The current furor over who, if anyone, in the White House leaked anything about Joe Wilson’s wife and whether that leak, if it occurred, constitutes a crime is off the mark.
My concern is about something far more ominous. It is what I see to be a systematic pattern of conduct being carried out by elements within the Central Intelligence Agency constituting a virtual covert operation against the Bush White House – a covert operation designed to protect the spy agency’s turf and deflect charges of incompetence.
All the elements are in place: repeated leaks of selective classified information and tawdry political use of pre-war intelligence. But this is a story most of the media have chosen to ignore.
Let me get a few things straight right away. I support a strong CIA and oppose virtually all of the restrictions liberals have imposed on it over the past three decades. Also, as a practitioner of New York politics for those same three decades, I’m no stranger to inelegant turf battles.
But it’s one thing to fight over a sewer contract or a highway project and quite another to put a bureaucracy’s parochial interest before the national interest – particularly when our nation is in a war for survival against international terrorism. Sadly, that is what the CIA did after 9/11 and what it continues to do in the aftermath of the war in Iraq.
There’s no doubt the CIA missed a lot of signals leading up to 9/11. Whether there were enough signals to prevent the attacks – or, in the popular term of art, enough dots to connect – is another question. In any event, President Bush decided against seeking scapegoats.
We were entering into a new and dangerous war and the president did not want to disrupt the national security leadership – so he reaffirmed his support of CIA Director George Tenet and no heads were made to roll.
Unfortunately, the CIA has not seen fit to return that loyalty – either to President Bush or to the national interest.
Consider the following:
The resultant political firestorm succeeded in diverting attention from the CIA. It took several days to realize that this supposed warning consisted primarily of a 3-year-old intelligence report indicating that terrorists might hijack planes to obtain the release of prisoners and that no time frame was given.
The Wilson incident raises troubling issues and serious concerns. Why did the CIA entrust a non-CIA man with such a sensitive assignment? Wasn’t the CIA aware that Wilson opposed the Bush policy in Iraq? How extensive was Wilson’s investigation? Why didn’t the CIA take action against Wilson when he went public against Bush and revealed the details of his mission?
Why didn’t the CIA point out that Wilson’s investigation never addressed what the president said in his State of the Union speech, that the British source was separate from the CIA’s and that the British stand by their finding to this day. In other words, that despite Wilson’s posturing and outrage, everything the president said about Niger was true.
Against this backdrop, isn’t the position of Wilson’s spouse at the CIA a matter of legitimate concern or debate? Isn’t it more significant that we have a rogue spy machine operating at cross purposes with our national interest than who said what to Robert Novak?
And how much credibility should we give to Wilson, who shows off pictures of his wife, comparing her to an actress in a TV spy drama?
America is at war with international terrorism. For us to win that war, the CIA must be focusing its attack on Islamic fundamentalists – not spreading disinformation against the elected leaders of our nation.
The CIA must be made to realize that we don’t have the luxury of being at war with ourselves. For the CIA to get that message, perhaps the time has come for some heads to roll.