Transcript: Jeremy Bash

 

The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg  

Jeremy Bash: Central Intelligence

 

Chuck Rosenberg: Welcome to The Oath. I’m Chuck Rosenberg and I am honored to be your host for another thoughtful conversation with a fascinating guest. Jeremy Bash, a graduate of Georgetown University and Harvard Law School worked at the very highest levels of both the Central Intelligence Agency and The Department of Defense. In both posts, he had the privilege and the responsibility of serving as the Chief of Staff to Leon Panetta. Mr. Panetta of course was the director of the CIA and later the Secretary of Defense. Jeremy’s insights into our intelligence and defense missions are fascinating, timely, and important. On The Oath, Jeremy shares the remarkable story of the analysis and planning integral to the successful mission to capture or kill Usama bin Laden. Jeremy also describes the tragic loss of seven CIA personnel, and two international colleagues, as the result of a 2009 terrorist attack at Camp Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan—a story we should never forget. Jeremy Bash, welcome to The Oath.

 

Jeremy Bash: Hey Chuck, great to be here.

 

Rosenberg: Well, thank you for doing this.

 

Bash: My pleasure.

 

Rosenberg: You grew up in Northern Virginia.

 

Bash: I did. I grew up in Arlington. Actually, they’re not a lot of Natives in the Washington D.C. area, but my folks were Brooklynites. They came down from New York in the early 1960s at a time when I think Northern Virginia and Arlington and the whole D.C. area was experiencing a lot of growth because of course, during the 40s and after that, the federal government really expanded. And so, they came down in the 60s and raised four kids and they still live in the house in Arlington where I spent my formative years. My dad is a rabbi and he came down to serve as a pulpit rabbi in a congregation in Arlington, the only congregation in Arlington, and he served there for 36 years. And then, when he retired, he decided, you know, I’m here in Northern Virginia around the government around the Department of Defense, let me help out some way my country. So, he began to serve as a congregational rabbi at Fort Belvoir, and then, ultimately, he became the chaplain of the Pentagon, now conducting services weekly there. And he also at Arlington National Cemetery performs and conducts funerals for Jewish war veterans who have fallen and their spouses.

 

Rosenberg: How about your mom?

 

Bash: My mom was a nurse and she ended up leading the nurse midwifery program for midwives at Georgetown University. And when I was a kid, she would get up in the middle of the night and go and take call and go down to D.C.–the old D.C. General Hospital–and deliver babies, mostly for the poor and underserved communities in southeast Washington and then come home and about 6:00 a.m. and get us kids ready for school. Now, as a parent of three young kids, it kind of blows my mind to think that mom went out in the middle of the night, worked, and came back, and did all the mom duties as you would expect a mom to do.

 

Rosenberg: She sounds like an extraordinary woman.

 

Bash: She certainly is. My folks, as I said, raised four kids. My twin brother and I are the youngest. I’m actually the youngest of the four.

 

Rosenberg: Which, I’m sure, he reminds you.

 

Bash: Absolutely, he’s eight minutes my older, but he’s smarter and better looking than I am. The two of us as well as my older sibling my older brother and up having the opportunity to go to Georgetown because mom was a professor there and that confers some tuition benefits and so that allowed us to go essentially for free.

 

Rosenberg: I teach there now occasionally. It’s just a marvelous place and the students are so engaged and so smart.

 

Bash: It was a great place for us for two reasons. Number one, is I grew up in a religious Jewish household. I went to a Jewish day schools my whole life. And then to go to a Catholic school a Jesuit school for college was a terrific experience. First of all, it broadened my perspective, but it also it opened my eyes to a lot of commonality and common respect among religious faiths and among people of the cloth from different religious faiths. Second, Georgetown obviously has got a focus on politics and government and international relations, which is what I kind of came to be super interested in. I was editor in chief of the newspaper: The Hoya, and also got more involved in sort of editorial writing, and I guess, finding my own political voice.

 

Rosenberg: And from Georgetown to Harvard Law School.

 

Bash: This was in the in the late 90s and really enjoyed law school. I didn’t know whether I wanted to practice law candidly, but I had looked up at a lot of people who had served in government. And when I was at Georgetown, it was the time of the first Gulf War, and there was a lot of discussion on campus about what should the United States’ role be in the Middle East, when should we use military force, what aggression by one state against another–kind of testing the Westphalian project–was under discussion.

 

Rosenberg: Explain what you mean by the Westphalian project.

 

Bash: When I think of the Treaty of Westphalia, I think of the concept that nations should be secure in their own borders and that governed or the citizenry of a particular nation should have a country to which they belong. In other words, you belong to not just a tribe, or a clan, or a family. And when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in August of 1990, it really tested whether or not, in the international norm context, one country could invade another and take it over. And I think although our particular–meaning the United States–has particular interests in defending Kuwait were probably a debatable proposition, what was really at stake was whether or not one country could invade another and get away with it. I looked at people, and including the incoming people who were serving in the Clinton administration in ‘92, and of course, Bill Clinton was a Georgetown graduate, so there was a lot of excitement on campus about his presidency. And I looked at people like Warren Christopher, who was coming in as secretary of state, who had had a long career in and out of government, in the law, and at the Justice Department, and I thought: boy, law school allows you to keep your options open and potentially do some public service along the way.

 

Rosenberg: After law school, Jeremy, I know that you clerked for Judge Leonie Brinkema in the Eastern District of Virginia. She is a wonderful trial judge, still sitting on the bench. I had the privilege of appearing in her courtroom many, many times. That’s actually where I met you.

 

Bash: That’s right. I wanted to see what a federal prosecutor did and how the criminal justice and also the justice system in general, worked in practice. So, I clerked as a summer clerk in the Eastern District of Virginia. Got to see a lot of trials and got to see a lot of motions before the judges. And as I looked around at the various judges in that courtroom, I was really taken by the practical approach that Judge Brinkema took to the law. She really wasn’t, and isn’t an ideological judge. She always looked at the facts first and tried to weigh what was justice, what was fair in any particular outcome. And she was tough. I mean, as you know, you prosecuted cases in front of her. She put the government through its paces and I liked that, actually, I thought that was a huge virtue.

 

Rosenberg: She was tough. She was fair. I know that sounds clichéd, but it actually happens to be true. It wasn’t always easy in her courtroom, but I never walked out thinking that an injustice had been done.

 

Bash: She always kept an open mind. She did run a tight ship, and one of the jobs of the law clerks when I eventually came to begin my clerkship in 1998, was to do the “Oh yay oh yay,” and gavel in the session of court. And that’s not the case in every courtroom around America. But–

 

Rosenberg: You can probably repeat that in your sleep.

