- By Laura RozenLaura Rozen writes The Cable daily at ForeignPolicy.com.
The White House nominee to be the undersecretary of intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security has withdrawn, he and the White House said in statements Friday.
The withdrawal of the nomination of Philip Mudd, a veteran CIA analyst who had worked in recent years as a senior executive at the FBI, comes after an AP report yesterday. The report said that a Republican lawmaker planned to question Mudd over whether he had "direct knowledge" of the Bush-era harsh interrogation program while serving in a senior analytical role at the CIA.
The sinking of the nomination of someone who had served in an analytical capacity at the CIA, rather than in an operational or senior policy one, shows the broad scope of exposure to the controversial Bush-era harsh interrogation program for officials who did not obviously have a direct role in the program.
An aide to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told the AP that "Mudd’s analysts used information obtained through harsh interrogations, and the official said that Mudd is likely to be questioned on whether the analysis branch pressured interrogators in the field to use harsher methods because they believed detainees were not telling the truth." Collins sits on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee that oversees the DHS.
"Today I am announcing that I have decided to withdraw my name from consideration to be the Department of Homeland Security Undersecretary for Intelligence and Analysis," Mudd said in a statement Friday. "I know that this position will require the full cooperation with Congress and I believe that if I continue to move forward I will become a distraction to the President and his vital agenda. I would like to thank the President for the honor of being considered and I extend my good wishes to the exceptional men and women of the Intel and Analysis office."
"It is with sadness and regret that the President accepted Phil’s withdrawal from consideration as Phil once again demonstrated his duty to country above all things," White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said in a statement Friday, adding that Obama thought Mudd would have been an excellent undersecretary.
DHS Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs Sean Smith echoed that. He said the DHS intelligence office would continue to be led on an interim basis by Bart Johnson.
Mudd is described as well regarded by current and former FBI and CIA officials. Some said they were surprised by the development. "This is going to catch a lot of people," a fellow former analyst said, referring to the radioactivity of the interrogation program. "He’s a very strong thinker and a very solid leader," said an administration official, who asked to speak anonymously because it involved a presidential appointment. "He is a good guy."
The Republicans may be going after Mudd, a former senior CIA official speculated, "because he managed an office that used information that may have come from people who were subjected to techniques the Democrats object to."
"It’s ‘fruit from the poison tree,’" the former official continued.
He said that Mudd started working on terrorism matters back in the 1980s and had extensive knowledge of Middle Eastern terrorism-related issues developed as a former analyst in the Near East and South Asian sections of the CIA’s Directorate of Intelligence. "He rode through the analytical ranks and knew something on this stuff," the former CIA official said.
Mudd worked for several years in the CIA Counter Terrorism Center, serving as its deputy director from 2003 until 2005. Recently released Justice Department memos show that the CIA first used waterboarding on an al Qaeda terrorism suspect in August 2002. One memo indicates that detainee Abu Zubaydah was subjected to waterboarding 83 times in August 2002, and another detainee, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003.
Mudd did not become deputy director of the CIA’s CTC until nine months later, in December 2003, according to his FBI biography.
In August 2005, FBI director Robert Mueller named Mudd the FBI’s associate executive assistant director for the National Security Division. One of Mudd’s chief tasks at the FBI was to help sharpen the bureau’s counterterrorism analysis.
The irony, the former CIA official said, is that one of the reasons Mudd was suggested to the Obama team is, because Mudd had been at the FBI all these years, he was thought to be free of some of the "taint" of the CIA interrogation program.