One person with a unique vantage into the Hayden-Helgerson dispute is L. Britt Snider. Snider served as CIA inspector general from 1998 to 2001, when Helgerson was his chief deputy, and he retains a lot of admiration for his successor. “He’s just first rate,” Snider tells me. “He is extremely fair, balanced, competent, knowledgeable. He’s not someone you’d regard as wild, extreme, or a loose cannon.”
That contrasts sharply with Hayden’s apparent belief that Helgerson has shaded into advocacy while investigating CIA interrogations, detentions and renditions. But Snider says he never considered Helgerson particularly opinionated while working with him on investigations: “He was always someone who would look at the facts to make some kind of judgment.”
Snider cautions that he only knows about the friction between Hayden and Helgerson from what he read in the papers, and that friction is inevitable between the director and the inspector general. “Your job as IG is to render your opinion to management in order to improve the performance of the agency. It’s an inherently tense situation set up by the law, but that’s the plight of the IG,” he says. But he’s never encountered a situation where the director “would appoint a committee to quote-help-unquote the IG” — he laughs. “That I’ve never heard of before.”But it’s a serious matter. The danger here is that Helgerson now appears like he’s lost the confidence of Hayden — and that’s a liability for any inspector general in pursuing his duties. “It makes the IG’s job a lot worse in terms of making people cooperate and be candid and so forth,” Snider says. “You have all kinds of statutes in place, but it comes down to people’s willingness to cooperate with an investigation. Hayden needs to reiterate and reaffirm his support for the IG function, and this seems to cut against that.” If he doesn’t, Helgerson’s options aren’t that numerous: he can either resign or seek the support of the House and Senate intelligence committees, both of which have been lukewarm to news of the Helgerson inquiry.
Perversely, if Hayden is actually investigating Helgerson’s substantive work — as opposed to just making a power move designed to muscle him out of office — he may need Helgerson’s cooperation. CIA management would need to see Helgerson’s internal files and interviews with agency employees in order to determine his fairness and competence. “I don’t know how to investigate the IG without him agreeing to it,” Snider says. In other words, Helgerson’s situation may actually get even more uncomfortable than it currently is.