USNews & World Report–Thomas Jefferson Street blog

A New Day, But the Same Old CIA

A new investigation reveals the CIA is still abusing its power.

CIA_120507_01.jpgIt is more important than ever that we ensure strong oversight of our intelligence agencies.

By March 5, 20143 Comments SHARE

McClatchy D.C. reports today that a Justice Department investigation may be underway to look into CIA monitoring of computers used by Senate Intelligence Committee staff to prepare a report on possible torture by the agency. In other words, the CIA may be spying on the Senate.

During the Church Committee investigation of the intelligence agencies in the mid 1970s, many of us were convinced that our work was being closely monitored. Of course, there was no Internet or email or even sophisticated computers in our offices in G-308 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. But we were careful about documents, about phone conversations and about meetings outside our secure enclave. Now, nearly 40 years later, we have learned that Sen. Frank Church and Sen. Howard Baker were put on a watch list and their communications monitored.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the NSA.]

One phrase uttered to us many times by intelligence officials still sticks in my craw: “We will still be here long after you are gone.” In other words, we will wait you out, we will do what we think necessary, because we know best. In some cases they may know best, but not when it comes to violating U.S. law by spying on Americans, tapping their phones, planting bugs in their hotel rooms (see Martin Luther King) and by engaging in coups and foreign assassinations.

Now we see a pattern of behavior which indicates that the CIA did not learn its lesson. It has reverted back to the same tactics and “ends justifies the means” approach it was using in the mid-20th century.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has spent four years and $40 million dollars to look at detention and enhanced interrogation techniques, to get to the bottom of an important period in our recent history. According to McClatchy: “The report details how the CIA misled the Bush administration and Congress about the use of interrogation techniques that many experts consider torture, according to public statements by committee members. It also shows, members have said, how the techniques didn’t provide the intelligence that led the CIA to the hideout in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed in a 2011 raid by Navy Seals.”

As Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., wrote to President Obama, “the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal CIA review and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the committee’s oversight responsibilities and for our democracy.” This is a legal and moral breach, in my view, by the CIA. It undermines the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government and it undermines the credibility of the intelligence community in the eyes of the people.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

The reason the permanent Senate Intelligence Committee was created in the wake of the Church Committee investigations was to ensure proper checks and balances. It was to make sure that there was a mechanism “long after we are all gone” to prevent the abuses of power. Especially in our high-tech age, it is more important than ever that we have strong and continuous oversight of our intelligence agencies.

Sens. Udall and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have been true patriots in their cause and they deserve the full support of President Obama. The Justice Department, too, needs to get to the bottom of this breach of trust and likely violation of the law.







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  • Peter Fenn

    Peter Fenn is a Democratic political strategist and head of Fenn Communications, one of the nation’s leading political and public affairs media firms. Fenn Communications has worked in over 300 campaigns, from presidential to mayoral, and has represented a number of Fortune 500 companies. Fenn is also an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management. Follow him on Twitter: @peterhfenn.