BBC SpyCruise Documentary

Back in September I blogged on a group called Veteran Defenders of America, an outgrowth of Brigitte Gabriel‘s ACT! For America. I noted that the “honorary chairman” of the advisory council is retired Maj. General Paul E. Vallely, and that the VDA website carries an advert for a 2010 “SpyCruise” organised by Vallely’s own Stand Up America organisation, at which former CIA operatives and directors were billed as speakers.

News of the cruise, which took place in November, also appeared in a Washington Times piece:

When the air outside starts to get a bit frosty this November, former CIA Director Michael Hayden will be enjoying warm sea air in the Caribbean, along with dozens of other former spies.

Mr. Hayden has signed on as the top attraction for the “SpyCruise,” an annual charity boat trip begun in 2002 to raise money for the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation and the Scott Vallely Soldiers’ Memorial Fund.

“I think the one tie that binds our passengers together and spurs them to sail with us is a continued interest in national security matters, a desire to listen to and learn from real experts and without a doubt, patriotism,” former CIA officer Bart Bechtel, who serves as “spyskipper,” told special correspondent Rowan Scarborough.

…Another former CIA director, Porter Goss, also will be on board. His lecture: “Radical Fundamentalism and (Judeo-Christian) Western Civilization Are Irreconcilable.”

The full  line-up can be seen here. Paul E. Vallely is well-known as a Fox News pundit, and he is aligned with the cruder end of the “counter-jihad” right: as well as the association with Gabriel, his Stand Up America website commends sites such as WorldNetDaily and Townhall and the Tea Party. He has also co-written a book defending the prison at Guantanamo Bay with Gordon Cucullu, whom I blogged here. However, the speakers on the cruise appear to have been professionals rather than the usual procession of demagogues and opportunists who pass themselves off as experts on radical Islam: there’s no-one as vulgar as Robert Spencer or Walid Shoebat on the schedule.

Among the speakers was the British journalist Tom Mangold, who also took the opportunity to make a documentary about the cruise for BBC Radio 4 – it can be heard for the next few days here. Mangold talks to various fellow-speakers and paying participants, and the programme features interviews with both Goss and Hayden. Unsurprisingly, the tone is hawkish and implicitly politicised: Hayden tells us that waterboarding turned captured terrorists into “gushers of information”, while Goss – who complains that “the civil libertarians are trying for scalps” – shows an understanding of the UK that appears to have been culled from conservative websites:

You don’t retreat from the law and order of the United Kingdom and say ‘OK, you can have shariah law in that part of our country, because its just too hard, we just can’t handle your domestic stuff.’ You just can’t go there. My worry is that the appeasers are back.

He’s doubtless refering to the overegged issue I blogged on here.

Mangold also spoke to Bart Bechtel, who is the “SpyCruise Director” and a retired CIA Operations Officer; Mangold asked him whether the event was simply speaking to the already-converted:

Bechtel: I actually did reach out to people on the other side of the political spectrum. They didn’t feel comfortable being supportive of such a venture for whatever reason. Either they don’t believe in national security or they don’t want to educate themselves about it, historically or even current affairs.

Mangold: But one does have the feeling that if you had an American Civil Liberties Union lecture here he’d be booed off the stage within the first 45 seconds.

Bechtel: That’s quite probable, yes.

Mangold also reflects on the purpose of the cruise: it provides an opportunity for networking, and for the CIA to do something about its image problem. He adds:

The real agenda of the spy cruise is now becoming more clear. The US, cruisers are reminded forcefully, is at war and needs to behave like a nation at war.

The SpyCruise was organised by a private intelligence organisation, called SpyTrek; according to the blurb:

SpyTrek® is run by the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies (CI CENTRE) which provides counterintelligence, counterterrorism, investigations and security training for government agencies and corporations. The instructors of the CI CENTRE are veteran intelligence, counterintelligence and counterterrorism officers who served in the US Intelligence Community, including the FBI, CIA and US Military as well as the Russian KGB. In addition, other instructors are intelligence and counterterrorism analysts, authors and historians.

I’ve looked at some other private intelligence organisations previously; Chip Berlet mentioned last month that the CI CENTRE will feature in a forthcoming report on “key counter-terrorism firms offering highly politicized, biased seminars and industry conferences.”

In 2009, Mangold interviewed Glen Jenvey following Jenvey’s admission that he had hoaxed a tabloid newspaper with information he had posted to a Muslim webforum – I blogged this here.

4 Responses

  1. […] it can be heard for the next few days here. Mangold talks to various fellow-speakers and … Make sure to check out the original source Cancel […]

  2. Looking for instructions to obtain the BBC story by Tom Mangold as a podcast. Please advise. Thank you.

  3. […] There’s also a discussion of the CI Centre’s “Spy Cruise”, which I discussed here. […]

  4. listening to the podcast was a bit shocking to realize how far from mainstream political thinking the top CIA leaders have become. Obviously they don’t read ‘the economist’.

    The whole place should be shutdown and any useful functions transferred to military intelligence perhaps. Why has the CIA never been criticized for taking 10 years to find 1 terrorist? so many failures on their track record for the last 30 years.

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