Questioning intelligence committee’s intelligence

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 9, 2013

A year or so ago, Ron Hei made the local civic club circuit. Hei, a Gadsden native who retired on the water in Covington County after military and civilian careers, shared his expertise on advanced military weapons, including drones. My friend Jim Smith, who has decades of perfect attendance at Rotary, called it the best Rotary program he’d ever heard.

It was not long after the U.S. had taken out Osama bin Laden, and Ron enlightened us about the technology used.

I recall looking suspiciously at every dragon fly I saw after Ron described the ability of the military to use remote-controlled, life-like “critters” to gather intelligence.

I’ve thought a lot this week about Ron’s program as drones, unmanned aerial vehicles used for surveillance and targeted killings, have been much in the news this week, specifically as a topic in the confirmation hearings of Obama’s choice for CIA director, John O. Brennan.

The hearings have prompted an extensive public discussion of the use of drones for targeted killing of our enemies, including some Americans abroad.

Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said they wanted to know more not just about drones, but also the CIA’s policy on their use.

While the Intelligence Committee might indeed need to know more, I couldn’t help wonder at the intelligence of putting so much emphasis on the topic in nationally televised hearings. Seriously. How smart is it to tell the world about the nation’s secret weapons.

OK, yea, we have them. But I’d prefer that our enemies wonder what we might do with them rather than have the policy spelled out for them.

A number of people have decried the use of the weapons, even though we know that they keep Americans out of harm’s way and save the lives of soldiers and those in the intelligence community.

Our government also doesn’t tell us how many people have died on the other side of more-than-a-decade long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. If we are bothered by the deaths of innocent people as we have sought to contain al Qaeda, surely we can agree that drones are efficient was to target enemies.

The New America Foundation, a Washington-based, non-partisan think tank, estimates based on news reports, that the U.S. government has carried out 349 “CIA drone strikes” in Pakistan and 61 in Yemen. Outgoing CIA director Leon Panetta says the drones are “very effective.”

If they can lessen the collateral damage of war and keep more of our soldiers out of harm’s way, most of us in America can sleep better at night without knowing the details.