The president establishes intelligence death panels
President Obama blamed "the system" for failing to stop al Qaeda's Christmas Day bombing plot. The weakness with that excuse is that Mr. Obama fails to connect the dots between the systemic failure and his administration's year-long record of destroying the morale of the intelligence community.
The intelligence process works in large part because of trust. A reliable sense of
confidence must exist between superiors and subordinates, agents and sources, and the intelligence community and policy makers. Without trust, people will not take the risks needed to do their jobs successfully.
Mr. Obama has destroyed this sense of trust. On his watch, the intelligence community has suffered a year of body blows. He made great theater of signing an executive order closing the terrorist detainee facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In April, the president authorized the release of the so-called "torture memos" on enhanced interrogation techniques used against detainees, and suggested that Congress establish a bipartisan review panel to look into the authorization of
extraordinary interrogation methods.
Mr. Obama should be seeking ways to repair the breach, restore trust and make good on the promises he made to intelligence operatives to support them in their dangerous professions. Instead, he brandished a new stick.
On Thursday, the president announced he has directed the heads of intelligence agencies to institutionalize "internal accountability reviews" to be monitored by the White House. These ominous-sounding punitive processes may become death panels for intelligence careers.
There is an old saying in intelligence circles: Big operation, big risk; small operation, small risk; no operation, no risk. The president's proposed "solution" to the failures of the intelligence system will reinforce a climate of mistrust in which it will be difficult to take the risks necessary to make the system work. And next time we may not be so lucky.