- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 15, 2009


The latest altercation between the CIA and Congress is a pointless exercise that is placing the country in increasing danger.

The CIA is accused of concealing “significant actions” from Congress, but the facts so far reveal insignificant inaction. In 2001, the CIA’s then-Directorate of Operations began to discuss ways in which the United States might use special teams to track down and kill al Qaeda leaders. The operational vision was similar to Operation Wrath of God, in which Israel’s Mossad hunted down members of the Black September terror group that murdered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The plan would have been an ambitious and risky undertaking if implemented. But the operation never made it past the planning stages, and it was put on hold in 2004. Five years later, in June of this year, CIA Director Leon Panetta officially killed it.

It is hard to understand the fuss. It appears that no CIA teams were dispatched and no terrorists were killed utilizing this unlaunched operation. Congress must have worked hard not to notice this “secret” program since details of the plans were well reported in the press. In October 2001, The Washington Post ran an article by Barton Gellman on the front page, “CIA Weighs ‘Targeted Killing’ Missions,” which stated that “the Central Intelligence Agency is contemplating clandestine missions expressly aimed at killing specified individuals.” In December 2002, James Risen and David Johnston gave details on the target list on the front page of the New York Times (“Bush Has Widened Authority of C.I.A. to Kill Terrorists”) and noted that “the president has given broad authority to the C.I.A. to kill or capture operatives of al Qaeda around the world.”

The spat has superficial shock value because the program involved “assassinating” terrorists, which may be illegal in some circumstances. But the Reagan-era assassination prohibition in Executive Order 12333 does not apply to actions taken against terrorists who have participated in planning or executing attacks against the United States. This was illustrated in 1998 when President Clinton ordered attacks against al Qaeda targets in Afghanistan in retaliation for the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. President George W. Bush and President Obama both have pursued a policy of targeted killings using armed drone aircraft.

Since the CIA plan was not really a secret, never executed and involved activities that have been carried out by other means under full congressional oversight, we have to wonder why this has become an issue at all. We are drawn to the conclusion that after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi baldly accused the CIA of lying to Congress in May, Democrats have been scrambling to find an example of an actual lie.

The CIA has been wounded by this continuing political tussle with congressional Democrats. Morale at the Agency is reportedly at record lows. History has shown the negative impact of Congress misusing its intelligence oversight responsibilities for political purposes. We cannot afford to have our most important weapon in the war on terrorism being held hostage to political vendettas.

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