Tony Lake Is Prepped for a Sham Fight

Alexander Cockburn is the coauthor, with Ken Silverstein, of "Washington Babylon," from Verso

The worst news for Tony Lake in his campaign to be confirmed as the next head of the Central Intelligence Agency must surely be that President Clinton is “willing to go to the mat” for him, according to the president’s chief of staff, Erskine Bowles. As more than one victim can attest--Lani Guinier comes to mind--Clinton’s notion of going to the mat, usually a simple journey, involves nervous circumnavigation followed by hasty flight.

The president is preparing himself for the mat trip because his former national security advisor Lake is under attack for being a milksop liberal when it comes to secret operations and dirty tricks. (There are other charges, such as that he lied to Congress about giving the green light to Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia, but presumably the right-wing hawks will ultimately take this lying, if the charge is credibly upheld, as a solid credential for anyone heading up a spy shop.)

The charges most injurious to Lake seem to be that he resigned from Richard Nixon’s National Security Council in 1970 in protest against the bombing of Cambodia and was critical of the CIA for its destabilization of Chile and attempts to murder Fidel Castro. The bombing of Cambodia was of course secret and illegal and nearly formed the basis for one of the articles of impeachment of Nixon; the destabilization of Chile helped evict a democratically elected government, with thousands killed, and the bids to kill Castro were also illegal. But to say this these days is regarded as tantamount to confessing treachery to all that America holds dear.

Predictably, Lake is now pounding his hairy chest and putting out the word that in no way is he against covert operations, however messy. According to a New York Times story about Lake’s nomination fight, the White House is “talking him up as a man so tough-minded that he lost no sleep when a United States missile aimed at Iraqi intelligence headquarters went awry and killed civilians in 1994.”


The attack on Baghdad in early Clinton time came in June 1993, not 1994, when three cruise missiles went off course in Baghdad, one killing Leila Attar, who was one of Iraq’s best-known artists, along with other innocent folk.

So, Lake lost not a second’s valuable sleep over the news that Attar had been blown to glory along with many of her paintings. This may make him an even tougher hombre than that man of darkness William Casey. On Casey’s watch as CIA director, the agency organized an attempt to blow up Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, spiritual leader of Hezbollah, in a Beirut suburb. The bomb killed more than 80 civilians--though not the sheik--as they emerged from church. There were many schoolgirls among the maimed and dead. In his biography, “Casey,” Joe Persico wrote that even the hardened CIA director was “visibly shaken,” though he no doubt remained capable of enjoying his evening martini.

A good theme at the Lake confirmation hearings should be the question of what exactly would cause Tony Lake to lose a moment’s sleep. As Clinton’s national security advisor he’s had more than one opportunity to pass a troubled night. Did the Russian destruction of Grozny and the slaughter of the Chechens--approved by the U.S.--break the even tempo of his snores? Or the rampage of the Taliban fanatics in Afghanistan, also supported by the Clinton administration, or the human rights abuses of the Burmese generals or of the Chinese? Lake also was presumably one of the instigators of the U.S. covert policy encouraging the terrorist activities of the Iraqi National Accord group in Baghdad, which aimed to arouse tension and fear there by random bombings, including one device that exploded in a movie theater, killing many.

It wouldn’t be hard for Lake to prove what a truly well-rested fellow he’s been these past four years and he might thus placate his foes. But it’s a fair bet that the American people will be spared any troubling details about the nasty things that go on in the real world. Instead we’ll have a sham fight, with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee, grandstanding about liberal faint-hearts and Lake expressing his utter devotion to covert ops, while attesting to the proven record of the Clinton administration in allocating more resources to them than George Bush ever did.


Meanwhile Bill Clinton will be circling the mat. Maybe it will take a resounding presidential betrayal to disturb that untroubled nocturnal repose that has thus far seemingly been Lake’s pleasant reward for all the dirty things he’s done.