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CIA Mom: John Negroponte meet Melissa Buyle Mahle
"One of the things you learn when you become a CIA spy,” Melissa Boyle Mahle tells me, “is to be a master of disguise.”

Mahle should know. The Brady Bunch blond-haired, blue-eyed and fair-skinned Mahle was a CIA operations officer for nearly 15 years in the dark and mysterious Middle East. Fluency in Arabic, a tent dress and scarf served as her camouflage.

Today, Mahle is dressed for another role: Current Affairs Author. She’s spending a rainy mudslide Tuesday in Southern California promoting her new book Denial and Deception: An Insider’s View of the CIA from Iran-Contra to 9/11.

Weekly Signals, the KUCI talk-radio show I co-host with Mike Kaspar is the first interview of a day she will cap-off with an appearance on Tavis Smiley’s Late Night on PBS.

According to Mahle’s book, the CIA is a noble organization hamstrung by risk-aversion, bureaucratic incompetence and political manipulation. Since Denial and Deception’s imprint is The Nation Books — publishers of Jonathan Schell, John Sayles, John Nichols, Ian Williams and Gore Vidal — I assume that our interview will contribute to “the long tradition of progressive, independent critical thought in America“ or at least sustain a Clinton Democrat ambiance.

I wonder: How harsh will the former CIA agent be in her criticism of John Negroponte – a concensus villain of Liberals and the Bush appointee to the newly created post of National Intelligence Director?

“We have a structural problem in the national intelligence community,” Mahle tells me. “We don’t have a boss. By creating the position of National Intelligence Director, Congress has fixed that problem. Now we have Negroponte and his Deputy Hayden. And you know, this is the dream team here.”


Negroponte, who will soon to face his Senate Confirmation Hearings, was a NIGHTMARE during Iran-Contra, turning a blind eye to human rights abuses when he served as U.S. ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. An official serving under Negroponte during that time, claimed he was instructed to delete all mention of torture and executions from a 1982 report on the Honduran human rights situation that he had been preparing.

“Time and again during his tour of duty in Honduras from 1981 to 1985, Negroponte was confronted with evidence that a Honduran army intelligence unit, trained by the CIA, was stalking, kidnapping, torturing and killing suspected subversives, ” a Baltimore Sun story revealed.

Yet Negroponte later testified, "To this day, I do not believe that death squads were operating in Honduras."

THE DREAM TEAM? Who’s high here?

I politely remind Mahle about Negroponte’s blind eye and ask her why the intelligence community would want to cast “Snidely Whiplash in its leading role?”

“In Honduras at that time, the policy of the US government was focused on a counter-communist agenda," Mahle says. “Only lip service was paid to human rights abuse. Human rights was so far down the agenda that no one took it seriously, including the ambassador.”

Holy Archbishop Romero! She has got ot be kidding. Since when is kidnap, rape, torture and execution of dissidents in Central America a low priority? Were dead nuns the in-house running joke?

And why was Mahle shilling for Negroponte? Is there something sinister afoot? Is she starting a buzz that Negroponte will be confirmed without any serious questioning?

"I think that Congress sees that it’s in its interest to have the position filled expeditiously,” Mahle concludes. “At the end of the day Negroponte will be confirmed by a wide majority.”

Our interview over, I jump online and discover Mahle getting play on progressive websites like Buzzflash and Working for Change. The liberal-friendly spin on Denial and Deception is “Mahle: the female spy in the old-boys' club of covert intelligence.” She briefs the Secret Service for President Clinton’s Middle East visit while she’s in labor. She shows up cradling her baby at a meeting with Yasser Arafat because her nanny took the day off.

She’s CIA MOM. Changing her toddler’s diapers in one scene and chasing Abu Abbas in the next. Quick. Get me Fox TV's Gail Berman on the line.

Or better yet, pour me a tall one. In this Karl Rove-tainted world, everything is a blur, everyone is on the take and no-one is above suspicion. Is this fem-CIA author simply wearing another disguise to conceal her identity as the Assistant to the U.S. Intelligence Director’s Publicist at the Liberal Media Desk? Is she cashing a political paycheck ala Armstrong Williams? Or have I just been reading too many Jeff-Gannon-outing blogs?

It’s getting late. I tune in Tavis Smiley. There she is again. In the world of talking heads, Mahle sounds and looks like a pro — smart, articulate, attractive and energetic.

Smiley smiles. “Let me start by asking you, the big news of the last few days,” he says. “John Negroponte, President Bush's choice to be the National Intelligence Czar, an improvement?

“Yeah, you know, really with Negroponte and his new deputy Hayden, it's the dream team for the intelligence community, two people with very different backgrounds, different capabilities. And I think they're going to be able to be a force to be reckoned with, and that's what we need.”

With the confirmation hearings of John Negroponte close at hand, whatever Mahle — the master of disguise — is up to, her timing couldn’t be better.

— Nathan Callahan, March 3, 2005


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