Michael Hayden, the former CIA director, penned a superb op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday. Succinctly, he tallies the wages of having Attorney General Eric Holder make national-security decisions. Unlike the attorney general, Hayden is a real general, and very much worth heeding. He shows that these decisions have been premised on left-wing political calculations that always shortchange intelligence collection and the pursuit of American interests. Holder’s judgments are not based on what America’s safety requires or on what the law maximally permits U.S. intelligence to do in wartime.
As Hayden points out, the policy decisions that President Obama has allowed Holder to make are significant — not only taken one by one, but in their cumulative effect on the ethos of our intelligence agencies. “Intelligence officers,” he writes, “need to know that someone has their back.” After Holder forced the release in April of classified memos prepared by Bush Justice Department lawyers, laying out interrogation tactics and the legal rationale for permitting them, “CIA officers began to ask whether the people doing things that were currently authorized would be dragged through this kind of public knothole in five years. No one could guarantee that they would not.”
The paralysis wrought by this decision transcends the narrow subject of interrogations. All intelligence collection is infected. If you can’t/don’t collect intelligence in a war against a secretive, transnational jihadist network, you stand to lose — and a lot of Americans stand to die. Thus, Hayden concludes, “Some may celebrate that the current Justice Department’s perspective on the war on terrorism has become markedly more dominant in the past year. We should probably understand the implications of that before we break out the champagne.”