John Brennan, nominated to head the CIA, is the last remaining top national security official to face Senate confirmation. It is also the last opportunity for the Senate to stop carrying the White House’s water and start exercising due diligence.
As I’ve noted before, the public and Congress have been kept in the dark on the Benghazi attack, the investigation of national security leaks, the extent of our drone policy and recidivism of detainees released from Guantanamo.
Then there is the matter of the Osama bin Laden files. Tom Joscelyn explains:
[N]early two years after the May 1, 2011, assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound, the Obama administration has made public just 17 documents out of the huge cache of information captured during that raid. U.S. intelligence officials tell The Weekly Standard that the vast collection includes “hundreds of thousands of documents and files.” Obama administration officials themselves have referred to the documents as a “treasure trove” the size of a “small college library.” Why hasn’t the public seen them?
One of the main reasons: John Brennan.
The Obama administration, with Brennan as its top counterterrorism adviser, has worked hard to convince the American people that al Qaeda “is a shadow of its former self,” in the words of the president. Its affiliates are atomized cells that operate without serious coordination, they’ve suggested, and with the assassination of several top leaders, the defeat of al Qaeda is, according to Obama, “within reach.” The war on terror, or whatever it is, is nearing an end.
In an e-mail Joscelyn explains what he is after: “I’m calling for the vast majority of the documents and files to be released to the public, including whatever translations have been prepared by the U.S. government. At a minimum, Congressional authorities should be given full access to the files and translations — not just select analyses and summaries of the files prepared by the administration or the intelligence community.”
No one is asking the White House to release secrets that could damage national security (although this administration did so on a regular basis leading up to the 2012 election). Joscelyn argues: “John Brennan and President Obama have claimed that al Qaeda’s ‘core’ (which is imprecisely defined) is a ‘shadow’ of its former self. If that is true, then releasing the documents and files should not really compromise national security.” He adds, “If releasing the documents and files would raise national security concerns, then that suggests the president and Brennan are wrong about the status of al Qaeda’s ‘core.’ It would mean that they are still very much active, which undermines the case they’ve long been making publicly.” Nevertheless he concedes, “My view is that some of the documents probably do raise issues relating to national security. Exceptions can be made in some cases. But the vast majority of the documents should still be released to the public. Al Qaeda knows that the U.S. government has these documents and files, so there is no need to protect sources and methods.” Like many critics of the administration’s hide-the-ball routine, he finds that it “I find it hard to believe that only 17 documents and several video clips can be released out of corpus that Tom Donilon himself has described as being the size of a ‘small college library.’ ”
Moreover, there are materials relevant to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that the public should be able to see. Joscelyn explains to me: “Any of Osama bin Laden’s files pertaining to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks should be made public. This was the most consequential event in recent American history. The American public, researchers, and journalists should have the ability to read those documents.” He argues, “It is difficult to see how that material, or the vast majority of it in any event, could be still operationally relevant. It has been more than a decade since that day.”
What we have learned over the years is despite promises to the contrary this is one of the least forthright and transparent administrations in recent memory. Partisan cheerleaders in the media have given the administration a pass, demonstrating the degree to which Obama-worship overpowers professional obligations. That should end. Whatever your views on counterterrorism or drones, there is no excuse for the administration’s lack of candor. Thankfully the Brennan nomination gives the Senate one last chance to force the administration to come clean — and for the media to redeem themselves.
But the documents, as Joscelyn points out from various sources, undermine the characterization of al-Qaeda that Brennan has pushed for and his infatuation with the drone strategy. Consistent with national security, someone other than the White House should be allowed to examine the documents. The lack of any congressional oversight is troubling.