Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, recently stated that U.S. Predator hunter/killer drones “are flown out of a Pakistani base.” The launch location is supposed to be a secret.
To be sure, the Washington Post had already reported Predators operating out of bases in Pakistan. However, as noted by the Washington Times editorial page, a newspaper report is not the same thing as a statement by a cngressional intelligence committee head (though a newspaper story may be based on a congressional leak). And Sen. Feinstein prefaced her ill-adivsed remark by saying “as I understand it,” not “as I have read in the newspaper.” Thus, it’s virtually certain that those evaluating Feinstein’s statement, for example the Pakistanis, understand that it was based on intelligence briefings, not newspaper reporting.
Feinstein’s statement was front-page news in Pakistan. The government quickly denied that the Predators are based in Pakistan, but it’s not likely that this self-serving denial trumped Feinstein’s admission against her country’s interest (not to mention Pakistan’s).
Feinstein has thus helped undermine faith in America’s ability to keep a secret. And that abililty can be central to securing the cooperation of governments in the Middle Eastern and Southeast Asia in combatting extremist factions that enjoy a degree of public support or sympathy.
Many, including some conservatives, say that President Bush should have involved Congress more deeply in the secret intelligence initiatives that followed 9/11. Perhaps. But Sen. Feinstein’s loose lips illustrate one very real disadvantage of congressional involvement.
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