It is always a bit eerie to get Ray McGovern's views of CIA and executive action. I am regularly astounded at the apparent segmentation within the organization, especially given that it apparently was at some point designed to communicate intelligence.
Whichever lines I try to read between, it seems pretty palpable that McGovern was both briefing a president regularly and unadvised with respect to a particular spectrum of CIA activity. I am sure that he knew pretty well that such things existed and presumably that they impinged upon the work that he was asked to do in various ways that were not spoken directly. Still, he spends a good deal of time and thought working out things that someone fairly high in a more unitary organization might be expected to know.
I do not mean to suggest that he does not know more than we do--or, at least, certainly more than I do. But he still pauses to speculate about matters that by their nature have to be very close to central operations, things like Kennedy assassinations and the like. So, when McGovern is speculating that Barack Obama does not know whether or not the CIA killed John Kennedy nor under exactly what conditions it might decide to kill him, he posits that Obama is working with a sort of exploding Rubik's cube.
You have to figure that this sort of thing becomes contextually relevant to the way that not only the president but everyone else up and down and along all sides of an informational network might ask and answer questions. McGovern was apparently briefing the president regularly and aware that some other pipeline of information within the organization existed that at least influenced and may well have determined decisions.
Now, of course all sorts of other people would have been talking to the president, and no one need be surprised that many if not most of those conversations would be confidential, nor that some might be influential.
Still, it may be worthy to note that not all sorts of influence are the same.
So here, for instance, McGovern repeats the basically accurate observation that torture does not "work"--that is, it does not elicit reliable intelligence. Very well, but by what intelligence might we imagine that this is the administration's goal?
There are certainly other possibilities. A variety of motivations throughout an organization is certainly typical if not entirely universal. For no particular reason should politeness dismiss the likelihood that personal sadism should be a factor in this, particularly but not exclusively with respect to those actually administrating torture. Fear and ignorance are apt to be reasons as well.
However, there is another far more broadly significant reason that would have to do more directly with the affairs of state than with the personal pecadillos of individuals involved. Torture is not really a way of getting information, but a way of giving it: torture scares people in order to intimidate resistance and inhibit dissent.
If we are going to address the failure of torture, we need to see how it fails to achieve its real goals, not the goals that torturers put forward to try to excuse themselves and soft-soap their colleagues into collusion and tolerance.
I think that we would decide that McGovern is right either way, honestly. But it seems like there might be some lessons in the analysis, particularly since it might at once apply to a range of political activities that are of a more or less coercive character.