Wednesday, May 29, 2013

AP scandal and new drone policies: collision of American values and national security interests collide in a kicked over hornets nest.

The collision of  American values and national security interests erupted recently   over the Associated Press “scandal” and President Obama’s  ordering a new policy limiting  drone strikes.  The President’s walking a fine line  between looking after the safety of our homeland  and doing it within the bounds of the ideals  we like to think our country represents knocked over a hornets nest of political controversy.  How the President, already under attack for handling the IRS and Benghazi issues, can get past this will be a challenge, but he can.
The AP scandal and outrage from the public,  Congress,  and  journalists heaped another headache on the White House, already besieged by the IRS and  Benghazi   issues. Attorney General  Eric Holder had subpoenaed  telephone and email records of journalists who made public information they had obtained from unknown sources in the administration. The Justice Department’ claims  their  goal was to discover who in the administration  was talking to the journalists  in question since the leak  endangered national security.
 Bi-partisan  cries of foul  roared to  ear numbing decibel  levels.  Critics claimed  Holder’s actions were  suppressing whistle blowers, chilling investigative reporting,  violating first amendment rights,  and were another example of  government overreach. 
 Was national security endangered ?  We may never know all of the details because the White House considers  the leaked information to have damaged  an on-going covert operation.  What appears to have happened is that the 2009 underwear  bomber  that tried to bring down an airplane and  a recent drone attack on an Al Qaeda target in Yemen  both  involved  a  U.S. intelligence operative working  within the  Yemen Al Qaeda organization and the agent  and the operation were now endangered, thanks to reports on FOX and Associated Press.  
While the President was not implicated in ordering the investigation,  he immediately announced his  support of legislation to provide immunity for journalists who publish leaks . Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced plans to introduce legislation.       Politico  reported   May 26 what  the senators  had in mind:   Demands for reporters' phone or email records .. would need to be approved by a judge under a strict legal standard of… a 'significant and articulable risk of future terrorism or harm to the national security'….”  If the President throws strong support to this legislation, he has a chance to put the issue to rest.
The other issue exploding lately was the President’s announcement to limit drone attacks.  This policy change addresses an ethical and moral dilemma and helps remove a stumbling block to carrying out American foreign policy.
The CIA had originally used drone strikes to hit high value Al Qaeda control and command operatives, but lately it had expanded their use to lower level activists.   Targeting had also  killed  innocent civilian wedding party and funeral attendees, including women and children, and four US citizens.  The President made it clear drones would still be used, but the extensive, and sometimes indiscriminate use of drone strikes had become a counter productive strategy, turning off those we needed as allies and becoming a recruiting tool for terrorist organizations..
  The President  plans to transfer execution of  drone strikes to the military,  limiting their use to when civilians were not near,   targeting truly  high value operatives, and being  used only when  local governments were unwilling or unable to take action. The President believes limiting drone strikes   will also  make it easier to gather international support, win hearts and minds instead of angering those we need on our side ,  and  to diminish our enemies’ recruiting tools.
 This new policy  serves two masters:  smart strategy that promotes our national interests and being more in harmony with our national values.  He needs to make that argument more strongly than he has so far, but the case is there to be made.
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This is a version of my column that will appear in the this week

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