Two weeks ago Democrats were in full attack mode, intending to prosecute any and all who “tortured” enemy combatants. Thanks to the backbone of some former senior CIA folks and I might add, the Washington Post, there has been an abject reversal, culminating in a letter from the House Intelligence Committee to all CIA personnel.
Here's the story. Recently the CIA has come under assault recently like no other time. The first insult was the appointment as Director of Leon Panetta, a political hack with no previous intelligence experience. The agency soon became a punching bag, in an orgy of Bush bashing from the White House to Nancy Pelosi’s office. The reaction from Langley was swift. Three former CIA Directors openly criticized the release of documents outlining details of the interrogation techniques. In a blistering one-two attack, the Washington Post carried op-eds against Democrat critics written by former CIA case officer, House Intelligence Committee Chairman and CIA Director Porter Goss and Michael Scheuer, a longtime CIA operative and a Bush critic, now retired.
First was Goss on Saturday, April 25 in which he describes the selective amnesia of Speaker Nancy Pelosi:
A disturbing epidemic of amnesia seems to be plaguing my former colleagues on Capitol Hill. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, members of the committees charged with overseeing our nation's intelligence services had no higher priority than stopping al-Qaeda. In the fall of 2002, while I was chairman of the House intelligence committee, senior members of Congress were briefed on the CIA's "High Value Terrorist Program," including the development of "enhanced interrogation techniques" and what those techniques were. This was not a one-time briefing but an ongoing subject with lots of back and forth between those members and the briefers. Today, I am slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed; or that specific techniques such as "waterboarding" were never mentioned. It must be hard for most Americans of common sense to imagine how a member of Congress can forget being told about the interrogations of Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. In that case, though, perhaps it is not amnesia but political expedience.
The following day Scheuer writes about the damage the politically motivated revelations are causing inside the agency and the short sightedness of eliminating tradecraft tools that one day might save the country. He points his finger directly at President Obama:
Americans should be clear on what Obama has done. In a breathtaking display of self-righteousness and intellectual arrogance, the president told Americans that his personal beliefs are more important than protecting their country, their homes and their families. Americans and their country's security will be the losers. The Republicans do not have the votes to stop Obama, and the world will not be safer for America because the president abandons interrogations to please his party's left wing and the European pacifists it so admires. Both are incorrigibly anti-American, oppose the use of force in America's defense and -- like Obama -- naively believe that the West's Islamist foes can be sweet-talked into a future alive with the sound of kumbaya.
Joe Babbin writing in Human Events (Friday May 1), reports that the agency’s anger over its demonization, and the attendant morale sapping, was reaching top level Democrats who demanded Pelosi and others call off the dogs. He reveals two secretive meetings Nancy Pelosi conducted to bail herself out. It culminated in an unprecedented letter to all CIA personnel from Congressman Silvestre Reyes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
The first meeting, on Tuesday (April 28) evening, was attended by Pelosi, Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Tx) and others. The following night, (April 29) Pelosi and some or all of the other attendees met with CIA Director Leon Panetta, also behind closed doors. No Republicans were invited to either meeting which means the Democrats were assessing the damage and deciding how to maneuver their way out from under the responsibility for it. Spin and strategy. Later Wednesday evening, Reyes sent an unprecedented letter to CIA director Panetta making a sort of apology to the CIA. Reyes’ cover letter asks Panetta to “…disseminate it to the CIA workforce as soon as possible.” The letter to CIA employees is a very odd mixture of praise for the CIA and CYA for Reyes.
Here is the letter written by Reyes, at the behest of his boss Pelosi, to CIA personnel. It’s a total retreat from the threats of exposure and prosecution the week before. It’s as close to an apology as Democrats can make. Unfortunately the damage has been done and can’t be undone.
April 29, 2009 Central Intelligence Agency Washington, DC 20505 Dear Friends and Colleagues: In recent days, as the public debate regarding CIA’s interrogation practices has raged, you have been very much in my thoughts. I write to let you know, without sound-bites or political calculus, my view on this debate and to remind you of my deep gratitude for the work you do each day. First and foremost, I wholeheartedly support the President’s decision that no CIA officer or contractor will be prosecuted for authorized actions they took in the context of interrogations.
I may disagree with some of what the Agency was asked to do, but I understand that my disagreement lies with the policies, not with the officers executing those policies far from Washington. As the President said, this is a time for reflection, not retribution, and I do not want to see anyone punished for doing his or her job.
At the same time, I think we should take seriously the President’s call for reflection. The public rarely learns of CIA operations, with good reason. In this case, though, the public disclosure of interrogation operations and the OLC opinions underlying them gives us an opportunity to engage in a public discourse about what policy is best going forward. I think that discourse can be a healthy thing for the country and for CIA. One important lesson to me from the s interrogation operations involves congressional oversight.
I’m going to examine closely ways in which we can change the law to make our own oversight of CIA more meaningful; I want to move from mere notification to real discussion. Good oversight can lead to a partnership, and that’s what I am looking to bring about. I recognize, of course, that there will always be inherent tensions between the branches of government; the Framers intended it that way.
But,I also believe that there are positive changes we can make to the way we do business, and I will be working toward those changes in the coming months. Finally, I want to say again what I have said to many of you in my travels throughout the world: thank you. I know that your work is difficult and often dangerous, and takes you away from your families, your country, and the comforts of home. I am grateful for your sacrifices, and I am mindful of them daily.
Respectfully Sylvestre Reyes Chairman
Soon, probably very soon, this county will face a major crisis. An unstable Pakistan will face the threat of a takeover by the Taliban. Pakistan’s President Zardari and Afghanistan’s Karzai are meeting today in Washington to address the imminent danger. Pakistan’s 60 or so nuclear weapons are at risk. We have no troops in Pakistan, nor will we. The CIA will have to play a key role and it will have to act decisively.