to her defense when her identity was revealed as part of the White House’s pushback against her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had attacked the administration over pre-war intelligence. Denouncing the administration figures involved in the matter as “traitors,” Johnson maintained that the leak did horrendous damage. “Not only was her cover destroyed, but an undercover company was destroyed,” he said in April on MSNBC. “Intelligence assets that were involved with trying to determine, detect, and protect America against weapons of mass destruction — they were destroyed in that leak.”

That would certainly qualify as a bold — and questionable — statement. In the actual investigation, CIA leak prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, trying the case against former Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby, has said that prosecutors do not plan to offer “any proof of actual damages” caused by the Wilson leak.

Still, Johnson is a go-to guy on the leak affair. And by an almost Zelig-like coincidence, he is also an acquaintance of another woman involved in another big leak case: Mary McCarthy, the CIA analyst fired for allegedly leaking classified information, possibly about the “secret prisons” story. Johnson and McCarthy worked together at the CIA in 1988, and Johnson took up her cause when she was fired as part of the CIA’s attempt to crack down on leaks. In an interview with the Washington Post, Johnson speculated that McCarthy might have thought the CIA’s anti-leak campaign was “a whitewash,” and therefore might have come to the conclusion, “Why not tell the press?”

Johnson was speculating, at least in part, because he has not stayed close to McCarthy in the nearly 20 years since they worked together. In fact, he told National Review that “she’s the reason I left the CIA,” explaining that McCarthy was a “lousy manager” who had “no experience in Latin America.” Listening to him talk, it appears they really, really did not get along. Yet when McCarthy became an anti-Bush hero, Johnson put aside his feelings to become her defender. One for all and all for one when it comes to opposing the president.

To his credit, Johnson is not one of those figures who refuse to speak with anyone who might ask him difficult questions. He has always been willing to talk to National Review, and, in a discussion for this article, he didn’t bristle even when asked about “The Declining Terrorist Threat.”

Of course, he didn’t give an inch, either. “I stand by everything I said in that piece,” Johnson says. “Go through it in detail. Put it into the right context. . . . Nowhere in that article did I say we needed to ignore Islamic terrorism.”

Mark that up as another bold statement. On the issue of his credentials, Johnson says he received commendations for his work at the CIA, but he takes a more modest tone than one might expect. “I don’t represent myself to be Mr. Counterterrorism Guru,” he says. “I get introduced as the deputy director of counterterrorism at the State Department. But my full title was deputy director for transportation security, antiterrorism assistance training, and special operations. In Washington, the longer your title, the less important you are, and I had a really long title.”

As for his connections — how he knows enough to speak about the CIA after 17 years away — well, that’s where the openness ends. “I’m not going to get into the specifics of how I know what I know,” Johnson says. And that’s that.

Of course, that doesn’t really matter to Johnson’s fans in the press and the left-wing blogs. Johnson is celebrated not so much for what he knows as for what his fans hope he knows: that the Bush administration is corrupt, traitorous, and a danger to national security. These days, he can always find someone to listen.

Unfortunately Mr. York left out much of Larry Johnson’s most outrageous (even criminal) activities.

Such as his active participation in Ray McGovern and Daniel Ellsberg’s efforts to get current and former intel officers to leak national security secrets so as to help our (though not his) enemies.

Oh, well.

By the way, Lying Larry’s Wikipedia entry also leaves out these minor details. In fact, it is quite a hoot, being obviously written by "Lying Lunatic Larry" himself. (Which of course is against Wikipedia’s rules, but standard practice for the self-promoters of the lunatic left.)

Who else would believe write his oft-discredited claim about being a recent Republican and Bush supporter?

It is to laugh.

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, May 24th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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