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Posted by on Aug 7, 2009 in International, Politics, Society, War | 0 comments

Nitpicking CIA’s Leon Panetta

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Leon Panetta, the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, wrote a positive, forward-looking Op-Ed in the Washington Post this past weekend.

It was titled, “Congress and the CIA: Time to Move On.”

In his Op-Ed, Panetta rightly commends the men and women of the CIA for the crucial work they are doing to protect our country—for being “America’s first line of defense.”

Panetta acknowledges that in the emotional aftermath of Sept. 11, some wrong judgments were made. But he correctly says, “That should not taint those public servants who did their duty pursuant to the legal guidance provided.”

Panetta also implicitly acknowledges that some of those mistakes—“controversial practices” such as the operation of black sites and the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (some call these “techniques” torture)—are no longer in practice.

Finally, Panetta tells us that he cancelled “a highly classified program that had been brought to [his] attention…” A program “never fully operational” and one that had not, in seven years, “taken a single terrorist off the street, and information about it had not been shared appropriately with Congress.”

All well and good.

But, then, Panetta, still referring to the cancelled program and perhaps also to the broader scope of CIA operations, says:

For me, this was more than just a simple question of law or legal requirements. Rather, it was a reflection of my firm belief that a straightforward and honest partnership with Congress can build support for intelligence.

Call me nitpicky, but I would have felt much better if Panetta had switched his emphasis, perhaps his priorities, and, addressing not only the CIA-Congress relations, but, more important, the broader nature and scope of CIA activities, had said, instead:

“For me, this was more than just a simple question of having a straightforward and honest partnership with Congress in order to build support for intelligence. Rather, it was a reflection of my firm belief that I and my agency must and will unequivocally abide by the Constitution, the law and legal requirements.”

I also understand Mr. Panetta’s desire to let bygones be bygones, to “move on,” so that the CIA can focus on its essential mission of collecting good intelligence—legally—and of protecting our nation. But that shouldn’t prevent other branches of our government from learning why some of the judgments made were wrong, and by whom they were made. This, in order that our dedicated CIA men and women will never again be faced with having to chose between doing their duty “pursuant to the legal guidance provided,” and doing it in accordance with our Constitution and the law.

As Mr. Panetta concludes, our “nation deserves no less.”

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