A subterfuge by a group of ex-spies?
With so many major CIA issues in play -- Afghanistan and the Justice Department’s investigation of interrogations, to name just two -- Morell’s views were highly anticipated. Intelligence veterans and journalists wanted to see the CIA’s second most powerful official, in the job only since May, articulate his vision for the spy agency.
On Friday, over 200 people from around the country, mostly retired CIA and military intelligence personnel and their spouses, crammed into a banquet room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Tysons Corner to hear Morell, as well as a morning speaker, Stewart Baker, the former NSA general counsel and first undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security.
Morell was the star attraction. As waiters cleared the luncheon dishes from the packed tables, however, AFIO President Eugene Poteat took to the podium and made a grim announcement.
“There’s a crisis,” said Poteat, a white-haired, 30-year veteran of the agency’s scientific and technical directorate. Deputy CIA Director Morell, he said, had been “called to the White House” for an emergency meeting and wouldn’t be able to give the luncheon address.
Just that morning, Poteat added, he had oberved “extra armed guards out front” of the CIA gates, a few miles north on Route 123.
“Something’s up,” he said.
Poteat then introduced the substitute speaker, CIA historian Timothy Castle, author of “One Day Too Long: Top Secret Site 85 and the Bombing of North Vietnam.”
As it would turn out, however, there was no “crisis.” A first-hand inspection of the CIA’s gates minutes after Poteat’s remarks revealed no extra guards, armed or otherwise. All was normal, a puzzled CIA official said by telephone.
Morell, it also emerged, had indeed gone to the White House -- but only for what was described as a “normal” meeting.
Later, in response to a query, CIA spokeswoman Paula Weiss issued a statement: “Dr. Castle was confirmed as the (AFIO) speaker several days ago.”
I called Poteat.
“I can guess why you’re calling,” he quickly said.
“No. You tell me.”
“The crisis,” he said. “But you know I can’t comment any more about that … (but) obviously something’s up.”
When, I asked, had he learned Morell wasn’t coming?
“At the last minute,” Poteat said.
I read him Weiss’s statement about Castle.
Silence, then: “That’s interesting.”
“Well, they might have known" Morell wasn't coming, Poteat said of the CIA. “But I didn’t.”
A few back-and-forths later, Poteat said he had learned Morell wasn’t coming “recently.”
Morell had never confirmed to AFIO that he was coming to the luncheon, an authoritative source told me on condition of anonymity.
Would it be fair to say, I asked Poteat, that he had hidden the fact that Morell wasn’t coming out of fear that members might stay home, or even ask for their money back?
(The lunch, paid in advance, cost $48 for members, $59 for nonmembers. AFIO also had many books for sale.)
“I’m just not going to say any more,” Poteat said. “I’m just not going to comment.”
| September 24, 2010; 6:10 PM ET
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