 

Bash: I probably can. And I always actually saw it as a huge honor to be asked to open a session of court and beseech the litigants the government in a criminal case, and the defendant to draw nigh, and come close to the bench, and make their case heard.

 

Rosenberg: Give their attention, and they shall be heard.

 

Bash: That’s right

 

Rosenberg: Yeah. One of the things I loved about Judge Brinkema’s Chambers, was that she had a picture of all of her clerks on the wall–they were family to her.

 

Bash: Absolutely. And in fact, every year we have a reunion, a picnic, and so many of the people who were involved in Judge Brinkema’s family, including her clerks, are still part of that family.

 

Rosenberg: On the last day of your clerkship, she came to you and asked you what you intended to do with the rest of your life. Jeremy, what did you tell her.

 

Bash: I said: “honestly, judge, I have no idea.” And I remember the conversation distinctly because she came and she kind of plopped herself down in a little chair in my small office in her chambers. Usually when the clerks talk to the judge, we would go into her larger office, her chambers. And so, she came into my office and she said basically: “I think you’re capable you’re a nice fellow. All of my other clerks have jobs lined up you know what’s with you.” Well I told the judge: “look, I really want to work on a presidential campaign and I want to work in foreign policy and national security.” Now, this was, Chuck, in the fall of 1999, so it was about four months before the Iowa caucuses. So, this would be the presidential election of 2000, the year 2000. I want to work for Al Gore who was then vice president of United States. He was in a contested primary against former New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley. I decided: “hey, I want to volunteer for the campaign. I’ve got no idea how but I’ll leave my clerkship and see what I can figure out.” Well I literally left the chambers of the judge on my final day of my clerkship without a job in hand with no real connections to the core presidential campaign other than your aspirations I drove home to Dupont Circle, and there on the corner, I saw an old friend of mine who I’d worked with before on Capitol Hill. I rolled down the window, I said: “Steve, I thought you live in Seattle. What are you doing here in D.C.?” and he said: “well I’m staying over in Georgetown. You wanna give me a ride. I’ll tell you what I’m up to.” And he was working, basically, for a Democratic think tank, and working on foreign policy issues for Democrats. He hired me, and I began working with him. And that job led me to a job on the Gore campaign as a foreign policy issues director.

 

Rosenberg: As our listeners know, the 2000 election ended in a remarkable 36-day, contested recount because the vote tally in the state of Florida was so close. You worked on that.

 

Bash: That’s right. I was living in Nashville, Tennessee as the Foreign Policy Director issues director for the campaign. And on election night, we all went out to the final party, which we hoped would be a victory party–but you never know was close–all of a sudden, our flip phones began to buzz and we were all told to go back to the headquarters late that night. And we were told that there would be a recount in Florida that would probably last about three days. And they said: “hey Bash, didn’t you go to law school?” And I said: “I did, but I’ve never practiced law. I mean, I was a clerk for a federal judge but that’s about it.” And they said: “well, we need lawyers.”

 

Rosenberg: Good enough.

 

Bash: Exactly, good enough. So, go home and pack for three days, you’re going to Florida, I went back to my apartment in Nashville, by way, was the last time I ever saw that apartment I packed for three days and I went back to the headquarters and they put us all in a charter flight for Florida.

 

Rosenberg: You know, Nicolle Wallace, who was a guest on this Podcast, tells a charming story. She was working for the Republican candidate. Same thing. She thought she was going to Florida for a couple of days on his behalf, forgot to bring her phone charger, as I recall, and ended up down there for more than a month.

 

Bash: That’s right. So, I bought a suit in a strip mall in Florida. Eventually after a couple of days in Palm Beach County, where they were hand counting the ballots and doing a manual recount. I went to Tallahassee, the capital of Florida, where the litigation strategy was being formulated. I was drafted to be, I would guess, I would say, a young associate on the law firm led by some real legal luminaries, including Warren Christopher, who had been secretary of state.

 

Rosenberg: You fought hard for 36 days in Florida. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled against your candidate. What did you take away from that, Jeremy?

 

Bash: Well, I learned that I had a lot more to learn about the law, about our legal system, and I also obviously learned how critical and important our elections are.

 

Rosenberg: We are a rule of law country in the end.

 

Bash: Absolutely. These things get decided under a set of rules under our system.

 

Rosenberg: And whether you’re happy, or unhappy with the outcome, that’s the outcome.

 

Bash: And you move on. When I went back to Washington after December 13th, 2000, which was the date that the Supreme Court issued its final ruling, and Al Gore ultimately conceded, you know, I sort of thought to myself: “what should I do next.” I’d clerked, I’d worked on a presidential campaign, I figured it was probably time to get serious about whether or not I was gonna practice law. So, I went to the law firm of O’Melveny and Myers and I worked there as an associate.

 

Rosenberg: But you didn’t really scratch that foreign policy itch. Did you?

 

Bash: I didn’t. And again, starting a job in D.C. in early 2001 at the beginning of the Bush administration, I felt like I was really, kind of, on the outside looking in of some important foreign policy decisions. But, of course, no more important set of decisions could possibly unfold until after the attacks of 9/11. And I was, like most people, living in Washington with attacks happening so close to us at the Pentagon, of course, as I said, I grew up in Arlington, and drove by that Pentagon building all the time, and it’s also a place where my father has conducted services, and just knew so many people there that I felt it just so acutely and personally, I guess, that this moment in our nation’s history really called people to try to serve and do something good for the country.

 

Rosenberg: And oh, by the way, when Zacharias Moussaoui, the only person ever prosecuted in a U.S. courtroom, was charged in the eastern district of Virginia, In December of 2001, the case was assigned to Judge Brinkema, the judge you would clerk for.

 

Bash: Judge Brinkema, and the other judges in that court room, in some ways, like the prosecutors, were sort of on the front lines dealing with the aftermath of 9/11.

 

Rosenberg: Including novel legal issues.

 

Bash: Absolutely. One of the things that happened after 9/11, was the subject of intelligence was really thrust onto the front pages in a way that we really hadn’t seen since the 1970s. Now, in the 1970s, Chuck, as I think folks will know, there were a series of abuses that were uncovered by Congress coming out of the FBI, coming out of the CIA, coming out of other national security agencies, and it had to do with potential impermissible wiretapping, eavesdropping on American citizens, and even potentially some participation in Watergate.

