Jewish World Review May 16, 2006 / 18 Iyar, 5766
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
There is a war on
Now we know. The Sunday morning CNN program hosted by Wolf Blitzer provided an explanation for at least some of the bizarre behavior in evidence lately in Washington.
In response to a video clip of Senator Jon Kyl (Republican of Arizona) making the sensible point that it is "nuts" in a time of war to be disclosing our intelligence sources and methods, former Carter National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski declared that "we are not at war." While he acknowledged that there are serious threats, he suggested that it was fear-mongering to talk about being in a war, a practice used to justify otherwise insupportable infringements on the privacy and equanimity of Americans.
This is a useful prism through which to view this week's hearings on the nomination of Air Force General Michael Hayden to become the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency. We can expect Democratic Senators and even some Republican ones to showboat as they take the nominee to task for his work in a previous incarnation as the head of the National Security Agency (NSA). In that role and at presidential direction, the general strove to use NSA's powerful and exceedingly sensitive computing and eavesdropping tools to protect us against another terrible attack by enemies bent on our destruction.
Specifically, Gen. Hayden will be excoriated for having used warrantless wiretaps to try to monitor the battlefield communications of such foes. Battlefield signals intercepts in time of war are the stock-in-trade of the National Security Agency and, indeed, of military intelligence more generally. That such intercepts involve phone calls, faxes and e-mails to or from people inside the United States simply underscores the fact that we are, indeed, at war, one that amounts to a global conflict that is different and potentially far more dangerous than any we have fought before.
Legislators will also assail the general for having sought phone records not wiretaps for millions of Americans. Such information could allow the NSA to establish links between terrorist operatives and cells in this country based on calling patterns or connections between known targets and unknown associates. Again, this is the sort of activity the public would expect our government to be doing in time of war. Indeed, polling suggests the American people overwhelmingly support the NSA's efforts on our behalf.
Still, the denunciations of such eminently sensible and legal practices as unacceptable invasions of our privacy, as illegal activity and possibly as impeachable offenses are an important foretaste of what could happen if the critics get to run one or both house of Congress after November's elections: Instead of prosecuting the war for the Free World, official Washington will be consumed with prosecuting George W. Bush.
A front-page article in Sunday's Washington Post confirms what many have long believed: Those who disagree with the President's view that we are at war with a very dangerous, state-sponsored Islamofascist ideology include "a camp within the Central Intelligence Agency that considers the war to be a diversion from counter-terrorism activity." With no hint of irony, one of the Post reporters who won a Pulitzer Prize for publishing classified information apparently leaked to the paper by one of those CIA operatives, Mary McCarthy, refers to such a cabal within the ostensibly objective, non-partisan ranks of the Agency by way of trying to rehabilitate Ms. McCarthy who had been fired by former director Porter Goss.
Mr. Goss was subsequently dismissed by President Bush at the insistence of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. Now, Mr. Bush seems about to accede to another, no less ill-advised recommendation by the DNI. Mr. Negroponte wants to rehire another member of the anti-Bush "camp," former senior CIA official Stephen Kappes, to be the Agency's Number 2. Such an appointment would be, to use Sen. Kyl's term, "nuts."
After all, Kappes was reportedly removed from his previous post as CIA Deputy Director for Operations when Goss discovered that he and his deputy were engaged in unauthorized disclosures of classified information to members of the press and Congress then defiantly refused to desist when called on it. Fortunately, members of the congressional leadership have indicated strong opposition to the Kappes candidacy. They may insist that he be subjected to the sort of polygraphing about Kappes' alleged backchanneling of information to critics of the Bush Administration that resulted in Ms. McCarthy's confession to having done the same thing.
The fate not just of this presidency but control of Congress and the security of the country may depend on whether the public is clear that we are at war and with whom and the exceedingly high stakes associated with losing. Toward this end, the President must make a redoubled effort to drive that message home, starting with assuring that his own staff and that of the Nation's intelligence agencies share his understanding of the nature of this war and his determination to win it both of which seem to be true of Michael Hayden.
Those who feel otherwise are certainly entitled to their view. They are even entitled to work to advance it just not from a vantage point inside the executive branch, especially by masquerading as objective, non-partisan intelligence analysts and operatives.
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JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Comments by clicking here.
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© 2005, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.