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Profile: Hugh Turner
Hugh Turner was a participant or observer in the following events:
During a meeting with other CIA officials, Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, compares al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to Adolf Hitler before World War II and emphasizes that the terrorist threat would be significantly reduced if he was killed. The officials have just attended a briefing for representatives from various agencies during which A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, executive director of the CIA, played a video recently taken by a drone aircraft that showed a man who appeared to be bin Laden. Krongard asked audience members if they thought the US should try to assassinate the man based on this evidence (see (July 2001)). After the briefing ends, James Pavitt, the CIA’s deputy director for operations, gathers together the CIA operations officers who attended it to further discuss the issues that were covered. Those at Pavitt’s meeting include Blee; Hugh Turner, the associate deputy director for operations; and Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, deputy associate director of central intelligence for military support.
Pavitt Is Uneasy about the CIA Assassinating Terrorists - Pavitt appears uncomfortable with the implications of authorizing the CIA to deploy armed drones—something that was discussed during the briefing. He tells his colleagues: “We have to think long and hard about getting back into the assassination business. We should think about the impact it will have on our mission, on our organization. It’s dangerous to kill people in secret… even terrorists.” He adds, “We need to have a rock-solid case that conducting assassinations is necessary and justifiable, and also consistent with the broader principles that we serve as agency officers.”
Colleague Suggests Raising Concerns with the White House - Turner responds to Pavitt’s concerns, saying in a sullen manner: “Times are different than they were during the agency’s assassination and covert action days. The world has changed since the l960s and 1970s. We have congressional oversight, lots of oversight.” He advises Pavitt to raise his concerns with the White House. “They need to hear your reservations about repeating the mistakes of the past,” he tells him. He says that if the CIA is to go ahead and use armed Predator drones, it should make sure it has first received specific authorities in writing from the National Security Council. Additionally, he says, “Our lawyers need to square away the CIA’s legal authorities with [the] Department of Justice.”
Pavitt Wonders if Killing Bin Laden Is 'Worth It' - Pavitt gives more details of his reservations, saying: “We rejected assassination in our past because it was corrosive to our culture and to democracy. And we weren’t any good at it. It caused more harm than good.” He notes that killing people remotely using an armed drone “is dangerously seductive” since it would leave the CIA with “no blood on our hands.” In light of these concerns, he asks: “Is killing bin Laden worth it? Would it matter? Would his departure from the scene change things so much that it would justify a return to assassination operations?”
Bin Laden's Death Would Be a 'Major Blow' to Al-Qaeda - Pavitt looks at Blee to see his reaction. “Pavitt would listen to Blee, an experienced and highly respected counterterrorist expert,” Mowatt-Larssen will later note. Blee clearly thinks the al-Qaeda leader is a serious enemy who poses a major threat to the United States. “Osama bin Laden is a charismatic leader. He is the heart and soul of al-Qaeda. He created this terrorist organization and declared war on America,” he says. He adds that no one else in al-Qaeda has the same influence and vision. He therefore indicates that he thinks assassinating bin Laden would have significant benefits. “His death would be a major blow to the movement,” he says. “The threat would be greatly diminished if bin Laden was eliminated,” he adds.
Blee Compares Bin Laden to Hitler - Blee explains the severity of the threat he feels bin Laden poses by comparing the al-Qaeda leader to Hitler. “The situation we’re in reminds me of the situation before World War II,” he says. “How would history have been different if we had a chance to take out Adolf Hitler before the war?” he asks. “Without Hitler, World War II war might have been averted,” he states, adding that similarly, “Without bin Laden, al-Qaeda is not the threat it represents with him as their leader.” Blee makes clear that he therefore believes the US should assassinate him, concluding: “We can’t pass up the chance to kill [bin Laden]. No, we have to take our shot if we get the chance.” Pavitt is surprised but also reassured by the firmness of Blee’s conviction. According to Mowatt-Larssen, while the deputy director for operations will continue to have misgivings about using armed drones to kill terrorists, it is now clear he will do nothing to prevent such action being taken. [Mowatt-Larssen, 2020]
The CIA makes a fake video of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, although the video is apparently never used. The video shows bin Laden and some associates of his sitting around a campfire, swigging bottles of liquor and talking about having had sex with boys, according to a former CIA official. The actors are drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” the official will say. The timing of this effort is unclear, although it is apparently linked to discussions about making similar videos, including one of a fake Saddam Hussein having sex with a boy, prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion (see Before March 20, 2003). According to another former officer, the projects grind to a halt as nobody can come to an agreement on them. In particular, they are opposed by Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt and his deputy, Hugh Turner, who keeps “throwing darts at it.” The officer will say that the ideas are ridiculous and, “They came from people whose careers were spent in Latin America or East Asia,” and do not understand the cultural nuances of the region. “Saddam playing with boys would have no resonance in the Middle East—nobody cares,” a third former official will say. “Trying to mount such a campaign would show a total misunderstanding of the target. We always mistake our own taboos as universal when, in fact, they are just our taboos.” After the CIA abandons the projects, they are apparently revived by the military. “The military took them over,” one former official will say. “They had assets in psy-war down at Ft. Bragg,” at the Army’s Special Warfare Center. The projects will be revealed in the Washington Post in 2010. [Washington Post, 5/25/2010]
The CIA’s Iraq Operations Group discusses several ideas for discrediting Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the eyes of his people using fake videos. One video would purport to show Hussein having sex with a teenage boy, according to two former CIA officials familiar with the project. “It would look like it was taken by a hidden camera,” one of the former officials will say. “Very grainy, like it was a secret videotaping of a sex session.” The idea is to then “flood Iraq with the videos,” the former official will add. Another idea is to interrupt Iraqi television programming with a fake special news bulletin. An actor playing Hussein would announce that he is stepping down in favor of his son Uday, who is unpopular with the Iraqi people. “I’m sure you will throw your support behind His Excellency Uday,” the fake Hussein would say. The agency’s Office of Technical Services collaborates on the ideas, which also include inserting fake “crawls”—messages at the bottom of the screen—into Iraqi newscasts. At the same time as these discussions, the agency makes a video with an Osama bin Laden impersonator (see (2003)). According to another former officer, the projects grind to a halt as nobody can come to an agreement on them. In particular, they are opposed by Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt and his deputy, Hugh Turner, who keeps “throwing darts at it.” The officer will say that the ideas are ridiculous and, “They came from people whose careers were spent in Latin America or East Asia,” and do not understand the cultural nuances of the region. “Saddam playing with boys would have no resonance in the Middle East—nobody cares,” a third former official will say. “Trying to mount such a campaign would show a total misunderstanding of the target. We always mistake our own taboos as universal when, in fact, they are just our taboos.” After the CIA abandons the projects, they are apparently revived by the military. “The military took them over,” one former official will say. “They had assets in psy-war down at Ft. Bragg,” at the Army’s Special Warfare Center. The projects will be revealed in the Washington Post in 2010. [Washington Post, 5/25/2010]
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