- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2002

While the CIA is taking it on the chin for sins of omission and commission, Congress' responsibility for emasculating the spy agency over the past 25 years appears to be the beneficiary of a get-out-of-jail-free card. From the Church (Senate) and Pike (House) Committees in the mid-1970s to the Torricelli Rule in the '90s, Congress' lily-livered Lilliputians have tied down Gulliver the Spy with investigations, hearings, restrictions, guidelines, exclusions, media leaks, and holier-than-thou pronouncements about the hands-off immunity of anyone holding an American passport.
In his "The War Against the Terror Masters," Michael Ledeen provides a timely reminder that the glasshouse dwellers on Capitol Hill have been throwing stones. And it is only fair that stones should be thrown back at an institution that has done its level best over the years to bring America's spies up to the standards of a Boy Scout troop.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence were charged in their creation with stewardship over the affairs of the U.S. intelligence agencies for the American people. This implies taking responsible and helpful actions to enhance and maintain those affairs. Neither committee has come close to doing this.
Mr. Ledeen reminds us the Torricelli Rule, concocted in the Clinton years, was designed to make sure the CIA was not permitted to have working relationships with people of dubious ethical standing. If the CIA can't work with bad guys, why do we need a secret intelligence service, Mr. Ledeen asks. Former Director of Central Intelligence John Deutch, arguably the most liberal voice ever to hold that post, agreed with this absurd proscription. And President Clinton endorsed it enthusiastically but decided the rule didn't apply to himself.
The Executive Order banning assassinations, signed by President Ford, was a direct response to the Church-Pike Committees hearings that had compelled the CIA to put the crown jewels on public display. This was later expanded to preclude CIA agents from talking to anyone likely to be in the business of killing anyone. Thus, the most urgent task of all for the CIA penetration of terrorist groups was stamped NO ENTRY. Taken literally, this also meant Congress was barring CIA from dealing with counterparts in Israel, all Arab countries, Russia, China, Pakistan, India, etc., who have a license to assassinate when they deem national security in jeopardy.
Perhaps the most absurd restriction in the history of intelligence was the See No Evil Rule that prevented the FBI from clipping and filing newspaper articles about openly violent anti-American organizations unless there was evidence they either had committed, or were planning to commit, a criminal act.
The failure of leadership in Congress goes to the highest levels. The leadership in both houses appoints members of both intelligence committees. Few of the senior leaders over the years have given a tinker's damn about who sat on those committees. As a designated "B" level committee (like Aging and Veterans Affairs), they were not considered campaign moneymakers or politically enhancing for re-election purposes.
Thus, most members have treated their work on the committees as a burden and a chore. They have left important decisions to staff that often come from the overseen community. Many of them are disgruntled former Intelligence Community (IC) staff members seeking to grind an ax against their former bosses.
The continued meddling in the budget and programs of the IC is mastodonic even by congressional standards. Both committees have staffs that are as large as any other committees on the Hill exceeding even the Armed Services Committees. Thus, Parkinson's Law kicked in work fills the time available for its completion as staff scramble like unemployed Mafioso for the latest "gotcha" hit on the IC. They have left the expensive electronic jungle of National Reconnaissance Office, National Imagery and Mapping Agency, and the National Security Agency overgrown in the weeds of technological inferiority while complaining always about money wasted.
These "stewards of intelligence" approved all the Clinton era budget and program cuts that led to the decimation of IC capabilities. They are now spending on the IC with the same reckless abandon they slashed.
The blue-ribbon commission that will undertake a major top-to-bottom investigation of pre-September 11 failures should subject Congress to close scrutiny for its key role in the mother of all boondoggles.
As Mr. Ledeen puts it, to have Congress investigate intelligence failures is like asking the madam to check her employees for STDs. Since we don't believe in the tooth fairy, we're not holding our breath. But perhaps the investigation could establish that some of the major intelligence failures were due exclusively to the illusion of friendship.
In Saudi Arabia, for example, no diplomat or spy noticed that America's Middle Eastern gas station was funding its Wahhabi clergy to create a global network of fundamental mosques and Koranic schools (madrassas) that indoctrinated millions of young Muslims to believe that jihad (holy war) against the U.S. and Israel was a religious duty.
The failure to bust al Qaeda as it developed heft in the mid-1990s was due entirely to the Clinton White House. The Democrats say there was a failure to get specific information about Osama bin Laden and his terrorist minions. Wrong. Expelled from Saudi Arabia and settled in Sudan, there was plenty of information on offer. Sudanese authorities, trying to curry favor with the U.S., were ready to turn over a cornucopia of al Qaeda information e.g., bin Laden's visitors, his monitored conversations and so forth. They even offered to organize his transfer to U.S. authorities. But Mr. Clinton wasn't interested. The French intelligence agency went into the Sudan to seize Carlos the Jackal. He was chloroformed and flown back to France. Those who rejected a similar opportunity to capture bin Laden have much to account for.

Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for The Washington Times and United Press International. Ronald A. Marks is a 16-year veteran of Central Intelligence Agency operations and congressional affairs.

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