Expanding Shadow-Government Defense Policy

The decision to make Leon Panetta Secretary of Defense was a very conscious one. Fundamentally, it wasn’t so much a strategic change in personnel, but rather a calculated decision to expel the American people from any consciousness of foreign policy. It is easier to conduct broad, intricate campaigns of international terrorism without having to deal with the meddling public (who are supposed to shut up and give their betters in Washington free reign).

Spencer Ackerman on Panetta’s new plans:

At his Thursday confirmation hearing to become secretary of defense, CIA Director Panetta made a broad case for expanding the U.S.’ already extensive shadow wars. Now that bin Laden is dead, “we’ve got to keep the pressure up,” Panetta urged senators. Expect a lot of drone strikes and a lot of special ops raids — some conducted by future CIA Director David Petraeus. In a lot of places.

…In his written responses to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Panetta endorsed a command scheme that would place select U.S. military personnel temporarily under the authority of the CIA director for the most sensitive counterterrorism operations. Panetta told the committee that it’s “appropriate for the head of such department or agency [read: CIA] to direct the operations of the element providing that military support while working with the Secretary of Defense.” A “significant advantage of doing so,” he continued, “is that it permits the robust operational capability of the U.S. Armed Forces to be applied when needed.”

That’s contentious: it would put the military in the territory of performing operations that the government can legally deny all knowledge of ordering, something obviously problematic for uniformed military personnel. ”A potential disadvantage,” Panetta conceded, “is that the department or agency receiving the support may not be specifically organized or equipped to direct and control operations by military forces.”

This fits a trajectory of increasingly secret shadow-government defense policy that Panetta leans toward:

Panetta expanded the list of targets that Predator drones could hit far beyond the seniormost al-Qaida operatives. Already, the skies above Yemen are filled with armed planes hunting terrorists — a JSOC mission “closely coordinated” with the CIA, according to the New York Times.

The U.S. military and intelligence agencies already operate essentially as a private security force for the personal use of the President. I think we can expect to see this all increasing as Panetta moves to the Defense Secretary and Patraeus  moves to CIA. Obama doesn’t want any more of this haranguing or discussion about his imperial dictates. So he’ll keep it in the shadows.

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