Of course, Dear Reader, most of the ‘leaks’ from ‘informed sources’ about the latest congressional intelligence [sic] oversight [sic] pas de deux are kin to ‘news’ leaks from Michael Jackson’s parrot. Ferrets are more likely to launch out of Wolf Blitzer’s beard determined to beat down John King into a frenzied pulp. And then gang together to shred King’s refrigerator-sized Wintel magic computer thing-a-majig. But if one plays the odds . . .
A couple summary points:
(a) CIA, the Rotary Club, the Walt Whitman and Mclean High School Marching Bands have all been trying to kill Al Qaeda senior leaders even before 9/11. That’s the point of Clinton’s half-assed cruise missile attack the wingnuts claimed was to er, wag his ‘dog.’ Many underscore all this today rightly as a reality check against mindless gossip trafficking that this 2009 disclosure was ‘targeting Al Qaeda leaders for assassination’. (Update: Yet, reports continue that this apparently is exactly what panicked Panetta. One must sometimes just shake one’s head. And you watch out, John King!).
(b) Congressional oversight needs to be re-invented. Congress has no one to blame but itself. They cravenly abandoned their hard won rights. Forget oversight 2001-2009. They couldn’t even get authorizations together. And pity the desk drawer that took all that abuse from Rockefeller as he (we are sure) manly slammed his unsent letters to Cheney. Those posturing now on the Hill (Dem and Repub alike) are guilty of gross dereliction of duty and step up only now amid the institutional dead. Treason of a kind.
We’ve had structural congressional oversight only for 29 years, 8 of them a trivial formality (2001-2009). So a third of the 1980 Intelligence Oversight Act’s lifetime is a bitter joke. The mechanisms and framework created in 1980 relied on political compromise, ‘comity’ (with a ‘t’) and a willingness to use ‘checks (cheques) and balances’ rather than ‘separation of power’ legal formalisms. Congress knew oversight was always a few missteps from institutional capture or worse. This broader understanding of how intelligence oversight would function between the branches is a major reason for the different ‘notice’ regimes for certain special activities, collection, etc. In the end, the creators of the 1980 Oversight Act knew that ‘law’ would never settle matters – but ‘cheques’.
The constitutional, operational and political dimensions are matters we’ve written about at length elsewhere. We’d like to think our effort was part of the mix during the Dark Years. In fact, we’re fairly certain. This is mentioned to say that we’ve given the matter a great deal of thought. And just like CIA should be put down and greenfielded, we believe the 1980 Oversight Act is beyond repair. A new regime is needed for our current degraded political culture. No one from that time could have conceived of any Congress becoming a hollow Duma bowing year after year before the Executive Branch’s open contempt.
As an aside to the Concierge-of-the-Situation-Room, note *1980* and 21 (29 with an asterisk) years of formal oversight. The 1980 Act for statutory reasons amended the 1947 National Security Act. So get it straight. Sometimes we are just astounded how SAIS gives out diplomas.
(c) The Warlord has left the remaining legal institutions and precedents in chaos, meddling by ignorant-third-tier-law-schools-attached-to-TV-studios (yes, we are elitist on some matters), etc. All involved, most especially the American people, would benefit from a reset: from FISA and the Fourth Amendment, State Secrets, contractor reform and audit for past activity, etc. *That* would be audacious, which is why it will never happen. Does it really matter? If employee health care benefits are bolstered by more Chinese money we can’t possibly repay it’s all white noise anyway.
(d) Even with all of the above, there are still plenty of legitimate, non-nefarious reasons why an idea or exploration of a capability doesn’t get affirmatively put into interbranch discourse. What makes this particular instance peculiar is Cheney’s injunction against disclosure. Certainly that raises our eyebrows. But not everything Cheney said 2001-2009 was malefic. When he exclaimed ‘OH SHIT’ after shooting his friend in the face , can anyone doubt it was, um, ‘heartfelt’?