Panetta’s rise

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

Po­lit­i­cal power watch­ers in Wash­ing­ton took note of the lead­ing role played by CIA Di­rec­tor Leon E. Panetta in the suc­cess­ful mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion to take down Osama bin Laden.

The covert pro­gram not only pro­pelled elite Navy SEAL coun­tert­er­ror­ism com­man­dos into the limelight, but the CIA can now boast of re­newed para­mil­i­tary prow­ess.

Mr. Panetta, who will soon move to the Pen­tagon to re­place out­go­ing De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates, was the equiv­a­lent of the “mil­i­tar y com­man­der” for the op­er­a­tion, said a U.S. of­fi­cial, along with No. 2 com­man­der Navy Vice Adm. Wil­liam R. McRaven, com­man­der of the U.S. Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand.

It was Mr. Panetta and Adm. McRaven, based at CIA head­quar­ters in Vir­ginia, who ap­peared to­gether on a video screen in­side the White House sit­u­a­tion room to re­lay in real time the de­tails of the May 1 op­er­a­tion against bin Laden’s com­pound in Ab­bot­tabad, Pak­istan. Mr. Panetta told the pres­i­dent and his key ad­vis­ers that “Geronimo,” the Apache code name used for bin Laden, was “EKIA,” or en­emy killed in ac­tion, dur­ing the strike.

Mr. Panetta now is ex­pected to ride the op­er­a­tion’s suc­cess to a smooth Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion as de­fense sec­re­tary in com­ing weeks.

The CIA role in the op­er­a­tion rep­re­sents a step for­ward for the agency’s ef­fort to rein­vent it­self as a premier hu­man in­tel­li­gence gather­ing cen­ter, es­pe­cially for counter ter­ror ism para­mil­i­tary ac­tiv­i­ties. It fol­lows a low point, the De­cem­ber 2009 ter­ror­ist bomb­ing by a dou­ble agent who killed seven of­fi­cers in Khost, Afghanistan.

It was less than 10 years ago, ac­cord­ing to for­mer in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials, that CIA covert ac­tion had at­ro­phied and was in dis­ar­ray af­ter the Sept. 11 at­tacks.

In fact, the Sept. 11 com­mis­sion, mainly through the ef­forts of com­mis­sioner and for­mer Navy Sec­re­tary John Lehman, all but dis­missed the re­build­ing of CIA covert ac­tion ca­pa­bil­i­ties as hope­less.

The com­mis­sion, in its fi­nal re­port, noted sev­eral CIA-led ef­forts that failed to stop bin Laden in the 1990s and the CIA’s risk-averse cul­ture dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tion of Bill Clin­ton. It rec­om­mended trans­fer­ring all covert ac­tion from the CIA to the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Com­mand.

The agency re­sisted, and it was one of the panel’s few rec­om­men­da­tions that were ig­nored.

The com­mis­sion re­port re­vealed the 1998 CIA-led plan to cap­ture bin Laden in Su­dan and send him to New York for pros­e­cu­tion on terrorism charges. The plan was scrapped af­ter CIA Di­rec­tor Ge­orge J. Tenet wor­ried that “peo­ple might be killed, in­clud­ing bin Laden,” ac­cord­ing to the com­mis­sion re­port.

That same year, the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion launched an un­suc­cess­ful cruise mis­sile strike on bin Laden’s camp in Afghanistan. The al Qaeda leader ap­par­ently was tipped off be­fore the at­tack and es­caped.

The CIA also covertly tried to get Afghan war­lords to cap­ture or kill bin Laden, but they failed four times. An­other planned 1999 mis­sile strike was called off at the last minute over wor­ries about caus­ing too many ca­su­al­ties.

The Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion also failed to un­leash U.S. spe­cial op­er­a­tions forces against bin Laden in 1999. The com­mis­sion re­por t quoted re­tired Army Lt. Gen. Wil­liam Boykin, a se­nior Pen­tagon in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial, as say­ing of the spe­cial ops fail­ure: “Op­por­tu­ni­ties [to get bin Laden] were missed be­cause of an un­will­ing­ness to take risks and a lack of vi­sion and un­der­stand­ing.”

The agency ap­par­ently learned the les­son of the past. As a for­mer high-rank­ing U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cial put it, CIA covert ac­tion ap­pears to be waging war and is no longer just “try­ing to fight terrorism by pass­ing out bags of money.” mo­cratic con­gress­woman from Cal­i­for­nia, has an­noyed col­leagues and crit­ics with her abra­sive style. In meet­ings, she has been known to re­fer to her­self as “the Tausch.”

Word from the Pen­tagon is that Mrs. Tauscher is no longer the lead Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial for the U.S.-Rus­sian talks on mis­sile de­fenses, which the ad­min­is­tra­tion has been hold­ing with Moscow and work­ing to­ward what crit­ics on Capi­tol Hill have said is the ques­tion­able goal of con­clud­ing a tech­nol­ogy-shar­ing agree­ment with Rus­sia.

In­stead, the Pen­tagon’s Jim Miller, prin­ci­pal deputy un­der­sec­re­tary of de­fense for pol­icy, is now the key ne­go­tia­tor, even though Mrs. Tauscher tech­ni­cally will be in charge over­all.

An aide to Mrs. Tauscher said In­side the Ring is “mis­in­formed” about her po­si­tion in the talks.

Ac­cord­ing to the aide, Mrs. Tauscher and Rus­sian Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Ryabkov have over­all re­spon­si­bil­ity for U.S.-Rus­sian mis­sile de­fense talks, while Mr. Miller and Rus­sian Deputy De­fense Min­is­ter Ana­toly An­taonov deal with de­vel­op­ing “prac­ti­cal steps.”

The Miller-led group met last month and is­sued a vague state­ment April 11 that said the two sides “dis­cussed var­i­ous mil­i­tary pol­icy and tech­ni­cal as­pects of po­ten­tial co­op­er­a­tion in the field of mis­sile de­fense in Europe.”

The Pen­tagon’s Joint Staff and the Rus­sian Gen­eral Staff also con­duct talks. March 23, but the Libya at­tack against Col. Moam­mar Gad­hafi’s forces forced it to be can­celed.

Some in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion are qui­etly cheer­ing the de­ci­sion to put off the ex­er­cise be­cause it was ex­pected to up­set the Rus­sians. Ac­cord­ing to a NATO of­fi­cial, the ex­er­cise would have in­volved an “Ar­ti­cle V sce­nario” in­volv­ing a sim­u­lated at­tack and pos­si­ble nu­clear strike on NATO by Rus­sia.

“Too in­flam­ma­tory of Rus­sia” was the way it was de­scribed by a U.S. of­fi­cial who sup­ported the ex­er­cise and op­poses the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s con­cil­ia­tory re­set pol­icy


Where it all ended: Lo­cal res­i­dents are seen May 5 out­side the house where al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was caught and killed in Ab­bot­tabad, Pak­istan.

Tak­ing out ‘the Tausch’: Un­der­sec­re­tary of State Ellen Tauscher re­port­edly was re­moved as the lead Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial for the U.S.-Rus­sian talks on mis­sile de­fenses.

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