Panetta is designated fall guy

Kimberley Strassel:

In the game of political football that is today national security, spare a thought for CIA Director Leon Panetta. Quarterbacking is hard enough without getting sacked by your own team.

President Barack Obama fought hard for the former California congressman during his uncertain February confirmation fight. That's about the last thing the president has done for his spy chief. Quite the opposite: If the latest flap over CIA interrogations shows anything, it's that Mr. Panetta has officially become the president's designated fall guy.

The title has been months in the making. Mr. Obama is contending with an angry left that's riled by his decisions to retain some Bush-era counterterrorism policies. He's facing Congressional liberals still baying for Bush blood. He's hired Attorney General Eric Holder, who is giving the term "ideological purity" new meaning. Mr. Obama's way to appease these bodies? Hang the CIA and Mr. Panetta out to dry.

That strategy first showed its face in April, when the president released Justice Department memos with details of the enhanced interrogation program. Arguing against the full release of these memos was Mr. Panetta and four prior CIA directors. Disclosure, they said, would damage national security. Arguing for their release was Mr. Holder, and White House General Counsel Greg Craig, who articulated the views of The president threw the left some red meat, refusing even Mr. Panetta's pleas to redact certain sensitive details.

True, the president showed up at the CIA a few days later to reassure Mr. Panetta's demoralized troops. Don't "be discouraged" that you've "made mistakes," the president said, smiling, as Mr. Panetta stood grimly by. "That's how we learn." Mr. Obama vowed to be "vigorous in protecting" the organization. Later, at the White House, he announced plans to release photos showing detainee abuse—at the demand of the ACLU.

Then came House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's full-frontal assault, claiming the agency had lied to her about waterboarding. This would have been an excellent time for some "vigorous" protection of the CIA, since agency documents flatly contradict the speaker. But with his domestic agenda in the hands of Congress, the White House was mum. It showed equal interest in defending Mr. Panetta against the threat of congressional investigations.

This week the White House visited on the CIA director what ranking Senate Intelligence Committee member Kit Bond declared a "hat trick" of unpleasant moves. With his prior attempts to mollify his base on national security having failed— and those troops even more bitter about the flagging fortunes of the "public option" in ObamaCare—the president wheeled out Mr. Panetta for one more round.

Reversing prior promises not to prosecute CIA officials who "acted in good faith," Mr. Holder appointed a special counsel with the ability to prosecute officials who acted in good faith. This was paired with release of a 2004 CIA report that the administration spun as more proof of agency incompetence. As a finishing touch, the White House yanked the interrogation program out of Mr. Panetta's hands, relocating it with the FBI. With friends like these . . .


Yet Mr. Panetta can only do so much to reassure his troops. Faced with legal jeopardy, CIA staff will avoid intelligence-gathering risks, making it that much harder for the CIA director to succeed in his day job—protecting the country from harm. It will matter little that the president retained successful Bush-era counterterrorism programs if there is no intelligence-community will to implement them.


I suspect they are keeping Panetta around in hopes of stooping more people from leaving the CIA. They need them there as a fall guy for the next intelligence failure when the enemy attacks. You can bet they will not take responsibility for that failure.

At best they will be saying that "who knows" if we could have gotten the information to stop the attack if we had used more aggressive methods. Dick Cheney knows and so do those who look at the data know.


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