Daniel Gallington is the senior policy and program adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute in Arlington, Va. He served in senior national security policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice, and as general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Congress has long been obsessed with "being relevant" in any national security issue with "legs" in the media. And, while sometimes they do us proud in their regulatory quest, sometimes they are their own worst enemies.
Unfortunately, the recent squabble over "who changed the CIA talking points on the Benghazi attack, and why" is a prime example of the latter.
Recall that the creation of a "director of national intelligence"—and a whole new layer of administrative bureaucracy for the intelligence community—was a recommendation of the "9/11 Commission," which was also a creature of the Congress.
Recall also, that the idea of a director of national intelligence—and the new layer of administrative bureaucracy required to sustain it—was opposed by President George W. Bush. By the way, it would have been opposed by any president—Democratic or Republican—mostly because it was believed to interfere with the president's prerogatives as "commander in chief."
However, once created, the director of national intelligence quickly became a political entity insofar as it was "captured" by the White House and the National Security Council. How? The the director is a political appointee, as are the seniors at the National Security Council. So—in effect—the director of national intelligence was quickly and fully integrated within the council's structure to support the national security policies and programs of the president.
And, you can't "blame" the president—any president—for doing this, if only to "neutralize" the effect of the director of national intelligence, which was opposed by the president in the first place.
So, I wonder, how can Congress be surprised or offended if the director in fact changed the talking points the CIA wrote—for whatever reason—pertaining to the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi?
Did Congress really think the "president's people"—whether they were at the National Security Council or the director of national intelligence—were going to help create a huge political problem for the president, i.e. the characterization of a "terrorist attack" against the United States on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 attacks—and just before a presidential election?
Also—and it should go without saying—that if the president loses reelection, the National Security Council and director of national intelligence political appointees "go home" as well.
Still surprised the CIA talking points were changed? Likewise, neither should be the Congress. After all, they created this bureaucratic monster, and shouldn't be at all surprised—or offended —that it's now been "trained" to bite them whenever it's politically expedient.
Perhaps sadly, there are three primary conclusions to be drawn from this exercise:
- Bottom line? It's national security politics as usual in Washington.
- The "truth"? We may never know it—especially if someone "dropped the ball" on the Benghazi attack—and most likely someone did.
- The future? Look for our eminently predictable Congress to try and create a "Benghazi Commission"—that, if created, recommends yet another legislatively imposed layer of bureaucracy.
It never ends in this town.
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