Mike Baker on Obama's trip to India
November 4, 2010 - 13:46 ET
UPDATE: These numbers, originally reported by an Indian news agency, are now being disputed by multiple media outlets. The correct numbers are unclear but will be updated once the information becomes available.
GLENN: Let's get to Mike Baker. I don't know where he stands on this and hopefully, he will say, oh, Glenn, you're crazy. Mike is a former CIA covert ops officer and a guy who speaks fairly frankly on these things. Welcome to the program.
BAKER: Thanks for having me.
GLENN: Wanted to ask you a series of questions here and get your analysis. The president is going over to India. We're spending $2 billion for a 10-day trip.
GLENN: The White House says we're doing it because he wants to experience the Festival of Lights. The president will have 34 warships with him. To the best of your recollection, off the top of your head, do you remember a time when the president traveled with 34 warships?
BAKER: No is the short answer. To experience the Festival of Lights, $2 billion, I don't think it's a good return on investment, frankly.
GLENN: Correct. He is staying at the Taj Ma hall hotel. They have taken the entire hotel. 3,000 people are traveling with him. They have scoped this and I don't know because I'm sure Secret Service is not going to announce this, but I would like to have an answer. Have they changed his itinerary or his plan because they have cancelled this trip two or three times and they have done all of the preparations? I believe he was staying at the same hotel and everything else. These plans probably have been out there for a while. Is that wise to go into a place where you have shown everybody exactly where you are going to be, what you're going to do and what your itinerary is and let it sit on the shelf for a year?
BAKER: That's a good point. Regardless of whether they change, every time they say this is what we're going to do as a planned itinerary, there's a great deal of advance work that goes into this. Some of the costs incur there. You send a large number of people over just to advance that visit and so routes are checked, all the locations are checked and as you do that, every time you are doing that, you're utilizing the network of people, your own, in the host country and elsewhere to understand what is coming up and what may be involved in the trip. That's a big part of it.
GLENN: You're giving anyone who wishes harm, you are giving them also information, okay. All right. So he's going to be here. He's going to do this, and if you let those plans sit there for a year, don't you run a high risk of somebody knowing? In a country where the India Times is already talking about police being bribed and everything else. Don't you have the risk of people who wish harm giving them information and tying up the plan?
BAKER: It used to be for a variety of reasons we were better at maintaining a need-to-know principle on trips of importance such as this, and you know, again, in addition to that, we're much less capable of keeping our yap shut. More and more people are inclined to talk whether it's a presidential visit or some other high level. Every time you come out and you say we're going to be doing this, the newspaper prints an article, it gives an opportunity for information of some operational value to get into the wrong hands. They may go through and they may be completely planning to do a different trip. It doesn't matter. You are still talking about it. It's like when a dignitary flies into Iraq. Theoretically what you are supposed to do is have the dignitary make his visit, get out of dodge and then talk about it and say, yeah, this individual was there visiting. You don't broadcast it ahead of time. I'm not saying India is as hostile environment as Iraq, but the principle of releasing information is the same.
GLENN: Is India not a hot bed for Islamic radicalism?
BAKER: I wouldn't call it that. I would say it's not an unfriendly environment for a variety of people who may not have our best interest at heart. How diplomatic am I being right there?
GLENN: I'm not saying the government of India or the Indian people, but those forces are there that are hostile to India which are hostile to our interests
BAKER: Sure, exactly.
GLENN: The extremist world would love something to happen to the president of the United States in India. Would it not set the world on fire?
BAKER: It wouldn't have to be a direct harm to the president. It could be the disruption of the trip. It could be an operation, you know, planned during the course of his visit. Anything like that creates the profile they're looking for.
GLENN: A bomb going off near the president or near his entourage even would be a huge message.
BAKER: It shows a win for them and it shows their ability to operate. Now the Indian Service, you can argue that the current Obama Administration has somewhat ignored the relationship with the Indian government during the two years so far, and certainly the Indian government certainly feels that way, but one of the good things about, you know, the work in the intelligence field and in security is regardless of who's in power and regardless of what the administration is, there tend s to be a constant relationship between say, for instance, the CIA and its counterpart and a place like India. You just get the job done. You keep working and there's a lot of work that goes on before this visit that never gets on the radar screen, and that work gets done and quite honestly, maintaining the security of the president or anybody else oftentimes is more reliant on that work, the work that you never see. It's not the armored vehicles. It's not the Secret Service standing There it's not the warships. It's all that collection and all of the maintenance of the liaison contacts, studying the actionable intelligence we're picking up and the public doesn't see that.
GLENN: For somebody who lived some place where nobody knew who you were, if you have to get in the mind of the Indian people how does it appear to India, to the average person, when a president comes and he takes 34 warships to your country, 3,000 entourage, helicopters, jets, takes the biggest, you know, the most prestigious hotel and takes all of it over and disrupts, closes, holds portions of the gateway of India and people are losing their jobs. They're not going to be able to feed their family. This is according to the India Times. How can I lose this business? They're putting me in crisis. How does this appear? Is this P. Diddy arriving with 40 thugs?
BAKER: This is bigger than P. Diddy. This is Bono big. You know New York City very well. You know what it's like in New York City during the U.N. General Assembly and how angry and frustrated New Yorkers become when streets get shut down for the diplomats flying into town. Multiply that ten-fold more than that, and you can have the understanding people have when a presidential visit rolls into town of this magnitude, and there's a tendency to have the ability of what the perception is like. I will argue in the previous administration, there was sensitivity to that and there were attempts on several occasions to try to limit that visibility. And because quite frankly, if George Bush would have rolled in with 34 warships, the media wouldn't have stopped talking about it until 2012.
GLENN: Barack Obama would be saying he inherited the bill of the trip to India. He would still be saying that
BAKER: There's going to be some of that. The mind set as well, we want to make a big splash because there is a sense that they have perhaps dropped the ball somewhat on the relationship with the Indian government, and so maybe that accounts for part of the size of this effort, but it is surprising.
GLENN: What do you say we send them-- Mike, thank you very much. There he is, okay. Mike, thank you very much. I appreciate it.
GLENN: I think we could send them, for, I don't know, half a billion dollars. Let's send them some cake or flowers. What do you think?
BAKER: You know what, frankly, keep them in the country and we could use that $2 billion in the U.S. and make several visits
GLENN: Bring 3,000 Indians here. We can do it cheaper. Thanks, Mike. Mike Baker, former CIA coverts officer.