- - Thursday, December 18, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Once a Constitutional Republic famed for its pragmatism, the United States has lately become a country notorious for its inconstancy, no longer recognizing that actions have finite and foreseeable consequences. In this space, for example, I recently argued that the release of the “torture report” by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence came perilously close to the constitutional definition of treason by “giving Aid and Comfort” to America’s enemies.

Admittedly, that was a tough assessment. But barely a week after the report’s release, the Huffington Post published an article linking those revelations with their most immediate effects on our allies. Because of earlier leaks, the Senate report provided enough additional information to pinpoint Poland, Lithuania and Estonia as probable locations for CIA black sites.

Presidents and Prime Ministers in those countries scrambled to explain their actions, even as a host of others nervously awaited additional fallout from the report. Poland’s Aleksander Krasniewski – a fervent US ally ever since the Cold War - gamely acknowledged working with American intelligence but denied “that he knew the CIA was engaging in torture at the site.” Even so, U.N. human rights officials suggested that the latest revelations could prompt “a flood of litigation” against countries believed implicated by the Senate report. This newest kind of unconventional conflict is becoming known as “lawfare.”

The last time we went through such a witch-hunt, Senator Frank Church led the charge. Then a young intelligence officer working overseas, I was shocked when trusted sources suddenly refused to work with us, “Because I don’t want my name appearing in the Washington Post or being hauled up by the Church Committee.” That indelible learning experience demonstrated why the compromise of Top Secret information is defined as bringing “exceptionally grave damage” to the United States or its allies.

More specifically: This is what happens when allied countries, friends in high places and the anatomy of our global intelligence operations are laid bare by bucket-mouthed politicians and their media toadies.



If this injury wasn’t bad enough, then the additional insults and ironies are simply astounding:

1. This report was released by Senators who are themselves sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States. How was this report anything less than a direct, willful violation of that oath of office?

2. Those same Senators also took an additional oath to protect the highly restricted, compartmented intelligence they were given. The rationale for this privileged access was to allow Senators to exercise oversight of the intelligence agencies on behalf of the American people. So at what cost were our collective interests compromised?

3. When you have access to the nation’s most sensitive intelligence information, you directly affect lives – agents, sources and operators –as well as the integrity of intelligence systems worth billions of taxpayer dollars. That this report was compiled at great cost but with no pretence of objectivity is bad enough. But to publish such a dubious document with lives and reputations hanging in the balance is simply an unforgivable sin.

4. The Senate report was released amidst clouds of soaring rhetoric, the President, Democratic Senators and their media allies losing no opportunity to rend hearts and wring hands over American ethics and morality. Yet the Islamists didn’t pause for even a moment in their ongoing global outrages - from the Sydney coffee shop to the purposeful slaughter of 142 Pakistani students and their teachers. It was another Newtown – but on steroids and executed as a deliberate act by an enemy unimpressed with morality plays or political rhetoric.

The real problem: The Senate report actually represented nothing less than the most grotesque compromise of highly classified information. It is as if Senator Diane Feinstein was trying to claim first place among the Infamous, surpassing Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and even Benedict Arnold.

If that sounds too harsh, then remember that each of those famous betrayals elevated self-interest over every other concern. Yet the differences are important too: Mr. Assange was just another lunatic journalist scoring his Next Big Story while Senator Feinstein took an oath to uphold the Constitution. It is an open question who did the greatest damage to what we in our naiveté once thought of as the security of these United States.

Because she violated one or more oaths and quite possibly the law, Senator Feinstein should promptly resign. But the new Congress needs to begin with a painfully honest self-assessment, hopefully bi-cameral and bi-partisan (though don’t hold your breath). But how did We the People ever embrace the delusion that our national defense had become a mere spectator sport? Or that treasured national secrets had become spielmaterial, pornographic illustrations for an unseemly and ridiculous farce?

Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel, is a military analyst and author on national-security issues.

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