As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Thing Is, The CIA Does Lie

The CIA trains their agents to lie pretty much as a matter of course, and they have a long history of at the very least concealing the truth from the American public, if not outright lying to them. I don't think anyone in the entire country could say with a straight face that the CIA tells the whole truth to anyone, be it Congress or anyone else. And now we have verbal confirmation of this fact.

Remember how CIA Director Leon Panetta said in May that members of the House Intelligence Committee “will have to determine” whether the CIA accurately and appropriately briefed Congress about the agency’s “enhanced interrogation program”? It appears that Panetta reached a conclusion himself.

On June 26, six Democrats on the committee — Anna Eshoo (Calif.), John Tierney (Mass.), Rush Holt (N.J.), Mike Thompson (Calif.), Alcee Hastings (Fla.) and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) — wrote to Panetta, “Recently you testified that you have determined that top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all Members of Congress, and misled Members for a number of years from 2001 to this week.” The letter — which doesn’t explain what those “significant actions” concerned — asks that Panetta “publicly correct” his May 15 statement that it isn’t CIA “policy or practice to mislead Congress.” TWI acquired a copy of the letter, which comes after CQ reported that committee chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) also nebulously stated that CIA “affirmatively lied” to the committee.

But CIA spokesman George Little says it’s “completely wrong” to say Panetta determined CIA misled Congress, as the six legislators charge. “Director Panetta stands by his May 15 statement,” Little said. “It is not the policy or practice of the CIA to mislead Congress. This Agency and this Director believe it is vital to keep the Congress fully and currently informed. Director Panetta’s actions back that up. As the letter from these six representatives notes, it was the CIA itself that took the initiative to notify the oversight committees.”

Here's more on Silvestre Reyes' claim that the CIA lied to the House Intelligence Committee.

The backstory here is that, in the wake of this seeming breakdown of information between the CIA and Congress, the House wants to change the way the CIA must brief their actions to Congress. The "Gang of Eight" process - the leaders of the intelligence committees, and the leaders of both Houses of Congress - just flat-out isn't working. And the White House has threatened a veto of the entire intelligence appropriations bill based on the changes.

The Administration strongly objects to section 321, which would replace the current “Gang of 8” notification procedures on covert activities. There is a long tradition spanning decades of comity between the branches regarding intelligence matters, and the Administration has emphasized the importance of providing timely and complete congressional notification, and using “Gang of 8” limitations only to meet extraordinary circumstances affecting the vital interests of the United States. Unfortunately, section 321 undermines this fundamental compact between the Congress and the President as embodied in Title V of the National Security Act regarding the reporting of sensitive intelligence matters – an arrangement that for decades has balanced congressional oversight responsibilities with the President’s responsibility to protect sensitive national security information. Section 321 would run afoul of tradition by restricting an important established means by which the President protects the most sensitive intelligence activities that are carried out in the Nation's vital national security interests. In addition, the section raises serious constitutional concerns by amending sections 501-503 of the National Security Act of 1947 in ways that would raise significant executive privilege concerns by purporting to require the disclosure of internal Executive branch legal advice and deliberations. Administrations of both political parties have long recognized the importance of protecting the confidentiality of the Executive Branch's legal advice and deliberations. If the final bill presented to the President contains this provision, the President's senior advisors would recommend a veto.

This is simply wrong. The Gang of Eight style of intelligence briefings facilitates abuse, and the politicization of intelligence. Obama probably sees the system as a good way for the executive to maintain control over intelligence and the CIA's actions, but if he wants money for those actions, he's going to have to stop the process that enables official lying. So the House, especially after this series of events, should go ahead and pass the intelligence appropriation as is, and if Obama vetoes it, he can go ahead and live with a CIA that has no funding.

The further context for this is that House Republicans screamed like banshees when Nancy Pelosi suggested that the CIA lied to Congress. Except they do. All the time. And whether or not it's inconvenient to say it, it's true.

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