This week's syndicated column:
What should we take away from the following story?
Once upon a time, the man who was given charge of all the secrets of the nation was then given charge of all of its soldiers and weapons. And none of the people's representatives seemed to give a fig that this same man, once upon another time, was very close to a minion of the nation's mortal enemy -- that the man even read the minion's praises into the Congressional Record and later spoke at his funeral.
None of the people's representatives cared to ask why this was so. Nor did they care to ask themselves whether such a man, who also supported an organization dedicated to advancing the mortal enemy's political interests here in Washington during a time of "cold" hostilities, is the right man to oversee, first, the nation's secrets, and now its military. Does the man have second thoughts about his past views or associations? How might they affect the man's current duties? Not one U.S. senator has bothered to ask.
"The man" is Leon Panetta, Barack Obama's unconventional choice to head the CIA in 2009, now his choice to head the Pentagon. This week, Panetta was unanimously approved by the Senate Armed Services Committee for the defense post, and will be considered by the full Senate next week.
There is something troubling here. Researchers Cliff Kincaid and Trevor Loudon have dug up documentation in the archives of the University of Washington of a cordial, long-term relationship in the 1970s and 1980s between Panetta, a member of the Congress between 1977 and 1993, and Hugh DeLacy, a Communist Party USA member elected to one term in Congress pretending to be a Democrat in 1944. DeLacy later co-founded the communist-penetrated Progressive Party that nominated Henry Wallace for president in 1948. By the 1970s, DeLacy was still politically active, with connections to known Soviet agents including Victor Perlo of the infamous Perlo spy group, and Frank Coe and Solomon Adler of the equally infamous Silvermaster spy group. DeLacy is also associated with suspected Soviet agent John Stewart Service of the "Amerasia" spy case. Moreover, DeLacy was of sufficient interest to Communist China to have scored a paid junket to the People's Republic in 1974. There, Loudon reports, DeLacy met up with Service, Coe and Adler, who was then thought to be working for Chinese intelligence.
"Within two years," Loudon said in a recent online interview with Jerry Kenney, "DeLacy was in regular contact with Leon Panetta, grilling him and regularly asking him for military and defense and foreign-policy-related information, which Panetta heavily supplied him."
That, once upon a time, was your CIA-director-turned Defense secretary-designate at work. Which makes this story of his completely unquestioned rise to national power and responsibility more like a nightmare.
Of course, there's more. Kincaid and Loudon cite Panetta's extremely troubling ties to the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), the pro-Soviet, anti-American think thank in Washington, D.C., that never met a communist dictatorship it didn't like. Neither, it seems, did Panetta, who openly supported the IPS (serving on an anniversary fundraising committee) while opposing Ronald Reagan's efforts to bring down the Soviet-supported Sandinista regime in Nicaragua. Indeed, as Kincaid reports, Panetta was in 1984 pulling for normalization of relations with the Sandinistas. The New American's Christian Gomez points out that as a congressman, Panetta wanted to extend most-favored nation trade status to the USSR and Eastern "Bloc" countries. He also voted to cede control of the Panama Canal to the pro-Soviet Panamanian government, and against renewing our defensive treaty with anti-Communist Taiwan. In this late stage of the Cold War, Panetta, to boot, publicly extolled the work of a female constituent with a Soviet front group.
Questions your elected representatives neglected to ask: Does Panetta now consider himself to have been ... duped? Does he believe that he pursued policies placing himself on the wrong side of the Cold War? Should he serve out his tenure at the CIA and begin another one at the Pentagon without anyone bothering to inquire? More important, is he really the right man for this job?
And what should we take away from the whole story?
Our legislative branch is falling asleep on the job over stories that should be giving them -- and us -- night sweats.