Friday, July 10, 2009

Update: CIA lied big, GOP still clueless.

Details on what exactly CIA Director Leon Panetta told members of the House Intelligence Committee in his June briefing are beginning to come to light and, not surprisingly, it suggests a systematic effort by both President Bush and the CIA to keep Congress uninformed. Panetta, who only took over as head of the CIA in February, spoke of an eight-year covert spy operation which, while never fully operational, nonetheless was "on-again, off-again" and never discussed with Congress...a possible violation of the National Security Act. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a House Intelligence subcommittee chairwoman, characterized the program as "a very, very serious program deserving a serious debate at the time and through the years." Panetta, to his enormous credit, killed the program upon learning of its existence last month and then dutifully reported such to the House Intelligence Committee. Panetta has also launched an internal probe to investigate why Congress was not told. It's worth nothing that Panetta is an Obama appointee.

A few obvious points. First, as I wrote yesterday, this may or may not have anything to do with Speaker Pelosi's accusations that the CIA mislead her during her briefings. While it does lend credibility to her claims, it would be foolish to call this the "smoking gun" which vindicates her completely. It would be equally foolish to ignore it, however. Second, I'm not so naive as to think that the CIA had never lied before George W. Bush took office, nor am I naive enough to not believe that misdirection and a bit of deception can often be in the best interests of our national security. I'm a liberal pragmatist and I realize that important shit happens that we're probably better off never knowing about. That said, the current approach the GOP is taking to these recent revelations is simply wrong, wrong, wrong.

It's completely understandable that House Minority Leader John Boehner would not want to take his foot off of Nancy Pelosi's throat. It was a winning issue for him and it has basically kept her silent for 6-8 weeks. This is a good thing for both Democrats and Republicans alike! But in an interview yesterday he said the issue being raised by House Democrats was like "trying to mix apples and oranges." The Pelosi issue, "has nothing to do with this issue that’s being discussed by my colleagues across the aisle." Nothing? Really? No chance? Not at all? Boehner had previously said that if the CIA lied to Pelosi than it would be a crime and those who lied should be prosecuted. Let's keep that in mind, shall we? In the same interview he also spoke glowingly about the CIA when he said, "I’ve worked closely with our intelligence professionals, and they are that -- professionals. And I do not believe that the CIA lied to Congress." You know what? I agree the CIA is a professional organization, and I believe the CIA is both necessary and vital to our nation's security. But I also believe that any agency---both on an organizational level and certainly on an individual basis---has the ability to act in a corrupt manner. It's not the responsibility of our leadership to give them an unqualified "atta boy" pat on the back. It's the responsibility of our leadership to make sure that they continue to do their job professionally, efficiently, and ethically. Boehner's skepticism, even in the face of seemingly incontrovertible proof, suggests a person willing to give a blank check to the most powerful agency in the WORLD. That's dangerous.

Look, I don't have a problem with Bohener wanting to bifurcate the Pelosi issue from the CIA issue being raised by the House Democrats. He's not entirely wrong to do so. What I have a problem with, and what I would hope any person of a reasonable mind would also have a problem with, is the complete and utter disinterest in the GOP's part to investigate these very credible allegations that have come to light in recent days. It sure seems as though the GOP's number one priority is toppling Pelosi, not holding the CIA accountable for systematic deception. Last I checked, you can do both. Perhaps Bohener will change his tune in the days ahead. I hope so. If not, it'll be just another shining example of where the GOP has gone off the rails. Sometimes being a leader means knowing when to follow. The GOP, it seems, can do neither.


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