It is time for some straight talk from our intelligence agencies. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted overwhelmingly, 11-3, to release the executive summary of its report that has been the subject of repeated controversy.
The CIA needs to come clean with the American people on its “enhanced interrogation techniques” (read: torture) and the fact that it gave us nearly zip in terms of actionable intelligence. The National Security Agency needs to admit not only the extent of its collection of metadata and stop it, but also the back-door collection of American’s emails and stop that, too, unless it gets warrants for both.
There is ample precedent for a clean-up of America’s intelligence operations. Former CIA Director James Schlesinger, who died this past week, courageously commissioned an initial examination of past misdeeds in the wake of the Watergate scandal. On May 7, 1973, Schlesinger ordered the agency to look at incidents of wrongdoing that were illegal or fell outside the CIA’s charter. Two CIA veterans, Howard Hunt and James McCord, were part of the Watergate break-in team.
Schlesinger’s successor, William Colby, added to the internal review of CIA actions. A thorough examination of assassination plots against foreign leaders, coups, illegal wiretapping, spying on Americans and other questionable activities was done and the report became known as the “Family Jewels.” This formed the basis of much of the investigation in 1975-76, undertaken by the Church Committee, that led to the reforms and the creation of permanent oversight committees.
Thus, there is ample precedent for the intelligence agencies to come clean, not cover up.
President Obama should make sure that the efforts of the Senate Intelligence Committee and some within the CIA to get to the bottom of torture activities is made public and serious reforms are put in place. We should also have a thorough investigation of NSA spying on Americans and ensure that reforms are put in place there as well.
After 9/11, few seemed to focus on the actions undertaken and supported by the intelligence agencies. Nor was there oversight of the actions that leaders (in particular Vice President Dick Cheney) undertook with flimsy legal justification. It is time to put a stop to the philosophy that Cheney and others espoused: that they were above the law. It is time we had leaders with the courage of a James Schlesinger and Bill Colby to look seriously at the past so they don’t repeat it.