Rule of law and a quick Senate confirmation: An important vote for the Pentagon’s top attorney

According to the White House, Mr. Preston has been nominated for a move from his post as CIA General Counsel to become the General Counsel at the Pentagon.  Recently, a number of important and complicated national security legal issues have risen to crisis points, and will require counsel committed to the rule of law and the protection of the Constitution. Preston has the tact and skill to handle these critical issues, and needs to start on them right away.
 
As a former Acting General Counsel at the Department of Defense, Preston has already led the legal office of the Pentagon. He has proven his commitment to the Constitution and the legal and moral legitimacy of our nation through numerous international crises. This includes a key role in pulling off a complicated interagency operation to eliminate Osama Bin Laden.
 
In his own words at Harvard Law School last year, Mr. Preston asserted that for those working at the confluence of law and U.S. national security, “an abiding respect for the rule of law is one of our greatest strengths, even against an enemy with nothing but contempt for the law.”
 
Preston's nonpartisan legal leadership and expertise is needed in the Pentagon in this time of crisis.
 
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In recent months, our nation’s security has been compromised by illegal leaks and espionage which could severely hamper the ability of intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense to effectively engage in vital programs. The illegal disclosure of classified programs to track terrorist communications by enemies of American leadership is no small matter. The programs (as alleged to date) are all judicially approved under legal processes under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The National Security Agency, as a Department of Defense organization, will need steady –handed leadership and legal guidance in the prosecution of the crimes related to illegal leaks.
 
Precision-strike operations, which target individuals actively engaged in terrorism, will increasingly be led by the Department of Defense (as opposed to the Central Intelligence Agency). As a result, these programs will be subject to enhanced internal procedures, heightened targeting standards, and increased Congressional scrutiny. This is a victory for the rule of law and Congressional oversight. But it will require careful legal stewardship to ensure that the Nation’s security is protected without compromising our international legitimacy as the world’s guiding light for humanitarian law.
 
Newly announced support for the Syrian opposition (including arms) will require careful defense cooperation and coordination with elements of other government agencies and foreign partners. The Department of Defense will need to carefully assess and navigate dangerous, murky waters to protect American interests throughout the region.
 
Aside from these pressing policy issues and addressing draconian cuts due to sequestration, the Pentagon must now also manage a massive overhaul of nearly $400 billion in acquisition, technology and logistics legal and contract processes in order to remain responsive to war-fighter needs as Overseas Contingency Operations funds and wartime equipping mechanisms become a thing of the past.
 
The president has had many attackers of late from both political extremes, yet a sense of non-partisan unity still remains around some of these most pressing national security concerns. The post for the Pentagon's top attorney is one of those that should receive support from all quarters in this critical time.
 
Borene serves on the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. A former U.S. Marine intelligence officer and Pentagon attorney, he is a corporate executive and teaches political science at Macalester College. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the American Bar Association’s U.S. Intelligence Community Law Sourcebook.