Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Obama's Intel Strategy: Necessary "Clean Break" From Bush Policy or Danger to National Security? Is He Putting Americans at Risk?

President-Elect Obama campaigned on his differences with the Bush Administration and he certainly has the right and responsibility to spend his political capital in establishing his Administration.

Yet, with his expected nomination of Leon Panetta to head the CIA, is Obama's determination to be the the anti-Bush putting America's National Security at Risk?

Panetta wrote last year in Washington Monthly:

According to the latest polls, two-thirds of the American public believes that torturing suspected terrorists to gain important information is justified in some circumstances. How did we transform from champions of human dignity and individual rights into a nation of armchair torturers? One word: fear.

Fear is blinding, hateful, and vengeful. It makes the end justify the means. And why not? If torture can stop the next terrorist attack, the next suicide bomber, then what's wrong with a little waterboarding or electric shock?

We cannot simply suspend these (Constitutional) beliefs in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise. We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don't. There is no middle ground.

We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.

In a similar article, last Spring's Monterey Herald, Panetta writes:

Fear exacts a terrible toll on our democracy. Five years ago, America went to war in Iraq over the false fear that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

Even though we now know that there were intelligence officials who questioned the assertion, few leaders were willing to challenge this argument for war because they knew it might undermine public support for the president's decision to invade Iraq.

More recently, President Bush vetoed a law that would require the CIA and all the intelligence services to abide by the same rules on torture as contained in the U.S. Army Field Manual.

The president says the rules are too restrictive, implying that the use of some forms of torture just could help avoid another Sept. 11. But all forms of torture have long been prohibited by American law and international treaties respected by Republican and Democratic presidents alike.

Panetta's assertion that CIA officials and agents use the same standards as a military Privates is naive, outrageous and simply dangerous.

Yes, Mr. Panetta and Mr. Obama, the war on terror is complicated. National Security is well beyond the scope of Obama's knowledge and Americans failed to acknowledge this weakness when they voted for him.

More from Newsbusters.org:

Now, if George W. Bush had picked such an inexperienced man for any government position much less one at cabinet level, the media would have crucified him -- in fact, it did if you recount the Harriet Meyers for SCOTUS debacle. So, in "Obama's intel picks short on direct experience" does the Associated Press scoff at the pick? Do they lambast Obama for picking such a completely unqualified man for CIA in a day when we are besieged on all sides by enemies from whom our ability to gather intelligence is a major weapon of protection? Do they decry this pick of a man with not even the tiniest amount of experience for one of the most delicate and important positions of the day?

Nope. In fact, the AP celebrates it as some sort of proof that Obama made this pick to show he is making a "clean break from Bush administration." A clean break? How is picking a man with no experience with the intelligence or law enforcement communities to be the new head of the CIA any kind of proof that Obama is breaking with Bush?

While no one doubts Panetta's general political knowledge and management style, he is simply NOT qualified to run the CIA. If Obama is so impressed with Panetta's resume, certainly there would be a more suitable Cabinet that better suits Panetta's strengths.

The President-Elect told reporters today:
I have the utmost respect for Leon Panetta. I think that he is one of the finest public servants that we have. He brings extraordinary management skills, great political savvy, an impeccable record of integrity.

As chief of staff, he is somebody who - to the president - he's somebody who obviously was fully versed in international affairs, crisis management, and had to evaluate intelligence consistently on a day -to-day basis.

The Associated Press article states:

President-elect Barack Obama's decision to fill the nation's top intelligence jobs with two men short on direct experience in intelligence gathering surprised the spy community and signaled the Democrat's intention for a clean break from Bush administration policies.
And Newsweek explains other motives for the so-called "clean break":

In the weeks following his election victory, Obama was widely expected to appoint as his CIA chief John Brennan, a former top CIA and counter terrorism official who is co-chair of the committee reviewing intelligence policy issues for the president-elect's transition team.

But Brennan withdrew his name from consideration as CIA chief after he was slammed by bloggers for public statements he made defending the CIA's involvement in controversial counterterrorism operations, including rough interrogations which Bush administration critics and human-rights advocates described as torture.

The Brennan controversy cast a cloud over Obama's efforts to find a new CIA chief (though sources say that Obama decided some time ago on Admiral Blair, who was not involved with controversial Bush interrogation policies, as his new intelligence czar).

The current CIA chief, retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, signaled that he wouldn't mind being asked to stay on for a time. But critics noted that Hayden, like Brennan, had publicly defended the Bush administration’s counterterror activities, including CIA interrogation policies (which Hayden himself had little to do with) and warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency (a program that Hayden, as NSA director, helped to create after 9/11). As a senator, Obama had voted against Hayden's confirmation.

The AP Article added:
Obama is sending an unequivocal message that controversial administration policies approving harsh interrogations, waterboarding and extraordinary renditions -- the secret transfer of prisoners to other governments with a history of torture -- and warrantless wiretapping are over, said several officials.

Newsbusters explains this logic:
So, the solution to Brennan not being "outspoken enough" against torture is to pick Panetta who has uttered barely a word about torture at all? What sense does that even make? Why isn't this lapse in Obama's logic a cause for the AP to throw a dig at the Obammessiah?

From Newsweek:
Last week, word began to circulate on the spy grapevine that Obama was looking to fill the CIA director's job with a highly respected senior figure with extensive government experience who had no spy-world baggage but would likely sail through the confirmation process. In Panetta, the president-elect probably found a candidate who fits those specifications, though reservations are already being expressed among intelligence experts about the nominee's lack of expertise in what some have called the world's second oldest profession--spying.

Panetta is an honest and smart politician, yet his lack of intelligence experience puts American Security at risk. The CIA position does not lend itself to on-the-job training. Obama's policy of scaling back counter-terrorism may indeed lend reality to Joe Biden's prophesy of Obama being "tested" within 6 months.

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