Former CIA Executive Director pleads guilty (Updated)

CIA Executive Director Kyle “Dusty” Foggo pleaded guilty today to a single count of fraud. As the former No. 3 at the spy agency, he is one of the highest ranking CIA figures charged with a crime, but the sensitivity of his position is sparing him major time in prison. Simply put, Foggo played chicken with the government, and won.

The Justice Department tries to put a brave face on this news in its press release with the true but highly misleading fact that Foggo faces a maximum of 20 years in prison. Under his plea agreement, Foggo will serve no more than three years in prison, and there’s a good chance he will serve even less.

Foggo is quite a character. (Background here). He’s the last person charged in the Randy “Duke” Cunningham scandal to plead guilty, but his was the case one that threatened to transform what was essentially an embarrassing case of congressional bribery involving yachts, antiques and a mansion into “a referendum on the global war on terror.”

That’s the prosecution’s spin, at any rate. A few weeks ago, prosecutors warned that Foggo was threatening to expose details of highly-classified programs and protected “sources and methods.” This is a legal tactic known as “graymail” which is basically a game of chicken involving information that the government doesn’t want to risk disclosing. The defense’s take on this is classified, along with much of the case.

Prosecutors said those secrets were irrelevant to the charges that Foggo was using his influence at the CIA — his executive director “grease,” as he put it in an e-mail — to helping both his mistress and his best friend, a defense contractor named Brent Wilkes, who is serving 12 years in prison.

What were those secrets? No one really knows, which is how the CIA likes it.

There are few clues in court papers, but they are tantalizing ones. Among other things, Foggo was trying to help Wilkes land a multi-million dollar contract providing air support services for the CIA. The government refused to declassify the highly-secret information Foggo passed along to his poker buddy.

CIA air support. Sources and methods. A referendum on the war on terror.  It doesn’t strain credulity to wonder whether the secrets involved the CIA’s rendition program, which involves snatching suspected terrorists and whisking them to secret prisons and has proven to be a major black eye with some of our allies. But those who know aren’t talking. Not to me, at any rate.

Foggo’s plea agreement carries conditions I haven’t seen for anyone else in this case. The government had Foggo sign away his rights to information that was obtained during the government’s investigation of him. Foggo also waived his rights to profit from publicizing the circumstances of his crime.

The Justice Department’s reluctance to proceed is ironic given the other bit of news today involving the former U.S. Attorney in San Diego, Carol Lam. There have been incessant rumors in the liberal blogosphere that Lam was forced to resign because she poked her fingers into the Bush administration’s beehive by prosecuting Foggo. A report today by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Glenn Fine says that ain’t so, but bloggers aren’t letting facts get in the way.

There’s an interesting footnote in Fine’s IG report. Far from trying to hinder Lam’s investigation of Foggo, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty’s office tried to help her prosecutors “to obtain classified documents from the White House or the CIA that were relevant to an investigation.”

In the summer of 2006, as Foggo was being indicted, Lam’s office reached out to McNulty’s staff to obtain classified  information from the CIA on several matters, and “the White House Counsel’s Office was involved in those discussions.” Sensitive stuff indeed.

Who could have imagined that when the FBI drilled the locks and stepped into Cunningham’s mansion, the investigative trail would lead all the way to the White House and the executive offices of the CIA?

P.S. The Washington Post says Foggo is the “highest-ranking member of a federal intelligence or law enforcement agency to be convicted of a crime.” I guess CIA Director Richard Helms‘ 1977 conviction for lying to Congress doesn’t count.

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