No laughing matter for CIA

The top lawyer at the Central Intelligence Agency, General Counsel Stephen Preston, recently introduced himself during an American Bar Association conference on national security as “the chief legal officer of a well-understood and enormously popular agency, the object of universal praise and appreciation.” He was greeted with laughter, reports The Washington Post.

We imagine that as Mr. Preston went on to describe some of the issues on his plate, the grins faded. The multitude of problems faced by the national security agency are no laughing matter. They include:

–Two criminal investigations by the Department of Justice. One is looking into the destruction of videotapes of interrogations of three detained terrorists who were waterboarded. The other is a special prosecutor’s review of previously dismissed allegations of detainee abuse by CIA personnel;

–Inquiries by the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence into CIA detention and interrogation programs and its “rendition” or transfer of suspected terrorists sought by other nations;

–Three different White House task forces addressing CIA interrogations, prisoner transfers, disposition of Guantanamo detainees and future detention policies;

–Responses to legal challenges from detained terrorists;

–Preparing documents and testimony for terrorist prosecutions in military commissions and federal courts.

The red-tape wrapping of the CIA comes from the Supreme Court‘s gift of legal rights to military detainees. And the determination of the White House, the Justice Department and Senate Democrats to rewrite terror war procedures adopted by the Bush administration contemplates punishing people who thought they were acting legally.

Maybe one day the CIA will be allowed to devote its energies solely to gathering intelligence needed to further counter terrorism. The threat is still out there, even as all these assuredly well-intentioned probes into agency operations continue.

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