Washington is embroiled in a manic swing of opinion about the efficacy of covert action, including targeted assassinations. Richard A. Clarke on the delicate balance between the rule of law and running an effective intelligence agency.
Not since 1975 when the Church Commission investigated Nixon-era abuses in intelligence agencies, have such unusual things occurred in the world of Washington intelligence agencies as in these past few weeks. The Democratic House of Representatives threatened to pass an intelligence authorization bill which the Democratic White House has promised to veto. The former Democratic congressman who now heads the Central Intelligence Agency has been having a public disagreement with leading House Democrats about whether the CIA lies to Congress. There is a controversy about a secret CIA program to do something most Americans presumably want the CIA to do, to kill al Qaeda terrorists. The attorney general is rumored to be looking for a special prosecutor to investigate CIA interrogators, even though the president seemed to have earlier told CIA employees that there would be no prosecutions about alleged torture. Former CIA employees are publicly trotting out the claim that all of this attention "hurts the Agency's morale" and that damage could result in another successful terrorist attack on the U.S. Even seasoned Washington policy wonks are finding it hard to navigate their way through all of those stories and make some sense of what has been going on.