President Obama’s success in killing off al-Qaeda leaders contrasts vividly with his inability to counter attacks from his political rivals. Now, however, the White House has begun using the same strategy that eliminated Osama bin Laden to blunt Republican criticism of his administration.
No, the president won’t be dispatching Predator drones to correct misstatements from right-wing opponents by dropping Hellfire missiles on their motorcades. But sources say he will soon begin using the CIA and its remote-control-warfare capacity to “hassle” potential rivals for the presidency in 2012.
“We’re not talking about anything that approaches the brutality of 100-pound missiles,” said an intelligence source who asked not to be named. “We just want to give them a hard time. The campaign will be more like what you might expect from a crazy ex-girlfriend than a full-on military effort.”
Similar to the “kill or capture list” that targeted bin Laden in May and propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki last week, the “pester or annoy list” will inconvenience Republicans with anonymous strikes by computer-guided robots.
The effort may have already begun. Yesterday, one-time front-runner Mitt Romney reported to local police that somebody scratched a large gash on the door of his car while he was grocery shopping.
“It was the weirdest thing,” reported witness Jim Michaels of the incident in suburban Boston. “One of those motorized shopping carts for the handicapped came flying out of the store on its own and zeroed in right on his Mercedes. It left a pretty big mark.”
Romney was not hurt in the incident, though he missed the rest of the day campaigning while waiting at the Maaco shop for the gash to be buffed out.
In another apparent attack, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has asked his state highway patrol to investigate a rash of late-night phone calls that have awakened him and his wife several times in recent days.
“We must’ve had 50 calls since Sunday asking if ‘Jose’ is here,” said Perry’s wife Anita. “Then last night, ‘Jose’ calls and asks if there are any messages for him. It’s not funny.”
“Yeah, that one’s a classic,” said the source familiar with the operation. “They set it up through one of the president’s campaign offices, using their robo-call software.”
Other episodes that seemed unconnected at the time are now being checked out by officials with the Republican National Committee.
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has reported that a “souped-up Roomba” vacuum cleaner skidded all over her front lawn Monday night, “turfing” large sections of grass.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul had pictures of an apparent impersonator posted on his Facebook page. The ersatz Paul was shown passed out and drunk on the floor of a fraternity party, then is later seen handing spare change to a homeless man.
“It’s obviously been Photoshopped,” said Bill Welch, Paul’s campaign manager. “Still, it does take time away from his campaigning to have to deny something as scandalous as giving money to the poor.”
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum told friends that during a recent appearance at a Philadelphia-area school, someone put a sign reading “KICK ME” on his back. Surveillance video shows it was done by a glassy-eyed teenager who approached the Tea Party favorite from behind.
“Okay, technically, that wasn’t a drone,” said the CIA source. “But we did entice the kid with some crystal meth, so he was pretty much a zombie at the time.”
Officials in the Obama White House denied knowledge of the apparently widespread effort. Targeted killing has come under considerable criticism from human rights groups, though “targeted hassling” seems less likely to present legal obstacles.
“If we had a guy on a Segway, just riding in circles around (former House speaker) Newt Gingrich, getting up in his face and chanting ‘I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you,’ I think constitutional scholars would agree that’s not illegal,” said one anonymous White House insider. “I’m not saying we’d do that, however. Especially considering how his campaign is fading on its own, and how the battery would run down about the fifth time around Newt.”