By Tom Cushing
Extraordinary TransgressionUploaded: Aug 5, 2014
When last we checked-in on the Senate Intelligence Committee (DiFi vs Spy, RC March 12), our own Senator What, Me Worry? had taken to the Senate floor to accuse the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of rifling through her Committee's investigation-related computer files. That's an exceptionally serious charge: it fundamentally offends the Separation of Powers, and violates the CIA's unequivocal ban on domestic spying.
If proved, that brand of spookery would go to the heart of our system of government in ways that delaying the implementation of ObamaCare can only dream about. Put it this way: if tinkering with the timing of bill implementation is backyard whiffle ball (and it is), then spying on your overseers is the Major League play-offs, at least. Oddly, no one thought it would be a good idea to sue the President to make 'em stop.
The multi-year investigation examined the practices of the CIA in the post-9/11 era, focusing on "extraordinary rendition" of suspects to countries that countenance torture, whether US agents themselves tortured detainees, and whether such torture resulted in much useful information. Is it a political exercise? You bet ? it's a Dem-controlled committee investigating a GOP Presidency. But it's also a chance to examine an important foreign affairs issue and learn its lessons ? the better to inform policy-setting for the future. It needed doing, and at least it wouldn't be a whitewash ? that is, unless the spy agency had anything to say about it.
They certainly tried. The CIA immediately fired back at DiFi's Committee. First, they counter-charged the Senate staffers with hacking the Agency's firewall (thus tacitly admitting that the CIA sucks at firewalls. Comforting thought). They said they knew that this must have happened because the Senators had an internal CIA memo that documented all those files that they should have provided to the Committee, but hadn't. A senior Agency lawyer who is deeply implicated in the Senate investigation asked DOJ to investigate, to facilitate criminal charges against the Senate staff.
Second, CIA Director John Brennan denied the DiFi accusations emphatically, as follows: "As far as the allegations of the CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. ... We wouldn't do that. I mean, that's just beyond the, you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we do." Something had to give.
Last Friday it gave, big time. In the wake of an Inspector General Report that verified the Senate charges, Brennan 'apologized' to Senators Feinstein and ranking Republican Saxby Chambliss. In other words, the CIA DID do that, and it IS within the scope of reason, at least in spy-think. He ordered an internal review regarding possible disciplinary action against the five participants (no word on whether the Agency defines the problem as 'abjectly illegal hacking' or 'getting caught' at same).
The report also found no merit in the counter-charges of Senate snooping, using bloodless language throughout the report (e.g., "lack of candor," which is what your teens exercise when you ask about that rumored no-parents party) and failing to recommend prosecution of those involved.
For his part, the Prez pronounced the Brennan apologies sufficient, and expressed his continuing confidence in our Spookmaster-in-Chief. He also made reference to the impending publication of the Senate's Report from its investigation that started all this. The full Report itself is 6,300 pages; we may be confident that the unclassified edition to be made public will be, ahem, abridged.
To leave Brennan in-place is just wrong. This appears to be one of those either/or situations, and neither option ought to result in Brennan's extending his tenure (at best). First, he might have known of the violations, and ordered or allowed them to go forward. Or, he might have been kept in the dark ? by design, or underling plot, or accident. In the former case it's a serious sin of commission, and surely just-cause for termination. In the latter, it is a thorough dereliction of his internal management responsibilities in an Agency whose crest appears in the dictionary next to the word "arrogant." The issue of these limits had to be near the top of the oversight challenges he faced, in the institution that he leads.
The best explanation I can conjure is that the upcoming Torture Report will be sufficiently damning that IT will provide the basis for Brennan's resignation, followed by a promised house-cleaning and disinfection of the Langley environs with a 'brand new team' of spooks. Brennan is a CIA careerist, working in or around the Agency throughout his working life. He was there for those renditions; he had to have been involved in those limits decisions.
He has to go.