July 15, 2009
Protecting Pelosi, not AmericaBy Joel B. Pollak
Democrat Jan Schakowsky of Illinois proved last week why President Barack Obama was right to threaten to veto a bill that could give more politicians access to classified briefings about covert CIA operations.
Schakowsky took to the airwaves to accuse the CIA of misleading Congress on the orders of former Vice President Dick Cheney. According to Schakowsky and a handful of other Democrats, CIA director Leon Panetta told them at a classified briefing last month that the agency had practiced "systematic deception" for years. She demanded an investigation and suggested that charges could be brought against CIA officials.
But the CIA denied Panetta had made any such admission -- and even Schakowsky had to allow that Panetta's briefing concerned "one occasion." That occasion was a program, conceived in 2001 but never implemented, to track and target Al-Qaeda terrorists around the world.
Not only did Congress know about the program, according to Panetta's predecessor Michael Hayden, but Congressional leaders apparently supported it. Indeed, President Obama made the hunt for Al-Qaeda a repeated theme of his 2008 election campaign, scolding Bush for diverting resources from the "real" war on terror. "We will kill bin Laden," he vowed in the second presidential debate in October. "We will crush Al-Qaeda."
So why the outrage from Schakowsky and her colleagues?
It appears that the controversy has less to do with protecting America than protecting Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi was embarrassed several weeks ago by revelations that she not only knew about the CIA's use of waterboarding in terror interrogations, but failed to object when briefed about it. At first, Pelosi accused the CIA of lying, but information about the briefings she attended proved that she, and not the CIA, had misled the nation.
Schakowsky and other Pelosi allies pounced on Panetta's briefing as a chance to defend their boss: "It certainly confirms her characterization of the level of openness the intelligence community and the CIA have given to Congress," Schakowsky claimed.
Ironically, it was only a few weeks ago that Schakowsky slammed her Republican counterparts for commenting on what Pelosi had learned in intelligence briefings: "I am absolutely shocked that members of the Intelligence committee who attended a closed-door hearing...characterized anything that happened in that hearing."
She even suggested they had broken the law: "My understanding is that's a violation of the rules. It may be more than that."
Now, Schakowsky has rushed to reveal to the media what she learned in a classified briefing. Worse, she distorted what she and her colleagues were told-all to settle old political scores and to force President Obama into an investigation of the Bush administration that he initially, and wisely, resisted.
Another Democrat who joined Schakowsky's accusations was Senator Diane Feinstein of California, who accused the CIA of acting "outside of the law." Her claims were picked up by the international media, which ran sensational stories about Cheney and the CIA. A Pakistani news service claimed that the program "may have involved torture and possibly assassinations."
It was not the first time Feinstein had caused an uproar in Pakistan and damage to America's image in the Middle East. In February, she revealed that the U.S. was operating Predator drones from a base in Pakistan. Not only did her comments put America's enemies on notice, but they deeply embarrassed U.S. allies in a country fighting to keep its government-and its nuclear weapons-out of Islamist hands.
The incompetence and opportunism of Schakowsky and Feinstein reveal just how politicized intelligence oversight has become during Pelosi's tenure. Recall that one of Pelosi's first decisions-belatedly aborted-was to put Rep. Alcee Hastings in charge of the House intelligence committee. Not only did Hastings have no intelligence experience, but he had also been impeached and convicted for taking a bribe as a federal judge.
The fact that a close Pelosi lieutenant like Schakowsky has been given the chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is cause for alarm. Not only has Schakowsky put politics ahead of national security, but her left-wing views on foreign policy are out of sync with the mainstream of the country, her party, and even her constituents.
One of the suburbs Schakowsky represents is Skokie, a community uniquely sensitive to the threat of terror, where Jewish Holocaust survivors and Arab refugees from Iraq live side-by-side. For several years after 9/11, a billboard near the expressway proclaimed: "U.S. And Israel: United Against Terror."
Re-elected thanks to the Chicago machine, Schakowsky has rarely been held accountable for her views on foreign policy. But after her performance in Washington last week, more Americans will begin to ask why a politician who abuses classified information to pursue political vendettas should have access to it at all.
She and her colleagues tried to cover up for Pelosi's lies about waterboarding. Now they have distorted the truth about what the CIA director told them in a classified briefing about efforts to destroy Al-Qaeda.
Trembling with purported outrage, Schakowsky faced the cameras last week and declared: "I know that I've been lied to."
So do we.
Joel B. Pollak is a recent Harvard Law graduate and the author of Don't Tell Me Words Don't Matter: How Rhetoric Won the 2008 Presidential Election.