The Democrats' War on our Spies

The Democrats’ war against our spies has taken two new turns.  In their zeal to punish Bush administration officials — and protect House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca) from publication of the facts showing her complicity in then-legal waterboarding of terrorist prisoners — the Democrats have again accused the CIA of lying.

This came during the same week when it was reported that Attorney General Eric Holder is considering the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute those who authorized and committed alleged torture of prisoners at CIA “black sites”, the secret prisons where high-value terrorists were interrogated since 9-11.

Holder’s move is a part of the Democrats’ war on our intelligence agents and those who authorized their activities in the essential work of gathering information to save American lives.  If he proceeds, the “ongoing investigation” claim will effectively block all other inquiries, and could prevent for years the publication of information that could prevent further damage to our intelligence community. 

This time, the accusation of a CIA lie is about an intelligence program that went on for years and was not revealed to Congress.  In a June 26 letter to CIA Director Leon Panetta (concealed from House Intelligence Committee Republicans until it was sent and apparently leaked simultaneously to the press) seven House Dems asked Panetta to correct his May 15 statement that the CIA’s policy is not to mislead Congress. 

The letter said, “Recently you testified that you have determined that top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all Members of Congress, and misled Members for a number of years from 2001 to this week. This is similar to other deceptions of which we are aware from other recent periods.”  What the lie is about is, of course, still classified. 

One member of Congress with knowledge of the CIA’s actions told me that the “lie” was about a program that the CIA thought of and spent some money planning but was never put into action. 

In response to the letter, Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo) — ranking Republican on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence — said on July 9, “These letters from the House Democrats about Director Panetta’s briefing are not only ridiculous, they are highly irresponsible.  This action appears to be an attempt to cover up for Speaker Pelosi’s faulty memory and baseless accusations about the hardworking men and women of the CIA, and to encourage the press to dig up information on a classified intelligence briefing.”

Sen. Bond makes an important point.  American spies don’t live the life of James Bond.  They’re more likely to be found sitting on the dirt floor of a hut in an Afghan village talking to a Taliban-friendly elder than in an Aston Martin hurtling along an Alpine road or in a suite of a five-star hotel making love to Anya Amasova or Vesper Lynd. 

Some of them, like Johnny Michael Spann, die a hero’s death in the service of our nation.  Spann was the first casualty in our war against terrorists in Afghanistan. He was killed in 2001 in hand-to-hand combat in the midst of a Taliban prisoner revolt in Afghanistan near Mazar-i-Sharif, the fort taken in a horseback charge by Special Operations forces. 

But many more live their lives without glamour, in quiet secrecy, applying their every skill to gather information from terrorist detainees.  It is they, and the Bush administration leaders whose orders they followed, that the Democratic Party wars against. 

The Democrats’ strategy has succeeded so far because they are cherry-picking the information released to the public, letting out only the parts that they believe make the CIA and the Bush administration look like a bunch of torture-happy war criminals.  (The fact that the “torture memos” show that waterboarding was legal in 2002-early 2003 when it was done is not admissible in the media narrative.  But it is nevertheless true.)

President Obama published the so-called “torture memos” in May to fuel global outrage at what our interrogators were allowed to do. 

But when Vice President Cheney asked that a particular set of documents be released to show that the information gained in harsh interrogations saved American lives, Obama refused, saying that while there were compelling reasons to release the methodology of interrogations there were none to release the documents Cheney said would prove the interrogations’ worth.  When Cheney pressed the issue, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mi) said that his committee’s report on Abu Ghraib “…gives the lie to Mr. Cheney’s claims.”

Which itself was a lie for two reasons.  First and foremost, the high-value terrorists weren’t interrogated at Abu Ghraib.  Second, and more obvious, Levin’s report is a calumny that members of his own committee condemned.

But Levin’s antics are a sideshow.  The Democrats’ war against our spies, our interrogators and all who lead them goes on.  Why? 

Why would Nancy Pelosi renew her accusation that the CIA lied to Congress?  Her first accusation, back in May, was the result of the CIA’s release of a document which showed she had been briefed on the use of waterboarding in September 2002.  Which she had previously denied.  And her accusation was met with Panetta’s clear statement that contemporaneous documents in the CIA’s possession showed that Pelosi had been briefed on the fact of waterboarding and that it had been used, not just planned.

President Obama and Speaker Pelosi are engaged in a coverup.  Which is nothing new in Washington, but this one is different.  Watergate was about past criminality, not the safety of our nation.  Colin Powell’s venality in concealing the identity of the Valerie Plame CIA connection leak from President Bush was about disloyalty.  It made us no less secure.

But what Obama and Pelosi are doing is vastly more important.  Pursuing their strategy aimed at vilifying the Bush administration, they are creating turmoil in our intelligence agencies.  According to one intelligence community source, Panetta and Director of National Intelligence Adm. Dennis Blair are in a “polar struggle”, the kind of constant infighting that thwarts our ability to pursue, gather and apply the best intelligence we can, the information we need to survive the war we are in.

The Panetta-Blair rivalry is too predictable.  The DNI is another layer of bureaucracy burdening an already-marginal CIA.  There really are two CIAs: the politically active one that leaks important information to the press and the tactically-active one that does the risky work.  Which side is Blair on? Does he stand with Obama and Pelosi or with the intelligence operators who work for him?  Right now, we don’t know.

As I’ve written before, Republicans must be far more aggressive in this fight.  They need to insist — and keep insisting — that the documents former vice president Cheney asked to be made public are released.  They must insist again and again that the CIA inspector general investigate Pelosi’s accusations and make public the truth of what she knew and when she knew it.

This isn’t just a political fight.  Our intelligence operators and those who interrogate terrorist prisoners can’t be left hanging, caught between the knives and guns of the enemy and the Obamas and Pelosis who will sacrifice them in order to score points against a former president.

Johnny Michael Spann’s father was a real estate agent in Alabama.  His son, first a Marine and then a CIA paramilitary operative, gave his life in the cause of gathering and using intelligence to help save other American lives.  It is to parents of intelligence operatives such as Spann’s father, and all the people who now serve our intelligence agencies that the Republicans owe a victory in this fight.