The news stories claiming that President Obama had signed a “finding” allowing the CIA to provide non-lethal assistance to the Syrian rebels demonstrate two things.
First, we see that the Obama administration’s inability to protect national-security secrets remains a dangerous problem. It seems that only weeks passed, or at most a couple of months, after the president’s signature before the entire matter appeared in the press. It is not, of course, clear who leaked this top-secret information, and unlike most of the leak cases now being investigated by the FBI this one may not have been a “pro-Obama” leak from the White House. Nevertheless, it seems the administration can’t keep a secret even if it wants to — something that should alarm all of us. This leak could have come from CIA or from the Hill, where both the House and Senate intelligence committees will have known of the finding — meaning dozens and dozens of members and staff. An investigation should be launched immediately, because such leaks will not be stopped until leakers are found and punished.
Second, we are reminded how amazingly slowly the administration has reacted to events in Syria. The rebellion against Assad began more than 17 months ago. Our need to find out who the rebels were began then too. The desirability of assisting in the overthrow of Assad, Iran’s only Arab ally and an enemy of the United States, should have been apparent instantly. The humanitarian and strategic increasingly overlapped as Assad’s forces began to kill thousands of citizens, probably 20,000 by now. But it appears that only now, nearly a year and a half later, is there a finding that will allow the CIA to do more than passively collect intelligence. One has to wonder where the head of the CIA, General Petraeus, has been in all this: pushing for more leeway all along, asking that his agents be allowed to do the nation’s work; sitting silently in Langley; or actually opposing the involvement of CIA throughout these 17 months. That hasn’t leaked yet, but give it a few more days.