A grassroots group of retired military people and everyday citizens has banded together to end the Obama administration’s persecution of CIA officers overseas who risk their lives in a war against al Qaeda.
The group, StandwithIntelligence.com, sprung up last month as a counter to the Obama administration’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to re-investigate officers involved in harsh interrogations of al Qaeda kingpins.
Seven former CIA directors, under both Democratic and Republican presidents, urged President Obama not to go back on a campaign promise not to target the officers. But the president changed his mind and let Attorney General Holder reopen an investigation which had been closed for lack of evidence of wrongdoing by career prosecutors.
Members of StandwithIntelligence hope their group can educate the public on the damage the probe is doing, as well as head off any similar investigations as the war go on. In effect, the Obama administration is criminalizing the dirty, dangerous work of CIA officers trying to penetrate al Qaeda and find terrorists so they can be captured or killed before they strike America.
"Most serious military or intelligence people that have actually been on the ground doing the ‘business’ will tell you that the last thing in the world the CIA needs is to be paralyzed with fear of prosecution," Ilario Pantano, a former Marine officer who fought in Iraq, told HUMAN EVENTS.
Pantano is a StandwithIntelligence member who became active in counter-terrorism causes after the Marine Corps prosecuted him on murder charges for killing Iraqi insurgents. A hearing officer rule Pantano acted properly. The Corps dismissed the charges, and Pantano left the Corps.
He told HUMAN EVENTS it is not just the Holder decision that is hurting intelligence collection.
A judge in Italy earlier this month convicted 23 Americans, including CIA officers, in the 2003 abduction of a radical Egyptian cleric off the streets of Milan. The capture was part of the Bush administration’s extraordinary rendition program in which terror suspects are sent to a third country for interrogation. In the case of Abu Omar, he was taken to Egypt, and eventually released to tell his story.
The Obama administration has not ended renditions but says it exercises more oversight on any decision to nab a terrorist.
"Between the Italian verdict on rendition and the Holder initiative to criminally investigate CIA officers, we risk creating a situation where the default setting in this ‘zero-defect’ environment is: ‘Do nothing,’" Pantano said. "That is not acceptable while we are engaged in a war. If guys start sitting on their hands instead of taking risks, innocent people are going to die. Lots of them."
Another member is Johnny Spann. His son, Mike, a Marine officer who resigned his commission and joined the CIA, was the first American killed in Afghanistan in the early days of the war against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
"We get so tied up and boiled down to what people are saying and we sort of forget about all the facts," Spann told HUMAN EVENTS. "It’s not by accident that we haven’t had any more attacks on U.S. soil until last week at Fort Hood. It is a direct effect of our intelligence community who have been about finding out what is going on out there. It’s not because al Qaeda didn’t want to attack us. It’s because we didn’t let them attack us."
He added, "Now we’re going back and investigating those officers and in doing so we’re making ourselves vulnerable — the life of the men, their families. We’re destroying our intelligence divisions."
Spann said he hopes the StandwithIntelligence web site will attract more members and stir up public concern about what the Obama administration is inflicting on the CIA and other agencies.
"What we’re hoping is there will be enough people who will stand up, go to the this web site, write letters, make calls, do something so their voices will be heard," he said. "This is a public awareness campaign."
Aaron Moore, another StandwithIntelligence member and former Marine Corps special operations fighter, called "ridiculous" Obama’s decision to reinvestigate the CIA officers.
"Having worked with these guys and collected information for most of my career, it’s always interesting when they paint the picture that guys are just running amuck out there, and doing whatever they want," the former 1st sergeant told HUMAN EVENTS. "There are specific guidelines, and control measures that control everything we do in the gathering of information and collection of intelligence.
"When one group has operated well within the parameters of the law, and then the next group coming in changes the law and then goes to persecute the former group, it’s always a little bit interesting and it’s going to spook a lot of guys. That’s what it’s going to do …. If a guy has to second-guess himself that puts him in danger nine times out of 10."
StandwithIntelligence.com features photographs of the 9-11 attack, a CIA memorial to its fallen and a the image of Attorney General Holder.
"How do we stay safe when our ‘allies’ hunt the CIA," the site says. Instead of prosecuting our CIA, wouldn’t it be nice if the Justice Department went after those with real culpability — like the ones that brought us to 9/11 in the first place or have aided our enemies since then?
Another statement says, "The prosecution makes intelligence officers less willing to take risks to protect the country. It undermines America’s credibility with foreign intelligence agencies and governments who will grow reluctant to cooperate and share information."