A couple Washington Post stories really ought to be read together today.
First, is a Dana Priest article that outlines yet another covert CIA program the administration has been using to find and kill terrorists.
The effort President Bush authorized shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to fight al Qaeda has grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War, expanding in size and ambition despite a growing outcry at home and abroad over its clandestine tactics, according to former and current intelligence officials and congressional and administration sources.
The broad-based effort, known within the agency by the initials GST, is compartmentalized into dozens of highly classified individual programs, details of which are known mainly to those directly involved.
Much of what’s in the article isn’t new news. This program, as Priest goes on to explain, include such already-reported programs as the covert air-transport program, the “secret prison” program, and the so-called domestic wiretapping program. What is new in the article is an interesting statement about the President’s involvement.
Still, virtually all the programs continue to operate largely as they were set up, according to current and former officials. These sources say Bush’s personal commitment to maintaining the GST program and his belief in its legality have been key to resisting any pressure to change course.
“In the past, presidents set up buffers to distance themselves from covert action,” said A. John Radsan, assistant general counsel at the CIA from 2002 to 2004. “But this president, who is breaking down the boundaries between covert action and conventional war, seems to relish the secret findings and the dirty details of operations.”
The administration’s decisions to rely on a small circle of lawyers for legal interpretations that justify the CIA’s covert programs and not to consult widely with Congress on them have also helped insulate the efforts from the growing furor, said several sources who have been involved.
I’d offer another interpretation from Rasdan’s on why the President is so involved. Rather than being giddy about all the secret spy stuff, it is far more likely given how seriously the President takes our national security, that he stays closely involved so that he can take quick and informed decisions and be fully responsible for them. Rather than insulate himself behind a screen of flunkies, as other administrations have, he’s owning the responsibilities that come with the office and making darned sure that he knows what is going on. That’s a far cry from the “ignorant cowboy” image that many have painted of Bush in the past six years.
That last paragraphs heartens me, too. Bush seems to realize that wide consultation leads to security problems. Given that there are security problems he can’t avoid, as we’ve seen from the CIA and from Senators like Pat Leahy and Jay Rockefeller, Bush is being pretty wise to limit the potential problems he can control.
That brings me to the next article, a report that the Justice Department has launched an investigation into the many leaks of classified information that have led to the “outings” of ongoing and vital national security programs.
I’m going to be watching this investigation unfold with a lot of interest. I’m eager to see reporters from the New York Times and Washington Post either give up their criminal sources of spend some time in jail. I’m very much looking forward to images of leakers who put their own ignorance or personal biases before their oaths and the law to put the lives of millions of people at risk being frogmarched out of Langley or some Senate office. I’m also going to enjoy watching the talking heads try to explain why this story isn’t nearly as worthy of their round-the-clock coverage of the Valerie Plame investigation.
What I’m looking forward to the most, though, is watching people who have forgotten (or never really figured out) that we’re at war explaining to the rest of us why it was so important to blow the covers of programs that have kept us safe from attack here for over four years.
And all in time for an election, too. Yep, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.