Personal politics over national security — that was the previous administration’s mindset. For years U.S. intelligence officers tracked Abdullah al-Shami, a man high in al-Qaeda leadership, with one goal in mind — killing him.
Although many believed al-Shami should be eliminated for his role in planning a car bomb attack on U.S. military base in Afghanistan in 2009, former-President Obama had other plans. Sources say that part of that plan was to use secret intel leaks to make himself look better in the public eye.
By 2014 CIA operatives had al-Shami under close drone surveillance and were ready to make their move.
“We literally had a bead on this guy’s head and just needed authorization from Washington to pull the trigger,” a source told The Washington Times.
And then something odd and unexpected happened. While agents waited for their “go orders,” al-Shami’s name, his exact whereabouts in Pakistan and the CIA’s intent to kill him were splashed across newspaper headlines.
There was no question that al-Shami was a bad hombre and that his elimination would strengthen national security — but he was also a U.S. citizen.
Obama and Susan Rice, his then-national security advisor, expressed fears about how it would look to target an American. Never mind that he was also a known terrorist on foreign soil. The Times reported:
In interviews with several current and former officials, the al-Shami case was cited as an example of what critics say was the Obama White House’s troublesome tendency to mishandle some of the nation’s most delicate intelligence — especially regarding the Middle East — by leaking classified information in an attempt to sway public opinion on sensitive matters.
By the end of Mr. Obama’s second term, according to sources who spoke anonymously with The Washington Times, the practices of leaking, ignoring and twisting intelligence for political gain were ingrained in how the administration conducted national security policy.
Al-Qaeda on the run
The 44th president often either ignored or distorted information contained in his intelligence briefings for his own political gain. None of those instances went unnoticed by intelligence officials and lawmakers.
They also became public. Everyone should recall Obama’s claim that “al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat” during his 2012 re-election campaign.
He made this boast despite intelligence briefings that indicated the terrorist organization was spreading. In addition, the Islamic State, a more barbarous al-Qaeda offshoot, was making inroads in Iraq and Syria. It was described as a “JV team.”
But Obama’s lies and boasts had the desired effect — they got him re-elected. They didn’t fool those in the know, however.
“Candidate Obama was understating the threat,” then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers told The Times after the 2012 election. “To say the core [was] decimated and therefore we [had] al Qaeda on the run was not consistent with the overall intelligence assessment at the time.”
Operative captured and tried
Fortunately, al-Shami was later captured and flown to the United States where he was tried in federal court. Although it ended well, presidential squeamishness shouldn’t lead to outing a clandestine operation.