 

Rosenberg: You’re referring to the Church Commission,

 

Bash: The Church Committee and the Pike Committee in the House really reviewed and reshaped the intelligence community landscape. For the most, part since the 70s, the community and its approach to intelligence had been largely the same. Well, 9/11 changed all that. There were so many changes: there were changes to organization, there were changes to budget, there were changes to authorities. One of the main things that happened after 9/11, was of course the 9/11 Commission was stood up. It was a blue-ribbon commission of prominent Americans, a bipartisan commission, and it laid out changes for the way the intelligence community should be reorganized, including importantly, creating a new position, a director of national intelligence position, that would oversee 16 other intelligence agencies. By late 2003 and early 2004, as these changes were being discussed, and as we were already several months into the Iraq War, in which–how we got into the war was also being discussed and debated hotly because it was in part premised on intelligence assessments about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear weapons program–Congress began to be very energized about conducting oversight over the intelligence agencies and the way the Bush administration was utilizing intelligence. And the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is the congressional committee in the house that oversees the intelligence community, was looking for a new chief counsel. I applied for the job, and I got the job. The top Democrat on that committee was Jane Harman, California Congresswoman, who was very focused on national security, homeland security, and had really been taking a leading role after 9/11, in trying to help the government defend itself and defend the country against the threat of terrorism.

 

Rosenberg: Can you describe, for a moment, how the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence work, what they’re created to do, and how they actually operate.

 

Bash: In the 1970s, Congress conducted investigations over our intelligence agencies and the theory of that oversight was: look, somebody has to watch what’s happening with our intelligence agencies. They have enormous power. They also have the ability to do things in secret, so it’s out of the public eye. So, we have to have somebody from Congress, somebody from another branch of government watching what the executive branch is doing. And so, that was kind of the essential bargain when these committees were created in the 1970s, which is: we will tell the secrets of what CIA is doing, what NSA is doing, what the FBI is doing to a few members of Congress some in the House some in the Senate and their staffs. And we will give them the requisite security clearances so they can access the information. We will brief them on all of the major activities and programs, but in turn, the agencies can’t do very much unless Congress approves it. And so, it was kind of his bargain, that basically, Congress would be the eyes and the ears of the American people on secret intelligence activities.

 

Rosenberg: And by the way, those committees, one in the House and one in the Senate, had always functioned in a much more bipartisan way than perhaps other committees in either chamber did.

 

Bash: That’s right. And I think that was for two reasons. Number one is because national security has tended to be and I think should be not a partisan issue. And second of all, Chuck, because a lot of their work was behind closed doors–so they actually had a big hearing room both on the House side and the Senate side a hearing room–that was actually a room where you could handle classified information.

 

Rosenberg: And when it’s behind closed doors, it’s sometimes means it’s a little more serious, there’s less grandstanding—

 

Bash: No cameras in the room, so there’s no one no one pontificating for the camera.

 

Rosenberg: You said it more directly: there are no cameras in the room.

 

Bash: The House Intelligence Committee at the time in the mid 2000s was looking at a number of issues pertaining to intelligence, and as the new Democratic counsel for the committee, I was asked to head up a number of investigations and inquiries. I was a consternation by the Bush administration ultimately the leadership in Congress both Republican and Democratic and the Bush administration aligned around a reorganization of the intelligence committee to establish a Director of National Intelligence to oversee intelligence activities. There were also at the time a couple of other important reviews happening. First the intelligence committees in both the House and the Senate were analyzing allegations made in the news media that the Bush administration had conducted eavesdropping warrantless eavesdropping on Americans as part of a counterterrorism program as it also was revealed in the papers at some point. There were allegations that the CIA had engaged in abusive interrogation tactics, including waterboarding against individuals, meaning al-Qaida terrorists, who’d been captured and held in secret CIA facilities. And that was also a time when everyone was trying to figure out whether or not the original intelligence case for the Iraq war was sound or whether or not that intelligence analysis was, somehow, incorrect. So, after the allegations of the Bush warrantless surveillance program came to light Congress took a look at the underlying legal authorities and tried to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which governs the way the government can conduct surveillance

 

Rosenberg: Which, by the way, ideally, is how it should work.

 

Bash: Unfortunately, it was wrapped up in the vortex of politics. Like all things on Capitol Hill tend to be. But, once we kind of cut through the rhetoric of who is soft on terrorism, who is hard on terrorism, and who was more protective of privacy, and who was less protective of privacy, when you kind of got down to it, there was a common ground and Congress passed legislation that is still in effect to this day which I think strikes the right balance of giving the government the ability to collect information, collect intelligence, and analyze that intelligence based on potential threats from outside the United States. So, foreigners not in the United States, who are communicating using e-mail and new technologies, while also preserving the core Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens to be protected from unlawful or warrantless surveillance.

 

Rosenberg: At the end of President Bush’s eight years in office, as the Obama transition team is taking shape, you got to meet a fellow named Leon Panetta, who’s Leon Panetta?

 

Bash: Leon Panetta was a son of Italian immigrants, whose parents came through Ellis Island, made their way to California, opened an Italian restaurant near an army base called: Fort Ord, servicing a lot of the soldiers and service members who were heading off to war in the 1940s. That young man, Leon grew up to really have a a calling to public service and he came to Washington initially to work in the Nixon administration. And he came into work in that administration on civil rights during his tenure. He came into some disagreement with the way the Nixon administration was pursuing the Southern Strategy, which was to end the desegregation of schools in the south. And Leon Panetta disagreed with that Nixon strategy. And so, he was ultimately fired from his job as heading the Office of Civil Rights.

 

Rosenberg: But that wasn’t the end of Leon Panetta

 

Bash: No, it wasn’t. And he went back in the early 1970s to California and he began to practice law and then ran for Congress and was elected to Congress in 1976 after Watergate. And he ultimately rose to become chairman of the House Budget Committee where he oversaw the budget of the entire federal government. And it was really in the center of all the big budget negotiations between President Bush 41 and the Congress, and his expertise on the Budget Committee led President Clinton to appoint him as OMB director the director of the Office of Management and Budget and then Leon Panetta served as Bill Clinton’s White House chief of staff until early into Clinton’s second term and then Mr. Panetta went back to California where I think he thought he would, just kind of, enjoy a quiet life out there in the beautiful central coast of California near Carmel Valley in Monterrey. When Barack Obama was elected president, he called Leon Panetta and said: “would you consider serving as CIA director?” And I think it’s fair to say Mr. Panetta was a little bit surprised by that.

 

Rosenberg: This is about the time that you met him.

 

Bash: That’s right. So, this was in very late 2008 early 2009. President elect Obama said: “you know, I really want someone who understands Washington to take a fresh look at the CIA.” He said to Mr. Panetta: “I think you can do that. You don’t come in to this position to this job with any preconceived notions about what the CIA should or shouldn’t do.” Again, Chuck, this was following many years of I would say boiling controversy about intelligence and in part also about the way the CIA had conducted the global war on terrorism. Leon Panetta came to Washington in early January of 2009. It was a cold day in D.C. I was serving as a staff member on the transition team and I heard in the hallway that Leon Panetta was going to be the CIA director. So, I position myself near the elevator when he came up to the sixth floor.

