By Stephen C. Webster
August 2, 2009
CIA director and Democratic appointee Leon Panetta, in an article published
Sunday, said Democrats must recognize the “reality” of 9/11 is what drove the
conduct of George W. Bush administration in the months following September 11,
2001, which somehow justifies not looking into suspected crimes.
He added, in an apparent warning to the House Intelligence Committee, that
that “focusing on the past” could hurt the CIA’s core mission
amid a climate of recriminations over its practices.
“I’ve become increasingly concerned that the focus on the past,
especially in Congress, threatens to distract the CIA from its crucial core
missions: intelligence collection, analysis and covert action,” Panetta
opined in the online edition of The Washington Post.
“In our democracy, effective congressional oversight of intelligence
is important, but it depends as much on consensus as it does on secrecy,”
he continued. “We need broad agreement between the executive and legislative
branches on what our intelligence organizations do and why. For much of our
history, we have had that. Over the past eight years, on specific issues —
including the detention and interrogation of terrorists — the consensus
deteriorated. That contributed to an atmosphere of declining trust, growing
frustration and more frequent leaks of properly classified information.”
Several paragraphs later, he appears to offer a blanket excuse for torture,
CIA black sites, kidnapping, indefinite detention, the invasion of Iraq and
Afghanistan and warrantless spying, among a litany of other notable scandals.
He says: “The time has come for both Democrats and Republicans to take
a deep breath and recognize the reality of what happened after Sept. 11, 2001.
The question is not the sincerity or the patriotism of those who were dealing
with the aftermath of Sept. 11. The country was frightened, and political leaders
were trying to respond as best they could. Judgments were made. Some of them
were wrong. But that should not taint those public servants who did their duty
pursuant to the legal guidance provided. The last election made clear that the
public wanted to move in a new direction.”
Panetta, a California democrat who was once a staunch critic of the CIA’s
interrogation programs, continued to press for an end to the inquiries.
“Intelligence can be a valuable weapon, but it is not one we should use
on each other. As the president has said, this is not a time for retribution,”
Panetta added the agency has ended controversial interrogation and detention
practices authorized by the administration of president George W. Bush. “Yet
my agency continues to pay a price for enduring disputes over policies that
no longer exist,” he wrote. “Those conflicts fuel a climate of suspicion
and partisanship on Capitol Hill that our intelligence officers — and
our country — would be better off without.”
Panetta further cited the uproar following a briefing he gave last month to
congress on his decision to cancel a classified anti-terrorist program.
New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour Hersh was the first to reveal the
existence of the program, a so-called a special “assassination squad”
that reported to the Office of the Vice President and was supposedly aimed at
alleged terror leaders in foreign countries. It was authorized by the Bush administration
after the September 11, 2001 attacks, though official sources claim it never
became fully operational.
“After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central
Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against
people they thought to be enemies of the state,” Hersh told a crowd at
a public discussion of “America’s Constitutional Crisis,”
held at the University of Minnesota.
“It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set
up independently,” he explained. “They do not report to anybody,
except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office.
… Congress has no oversight of it.”
Hersh continued: “It’s an executive assassination ring essentially,
and it’s been going on and on and on. Under President Bush’s authority,
they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the
CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving.
That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.”
Rather than setting a precedent for closer cooperation with Congress, Panetta
argued in his editorial that his Congressional briefing “sparked a fresh
round of recriminations about the past.”
“Debates over who knew what when — or what happened seven years
ago — miss a larger, more important point: We are a nation at war in a
dangerous world, and good intelligence is vital to us all. That is where our
focus should be.”
Democratic Congressman Silvestre Reyes of Texas, who chairs the House Intelligence
Committee, has accused the agency of having “deliberately lied”
to his panel and said they will undertake an investigation of the intelligence