WASHINGTON — CIA director Leon Panetta warned in an article published Saturday that the country's premier intelligence agency has been hurt by a climate of recriminations in Congress over its past practices.
"I've become increasingly concerned that the focus on the past, especially in Congress, threatens to distract the CIA from its crucial core missions: intelligence collection, analysis and covert action," Panetta wrote in an op-ed piece published in the online edition of The Washington Post.
Some members of Congress have pressed for a fuller investigation of the past practices of the intelligence agencies during the George W. Bush administration's war on terrorism.
But Panetta, a former California congressman and critic of the CIA's interrogation programs, argued for a truce in the political battles.
"The time has come for both Democrats and Republicans to take a deep breath and recognize the reality of what happened after Sept. 11, 2001," he said.
"Intelligence can be a valuable weapon, but it is not one we should use on each other. As the president has said, this is not a time for retribution," he added.
Panetta said the agency has ended controversial interrogation and detention practices authorized by the administration of president George W. Bush.
"Yet my agency continues to pay a price for enduring disputes over policies that no longer exist," he wrote.
"Those conflicts fuel a climate of suspicion and partisanship on Capitol Hill that our intelligence officers -- and our country -- would be better off without," he wrote.
Panetta cited an uproar that followed a briefing he gave last month to congressional overseers on his decision to cancel a classified anti-terrorist program.
US newspapers have reported that the program involved the formation of special units to assassinate Al-Qaeda leaders in foreign countries that was authorized by the Bush administration after the September 11, 2001 attacks but never became fully operational.
Rather than setting a precedent for closer cooperation with Congress, Panetta said his briefing "sparked a fresh round of recriminations about the past."
"Debates over who knew what when -- or what happened seven years ago -- miss a larger, more important point: We are a nation at war in a dangerous world, and good intelligence is vital to us all. That is where our focus should be."
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