Thursday, May 18, 2006

Hayden Hearings

On Thursday morning, I listened to a small portion of the hearings for the possible confirmation of General Hayden for director of the C.I.A. Once again, I was shocked at the politicization of intelligence, foreign policy and national defense that occurred. The secret programs that have been disclosed to the press recently about tapping international phone calls and about keeping track of long distance phone records were both brought up repeatedly. But what was particularly shocking was that misrepresentations were made by members of the committee.

The 1947 act governing intelligence in the United States does provide that there must be a briefing to the intelligence committees about issues surrounding the actions of the intelligence agencies. But there are exceptions. An exception for certain covert operations and an exception for situations in which the president deems that additional secrecy is necessary to protect human life, sources, and methods. In this case, the wiretapping programs were under the presidential exception. As a result, rather than briefing full committees, legislative leaders were briefed, including both the Republican and Democratic senior intelligence committee members and the Republican and Democratic heads of the Senate.

What was disingenuous was that Democratic lawmakers quoted only the passage of the law about oversight and not the exceptions. They claimed that the president and the intelligence leaders had violated the law by not briefing the whole intelligence committees on the secret programs that were disclosed to others. This is a highly disingenuous politicization of the intelligence process—exactly the sort of thing that the Democrats are constantly accusing the Republicans of doing. While it is reasonable for our leaders to have discussions about foreign policy, intelligence gathering, and military matters, it would be nice if we could get back to a bi-partisan policy that does not include lies and constant attempts to undermine the work of the other party, whether or not that undermining also undermines the security of the United States. While it is true that conservative lawmakers are also not perfect and often suffer from a lack of depth and lack of strong personal character, the left not only has the same problems, but seems to suffer from a preference for winning elections over winning wars.

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