In public, Pakistani officials complain about missile strikes in the tribal areas from the CIA’s Predator unmanned aerial vehicles. Barely two weeks ago, for instance, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani called the strikes "counterproductive." That can be frustrating: credible reports, like this one from the Washington Post, say that Pakistan quietly allows the strikes to occur on a "don’t ask don’t tell" basis. Indeed, the Post also reported that the strikes launch from a Pakistani base. So the cost of the strikes, politically, is denouncement from a Pakistani government that can’t tolerate a public acknowledgment of its complicity. If you think the strikes are necessary to hit Al Qaeda targets without the involvement of U.S. troops in the Pakistani tribal areas, that’s probably a small price to pay.

So it sort of upends the apple cart when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, publicly acknowledges Pakistani complicity in the strikes. The Los Angeles Times‘ Greg Miller notes that at yesterday’s worldwide-threat hearing with Adm. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, Feinstein said about the drones, "As I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base." WTF?

Feinstein’s office said she was just going off what the Post reported. But now the Pakistanis are going to have to react to the comments from a senior American legislator, and this is going to make the jobs of many people a lot harder — namely, regional envoy Richard Holbrooke, Central Command chief Gen. Petraeus, CIA Director Leon Panetta, Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, Army Chief of Staff Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and intelligence chief Ahmed Shuja Pasha. Chances are Feinstein simply blundered, but this is the sort of blunder that compromises a sensitive and apparently effective counterterrorist operation, and it’s not like Feinstein is a novice on the committee. Slip-ups like these are why CIA officers don’t trust Congress. If a Republican did this, progressives would be up in arms.

Crossposted to The Streak.

Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman