Apparently it is time to discuss another classified CIA program in public for political purposes. The leak comes from one of the two usual suspects, Congress as opposed to the media this time. Outraged Democrats looking to cover Nancy Pelosi's exposed ass have decided to play games with what ought to remain a secret matter. Pelosi had claimed the CIA lied to her about waterboarding and other matters in direct contradiction to evidence saying it hadn't. Now a group of Dems on the Intel Committee have decided they can help rehab her rep, score some political points against the evil Bush regime and distract the public from the economy by giving the media some red meat. Strange how the Bush crime family comes back in focus once the cunning plans to save the economy and country fall flat.
Let's take this supposed failure to inform Congress for a moment. We don't know for certain what the hell it actually is or was, but let's accept the leaked versions for argument's sake. This was feasibility planning and perhaps training in support of the 2001 Presidential finding authorizing the capture or killing of al Qaeda leaders. It is not alleged that any operations were planned or even seriously contemplated, but simply that the CIA brainstormed the contingency that they might need to scarf up or kill senior terrorist leaders. That seems to be an eminently sensible thing for them to be doing and in line with contingency planning for hundreds of other potential missions they could be tasked with. The question here is whether these actions required notification of Congress. I have no idea. There are laws governing this and obviously a certain level of activity coupled with a likelihood of action would trigger such a notification threshold. The current leaked info doesn't seem to show any actions contemplated and seems more like ongoing brainstorming.
Let's leave the political grandstanding aside for a moment and focus on the substance of such a program.
Amid the high alert following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a small CIA unit examined the potential for targeted assassinations of al Qaeda operatives, according to the three former officials. The Ford administration had banned assassinations in the response to investigations into intelligence abuses in the 1970s. Some officials who advocated the approach were seeking to build teams of CIA and military Special Forces commandos to emulate what the Israelis did after the Munich Olympics terrorist attacks, said another former intelligence official......Also in September 2001, as CIA operatives were preparing for an offensive in Afghanistan, officials drafted cables that would have authorized assassinations of specified targets on the spot.
One draft cable, later scrapped, authorized officers on the ground to "kill on sight" certain al Qaeda targets, according to one person who saw it. The context of the memo suggested it was designed for the most senior leaders in al Qaeda, this person said.
Eventually Mr. Bush issued the finding that authorized the capturing of several top al Qaeda leaders, and allowed officers to kill the targets if capturing proved too dangerous or risky.
Well now that is some fun stuff there, "kill on sight" oooh sounds scary. But let me ask a simple question here. Don't we do that regularly using UAVs? We identify an al Qaeda leader, we target him and we "kill on sight". I mean how does the weapon we use factor into that equation at all? Is it somehow OK for a guy sitting in Las Vegas to push a button and vaporize a bad guy, but not for another guy to put 2 1/2 pounds of pressure on a trigger and accomplish the same thing? Assassinate is a very charged term usually involving members of another government. That is not the case here, this is more of an adjustment to global rules of engagement allowing identified terrorist targets to be ventilated. I don't see any problems with that at all. If we get positive ID on a terrorist anywhere on earth, we should make the calculus as to whether they can be captured. If not then a swift trip to room temperature ought to be next on the agenda. I am curious what the argument against such a policy might be.
UPDATE: AP reports this:
WASHINGTON – Government officials say the secret intelligence program canceled by CIA Director Leon Panetta in June was meant to find and kill or capture al-Qaida leaders at close range rather than target them with air strikes.
So this looks even more like an attempt to modify our tactics to ensure we only kill bad guys and not civilians. That will not be tolerated, obviously.