Topic A: The Furor Over the CIA's Assassination Program

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Post asked intelligence and defense experts about the politics and policies of the CIA's assassination program. Below are contributions from Marc Thiessen, Silvestre Reyes, Jeffrey Smith, Mark Lowenthal, Kate Martin, Vicki Divoll and Lanny Davis.


Visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution; served in senior positions in the Pentagon and White House from 2001 to 2009, most recently as chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush

For eight years, the CIA had a secret program to kill or capture al-Qaeda operatives. A few weeks ago, Congress was briefed on it -- and now we are debating the details in op-eds and other media reports. If that is not proof that Congress cannot be trusted with highly classified information, I don't know what is.

It speaks volumes that congressional Democrats think it is a scandal that the CIA was coming up with new ways to kill al-Qaeda terrorists -- as does Leon Panetta's wrongheaded decision to cancel this effort. Some commentators have referred to CIA "death squads" and questioned whether it is legal to "assassinate" terrorist leaders. Yet the Obama administration is reportedly "assassinating" terrorists all the time in Pakistan using Predator drones. Why is killing terrorists from 2,000 feet morally superior from doing so from two feet away?

The CIA should be leaning forward, taking risks and coming up with innovative ways to take out terrorists before they strike our country again. Unfortunately, the Democrats have declared war on the agency for taking such risks. The president has accused CIA officers of "torture." The attorney general is talking about appointing a special prosecutor. The speaker of the House has accused the agency of lying to Congress, and now congressional Democrats are beating the war drums for new investigations.

Meanwhile, career CIA officials such as Philip Mudd have seen their nominations scuttled and careers ruined by Washington witch-hunts. And we expect these people to take risks to protect us? Ingratitude in Washington has consequences. Beating up on the CIA will make the agency increasingly risk-averse -- and that increases the risk of another attack.


Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Regardless of the specific programmatic details of CIA Director Leon Panetta's recent disclosures to Congress, my view of their legality would be essentially the same: I support counterterrorism methods that have the potential to disrupt terrorist attacks as long as they are legal and have been appropriately reported as the law requires.

I want our intelligence officers to have a broad and powerful array of capabilities for preventing terrorist attacks. All I ask is that those capabilities are consistent with our laws and obligations. Have they been disclosed to the relevant Justice Department officials to determine their legality? Have they been disclosed to the relevant congressional oversight committees? Were they authorized by the president?

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence investigation will examine not only these important issues but also broader and longer-standing issues involving the way in which the executive branch discharges its obligations of disclosure to Congress. The program that has been in the news of late is just one symptom of a larger problem of incomplete, late or false information being provided to Congress. We intend to tackle this larger problem, with an eye toward better oversight and, consequently, a stronger intelligence community.

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