The announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder of the thwarted assassination attempt of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States by suspected Iranian agents is mesmerizing. It does seem like a John Le Carre movie: the drug dealers and informants, the Mexico connection, the money crossing borders and bank accounts, the restaurant where the Ambassador liked to hang out.
I have been in government long enough to say almost nothing about an unfolding case. I have a lot of confidence in Holder’s team but unless or until you know the evidence, better to be quiet.
But an irony that cannot be ignored is this: As our strongest law enforcement agency was using investigative techniques, the judicial system and good old fashion rule of law, Congress was at the same exact time considering controversial detainee provisions in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that would – yes, the irony is deep – remove civilian courts and law enforcement from most counterterrorism efforts.
To say that a bipartisan group of counterterrorism and military efforts (the irony gets better; the military doesn’t want this authority, and Pentagon General Counsel Jeh Johnson testified to that effect today) finds this a very dangerous power is an understatement.
And, presumably, as Holder showed today, absolutely unnecessary. Whether the Iranian government is in fact involved, whether this is a rogue defendant or a rogue faction, does anybody actually think that the military could have – or would have – done this better? If there is any testimony to convince a Senate that seems intent on using the military where it ought not to reign, it might have just been a continuous loop of Holder’s press conference.
Or, perhaps, they could have moved the Senate hearing to Detroit, where – as the National Security Network reminds us – “underwear” bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab began his trial in, yes, a civilian court.
Juliette N. Kayyem is the national security and foreign policy columnist for the Boston Globe and a lecturer in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. She has spent nearly fifteen years in counterterrorism, homeland security, and emergency management arena. She was Assistant Secretary for Intergovernmental Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the first two years of the Obama Administration Administration and served as Governor Deval Patrick’s homeland security advisor before that.