A senior U.S. lawmaker said Thursday that unmanned CIA Predator aircraft operating in Pakistan are flown from an air base in that country, a revelation likely to embarrass the Pakistani government and complicate its counter-terrorism collaboration with the United States.
The disclosure by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, marked the first time a U.S. official had publicly commented on where the Predator aircraft patrolling Pakistan take off and land.
At a hearing, Feinstein expressed surprise over Pakistani opposition to the campaign of Predator-launched CIA missile strikes against Islamic extremist targets along Pakistan's northwestern border. "As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base," she said.
Feinstein's revelation suggests that Washington and Islamabad have a much closer relationship on counter-terrorism issues that has been previously disclosed. In fact, Pakistan has been roundly criticized by some U.S. officials for "not doing enough" to combat terrorists that operate from its soil.
Needless to say, the Senator's inadvertent disclosure will cause all sorts of problems for the Islamabad government. Predator attacks are unpopular in Pakistan because they sometimes kill civilians, along with Al Qaida and Taliban operatives. Now, the government must deal with the revelation that the U.S. drones--and American support personnel--are operating from Pakistani soil. We're guessing that the CIA and the Air Force are already looking at new basing options.
Senator Feinstein's comments also reveal the cavalier attitude of many elected officials towards classified information. If a mere mortal (read: military member or CIA employee) divulged this information, they'd be looking at possible jail time. But, because the sensitive arrangement was disclosed by a U.S. Senator, well, it's just an unfortunate slip-of-the-lip.
Normally, we'd suggest some sort of ulterior motive for the comment, but not in this case. Widely regarded as one of the dimmest bulbs in the Senate, such remarks are simply par for the Feinsten course. It's a good thing Ms. Feinstein found her calling in the government; she'd never have a chance in the private sector, where discretion, tact (and intelligence) still count for something.