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Views differ on clash between Congress, CIA

BY THE WASHINGTON POST | JULY 20, 2009 7:15 AM

Downing terrorists keeps U.S. safe

For eight years, the CIA had a secret program to kill or capture Qaeda operatives. A few weeks ago, Congress was briefed on it — and now we are debating the details in op-eds and other media reports. If that is not proof that Congress cannot be trusted with highly classified information, I don’t know what is.

It speaks volumes that congressional Democrats think it is a scandal that the CIA was coming up with new ways to kill Qaeda terrorists — as does Leon Panetta’s wrongheaded decision to cancel the effort. Some commentators have referred to CIA “death squads” and questioned whether it is legal to “assassinate” terrorist leaders. Yet the Obama administration is reportedly “assassinating” terrorists all the time in Pakistan using Predator drones. Why is killing terrorists from 2,000 feet morally superior to doing so from 2 feet away?

The CIA should be coming up with innovative ways to take out terrorists before they strike our country again. Unfortunately, the Democrats have declared war on the agency for taking such risks. The president has accused CIA officers of “torture.” The attorney general is talking about appointing a special prosecutor. The speaker of the House has accused the agency of lying to Congress, and now congressional Democrats are beating the war drums for new investigations.

Meanwhile, career CIA officials such as Philip Mudd have seen their nominations scuttled and careers ruined by Washington witch hunts. And we expect these people to take risks to protect us?

— Marc A. Thiessen served in senior positions in the Pentagon and White House from 2001 to 2009.

Congress must be fully clued in

Regardless of the specific programmatic details of CIA Director Leon Panetta’s recent disclosures to Congress, my view of their legality would be essentially the same: I support counterterrorism methods that have the potential to disrupt terrorist attacks as long as the methods are legal and have been appropriately reported as the law requires.

I want our intelligence officers to have a broad and powerful array of capabilities for preventing terrorist attacks. All I ask is that those capabilities are consistent with our laws and obligations. Have they been disclosed to the relevant Justice Department officials to determine their legality? Have they been disclosed to the relevant congressional oversight committees? Were they authorized by the president?

The program that has been in the news of late is just one symptom of a larger problem of incomplete, late, or false information being provided to Congress. We intend to tackle this larger problem, with an eye toward better oversight and, consequently, a stronger intelligence community.

— Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, is the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Program didn’t warrant congressional briefing

The irony of the imbroglio over a CIA operational concept (it seems to have been less than an actual program) and briefing to Congress is that the CIA apparently went about this task methodically and deliberately. CIA leadership and officers recognized the daunting legal, logistic, and operational issues involved in eliminating Qaeda leaders. Rather than bull ahead, they apparently did not put the concept into operation because important questions could not be answered.

Should Congress have been briefed? It is difficult to describe the concept as a “significant anticipated activity” because no activity was anticipated, ordered, or in sight. There is also the broader question of whether intelligence-oversight committees really want to be briefed on every nascent concept, regardless of its state of readiness. Under these terms, the number of briefings would escalate dramatically, leading to a blur of information and a declining ability on the part of Congress to tell the important programs from the dross.

— Mark Lowenthal was staff director of the House intelligence committee from 1995 to 1997.


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