May 4, 2009

Silvestre the Prat

Hatched by Dafydd

Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX, 82%), has now sent a letter to the CIA apologizing for Congress' role anent the controversy over waterboarding and other "enhanced" interrogation techniques.

No, really; in his letter, he laments that the Intel Committee didn't run all interrogations more directly, instead leaving such vital functions to professionals who actually knew what they were doing:

"One important lesson to me from the CIA's interrogation operations involves congressional oversight," wrote Mr. Reyes, Texas Democrat. "I'm going to examine closely ways in which we can change the law to make our own oversight of CIA more meaningful; I want to move from mere notification to real discussion. Good oversight can lead to a partnership, and that's what I am looking to bring about."

The letter both seeks to excuse Democrats who were briefed after Sept. 11, 2001, about interrogation techniques such as waterboarding and at the same time suggests that members of Congress cleared to receive highly classified material have a responsibility in the future to let their criticisms be known.

I read this as saying, in effect, "Yes, I admit that we were partly to blame" -- wipes tear from eye -- "we should never have allowed the CIA to make intelligence decisions that we could easily have made in their place." One presumes that little bit of awkward permissiveness will be corrected henceforth, and Congress will assume much more aggressive and direct control of intelligence operations. "No more license for you, young man!" From now on, CIA Director Leon Panetta will sit quietly and wait for instructions from Congress before interrogating any captured man-caused disaster-causing men.

On the other hand, given Panetta's odd set of credentials for his job in the first place -- he was never in the CIA (or any other intelligence-related organization); and in his sixteen years in the House of Representatives, he never served on the Intelligence Committee -- perhaps it's just as well that Congress takes the lead role in this one instance.

(I am being a bit unfair to Director Panetta. It's true he had no formal participation in intelligence gathering or analysis whatsoever, unlike his predecessor, Michael Hayden -- who had a long and distinguished intelligence career before heading up the CIA, including stints running the Air Force's Air Intelligence Agency and working as an intelligence officer in Guam, being Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence, and running the National Security Agency. But on the third hand, Leon Panetta "has long been an advocate for the health of the world's oceans"... surely a distinction that Hayden cannot claim!)

On the fourth hand, House Intelligence Chair Reyes doesn't exactly come to the table with cleanly scrubbed paws; there is that slight, ah, faux pas he made when his pal, Squeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA, 100%), assigned him that committee chairmanship over longtime ranking member and co-statist Jane Harman (D-CA, 100%): Asked by reporter Jeff Stein of the Congressional Quarterly whether al-Qaeda was primarily a Sunni or Shiite organization, Reyes -- who had sat on the House Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee for eight years or so -- answered thus:

"Al Qaeda, they have both,” he answered, adding: “Predominantly probably Shi’ite.”

In fact, Al Qaeda was founded by Usama bin Laden as a Sunni organisation and views Shia Muslims as heretics. The centuries-old now fuels the militias and death squads in Iraq.

Jeff Stein, a reporter for Congressional Quarterly, then put a similar question about Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia group. “Hezbollah. Uh, Hezbollah . . .” replied Mr Reyes. “Why do you ask me these questions at five o’clock? Can I answer in Spanish? Do you speak Spanish?” Go ahead, said Stein. “Well, I, uh . . .” said the congressman.

On the fifth hand, another former Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV, 94%), had his own small brush with destiny: When he was the ranking minority member (which the committee somewhat pompously calls the "committee vice chairman"), he appears to have been a target of a probe by the Justice Department about whether he and former fellow committee member then-Sen. Dick Durbin may have leaked classified information about a new spy-satellite program (including some of the satellite's weaknesses).

Though it's not certain who the probe targetted (we have not yet seen any results yet), the leak immediately followed and buttressed criticism by Rockefeller and Durbin on the floor of the Senate, and Durbin at least subsequently opined that the leak "points to a weakness of the whole process...[that] it takes a leak to understand that billions of taxpayers' dollars are being wasted that could be spent to make America safer."

