May 18, 2009 | Commentary on National Security and Defense
It's one doozy of a case of "he said, she said."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a senior Democrat, and the White House-appointed CIA director, Leon Panetta, are having a tiff about "who told whom what when" regarding the interrogation of al Qaeda terrorists.
Pelosi is claiming the CIA misled Congress about the use of waterboarding against al Qaeda operatives when it briefed the House Intelligence Committee back in the War on Terror's early days.
The CIA -- and a host of others -- are saying that it ain't so and that the speaker and the Congress were advised of the use of enhanced interrogation techniques against senior al Qaeda terrorists as far back as 2002.
Panetta yesterday said that CIA briefers dealt with lawmakers honestly but that ultimately it would be up to members of Congress to make their own judgments about what transpired.
President Obama, the ostensible leader of the Democratic Party, has said nothing about the matter so far, but he surely can't be pleased about the rancor within his senior ranks.
Fact is, we'll probably never really know what happened in those CIA briefings to Capitol Hill, because the records of the meetings are likely based on notes scribbled by the staff in attendance.
But the reality is that this brouhaha is more about politics than about our national security -- and that's a shame.
The effort by those on the Left to reach back and possibly punish those who were involved in keeping this country safe in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks is just downright wrongheaded -- and will only hurt our national security.
For instance, the last thing Panetta needs is to be distracted by a battle royal with the speaker of the House. He has a real job to do in advising the president daily on the threats this country faces.
We need the CIA focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, catching Osama bin Laden and monitoring Iranian and North Korean nuclear and missile programs, to name just a few extremely pressing problems, not wasting time on what happened years ago in a congressional briefing room.
This incident must also be having a chilling effect on the morale at CIA headquarters in Langley and in the field, where there are probably worries that a witch hunt reminiscent of the late 1970s might be in the offing.
During his recent visit to the agency, Obama said that while he thought the CIA had made mistakes in executing the War on Terror, his desire was to move away from the past.
That sentiment was greeted positively by CIA employees, many of whom have been rattled about the possibility of retribution or prosecution under an Obama administration.
But the mixed signals now coming from liberals in Congress, including talk of a "truth commission," is leading those who go in harm's way to protect the US to question whether we are moving on -- or if it's time to seek legal counsel.
Panetta was right to dig in his heels and defend the CIA from becoming enmeshed with those interested in resurrecting the past for pure political purposes.
The CIA director reportedly also told his employees to ignore the political white noise swirling around them and to focus on the job at hand -- and rightfully so. But it'll be hard for them to do that. Unfortunately, the Obama White House has been yanking the chain of the national-security establishment pretty hard lately, from the on-off release of detainee-abuse photos to the less-than-full release of interrogation memos.
This isn't helpful -- or right.
Our national security is earned one tough day at a time by brave, well-intentioned Americans. We can't allow some on the Left to kick around their efforts like a political football, distracting them from the important tasks at hand.
If we do, there is sure to be a price to be paid.
Peter Brookes is senior fellow for National Security Affairs in the Davis Institute at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in the New York Post