The Blog

Democrats vs. the CIA

12:59 PM, Jul 14, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

I was underwhelmed by the initial New York Times report on this controversy, which failed to identify the nature of the CIA program in question, reported that the program never became operational, and then hyped the fact that Congress was never briefed on this unindentified, non-operational program. However, we now have some indication as to what that program was: targeted assassination of al Qaeda leaders. As Kit Bond tells the Washington Post, "Why would you cancel it?...If the CIA weren't trying to do something like this, we'd be asking 'Why not?' "

In fact, there are plenty of reasons why the CIA isn't doing this ( "Where do you base them? What do they look like? Are they going to be sitting around at headquarters on 24-hour alert waiting to be called?"), but there's no reason why the CIA wouldn't try to do it -- and there's certainly no reason why the Bush administration wouldn't have studied the feasibility of such programs (I'm disappointed, but hardly surprised, that the CIA wasn't able to pull it off). The alternative that the CIA has settled on is targeted assassination by other means, drone strikes in particular. Of course, these strikes produce far more collateral damage than on-the-ground hit squads would, but they also come with a vastly reduced risk of American casualties. If anything, Democrats ought to be struggling with that trade off, but one of the major themes of the Obama campaign was a desire to increase pressure on the al Qaeda leadership in Pakistan through the kind of targeted strikes that have since led to so many civilian deaths (in addition to the deaths of many al Qaeda second- and third-tier leaders). Targeted assasinations, even those that inadvertently kill women and children, just aren't controversial.

Barring some further revelation about this program that truly shocks the conscience then, one might speculate why Democrats are so up in arms over this program -- even some on the left can't understand the problem. One likely explanation is that the latest revelations, and the response of Democrats in Congress to them, provide cover for Nancy Pelosi in her war with the CIA. She said the CIA lied and misled Congress, and now here's proof that she was right -- pretty flimsy proof, but it's something. But that begs the question: why is Panetta giving cover to Nancy Pelosi?

In a recent conversation, one Republican offered a possible explanation. Not only does Panetta's admission take the pressure off Pelosi, but it might have been part of a deal to end the turf war between Panetta and DNI Blair.