President Obama visited the CIA yesterday and gave a pep talk to the employees demoralized by Obama’s decision to release formerly classified legal memoranda detailing the legal limits of interrogation techniques.
Obama’s pep talk was too little too late.
Obama was given a bipartisan warning not to release these documents. Four former heads of the CIA, two Appointed by President Clinton and two appointed by President Bush, all said that Obama’s release would risk national security. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden says even Leon Panetta, Obama’s head of the CIA, agreed with the bipartisan group.
Hayden made many important points during the interview. The two points I found most poignant were what we have provided the enemy and the effect on our CIA officers:
What we have described for our enemies, in the midst of war, are the outer limits that any American would ever go to in terms of interrogating an al-Qaeda terrorist. That’s very valuable information. Now it doesn’t mean we would always go to those outer limits, but it describes the box within which Americans will not go beyond. To me that’s that’s very useful for our enemies.
Officers are saying, the things I’m doing now, will this happen to me in five years because of the things I am doing now? And the answer they’ve been given by senior leadership is the only answer possible, which is I can’t guarantee you that won’t happen, but I do know it won’t happen under this president. Now think what that means. The basic foundation of the legitimacy of the agency’s action has shifted from some durability of law to a product of the American political process. That puts agency officers and a horrible position. So I think the really dangerous effect of this Chris, is that you have agency officers stepping back from the kinds of things that the nation expects them to do. I mean if you were to go to an agency officer today and say go do this. Why am I authorized to do this? It’s authorized by the president, the attorney general says it’s lawful and it’s been briefed to congress. That agency officer is going to say, yeah I know, but I see what’s going on here now. Have you run it by the ACLU. What’s the New York Times editorial board think? Have you discussed this with any potential presidential candidates. You’re going to have this agency, on the front line of defending you in this current war, playing back from the line.
Video of the entire Hayden interview is available at Fox News.
The U.S. press has been supportive of the Obama release. But the British Press is more critical.
The Sunday Times reports that CIA officers still fear prosecution, even though Obama says they will not face criminal prosecution. According to the Times the documents Obama released represent just the tip of the iceberg.
Con Coughlin, in the Telegraph, writes that “Mr. Obama has traveled far afield to imbue both allies and enemies with a new sense of well-being, the feeling that the world is a better and safer place now that the abhorrent Bush administration is no longer in office.” Coughlin warns Obama that the effect of his unnecessary release of previously classified legal opinions on interrogation techniques will be to weaken the CIA.
This is starting to remind me of the mindset we put the CIA and FBI in before the 9/11 terror attacks. The agencies were too engaged in CYA to effectively connect the dots. I hope we don’t regress to that as Obama swings the pendulum more and more left.
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