Wednesday, May 26, 2010

So much for oversight

The Obama administration has approved covert military operations in a wide number of Middle Eastern countries, The New York Times reports, including in Somalia, Yemen and Iran (not to mention the long-running, kinda sorta covert war in Pakistan). As former National Security Council staffers Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett note, Obama's move marks a particularly dramatic "intensification of America’s covert war against Iran" -- a war that, because it is being run out of the office of General David Petraeus (praise be upon him) and CENTCOM, is "not subject to the same congressional oversight and reporting requirements as the Central Intelligence Agency."

The Leveretts observe the approach is "powerfully reminiscent" of the Bush administration, which likewise sought to evade formal congressional oversight of its covert war against Iran even as the Democratic Congress authorized $400 million to conduct the operations, reportedly including support for the Pakistan-based terror group Jundullah, or Army of God.

In 2007 I asked then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) about those operations and reports the Bush administration was seeking to avoid the oversight of his panel. Surely, with an unpopular war further dragging down a more unpopular Republican administration, Rockefeller would be chomping at the bit to take on a Bush/Cheney effort to gin up another war and (more importantly to a senator) evade his personal congressional fiefdom, even if for purely partisan or egotistical reasons -- "I'm a United States senator, god damn it!" -- right?

Not so much:
DAVIS: I wonder if you've heard some of these news reports that the Bush administration is backing extremist groups in Pakistan to launch attacks against Iran? Are you familiar with those news reports?
ROCKEFELLER: I've seen no intelligence that would verify that.
DAVIS: Reports quote administration officials as saying this is going on and it's being done in a way to avoid oversight of the Intelligence Committee. Is there any way—
ROCKEFELLER: They'll go to any lengths to do that, as we've seen in the last two days [during hearings on warrantless wiretapping].
DAVIS: Is there anything you could do in your position as Chairman of the Intelligence Committee to find answers about this, if it is in fact going on?
ROCKEFELLER: Don't you understand the way Intelligence works? Do you think that because I'm Chairman of the Intelligence Committee that I just say I want it, and they give it to me? They control it. All of it. All of it. All the time. I only get, and my committee only gets, what they want to give me.
DAVIS: Is there any way someone, maybe not you, they can somehow press the administration to find something—if they're doing something that may be illegal—
ROCKEFELLER: I don't know that. I don't know that. I deal with Intelligence. That's it. They tend to avoid us.
DAVIS: Well, what do you think about these allegations?
ROCKEFELLER: I'm not—I don't comment on allegations. I can't. I can't afford to.
Rockefeller has since been replaced by the undead Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). And if you believe Feinstein will in any way challenge the Obama administration on a matter that she and other Senate Democrats already signed off on when Bush was in power, well, then, you probably also think that nice Nigerian gentleman who keeps emailing is really going to send you that $200 grand.

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