Monday, February 16, 2009

When reporters asked President Franklin Roosevelt where Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle’s raiders launched their daring 1942 raid on the Japanese mainland, he puckishly answered, “from our new secret base at Shangri-La.”

Contrast Roosevelt’s slyness with Sen. Diane Feinstein’s recent comment regarding the secret location of the launch sites for Predator hunter/killer drones — “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base.”

Sen. Feinstein‘s defense for discussing this highly sensitive information, that she was only repeating what she read in the papers, is greatly unconvincing.

It is true that the Washington Post first reported Predators operating out of bases in Pakistan, and the senator’s flak catcher Philip J. LaVelle says that this report was what she was referring to. But there is a difference between making an allegation in a local paper and having the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence confirm it. After all, her remark was “as I understand it,” not “according to the papers.”

Presumably Sen. Feinstein knows the truth of the matter. Will she go on the record saying the reporting was wrong? The CIA will not, and the Pentagon has no comment.

The ill-considered statement landed in Pakistan like a hellfire missile. “The Drones Are Here!” proclaimed the Pakistan Daily Timeswhich does not accept Feinstein’s “I only know what I read in the papers” defense. This places Islamabad in an uncomfortable situation, though the government issued a swift and unequivocal denial. Who can blame them?

Fighting an intelligence war requires a great deal of trust, and a certain amount of public/private ambiguity. Official statements may not reflect covert realities. This is especially important in the Middle East and south Asia, where much of the productive work goes on behind the scenes and is never publicly discussed. This is the cost of doing business in that region, having a handshake deal with a foreign government to conduct an important operation and then having the same government denounce it after the fact. They have their reasons for doing this, and we have to accept them. Most importantly, you do not register your discontent by blowing their cover.

This incident reinforces the growing impression that when it comes to national security policy the Democrats are not ready for prime time. The Zardari government has until now demonstrated a very cooperative attitude towards the war against our common terrorist foes. One cannot imagine that Sen. Feinstein’s comments will make Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke’s job any easier.

If the U.S. is operating Predators out of Pakistan as the senator alleged, al Qaeda and its allies are certain to seek ways to take them out. Terrorists have lately been mounting increasing numbers of attacks inside Pakistan on the coalition support infrastructure. Once they determine where the Predators are based (near Islamabad, according to reports), they will no doubt make destroying them a high priority.

Loose lips sinks ships, as they used to say. Maybe the intelligence committee would do better with someone more circumspect at the helm.

Copyright © 2023 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide