President Obama recently said he wasn’t nearly as worried about the Russian occupation of Crimea as he was “about the prospect of a nuclear weapon going off in Manhattan.”
Well. If the president is worried about that, it must have a fairly strong chance of happening, and therefore be worth preventing at almost any cost.
But some recent events cast doubt on our commitment to that effort.
One bad sign is that, the day after Obama made his comparison, the CBS affiliate in New York City reported that his Department of Homeland Security is cutting grants to New York for radiological bomb detection from $11 million to $4.7 million.
That 62 percent cut is occurring despite official reports that the city has deflected 16 credible terrorist threats since 2001.
That led Sen. Charles Schumer, one of the Senate’s staunchest liberals, to say that Obama “correctly says he worried about a nuclear weapon, and yet the Department of Homeland Security announces it is cutting this program, which is one of our bulwarks to prevent any nuclear weapon from being smuggled into Manhattan.”
Even worse, our leaders have decided that the most effective means of interrogating terrorists, which have already been prohibited for current use, have to be eternally condemned, because they (wrongly) believe them to be “torture.”
Now, I’ve always had a great deal of personal respect for (along with substantial political disagreement with) Sen. Angus King, who was elected as an independent in 2012, but unsurprisingly decided to caucus with the Democratic majority.
It was still sad, however, to read that King said, in an interview about leaked portions of a so-far-secret (and controversial) Senate Intelligence Committee report on U.S. “extraordinary” interrogation techniques, that if former Vice President Dick Cheney still supported “waterboarding,” he should “sit on a waterboard” himself.
(As an aside, King may be steering his vote, if not his generally portside views, to the starboard side of the Senate if Republicans win a majority in November. He said Wednesday he thought he could best serve Maine by being where he had the most influence. OK, but it’s his votes on issues that matter, and while the party liked his vote against the Democrats’ “paycheck equality” bill this week, will it like all his others as much?)
You can, I suppose, believe that pouring water on someone’s face to create the sensation of drowning is “torture,” even though it causes no physical harm.
But the technique has only been used on a total of three terrorists, and proved remarkably effective, according to the testimony of those directly involved in it.
And with regard to its “cruelty,” even American soldiers undergoing survival training have been waterboarded to show them its psychological power.
While Democrats such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein, along with Republican Sen. John McCain, have recently pleaded ignorance of these techniques and condemned their use, CIA officials say those leaders were thoroughly briefed on them more than a decade ago and had no objections to them until now.
Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., a former CIA agent who led the interrogation programs, said this week that Pelosi’s denials were false, as he personally had briefed her and other leaders in both parties on the programs, and he can document those briefings.
He said the report, which apparently contains no input from any CIA officials, is an “attempt to rewrite history” to allow the left to posture for political points before the coming election.
He also said the programs were effective in deterring attacks and in providing clues that eventually led to Osama bin Laden.
Marc Thiessen, a Washington Post columnist and author of “Courting Disaster,” a book critical of current intelligence-gathering policies, wrote this week that CIA Director John Brennan knows the committee report “is a partisan sham.“
He said, “As head of the National Counterterrorism Center from 2004 to 2005, Brennan was one of the top consumers of the intelligence obtained from CIA detainees. If their interrogations had produced nothing of value, as (Sen. Feinstein) claims, Brennan would know it.”
So, Thiessen said, “He should stand up and defend his agency.”
And Obama’s former deputy CIA director, Michael Morell, told PBS interviewer Charlie Rose last week, “I’ve really studied this, and I believe the techniques were effective. … The information prior to the techniques was limited, vague, not specific. After the techniques? Volumes of information, specific, actionable. There is a big difference.”
The techniques, Morell said, “led to the capture of other senior al-Qaida officials and saved lives, yes.”
So, we can castigate ourselves about putting a few vicious terrorists under psychological stress to hunt down their murderous accomplices and save American lives.
But if a nuclear fireball consumes Manhattan, will we still congratulate ourselves that we refused to discomfort people just like them in order to stop it?
M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. He can be contacted at: