The latest Washington cry of “You’re Fired!” will elevate current CIA Director Mike Pompeo to the secretary of state’s chair. He’s reasonably qualified and up to date on global challenges. After enduring a few circus stunts on the Hill, he’ll be confirmed as our nation’s chief diplomat. As long as he can summon the guts to challenge the president when necessary, Pompeo should do a competent job.
A shabbily unfair controversy has already begun, though, over Pompeo’s successor at the CIA. The administration’s choice is Gina Haspel, now deputy director and an agency veteran since 1985. She has extensive undercover experience and impeccable professional credentials. Confirming her should be all but automatic.
It won’t be. Because congressional Democrats are about to focus on the wrong fight over the wrong person at utterly the wrong time.
Dems on the Hill need to concentrate on protecting the Mueller investigation, the paramount security matter facing our country today. Instead, they’re about to do the work of Vladimir Putin and far-right domestic extremists by grandstanding against our intel agencies — and the indispensable work they do for all of us.
The issue — back from the dead — is “enhanced interrogation techniques” and black-site management from the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Haspel is reported to have been involved with those long-abandoned programs.
If she was, good for her. It’s cowardice for any politician, almost two decades after the fact, to criticize actions taken in good faith to protect our country.
Has everyone forgotten what we witnessed that September morning? The first foreign attack on a US state since the War of 1812? (Hawaii hadn’t yet gained statehood when Pearl Harbor was bombed.) Three thousand dead Americans? And the pervasive, bipartisan fear that the terrorists could strike again, massively, against our homeland and our people?
We didn’t know for certain whether the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were a one-off, or the start of a devastating campaign. Even in the heartland, citizens were frightened. And angry. We wanted answers, safety, results — and yes, revenge.
And we waited for the next attack.
Yes, we’ve forgotten. So many elected officials who later posed as moral authorities on waterboarding and detention conditions would, one suspects, have authorized those things and more in the desperate days of autumn 2001.
In the wake of 9/11, our military and intelligence agencies stepped up, with Special Ops in the lead on the Pentagon side and the CIA performing vital missions around the globe.
And they kept us safe.
Recall, too, the outcry of “Intelligence failure!” In fact, intel warnings had been there for years, ignored by the Clinton White House and not yet grasped by the rookie Bush administration.
By midnight, Sept. 11, 2001, the pressure was on to get the job done, using any means necessary.
The point isn’t to argue that waterboarding and other techniques are wise, but simply to point out that, from the comfort and safety of 2018, it’s wildly unjust to persecute those who did their best in the aftermath of a stunning terrorist massacre.
If there are clear reasons that disqualify Haspel from becoming the next CIA director, fine. But let’s not play the self-righteousness card, if we have never had to make tough decisions ourselves to protect this country.
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The argument for confirming her is straightforward: These are dangerous times, with Russia on a rampage, China pawing the globe, North Korea pursuing nukes that could threaten our homeland, endless turmoil and lingering terror in the Middle East and a general crisis of confidence among our closest allies over whether we’ll really stand by them.
Intelligence ties and trust, between organizations and individuals, are built up over decades. Our put-upon allies would be reassured by the appointment of an intelligence professional they know — and Haspel may be the best-qualified individual ever nominated to the post.
The CIA’s rank-and-file would be reassured, as well, as would the rest of the intel community.
So let’s not make this another congressional clown-show.
It’s bad enough that right-wing talk-show hosts stir up utterly unjustified paranoia toward our intelligence agencies (abetted by Hollywood’s lazy storylines in which villainous American spies root through our underwear). I served in the intelligence world, on the military side, for over two decades. And I can attest that the men and women in that world are genuine patriots keeping us safe every single day.
Intel professionals deserve better than assaults and insults from those who never served our country in any capacity beyond political hackateering.
Give Gina Haspel a fair hearing. And thank those who serve in the darkness so that we can live in the light.
Ralph Peters served in Military Intelligence as an enlisted man and an officer.
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