Jay Ambrose: Intelligence is the key to survival in the terrorist era

Jay Ambrose

So let's go on and do this thing. Let's have this special prosecutor named by the Justice Department pursue CIA agents for going too far in interrogating terrorists, maybe actually indict some, send some to prison and further disable our intelligence apparatus.

Then, when we lose a city of two or three to nukes, let's plead innocent, say we were just following the law and insist our actions had nothing to do with the loss of lives.

The pretense of the left, after all, is that the tough interrogation techniques never did any good, that you can hammer on the agency incessantly while never smashing it, and that, anyway, other anti-terrorist precautions count for more.

All of this is illogical, evidence-denying tommyrot, of course, beginning with the peculiar argument used to shrug off the information obtained from water-boarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

What he disclosed was absolutely vital in preventing terrorist attacks that could have snuffed out lives in California and London, but, says the left, you cannot prove a failure to achieve the same results if the CIA had laid the nasty stuff aside.

And maybe you can't in the same sense you cannot prove that the Japan of the 1940s would still have surrendered to the United States if we had had responded to Pearl Harbor with nothing more than stern diplomacy. But is it highly doubtful? Well, yeah. Obviously.

It's not sure yet, but the special prosecutor is more than likely to see his job as finding sound reasons to go after agents as criminals, and the very fact that he might has already sent a chill through the CIA, whose director, Leon Panetta, reportedly marched over to the White House and yelled at some people.

You wonder if he pointed out that Attorney General Eric Holder could have exercised discretion in this case, especially since investigators and prosecutors have already trod this ground for the sake of justice, and you feel sure he said, look, you could put the fear of second-guessing retribution in the hearts of people whose willingness to act decisively in tough situations may be required for the country's safety still again.

The left is having none of that, of course, because it has now piled exaggeration on top of exaggeration, making the since-forbidden waterboarding of three people sound like something akin to genocide, and defining the word "torture" so loosely as to lump sleep deprivation into the same category as burning people at the stake.

The favorite question if you debate their use of the word is, "How would you like it?" Well, of course, you wouldn't, and you might not like to lose your job or get a speeding ticket, either, but that doesn't make those eventualities torture.

The better question is what might be permissible -- in accordance with rules drawn up by a trusted public institution -- in order to save the lives of your children. Something like that is the real issue here, because it is an absurdity to say there is absolutely nothing you can do to intimidate intelligence agencies, divulge their techniques or circumscribe their activities that would not make them less effective in preventing a terrorist catastrophe.

As Harvard Professor Graham Allison has cogently argued, it is entirely feasible for terrorists to secure the means of nuclear destruction and smuggle a bomb or several into this country.

While there are non-intelligence means to try to thwart such ambitions, harassment-free intelligence operations absolutely count. To say as much is to be accused of scare talk, of course, but such possibilities are what is truly at stake here.

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