 

Rosenberg: You physically moved.

 

Bash: I physically went down the hallway–and this is exactly what happened, Chuck–elevator doors opened, and he walked out, and I said: “hello, Mr. Panetta, my name is Jeremy Bash and I’m going to show you to your office. Follow me we’ll walk down the hall. This is your office. This is how the telephone works. By the way here’s a schedule of individuals that you might want to consider meeting over the next couple days,” to include the FBI Director, Bob Mueller, to include the outgoing national security adviser, to include the head of the National Security Agency. You’re going to be nominated on Friday, and here’s a draft of remarks. And by the way, here’s the telephone number of every former CIA director. You should call and ask them for advice including President Bush ’41, who had served as CIA director. And he took the piece of paper from me and he looked at me he said: “this is all great stuff. Now, what the hell did you your name was again?” I have learned this on Capitol Hill, Chuck, which is, just be a good staffer. Just help the person do their job. There’s great opportunity if you’re just kind of willing to just devote yourself to the job of helping someone do their job

 

Rosenberg: And subjugate your ego.

 

Bash: Absolutely, and it doesn’t matter what your name is, just given the information, you helped them set up a schedule, and you help them get the job done.

 

Rosenberg: But let’s make one thing clear about Leon Panetta: he may have forgotten your name at that moment, he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

 

Bash: He was raised right. He was the son of Italian immigrants and there was an ethos of love of country and devotion to public service and gratefulness and gratitude, that kind of, permeates the way he was raised. And it just emanates from him and so because he’s got this, kind of, mode of being grateful, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. He has a great sense of humor and he knows to treat everybody respectfully. He just treats people right.

 

Rosenberg: And so you went from: what the hell was your name, kid, to being his chief of staff when he became the director of the CIA.

 

Bash: That’s right. And a couple weeks after we started working together, and we went around to various Senate offices because, of course, to be CIA director, you have to be confirmed by the United States Senate. And so, he as other people do go around and you kind of make calls on the senators, and you sit with them in their office, and then ultimately, there’s a hearing, and then a vote about whether or not you can be confirmed. And he said to me said: “would you be interested in coming over as chief of staff at the agency?” Now, having served as chief counsel of the House Intelligence Committee, I was very familiar with CIA activities. I had traveled around the world to about 40 overseas CIA stations and bases, most of which are located with our U.S. embassies around the world, so I’d kind of seen a lot of CIA activities and operations. I received many briefings from CIA officers, but honestly, I really didn’t know how the agency worked from the inside. So, I said to him, I said to Mr. Panetta: “I’ll come over as chief of staff. Kind of on two conditions.” Number one, is I want to be more staff than Chief because I’m not chief of anything at the CIA. And second is, I think, when you come in as director leading an agency, let’s rely on the professionals who are there. “Let’s not roll in with a thick posse,” that’s the way I put it to them. “Let’s not roll in thick. Let’s go over, you as director, I’ll be your chief of staff.” Eventually, you have to bring a couple of other people there: a general counsel, a couple of other senior people, but let’s rely on the professionals so they know what they’re doing.

 

Rosenberg: You know, I think that’s the best advice you could give the someone you are showing up at a place where people have worked for a long time, they know it well, they’re deeply devoted to the mission. Listen, listen to them, hear what they have to say. Don’t come in with a preset agenda, right.

 

Bash: Absolutely. And especially because frankly, President Obama was the source of some concern at the agency, because he had campaigned on ending enhanced interrogation techniques and that was seen as sort of a shot at the CIA officers who’ve been asked to carry out some of those counterterrorism programs. And there was just a lot of let’s not do what the previous administration had done.

 

Rosenberg: Describe, for our listeners, a little bit about the CIA, how it’s structured, what it does. I mean, everyone’s heard of it, but it’s very possible that not a lot of people know it certainly not how you know it, Jeremy

 

Bash: The CIA grew out of an organization called the OSS, and the OSS was a paramilitary organization during World War II, that the United States set up under Wild Bill Donovan who had been selected to lead an organization that could, basically, go into enemy territory during World War II, collect vital information, and bring it back to American decision makers. And the CIA, which was established in 1947, was designed to do three things, and it does those three things to this day

 

Rosenberg: And really well by the way…

 

Bash: I think they do it the best. Number one, is to collect foreign intelligence and by foreign intelligence. What I mean, is intelligence primarily outside the United States that affects the foreign relations or international interests of the United States of America. Any information or intelligence that bears on how we make our national security decisions. The CIA is tasked with collecting that

 

Rosenberg: Number one, collect foreign intelligence.

 

Bash: Number two, is to conduct analysis, to bring in all sources of intelligence whether it’s intelligence that the CIA collected, or satellite imagery that another agency collected, or surveillance, electronic surveillance, sometimes called “eavesdropping” that say. NSA may do overseas, bring all that intelligence together and write reports called “finished intelligence,” in the parlance of the intelligence community, to write finished intelligence reports about topics that are of interest to decision makers. And the most important finished intelligence product that the CIA writes and edits every day, is the president’s daily brief, and these are articles like you might think of them as 10 paragraph short one or two page documents that explain, either something happening immediately, for example, a foreign leader is making a decision and the document explains that decision, or it might be something a little bit more long range, like, for example, what the military of, say, China might look like in 10 years.

 

Rosenberg: So, to analyze and report.

 

Bash: That’s right. And the third thing that the CIA does, and this is the thing that I think is least understood, is called covert action. And covert action is defined under the law as actions that the United States government wants to take to affect the political, military, or economic conditions overseas, where the hand of the U.S. government is hidden. I want to unpack that a little bit because there’s a lot in that

 

Rosenberg: Please.

 

Bash: So, when the United States acts overseas, whether it’s our diplomats or our military, we do so under the flag of the red white and blue, we say: “this is the United States of America, we have an interest in moving a policy, in a certain direction or conducting military action.” And our soldiers wear an American flag patch on their arm and our diplomats driving cars with little American flags on the front. But there are times, there are occasions, where it will advance the foreign policy of the interest of the United States to do things overseas, and kind of change the conditions on the ground, but we don’t want America associated with it because we fear, or are concerned, that if America was seen as the author of it, there could be blowback. And these are basically the most secret sensitive intelligence missions in our history. And if you think about what could these possibly be it’s kind of hard to talk about them because they are all, by their nature, classified secrets. However, for example, during the Cold War, there was a lot of things that we wanted to do to push back on the Soviet Union. In a particular country, in Eastern Europe, maybe spread some information, or have our agents of influence advance certain ideas or maybe denigrate certain individuals, or in some cases, actually conduct sabotage and physically destroy a rail line or a warehouse or a facility that belong to an adversary where we didn’t want the US’s fingerprints on it. And so, under our law, and under our system, covert action is treated very carefully. What do I mean by that? First of all, under the law today, before the United States can engage in covert action, it has to do a couple of things. The president of the United States has to personally sign a document that’s called a “finding.”

