The CIA's war against the Bush administration is one of the great untold stories of the past three years. It is, perhaps, the agency's most successful covert action of recent times.
The CIA has used its budget to fund criticism of the administration by former Democratic officeholders. The agency allowed an employee, Michael Scheuer, to publish and promote a book containing classified information, as long as, in Scheuer's words, "the book was being used to bash the president."
However, the agency's preferred weapon has been the leak. In one leak after another, generally to the New York Times or the Washington Post, CIA officials have sought to undermine America's foreign policy. Usually this is done by leaking reports or memos critical of administration policies or skeptical of their prospects. Through it all, our principal news outlets, which share the agency's agenda and profit from its torrent of leaks, have maintained a discreet silence about what should be a major scandal.
Recent events indicate that the CIA might even be willing to compromise the effectiveness of its own covert operations, if by doing so it can damage the Bush administration. The story began last May, when the New York Times outed an undercover CIA operation by identifying private companies that operated airlines for the agency. The Times fingered Aero Contractors Ltd., Pegasus Technologies, and Tepper Aviation as CIA-controlled entities. It described their aircraft and charted the routes they fly. Most significantly, the Times revealed one of the most secret uses to which these airlines were put:
When the Central Intelligence Agency wants to grab a suspected member of al Qaeda overseas and deliver him to interrogators in another country, an Aero Contractors plane often does the job.
The Times went on to trace specific flights by the airlines it unmasked, which corresponded to the capture of key al Qaeda leaders:
Flight logs show a C.I.A. plane left Dulles within 48 hours of the capture of several al Qaeda leaders, flying to airports near the place of arrest. They included Abu Zubaida, a close aide to Osama bin Laden, captured on March 28, 2002; Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who helped plan 9/11 from Hamburg, Germany, on Sept. 10, 2002; Abd al-Rahim al-Nashri, the Qaeda operational chief in the Persian Gulf region, on Nov. 8, 2002; and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the architect of 9/11, on March 1, 2003.
A jet also arrived in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, from Dulles on May 31, 2003, after the killing in Saudi Arabia of Yusuf Bin-Salih al-Ayiri, a propagandist and former close associate of Mr. bin Laden, and the capture of Mr. Ayiri's deputy, Abdullah al-Shabrani.
Flight records sometimes lend support to otherwise unsubstantiated reports. Omar Deghayes, a Libyan-born prisoner in the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has said through his lawyer that four Libyan intelligence service officers appeared in September in an interrogation cell.
Aviation records cannot corroborate his claim that the men questioned him and threatened his life. But they do show that a Gulfstream V registered to one of the C.I.A. shell companies flew from Tripoli, Libya, to Guantánamo on Sept. 8, the day before Mr. Deghayes reported first meeting the Libyan agents. The plane stopped in Jamaica and at Dulles before returning to the Johnston County Airport, flight records show.
The Times reported that its sources included "interviews with former C.I.A. officers and pilots." It seems difficult to believe that the information conveyed in those interviews was unclassified. But if the agency made any objection to the Times's disclosure, it has not been publicly recorded. And the agency's flood of leaks to the Times continued.