During the Bush “War on Terror” the CIA under George Tenet was completely in the bag for the Cheney war hawks. Evidence of WMDs was trumped up and, as Darth Cheney said, “the dark side” was embraced including Rendition, Detention and Interrogation. In plain language, kidnapping, concentration camps and torture.
“For desperate ills, desperate remedies” is the excuse for this kind of behavior. But as heads cooled, some stomachs turned. It became clear that the program had gone to extremes and had been extremely badly managed including a substantial number of non-terrorists treated as if they were. Not to mention the dubious legality of aspects of the mess.
On taking office, Obama had no enthusiasm for raking over Bush-era excesses and also appears to have been kidnapped himself by John Brennan, first up to his eyeballs in the Bush black arts, then an Obama campaign adviser and now head of the CIA, a classic Washington survivor. Meet the new spook, same as the old spook.
Some Democrats, libertarians and fans of the Constitution always questioned the program and for years there have been attempts by some in Congress to practice actual oversight of the CIA which habitually tries to repel all boarders, stonewalls, and obstructs. Some of that may seem justified in a town that spews leaks, but it leaves the people and their representatives with nothing but an unsatisfactory,” Don’t worry your pretty little heads. Trust me.” Who will watch the watchers, indeed.
Now Sen. Diane Feinstein, who angered a considerable number of her left-leaning constituents by backing the CIA to the hilt, has accused the agency of cyber-spying on the computers of staffers at her Intelligence oversight committee who were tasked with investigating the disputed programs. Her very tough speech on the Senate floor talked of CIA betrayal of constitutional separation of powers, but it was easy to see she was also feeling personally betrayed since she had long fallen for CIA assurances that she was getting the straight story.
Turns out an investigation launched by former CIA chief Leon Panetta was compromised from the outset since some of the supposedly objective truth-seekers were actually deeply involved in conducting the very acts under investigation – a clear conflict. The CIA now claims the report was not really meant to get to the bottom of any policy errors (aka crimes) or make recommendations but just gather data. And interestingly, the entire investigation was scrapped when the Justice Department began trying to determine if laws had been broken. The abrupt halt to internal scrutiny looks a lot like a circling of the wagons and the beginning of a renewed cover-up. If so, the spying on the Senate committee would have been an attempt to find out how much they knew and try to sweep the dark matter back under the rug.
Of course, the CIA says it wasn’t spying but plugging leaks and has accused staffers of being in illegal possession of classified material. But what else would the CIA do if caught spying? Blame the victim and deny they are spies. “Who, us?” It’s easy to predict a period of heat without light, partisan grandstanding, finger pointing and then the short attention span of Washington and the news media will turn to the latest bread and circuses.
It is hard to believe the truth will ever come out voluntarily or that sensible reforms will be undertaken. It has been a truism ever since Watergate that it isn’t the crime but the cover-up that kills you. But Brennan still has Obama’s ear and, with their cloak of national security to hide behind, nobody covers up better than the CIA. Unless some inside whistleblower emerges, we’ll never know what really happened and the CIA will never change.
Postscript: If this turns out to be my final blog post, someone at Langley didn’t like the tenor of my remarks.