 

Rosenberg: I’m so glad you mentioned that, Jeremy, because Hollywood depicts these as rogue operations, but actually, they’re done pursuant to law and guidelines and policy with written instructions, so that the operators in the field know what they are expected to do, and members of Congress understand what will be done.

 

Bash: That’s right. And I think before I worked on the House Intelligence Committee, my view of covert action was a couple of guys in black masks kicking down a door or doing some special ops activity. And it’s really not like that at all. I mean, of course, that kind of activity does happen by our government, but that’s mostly a military activity. What the CIA really does in the realm of covert action is develop a program meaning a set of activities the set of activities can include working with individuals on the ground, it can include advancing certain messages as a reference, it could also include conducting–I was a—quasi-military or paramilitary activities on the ground to, for example, train local forces in another country or in some cases conduct lethal action against terrorists or others who were planning to kill Americans. And so, it’s not just like a one off covert action operation happening one night, it’s usually over months or years a set of activities that the United States is engaged in.

 

Rosenberg: You alluded to this, but it’s a really important point: the intelligence community of the United States operates under Title 50 of the United States code, the military operates under Title 10 of the United States Code. A lot of times, those two things, those two entities, military and intelligence, are conflated.

 

Bash: That’s right. And the separate legal authorities that you referenced are very important because when the CIA acts, it has to act pursuant to specific direct authorization by the president, which usually means that it’s been reviewed thoroughly by the National Security Council, which includes all of the key agencies: the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and others, and also, Chuck, it means that Congress is overseeing it. So, whenever you hear things about rogue intelligence activities or CIA officers doing things, just always know, and always remember that what they’ve done has been heavily scrutinized, heavily lawyered heavily reviewed both by the executive branch and by the legislative branch.

 

Rosenberg: When you walk into the original headquarters building of the CIA, into the main lobby, immediately on your right, is the memorial wall.

 

Bash: It’s a wall of marble into which are carved a star representing every CIA officer who has fallen in the line of duty. Although, the CIA has not lost nearly as many professionals as, say, the United States military has. For a relatively small organization like the CIA, which is close knit and for which there are no parades and there are no full honors military burials if someone falls in battle, because of course the service of so many of these individuals was anonymous and must remain anonymous, this is a wall, essentially of honoring anonymous service to our country, and specifically, there is a star on the wall for every person who has fallen in the line of duty and in front of that marble wall is a book in a glass case. And in that book, is inscribed, in careful calligraphy, the name of every CIA officer whose name can be revealed because their secret operations have either been declassified or because they are no longer sensitive.

 

Rosenberg: You’re referring to the Book of Honor.

 

Bash: But what’s fascinating about the Book of Honor when you look at it, is there are a lot of blank spaces, and there are a lot of places where there’s no name there. All you would see is a year, for example, 2009, and you’d see several stars besides some of the stars our names but besides some of the stars, it’s blank because even to this day, Chuck, even many years after they’ve died, and sacrificed everything for our country, we can’t tell the public that they were associated with the CIA

 

Rosenberg: At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Arlington National Cemetery, where your father presided over religious services for the fallen, we have a tomb dedicated to people who we are unable to identify from previous wars. At the CIA, we can identify them, we just won’t. It really goes to the nature of their service and to the mission of the CIA.

 

Bash: And of course, when one of them tragically falls in the line of duty, their parents and their loved ones can even really publicly mourn. And so, when you have to keep secret their relationship to the CIA, it’s a huge burden on a family. And I think one of the ways that we tried to—I don’t want to say lighten the burden, but I would say respect that burden–is by honoring them at the memorial wall.

 

Rosenberg: During Mr. Panetta’s service as director on December 30th, 2009, there was a devastating attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. The CIA lost seven personnel. Many others were injured in that attack. Foreign nationals who worked with the CIA were also killed and wounded. Can you talk about that attack?

 

Bash: The origin of that event really dates back to the hunt for the senior leadership of al-Qaeda and the hunt for bin Laden himself. Director Panetta began at the CIA. He really asked our analysts to take another hard look at whether there were any significant leads to bin Laden. And one of the important leads, Chuck, that materialized in the fall of 2009, was that there was a potential lead to find two Bin Laden’s number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and Zawahiri was actually one of the founders of al-Qaeda. He was an Egyptian who really promulgated the original doctrine of al-Qaeda and the underpinnings of the theology of al-Qaeda’s organization. Finding him was a key priority because we figured if we could find him, maybe we could find bin Laden, and the trail on bin Laden had really gone cold. In the fall of 2009, the CIA got an enticing, enthralling lead and the leak came from our friends in the country of Jordan where they had arrested a jihadi an individual named Balawi, and Balawi was a propagandist who had been sympathizing with al-Qaeda. But he also had an interesting background. He had some medical training, and when he was arrested by the Jordanian intelligence services, he, after some time, said: “you know, I can get you guys to Ayman al-Zawahiri, I can lead you to bin Laden’s number two,” and his stated rationale was Zawahiri was a medical doctor and this individual, Balawi, had had some medical training, he had a way to find him. Well, this was a very enticing lead. No one else had ever offered to be effectively a double agent, working not just for the bad guys, al-Qaeda, but also turning and working for the United States

 

Rosenberg: Extraordinary if true.

 

Bash: Exactly. And so, we took a look at how we could figure out if this guy was telling the truth. We devised an operation. We were gonna go to a base in Afghanistan. We were going to send about a dozen of our best officers out to this remote base. On that base, we would have a CIA contact, a local contact, who’s a driver, pick up this individual, Balawi, on the effectively the Pakistan side of the border, drive them across the border, and drive them into the base. Once he was on the base, our officers would hold a meeting with him. And during that meeting, they would talk to him and assess whether or not he was for real, and they would, as they say in intelligence parlance, validate him. They would assess his bona fides. They would figure out if he could potentially carry equipment if he could report back. How would he report back? How would he communicate? And all of these things were absolutely critical before we could actually entrust him with a sensitive operation.

