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A showdown on 'extra-judicial killing' at Langley

One feather in the cap of John Bennett, the new chief of the CIA’s clandestine service, is that he pushed back hard enough to get cussed out by CIA Director Leon Panetta -- who told Bennett “f*** you” in a meeting last fall that agency circles are still gossiping about.

The showdown in the director’s office in Langley was described by several CIA sources, including one person who was present in the room when it happened. Among agency veterans, Panetta is getting good marks for turning to Bennett for the top spy job this month, even after getting mad enough to curse him out last year.

The details of the squabble are somewhat murky, but according to sources it involved a sensitive issue of cooperation with Pakistani intelligence.

Bennett was station chief in Islamabad at the time, and he was discussing with Panetta how to protect CIA officers from potential criminal liability if detainees in Pakistan who had been targeted using CIA intelligence ended up getting killed while in Pakistani custody. The shorthand for this issue was “extra-judicial killing.”

Bennett is said to have insisted that unless his case officers had legal protection, they couldn’t continue the joint operations. He warned Panetta that the Pakistanis might not be willing to provide the legal assurances about ending extra-judicial killings that the U.S. Justice Department was requesting.

“We may not be able to keep doing these operations,” Bennett is said to have warned sharply, stressing that it would be wrong to continue if his officers faced legal risks.

Whereupon, Panetta is said to have responded: “F*** you, John,” and urged again the need to get the Pakistanis on board with the necessary legal rules.

In the end, the Pakistanis are said to have cooperated with American requests, and the legal framework that Bennett wanted to protect his people is now said to be in place.

“Don’t forget, it was Panetta who taught Rahm Emanuel how to swear,” said one insider, noting that during the Clinton administration, the hard-nosed Panetta occupied the White House chief of staff slot that is now held by the hard-nosed Emanuel.

As a former Islamabad station chief, Bennett also has special expertise on one of this year’s hottest issues -- the reliability of Pakistani intelligence. Bennett is said to have had close working relations with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence directorate and to have overseen a period of unusual cooperation between ISI and the CIA in targeting al-Qaeda and Taliban militants with Predator drone strikes.

By David Ignatius  | July 29, 2010; 6:33 PM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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Whew. As a teacher, if I ever get an f-bomb from one of my bosses, I'm calling a lawyer!

Posted by: slatt321 | July 29, 2010 8:39 PM | Report abuse

@ slatt321: that is why you should to stick to teaching the kiddies and leave these operations to professionals. Now go back to your NEA/ACLU and whine!

Posted by: madmike272 | July 29, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

Is it really that easy to be exempted from the laws of war...the Geneva Conventions? War crimes and extra-judicial killings become just legal scribbling when the Justice Department provides you with legal cover. It's sickening to see the Obama Justice Department act just like the Bush Justice Department providing legal cover to what has been illegal...extra-judicial killings.

Posted by: Civilius | July 29, 2010 10:54 PM | Report abuse


I'm really not a big fan of targetted or extrajudicial killings, but the law is not as cut and dried as you would indicate. Nations are, of course, allowed to defend themselves and that defense can take many forms. Some people would argue that targetted killings, if they minimize collateral damage, perfectly adhere to rules regarding proportional use of force.

The extra-judicial killings being described here are not precisely targetted killings because our CIA officers have actually helped to capture this person alive who is then later killed in an extra-judicial manner by the Pakistanis. If this occurred every time the Pakistanis took someone into custody, then there would be a real issue. My guess is that this doesn't occur every time, that is has to do with specifically who takes custody, which would make things murky from a legal standpoint.

Posted by: cblanch823 | July 30, 2010 10:12 AM | Report abuse

All the CIA needs, is the return of Harry Pappas!

Posted by: dangreen3 | July 30, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

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