Sunday, February 22, 2009

Loose Lips Sink Ships, Predator Drones and Banks: Of Senators Feinstein, Schumer, and Dodd

A popular poster in World War II was “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” Secrecy over developments, logistics, strategic and tactical plans was encouraged to prevent the enemy from discovering them and then reacting. Secrecysaves lives.

A classic example came from the War. The U.S. Navy had rebounded from the Pearl Harbor debacle and other early defeats to win the Battle of the Atlantic by the end of 1943 while American submarines were decimating the Japanese Merchant Marine and surviving depth charge attacks by enemy destroyers.

A visiting Congressman in Pearl Harbor asked Navy officers why American submariners were so successful in evading Japanese destroyers. He was told that they were diving to 300 feet while the Japanese were using smaller depth charges set to explode at 150 feet.

The Congressman reported this secret of the Silent Service’s success to the media. As soon as the Japanese learned of it, they used larger charges set to explode at 300 feet. American submarine casualties sharply rose. Loose lips sank ships.

More recently Al Qaeda and the Taliban have used safe havens in Pakistan to attack American soldiers and terrorize Afghans. The U.S. may or may not be sending soldiers across the porous border to track or attack the enemies in Pakistan; such conduct would be extremely risky.

Instead, a series of Predator drone attacks has successfully targeted Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in Pakistan, often with great success. Pakistan has strongly protested these infringements on its territorial integrity. Pakistan’s leaders have to weave a fine line between respecting popular support for Al Qaeda and the Taliban and opposition to Americans versus fear of the Taliban gaining control of Pakistan. The Taliban already effectively controls the border provinces of Pakistan.

So how does Senator Feinstein figure in this border dispute? At a recent Congressional hearing she revealed that many of the Predator Drones are based in Pakistan. She responded to Pakistan’s objections to the territorial overflights in something of a pique by saying “As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base.”

The Senator is chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and hence is in a position to know. Rumors had been circulating for years about the origin of the flights, but never verified until now. At least she did not disclose the source of the intelligence relied upon by the CIA in the Predator attacks.

Governments, like candidates, are often Janus like, saying one thing in public and another in private. The political and geopolitical ramifications in Pakistan have yet to play out, but they will not be favorable to America in the war on terrorism.

No calls have been made for the Senator’s resignation from the Committee, unlike the fate of Senator Patrick Leahy a few years back. Both Senators illustrate why Presidents prefer to keep Congress in the dark on sensitive national security matters.

Loose lips also have catastrophic consequences in the financial market. Senator Charles Schumer wrote a letter last spring to the Office of Thrift Management stating that IndyMac Bank was in financial peril. His office then released the letter to the public, setting off a run on the Bank. The federal government had to seize control of the bank a few days later - a multi-billion dollar bailout.

Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, exacerbated the banking crisis last week. He stated that the federal government might have to take over the banks, sending banking stocks, especially Citigroup and Bank of America, further into the tank.

The threats of nationalization of the nation’s banks are a blow to shareholders and creditors of the banks, minimizing the possibility of private investment in the financial industry.

The costs of the bailout have just risen.

Loose lips sink banks.

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