So, we sent a dozen of our best officers to that base in eastern Afghanistan, and they were actually standing outside of the meeting room when the car, in which Balawi was being driven, came onto the base. They told the security at the edge of the base, you know, don’t search this guy because he’s kind of a sensitive source or potential source, and we got this, and they drove him onto the base. Well, he got out of the vehicle he was riding, in and he stood up, and he was standing about 50 feet from, as I said, a dozen CIA officers, and he put his hand inside his jacket, and a detonated a massive suicide bomb. And the shrapnel from the bomb was so powerful that it not only killed him, and not only killed that driver who was working on behalf of the agency, but it also killed seven CIA officers and it wounded several others. Chuck, I remember distinctly the morning of December 30th, 2009. A woman named Amy, who was the senior executive assistant in the directorate front office at the CIA, called and she said that operation in Afghanistan has gone horribly wrong. There was a bomb. You’ve got several people who we know have been killed. We got several others on the operating table. You better call the director. This was between Christmas and New Year’s and Director Panetta was home with his family celebrating the holidays. I called Mr. Panetta at home. I likewise, asked him to go secure on his classified phone. I told him what had transpired and over the course of the next 12 hours as we began to realize what had happened it became clear that this was going to be the single worst day for the CIA since the Beirut embassy bombings in the early 1980s, in which many CIA officers, along with other U.S. officials, gave their lives. And of course, Mr. Panetta had to call President Obama, Vice President Biden, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and explain to them that not only have we lost seven CIA officers, but that we had also totally misread a very critical lead to going after this important lead to get bin Laden.

 

Rosenberg: Stars for those seven CIA officers and employees were added to the memorial wall at the headquarters building.

 

Bash: There were funerals held all over the country and Mr. Panetta attended those funerals. He was very moved by the outpouring of love and support in small towns across the country for people who had served the country and died too young. I went to the services that were held at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

Rosenberg: Mr. Panetta wrote to the entire CIA workforce the day after the attack: that “those who fell yesterday were far from home, and close to the enemy doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country from terrorism. We owe them our deepest gratitude.” Could you tell us their names?

 

Bash: Their names were Darren, Herold, Jennifer, Liz, Scott, Dane, Jeremy. After that tragic attack, and after Mr. Panetta had to go to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where we bring home our nation’s fallen heroes in a very dignified ceremony–many people will recognize the images of a flag draped transfer case or a casket holding the remains of a fallen U.S. service member–after that ceremony at Dover, on a very frigid January 4th day that I will never forget, we went back to CIA headquarters, and Director Panetta kind of gathered the senior leadership of the agency around his conference table, and he said: “okay, who here is in charge of finding Osama bin Laden?” And everybody around the table who is director of operations, director of analysis, they all raise their hand because I think they thought that he wanted to see everybody owning the problem. And he said: “we’re going to go after bin Laden if it’s the last thing we do. But I’m concerned that not one person is in charge here of this hunt.”

 

Rosenberg: In other words, if everybody’s in charge, then nobody’s in charge

 

Bash: Exactly. Panetta said: “I’m going to put one officer in charge,” let’s call him: Gary, although that’s not his real name, he said: “Gary you’re going to lead the team that’s going to pull together all the leads on bin Laden, all the intelligence, all the information, and you’re going to come give me a briefing report every Tuesday at 4:30, right here, at this conference room on the seventh floor of the CIA headquarters at Langley. And I want you to do that briefing even if you have nothing new to report.” We all kind of got the point, which was, if they had to show up with nothing new to report, it wasn’t gonna be a very good day for them.

 

Rosenberg: I saw Bob Mueller do that too.

 

Bash: Well, we did this for a couple of months, through 2010, and then in August of 2010, at one of the regular Tuesday briefings, the briefer said: “hey Director, we’ve got something new to report,” and what the briefer said, was that the CIA had been looking for two brothers, two brothers who historically during the days of 9/11 and the aftermath thereof had worked with bin Laden as his bodyguards, as his gatekeepers described by counterterrorism professionals as his quote facilitators. But, basically, it meant they kind of ran the traps for him, and drove him around, and made sure he had what he needed. So, these two brothers had not been heard of or seen since the weeks after 9/11. They found these guys in Pakistan and they followed them up to a town called Abbottabad. And they followed them down a dead-end street. And I remember the briefer on that Tuesday 4:30 meeting in August of 2010. He said: “Director, we’ve gone down to the end of that dead end street. And at the end of the street there’s a fortress,” and Panetta looked up from his briefing papers, and he said: “a fortress? Tell me about that fortress.” And I said: “well, it’s got twelve-foot high walls in the front 18-foot-high walls in the back. It’s got a seven-foot high wall in the balcony even though you’re supposed to enjoy the view. It’s got one way reflective mirror tape on all the windows you can’t see in there’s no phone service there’s no Internet service. We’ve tried to look through their trash to see if we can tell who they are. They burn their trash. It’s very strange. The house is worth a million dollars and it’s eight times larger than any property in the area even though the registered owner of the House has no financial income that we can discern. The guy who owns the house actually we believe lives in a guesthouse, and there’s three families there. The two brothers with their wives and kids. But then, there’s a third family, kind of a mysterious third family, that lives on the top floor of the main villa, and they kind of treat him with a lot of deference and respect. We can’t get a look at him, but we think he’s kind of the main due there.” I don’t need to tell you, Chuck, that caught Director Panetta’s interest.

 

 Rosenberg: As I might expect, Jeremy.

 

 

Bash: We had to figure out who that person living on the third floor of that compound down the end of a one-way street in Abbottabad Pakistan was. The CIA began to surge all of its intelligence, recon, surveillance capabilities, both human and technical against that compound. He was always willing to challenge conventional wisdom. I remember with respect to the bin Laden matter, the conventional wisdom had been, bin Laden’s in a cave, he’s separated from his family, he’s hooked up to dialysis. In fact, it was he’s in the suburbs, he’s with his family, hooked up to cable TV. It was very quintessentially Panetta to sort of say, well, let’s just turn every assumption upside down, and let me just ask you about it. He didn’t do it in an accusatory way, he did actually out of total curiosity. So, we brief Congress in late February of 2011. We had a meeting at CIA headquarters in which we began to brief this intelligence about the compound to members the United States military led by Admiral McRaven, who I know has been a guest on this show. And Admiral McRaven’s forces were thought to be: if we ever had to conduct a raid–and that was one of the options, although not the only option–the raid force would conduct the mission. He used to ask people questions. This happens all the time in government, Chuck. You’ve seen it someone will begin to brief something the director or the secretary has already heard and a lot of the staff is kind of chomping at the bit say we got that all right. We got it. Panetta never did that. He never cut somebody off and said I heard that already. And I used to think he was just being polite. But, actually, I came to realize after four years that it was part of the way he learned something which is hey maybe if I hear it another time or in someone else’s voice or another version of it I might learn a new facet of it or I might appreciate it more. It kind of drove some of his crazy that people would be repeating things to him. But it was an essential part of his leadership. And I would say most importantly and most fundamentally he trusted his people. What do I mean by that is something very sensitive was happening down at the White House in his meetings with the president. He would tell his staff about it. We have a staff meeting every morning and both the CIA and DOD you know how many times something really sensitive leaked from any one of the staff meetings over four years.

