- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 15, 2010

President Obama personally intervened last fall to dissuade Steve Kappes — a senior CIA operations director at the time the agency used black sites and harsh interrogations of terrorists — from retiring.

The CIA announced on Wednesday that Mr. Kappes is leaving the agency next month from his post as deputy CIA director. He will be replaced by longtime analyst Michael Morell, the agency’s current director of intelligence.

Mr. Kappes had been seeking to retire from the CIA as early as last year. Mr. Obama, according to former and current administration officials, personally called Mr. Kappes in November and urged him to stay in his post.

“He talked to Kappes and asked him to stay,” a former senior intelligence official said, adding that the president told Mr. Kappes: “You are a valuable player and we don’t want to lose you.”

Thomas Vietor, a White House spokesman would not comment on the phone call. He did however say, “The president thinks Steve Kappes is a patriot and appreciates his service.”

Mr. Kappes was the subject of a critical profile this month in Washingtonian magazine that alleged he had helped coach a CIA officer to lie to investigators about the death of a detainee in an Afghan prison known as the “salt pit.”

A CIA spokesman said the magazine account was “shot through with errors and falsehoods.”

In August, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. appointed John Durham, an independent prosecutor, to investigate approximately a dozen cases of detainee mistreatment by the CIA.

George Little, a CIA spokesman dismissed the view that the Washingtonian article spurred Mr. Kappes, who is 58 years old, to retire. “The notion that a magazine story figured into Mr. Kappes’ retirement decision is simply ludicrous,” he said.

Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch said, “a lot of people I respect have linked Kappes to policies that did enormous harm to the United States. Practices that several young soldiers went to jail for.”

“What’s remarkable is not that Kappes is leaving, but that he was permitted to stay so long,” said Ben Wizner, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Kappes was closely associated with CIA policies that violated U.S. and international law, compromised the standing of the United States around the world and led to the deaths of prisoners in CIA custody.”

Mr. Little said in response, “Mr. Kappes has always acted in accord with American law and values.”

Mr. Kappes was a favorite CIA official among congressional Democrats after he quit the agency in 2004 to protest the leadership of then-Director Porter J. Goss, who had replaced George J. Tenet and charged that agency officials were orchestrating a press campaign to undermine the foreign policy of President George W. Bush.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee said, “I was very supportive of his decision to remain as deputy director in the transition between the Bush and Obama administrations, and he has maintained stability at the agency and been a great help and resource for Director Panetta over the past year.”

Mr. Kappes was hired back as deputy director in 2006 by Michael V. Hayden, who had replaced Mr. Goss as CIA director. Mr. Hayden on Wednesday said, “He stayed longer than he intended. I am sure the current leadership would certainly want to keep him in the post if they could.”

After 2006, the CIA dismantled its overseas program of covert black sites used to question terrorists, and narrowed the list of permissible “enhanced interrogation techniques” from 13 to 6.

Ishmael Jones, pseudonym for a former CIA deep-cover officer, has called Mr. Kappes a “defender of the status quo” who opposed needed intelligence reform, specifically as it relates to human intelligence gathering.

According to intelligence officials, Mr. Kappes quit the CIA in November 2004 along with a subordinate, Michael Sulick, after an argument that involved Mr. Sulick throwing a stack of papers at Mr. Goss’ aide Patrick Murray. Mr. Goss then ordered Mr. Kappes to reassign Mr. Sulick to a post outside CIA headquarters, but Mr. Kappes and Mr. Sulick both resigned rather than make the change.

In a statement to CIA’s senior leadership, Director Leon E. Panetta said Mr. Kappes has “more than met the highest standards of duty to the nation.”

Mr. Morell, who joined the agency in 1980, recently was named the agency’s point man for improving counterterrorism analysis after the failed Christmas day airplane bombing. On Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Morell delivered to Mr. Bush his daily intelligence briefing and stayed with him for the entire day.

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