Playing politics with national security is always a bad idea. It’s been hard to tell that watching the back-and-forth in Washington over the role of the CIA in the War on Terror. The administration and partisan forces in Congress have been whipsawing back and forth between trying to kowtow the ACLU, trying to continue to campaign against Bush-Cheney, and not letting the professionals in Justice and the CIA think they have been thrown to the wolves.
Arguably, all this started with a catfight between Obama and former Vice President Cheney. On April 16, the Justice Department released documents on terrorist interrogation tactics used by the CIA after 9/11. There were immediate cries that the memos showed the Bush policies to be both wrong and wrongheaded. Cheney cried foul, calling on the Administration to declassify and release additional material that described the full scope and context of the program, including the effectiveness of the CIA interrogations. The Administration said no to that and flipped on whether it would propose or support an investigatory commission, a special prosecutor, or prosecutions of former government officials or CIA interrogators. Obama threw oil on boiling water, scheduling a national speech just before a long-scheduled Cheney speech at AEI.
Less than a month later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and CIA Director Leon Panetta went at it over who was briefed on what. She claimed she was never told about harsh interrogation techniques. The CIA said she was, as did Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Ranking Member Pete Hoekstra (R-MI). She said they lied. Panetta defended the CIA.
Next up, Newsweek released a report over the weekend that the Attorney General was considering a Special Prosecutor to investigate torture by CIA operatives. That seemed a flip-flop from previous promises made by the president.
Finally, news broke of a covert CIA program begun after 9/11. “Panetta,” wrote Heritage analyst Peter Brookes, then “changed sides, reportedly telling Congress that the CIA withheld information from the Hill.” Then, of course, there were Lemming-like claims from the left of “we told you so Cheney and the CIA have been lying to us all along.” No sooner had the chant begun then more facts began to appear—suggesting that the program had been authorized by Congress—and leaders were then not briefed further on details because the program was never implemented.
Listening to all this ping-pong with the CIA, one might ask if politicians in Washington are playing politics with our national security? One might be tempted to answer, “Does it get hot and muggy in DC in the summer time?”