 

Rosenberg: And that’s the Title X, military Title 50 intelligence distinction we referred to earlier.

 

Bash: That’s right. And what was kind of unique about this, was because we kind of wanted to retain the ability to do this as a covert action, and just to remind, what we were discussing earlier, which is that a covert action is really designed to go in without U.S. fingerprints. Everybody knows that, you know, at the end of the day, we ultimately went in and raided the villa and killed bin Laden. But let’s just say we got there. And bin Laden either wasn’t there it was the wrong guy but we scooped up a bunch of intelligence or did something else, maybe laid a trap, or whatever you might think of someone doing in the dead of night. We want to go to get out of there without owning it, without explaining publicly, that this was an overt mission of United States. And so, we wanted to structure it as a covert action done under Title 50 of the United States Code under intelligence authorities. And so, we had a kind of an effect, a second, or as they say “chop” the military forces of Admiral McRaven to be subordinate to the CIA director a very unusual structure.

 

Rosenberg: But done under the law.

 

Bash: Done under the law in a way in which Title X forces, the Admiral McRaven raid team, they would do this almost acting at the direction of the CIA director under covert action authorities. So, actually, the operation was conducted their Title 50, which is very unusual. And when Admiral McRaven forces were told about this, I was actually there. What happened was, we brought in the Navy SEALs and the others together at a CIA training facility, we told them, initially, that well there’s a lot going on in Libya. We may have to talk to you about some missions in Libya. Then Gary, who was, as I said the lead of our little cell.

 

Rosenberg: The pseudonym.

 

Bash: Yeah, Gary is not his real name. Who is the lead of our cell, he stood up in front of the conference room where the Navy Seals were, and he said: “this isn’t about Libya, folks.” And he began to tell the story of the fortress down at the end of a dead-end street and the courier brothers in Pakistan and why this was an important lead on bin Laden.

 

Rosenberg: I imagine they sat in rapt attention.

 

Bash: They did. I mean some of them had to contain themselves a little bit because I think they realized they were being selected for a very important mission. I remember after that meeting and that initial briefing broke up, we had a mockup, like a beautiful model that had been done of the compound and the driveways and the streets around it and every tree was actually in place, just like as you would imagine a model would look like. We put it in front of the room, and, and the Navy Seals kind of came up the front room, and immediately they began to talk, you know, “OK if we put one helicopter here, and one helicopter there, and staged the assault from this angle, and that angle, and they really began to map it out.” I remember one of the things that struck me about the way this whole thing went down, was Panetta and McRaven, who were the notional leads of this activity. They never told the raid force, “here’s how you should do it. Here’s how you should go in,” and even McRaven, who himself is a decorated Navy Seal, he didn’t try to tell them how to do the operation. He says: “then you guys plan this.” Now these were mid-grade field officers, not the most senior people.

 

Rosenberg: Admiral McRaven said on our Podcast: you set the left boundary and you set the right boundary then you get the appropriate people, the experienced hands and you let them do their work, and then whatever happens, you, as the leader, McRaven in this case, takes the responsibility for it. Good or bad.

 

Bash: That’s right. And that’s the way he approached it. So, they began to rehearse the raid on the compound and I went to both of the rehearsals. One was held in the eastern part of the United States during daylight hours with not the real helicopters that were used. Then, we did a second rehearsal in the western part of the United States, at altitude, at night, with the actual helicopters that were used in the operation. We watched the rehearsal, freezing cold, at night, with night vision goggles and parkas and watched them conduct the rehearsal and I was struck by how deliberate and focused they were in rating the model compound that we had built. It wasn’t like storming it in a way that you would see in Hollywood with like a lot of smoke and fury. It was the helicopter set down, and they are moving in a careful hurry, as they might say, through the particular objectives. The idea would be that they would be on the ground for no more than 30 minutes because that’s kind of the amount of time we figured until the locals might show up. So you plan and you train and you plan and you train and then you plan and train some more, and then you wait on the decision as to whether or not you can proceed.

 

Rosenberg: But you got the green light.

 

Bash: That’s right. And at the end of April of 2011, the White House was weighing a couple of different options. They had already looked at option of a B2 strike, which would basically be a stealth bomber strike on the compound, in which we would basically pulverize the entire compound and turn them to dust. The problem with that was although there would be no risk to U.S. forces, there would also potentially be no DNA left to prove that bin Laden was ever there. But at the end of the day, the president thought, you know, we’re going to need people on the ground and if it’s bin Laden, we’re going to need to take that body off of the compound. So, he greenlighted the Heliborne raid from eastern Afghanistan that Admiral McRaven as forces had planned.

 

Rosenberg: You had the opportunity to watch this operation from the CIA.

 

Bash: On the CIA’s seventh floor, in the executive conference room that the director has, we turned it into kind of a makeshift Operations Center, and director Panetta commanded the operation from that conference room. He had a video teleconference feed with Admiral McRaven who was in Afghanistan. We were also able to talk to the individuals who are at the White House who are watching the operational activity from the White House Situation Room. And I was in the CIA conference room with Mr. Panetta, and of course, we knew the operation cold. We knew exactly what was going to happen at every step of the way. So, when we saw that the helicopters flew over the compound, in the first helicopter which was supposed to drop a bunch of Navy Seals on the roof and on the ground and then fly away when we saw the first helicopter actually slow its rotors down, and slow down, and slow down, and stop. We couldn’t exactly tell what was going on. I got to say Chuck, my heart was in my throat. I can’t imagine a more white-knuckle moment. There was total silence in the room. No one breathed. Panetta basically said: “what the heck is going on?” McRaven said: “hang on. Let me check,” and he came back on the screen, he said: “we had a problem with the helicopter. Everyone is okay. We’re going to execute the mission and we’re going to go with plan B.” And thank God, we had a plan B. Plan B was essentially that if one of the helicopters got disabled or crashed that we would send in backup helicopters.

 

Rosenberg: All of which had been rehearsed.

