Normally, the story below would be posted in the “Homeland BlogWatch” section of Security Debrief, which links to stories pinging about in the blogosphere and online media. However, the article written below, by former CIA Middle East field officer Robert Baer, is so insightful, we thought we should post it here in our main section.
Baer’s article, published at Time.com, is particularly insightful because of his analysis of the larger ramifications of the recent partisan maneuvering taking place on Capitol Hill. The current fight between Democrats and Republicans about whether or not the CIA was “hiding” a program from Congress seems less about the activities of the CIA and more about the feud between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader John Boehner to get the upper hand politically. Not long ago, in an almost Tourettes-like outburst from which she couldn’t recover, Nancy Pelosi accused the CIA of lying to her. Since that time, she has declined to provide evidence of this, prompting the Republicans to hammer her with a certain gleeful confidence that, this time, she had really stepped in it. Now suddenly, the Democrats are back, suggesting that the CIA is lying again. Implication? Seems to be a pattern of lying going on over there at the CIA, so don’t blame Pelosi.
Who’s right? We’ll leave that to you, Dear Readers. However, we believe that Baer’s ultimate conclusion — that the CIA is becoming collateral damage to this partisanship — is spot on.
It’s worth a quick read.
On June 24, CIA Director Leon Panetta made a confession. For the past eight years, the agency has been running a top-secret unit to assassinate or grab members of al-Qaeda. The program was deliberately kept from Congress — supposedly on former Vice President Dick Cheney’s orders — and Panetta stopped it as soon as he heard about it.
Sounds alarming. But like many of these stories, there’s less to it than meets the eye. The unit conducted no assassinations or grabs. A former CIA officer involved in the program told me that no targets were picked, no weapons issued and no one sent overseas to carry out anything. “It was little more than a PowerPoint presentation,” he said. “Why would we tell Congress?”
I think we’re going to find out that the CIA’s assassination program was dealing in pure hypotheticals, ones it intended to tell Congress about if they became real possibilities. (I won’t try to guess what Cheney would have done.) Yet however overblown the story, if a full-fledged investigation into it does occur, it could be the last nail in the CIA’s coffin. This Congress could succeed where the Church Committee failed. Even if things are not that dire — people are always talking about abolishing the CIA — it will undermine morale for years. Congress, no doubt, will explain in the coming months how a program that was no secret was somehow beyond the pale. But if this game is nothing more than political bickering, it is not worth the candle.