Thursday, July 09, 2009

CIA lied to Congress

In some ways, this really isn't surprising. From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Leon E. Panetta, has told the House Intelligence Committee in closed-door testimony that the C.I.A. concealed “significant actions” from Congress from 2001 until late last month, seven Democratic committee members said.

In a June 26 letter to Mr. Panetta discussing his testimony, Democrats said that the agency had “misled members” of Congress for eight years about the classified matters, which the letter did not disclose. “This is similar to other deceptions of which we are aware from other recent periods,” said the letter, made public late Wednesday by Representative Rush D. Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, one of the signers.

In an interview, Mr. Holt declined to reveal the nature of the C.I.A.’s alleged deceptions,. But he said, “We wouldn’t be doing this over a trivial matter.”

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Silvestre Reyes, Democrat of Texas, referred to Mr. Panetta’s disclosure in a letter to the committee’s ranking Republican, Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, Congressional Quarterly reported on Wednesday. Mr. Reyes wrote that the committee “has been misled, has not been provided full and complete notifications, and (in at least one occasion) was affirmatively lied to.”

As I've said, I'm not surprised that the CIA lied to Congress from 2001 onwards. You have to go back to the individual sitting in the White House in 2001 that initiated this cult of lying--we're talking former President George W. Bush here. The Bush administration lied to Congress and the American people on just about everything--the WMDs in Iraq, intelligence failures and the reasons sending the U.S. into war in Iraq, the secret prisons, Abu Ghraib, waterboarding and torture, the outing of CIA operative Valerie Plame, the U.S. attorney firings--the list just goes on. When President Barack Obama came into the White House of this year, I'd say that the CIA continued to lie to Congress because the Obama administration wanted to sweep the Bush administration's transgressions under a rug. I would say that President Obama doesn't want congressional investigations into the Bush administration for fears that a future Republican president may demand investigations into the Obama administration. In other words, it is politics as usual, and forget whether serious laws were broken by former leaders and public officials.

And we're seeing politics as usual continuing on in the NY Times story:

In a related development, President Obama threatened to veto the pending Intelligence Authorization Bill if it included a provision that would allow information about covert actions to be given to the entire House and Senate Intelligence Committees, rather than the so-called Gang of Eight — the Democratic and Republican leaders of both houses of Congress and the two Intelligence Committees.

A White House statement released on Wednesday said the proposed expansion of briefings would undermine “a long tradition spanning decades of comity between the branches regarding intelligence matters.” Democrats have complained that under President George W. Bush, entire programs were hidden from most committee members for years.

This is frickin' bullcrap on President Obama's part. The Obama administration doesn't want the CIA to disclose their activities, and their lying, to the entire congressional intelligence committees. So they make up this dog and pony show of saying that the CIA provided "a long tradition spanning decades of comity" to the congressional intelligence panels. That may have been true in the previous decades, but I can't recall a time when the CIA, and a previous presidential administration, engaged in such egregious lying to Congress--the Nixon administration's lying seems like child's play compared to what the Bush administration did. In this case, President Obama does not want to provide a fuller disclosure of intelligence matters to Congress, but would rather keep the status quoe of informing the congressional leaders, rather than the full committees.

Of course, this brings up another problem. Who is to say that a future presidential administration will probably order the CIA to continue lying to Congress--whether it is the congressional leaders, or the full intelligence committee members? If a future president, or an executive department, is going to lie to Congress about anything, then Congress is pretty much screwed here. There is no recourse that Congress has to punish such liars in the executive branch, with the exception of cutting off money funding such executive departments. Cutting off CIA funding may be a powerful punishment for the CIA's lying to Congress, but in today's polarizing political climate, that is not going to happen.

Which brings us to the polarizing political climate of today. Continuing with the NY Times story:

The question of the C.I.A.’s candor with the Congressional oversight committees has been hotly disputed since Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the agency of failing to disclose in a 2002 briefing that it had used waterboarding against a terrorism suspect. Ms. Pelosi said the agency routinely misled Congress, though she later said she intended to fault the Bush administration rather than career intelligence officials.

Since then, Republicans have called Ms. Pelosi’s complaint an unwarranted attack on the integrity of counterterrorism officers and have demanded an investigation. Democrats have rebuffed the demand.

In a statement Wednesday night, a C.I.A. spokesman, George Little, noted that the agency “took the initiative to notify the oversight committees” about the past failures. He said the agency and Mr. Panetta “believe it is vital to keep the Congress fully and currently informed.”

A couple of points here. First, the CIA is continuing to lie to Congress about previously lying to Congress. You just have to love the statement about the CIA taking the initiative to "notify the oversight committees" about the department's previous lies to Congress, but then implicitly rejecting the congressional Democrats demands for CIA director Leon Panetta to explain his lying to Congress for the past nine years, saying that Panetta believes it vital "to keep Congress fully and currently informed." Talk about doublespeak here. Panetta is not going to give squat to Congress.

But the more interesting point was the GOP attacks against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, when Pelosi complained about the CIA lying to her back in May, 2009. Republican leaders were demanding that Pelosi retract her accusations that the CIA lied to her. Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich called for Pelosi's resignation. House Minority Leader John Boehner demanded that Pelosi should apologize for her accusations. Even CIA Director Leon Panetta jumped into the fray, saying in a May 15, 2009 message to agency employees, which was released to the public, "Let me be clear. It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress...That is against our laws and our values." Now it turns out that Pelosi was right about the CIA lying to her, the GOP was wrong in demanding Pelosi to retract her statements, apologize, or resign, and Panetta continued his lying, which furthered the GOP attacks against Pelosi. This was partisan politics, where the Republicans found an opportunity to smear Pelosi on this CIA lying--regardless of the facts. Now that it turns out that Pelosi was right on the CIA lying to her, the GOP has suddenly turned quiet, fearing that any criticism would now undermine their smear campaign against Pelosi. And you can bet that every GOP politician will never apologize to Pelosi for their own smears against her.

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