 

Bash: All of which had been rehearsed all of which had been planned. The Navy SEALs and the army operators, they were able to breach the walls of the compound, fight their way in, they had to kill both of the courier brothers who were there, they actually saw Omar bin Laden, the son of Osama bin Laden, coming down from the third floor to the second floor with an automatic weapon. They engaged him, shot him as he threatened them, and then they went into the bedroom of bin Laden. As bin Laden’s kids got in the line of fire, one of the Navy Seals, I think heroically moved them out of the way, pushed them out of the way–because even though this kind of the most important operational moment in the career of a special operations force operator, and maybe even the life of any military operator in the United States history–we’re still, at the end of the day, human beings, and we care about preserving innocent life. And as Admiral McRaven and others said later, yeah, these guys were Navy Seals, but they’re their people first. And they knew enough, in that moment, with the adrenaline pumping, to get the kids out of harm’s way. That’s right. They removed one body from that compound, and that was the body of bin Laden. I will just say, that when we finally got the call of Geronimo, was actually the code name for the step in the operation. When the quote unquote “precious cargo” was secured, there was no hooting and hollering or backslapping or jumping for the ceiling at the CIA or anywhere. It was just very somber very quiet and only once all of our special operations forces all of our professionals got back safely to Afghanistan. Did we finally allow ourselves to exhale and congratulate each other for returning all of our guys safely.

 

Rosenberg: Only when our operators were back safely was the mission actually over.

 

Bash: That’s right. Mr. Panetta said to me: “hey, let’s go down to the White House,” to the situation room, where of course, the president was convening his national security leaders, and trying to figure out you, know, what to do next you know do we call the Pakistanis do we call Congress do we tell the American people. And on this day of the Sunday evening in May, the sun was kind of setting over the Potomac River and was sort of strobing through the trees. We just didn’t say a word to each other. We just kind of rode in silence trying to I think take in what had just happened halfway around the world that no one in our country knew about yet. We got down to the White House. Immediately, Director Panetta was brought into the main conference room in the Situation Room where President Obama was holding a meeting. At one point, the head of the Science and Technology Directorate at CIA called me I was in one of the other outside rooms, and he said: “Jeremy we’ve gotten the initial facial recognition analysis on the body we took off the compound, and it matched bin Laden’s biometrics.” And he began to tell me, you know, the curvature of the year was this number of centimeters in the distance between the eyebrows with that number centimeters. I wrote it down as fast as I could. And I walked into the meeting where the president was and the president was kind of saying: “look, once we get the DNA and once we get the biometrics, we can kind of confirm this, but until then, let’s not say anything.” I remember Panetta said: “wait, we got a report on the biometrics.” And I handed the piece of paper to Mr. Panetta and he couldn’t read my handwriting. So, he says: “Jeremy, you say it.” And I kind of said what I’d been told. And I remember the president of the United States he kind of looked at me and looked at everybody gathered. He kind of said: “yeah, I know we got the right guy, but everyone just kind of take a chill.” We told the president we got the right guy, and then kind of whirling off of the color printer in the White House situation room, were the photographs and they had sent them and I took them off the printer. To this day, Chuck, those photographs have never been made public. The video of the at sea burial of bin Laden has never been made public. I think the theory, Chuck, was that it would be inflammatory it could be used as a propaganda tool by al-Qaeda or by Jihadists. And there was no real public benefit to showing a picture of bin Laden dead. You know, I remember thinking at the time: maybe we should put all this stuff out in the public because it’s going to leak, it’s going to come out anyway. And no, it never has.

 

Rosenberg: It hasn’t.

 

Bash: And the reason we ultimately decided to do an at sea burial, was because we didn’t want, as you said, Chuck, a venerated shrine where bin Laden could be lauded as a martyr. And it was controversial because of course we wouldn’t have a body to produce as evidence that bin Laden was killed. But I think at the end, it was the right decision.

 

Rosenberg: The story about the bin Laden operation ties in wonderfully to a story you tell about taking the oath when you started at the CIA, the planning and training, that nothing happens by accident the smart people spend a lot of time thinking about what it is they are going to do. Tell us your earth story please. Jeremy.

 

Bash: I remember when I showed up at the CIA to be chief of staff, the third week of February, 2009, I was told the oath would be administered to me by the deputy director of the agency Steve Kappes. But when it came time for me to take the oath, Chuck, no one could find the little card that had the words of the oath. Now, I had said the oath a couple of times in my career and I said to Mr. Kappes at the time, I said, “oh we don’t have a card? Don’t worry, I got this. I’ll just do it by heart.” And I began to put my hand in the air, and he said: “oh no, you don’t–we don’t–wing the oath at the CIA, we don’t make it up.” This is a serious moment, let someone find this card, and give this young fellow the actual words of the oath.

 

Rosenberg: Patience, young men.

 

Bash: Exactly. And you know it was a little bit put in my place so I’m not sure I was happy about it at the moment, but of course, I came to appreciate the fundamental lesson therein, which is even something as simple as the formulaic words that everybody utters, and which is the namesake of this great Podcast, is actually something you don’t wing, you actually do it the way you’re supposed to do it.

 

Rosenberg: You know, Jeremy you were fortunate to work for Leon Panetta, but I should add he was incredibly fortunate to have you serve as his chief of staff, both at the CIA, and at the Department of Defense.

 

Bash: It was an incredible learning experience for me. I don’t know, Chuck. Whether or not I’ll be able to ever kind of replicate some of the experiences I’ve had in government and public service, but obviously these are things that I’ll take with me wherever I go.

 

Rosenberg: Well, I am really glad you brought them here and I’m really glad that you share them with our listeners. You’ve had a fascinating career. I am incredibly grateful for your service to our country.

 

Bash: Thanks, Chuck.

 

Rosenberg: Thank you. Thanks to Jeremy Bash for joining us today on The Oath. In addition to listening to Jeremy on our podcast, you can also see Jeremy on MSNBC, where he works as a national security analyst. Thanks too, to the good folks at Clean Cut Studios in Washington D.C. for their top-notch technical support of our program. If you like this episode, please let us know by leaving us a five-star rating on whatever app you use to listen.

And if you have any thoughtful criticism, feedback, or questions about this episode or others, please e-mail us at theoathpodcast@gmail.comall one word. theoathpodcast@gmail.com And though I cannot personally respond to every email, please know that I read each one of them, and I definitely appreciate it.

The Oath is a production of NBC News and of MSNBC. This podcast was produced by FannieCo, with Fannie Cohen, Nic Bannon and Rob Hebert. They’re a wonderful team. Lauren Chadwick and Laurel Hyneman provided production support. Our senior producer is Barbara Raab and Steve Lickteig is our executive producer. This is The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg, thank you so very much for listening.

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