And a few months earlier (hand number six), a mystery memo drifted out of Rockefeller's "vice chairman's" office in early November, 2003; it was a Democratic game-plan for politicizing an investigation on pre-Iraq war intelligence gathering, using the joint report -- and a planned exclusive minority report -- to campaign against President George W. Bush in 2004. The Wall Steet Journal editorialized on the case a couple of days later (link may require either a subscription or registration; I'm not sure):

Mr. Rockefeller refuses to denounce the memo, which he says was unauthorized and written by staffers. If that's the case, at the very least some heads ought to roll. A good place to start would be minority staff director Christopher Mellon, who served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence in the Clinton Administration.

But we'd say Republicans ought to go further and make this a matter of political consequence. After months of Democratic charges about the "politicization of intelligence" based on little or no evidence, this memo is smoking gun proof of precisely that. A referral to the Senate Ethics Committee seems in order, and we'd even suggest that the entire committee be shut down, cleaned out and reconstituted later, preferably after the next election.

This may seem like political shenanigans, but we've been here before as a nation. With the Church Committee purges of the 1970s, U.S. intelligence gathering was crippled for a generation, arguably right up through 9/11. Given the crucial importance of intelligence to the war on terror, the country can't afford a repeat Congressional performance.

Sen. Rockefeller still sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, evidently unscathed and unabashed by his earlier exploits. This history of congressional involvement in the collection, analysis, and management (including keeping secrets!) of vital classified intelligence should at least give the reader a moment's pause about whether expanding congressional control would actually improve matters.

The award for Howler of the Day (last Friday, May Day 2009) goes to the following exchange, from the Washington Times story about House Intelligence Chairman Reyes' letter:

Mike Delaney, staff director for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Mr. Reyes had not received complaints from the CIA about President Obama's decision last month to release Justice Department memos authorizing so-called enhanced interrogation and describing methods that Mr. Obama has banned.

"No, we've not received complaints from CIA work force," Mr. Delaney said. "CIA employees, in the chairman's experience, typically don't complain."

No, they make their displeasures known in more gracious, subtle ways: they leak classified information to blow the cover of operations they dislike, thus destroying their effectiveness.

It's tempting to simply say "a plague on both their houses" and be done with them. Alas, they're responsible for being the nation's eyes and ears. But has anyone looked into the possibility outsourcing the job to Israel's Mossad? They, at least, are run by professionals.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, May 4, 2009, at the time of 3:19 PM

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The following hissed in response by: GW

All things are partisan politics for the left - including national security. It has been that way since, I'd say, McGovern. Thus do we get a House Intel chairman who is unclear on the single most important distinction in the Muslim world and a CIA chief with less qualification to hold that office than a mall security guard. Thus do we get leak after leak of classified material coming out of the left wing of Congress - and the CIA - and thus do we get the entire Democratic Party rooting for America to lose a war even as our soldiers are fighting and dying.

I pride myself on keeping an open mind and trying to others points of view. But the acts of the far left are simply beyond my ken. Their motives seem apparent on their face, but I suspect a deeper and more malevolent sickness at work below the surface, in some at least.

As to the acts of the CIA, while I suspect some leaks from there, I think the average CIA agent is a professional trying to do his or her best. That said, I think that the Church Commission put a spike in our intell operations that we were just coming out of in the late 80's. Clinton hamstrung the CIA in order to make sure he wasn't embarresed by it (now if he had only padlocked his zipper . . . ). 9-11 put the emphasis back on intel and the organization has, by all estimates, performed superbly over the past several years - at the grunt level at least.

But with putting amateurs in charge of our intel and now Obama criminalizing policy differences directly related to the intel community, I think the left and Obama have now done in our intelligence capabilities for at least another decade, if not more.

Obama must surely be hoping for a benevolent God - perhaps one even more omnipotent than himself - to be watching over him and keeping the terrorists off our shores. The left will own the next attack.

The above hissed in response by: GW [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 4, 2009 7:22 PM

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