It has been nearly half a decade since the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence initiated an investigation of the Central Intelligence Agency's use of torture and black sites after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. It has been 15 months since the committee approved the classified 6,300-page report that emerged from that investigation. The still-classified report.
The delay in declassification is because the report is supposed to include the CIA's response to the committee's findings. But the agency only offered a partial and, by many accounts, misleading rebuttal last May, and that is being withheld, too. John Prados notes that the SSCI has spent 60 hours discussing the matter with CIA officials without agreement.
And then comes the revelation of an internal CIA document the SSCI had not seen that contradicts the rebuttal it has seen. The document apparently confirms the worst of what is in those 6,300 pages. In other words, the rebuttal is full of lies. Carefully crafted ones, to be sure. Not that the CIA has never previously lied to those charged with its oversight. But this time, it not only lied but removed documents relevant to the committee's investigation. Not only lied, and removed documents but sought by innuendo to call into question the entire investigation. As Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico said March 7:
"Since I joined the Committee, the CIA has refused to engage in good faith on the Committee’s study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Instead, the CIA has consistently tried to cast doubt on the accuracy and quality of this report by publicly making false representations about what is and is not in it."If the agency can just keep dragging its feet long enough, the committee's report may never see the light of day. Because, come November, the Senate may change hands. And if that happens, the new chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee will likely be Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican. As Marcy Wheeler has pointed out, Burr took the current chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein, to task for her excoriating speech Tuesday accusing the CIA of spying on the committee and trying to paint it as a bad actor. He said:
“I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly.”As if Feinstein has been loose-lipped about intelligence matters. As if she has not been a "team player." As if she would have said anything publicly before McClatchy reported a week ago that the CIA Inspector General was calling for the Department of Justice to look into "malfeasance" by the agency that included monitoring the SSCI's computers.
There is more below the fold.
At Mother Jones, David Corn wrote Tuesday:
What Feinstein didn't say—but it's surely implied—is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It's a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.Indeed. So far, however, the president has not responded in such a serious way. In fact, he went from trying to suppress the inquiry early on in his administration to withholding information about National Security Administration surveillance and the killer-drone program. He has also not responded to repeated requests from Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado to declassify the report.
There are many high muckety-mucks, like Sen. Burr, who no doubt think what is in the report is more damaging to the United States than the acts it purportedly describes. This upside-down thinking is exactly what has led to the current situation in which CIA officials—and all those who condone them—think nothing of violating what is supposed to be one of the most basic prohibitions governing the agency: no domestic surveillance.
President Obama cannot fix this decades-in-the-making situation. He can, however, take a step in the right direction—ignoring the inevitable howls—by declassifying the SSCI's report. Further delays serve nobody but those who should be exposed.
But that would only be a first step.