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That is the title of this op ed for Tuesday's Washington Post.

Here's the opening paragraph:  

The CIA now admits that it spied on a Senate investigation into the agency’s shameful program of secret detention and torture. Do we need any more proof that the spooks are out of control?
Trust me, that is not even close to demonstrating the full power of this piece.

Please keep reading.

Robinson goes through some of the history that led up to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence doing its investigation, and what the CIA did to obstruct, obfuscate and more.  If you do not know it, the column will give you a good overview.

We of course now know that the CIA was spying on the Senate Committee and its staffers at the same time it was trying to accuse the Senate Committee staffers of having broken the law.

Perhaps a few more snippets are relevant to show how pointed this piece by Robinson is.

There is this, offered after noting the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest defending CIA Director Brennan, saying he did not have a credibility problem:  

Earnest is wrong on that score, but the problem is much bigger than Brennan. At stake is the principle that our intelligence agencies — like our military forces — must be subject to civilian oversight and control. The spooks apparently have a different arrangement in mind.
Or perhaps this, after reminding people the CIA destroyed the tapes of the waterboarding its agents did:  
Ostensibly, the reason was to prevent the tapes from somehow falling into the hands of al-Qaeda. In reality, the CIA was worried that its officers might be held accountable for their actions.
Let's stop there for a moment.  How would al-Qaeda ever get their hands on such tapes, unless they were made public?

Is the issue that of the propaganda use that could be made of them, or the possible disgust of the American people, or the members of the House and Senate Committees responsible for oversight of the intelligence community>

Would not they have been prima facie evidence of a crime, given the fact that we have previously prosecuted American servicemen for using a form of waterboarding?

Or perhaps we can go back to the incident that led to a criminal referral:  

Earlier this year, Brennan complained to Feinstein that her investigators had improperly gained access to an internal CIA review that cast doubt on the torture program’s effectiveness. Feinstein responded that the document was properly obtained — and that the CIA could not know the committee had the document unless it had hacked into the Senate investigators’ computer network.
As we now know, as Brennan has now admitted, that network was hacked, as were the communications of Democratic staff members of the committee.

Remember that Robinson is an important voice for the Post, which when it comes to the federal government may be as much the newspaper of record as is The New York Times.  Robinson also has a Pulitzer for his commentary, which amplifies his voice, as do his regular appearances on MS-NBC.

While it is true that some of the Hill elects on the political right and many of their staffers ignore the Post journalists from other publications and broadcast outlets pay attention.

Thus it is note-worthy the warning with which Robinson ends:

At issue is whether a vastly expanded and empowered U.S. intelligence establishment will be fully and properly brought under civilian control and oversight. Bush and Cheney created a monster. Obama, in the time he has left in office, had better tame it.
Many of us complained when Leon Panetta chose to "look forward" rather than clean out the Augean Stables of American intelligence when he took over the CIA.  It did not help that he was followed by the very personally corrupt David Petraeus.  And then there's Brennan, who was unfortunately apparently an architect of much of what was wrong - even criminally wrong - in the intelligence community during the previous administration.

It is unfortunate that Obama did not from the start attempt to bring the intelligence community under control.  We can see the cost at least partially in the front page story on Dick Cheney.    Yes, one can argue that there is a need to tread lightly in prosecuting key figures in a previous administration of an opposite party.  Or rather, to be very careful.

But one cannot remove that option completely.

Ford's pardon of Nixon denied the nation a full accounting.

Our refusal to fully hold the Reagan administration accountable compounded the problem.

The first Bush had himself headed CIA, and the building in Langley now bears his name.  Remember that - we had a head spook as President well before Vladimir Putin began his first term as President of Russia.

There are many good people in the intelligence community, especially on the analytical side.  Remember that the State Department's intelligence unit refused to be bullied on the aluminum tubes that the last administration tried to use as evidence of an active nuclear program by Iraq.

Robinson talks about civilian control.  That should probably be said somewhat differently, since the CIA technically is a civilian agency:  unlike NSA it is NOT part of the Department of Defense, and while many key personnel are in fact officially listed as active duty military, the head has not since 1953 when Allen Dulles took over been an active duty military officer (although more than a few retired flag officers have headed the agency, most recently Michael Hayden and David Petraeus).  Thus technically the CIA has since 1953 had a civilian head.

Still there is this -  NO agency of the Federal government should be exempt from oversight by the people's elected representatives in the United States Congress.  Even the Chief Justice of the United States gives a report on behalf of the judicial conference to the Congress.   Yes, there are elements of separation of powers:  the Congress is not entitled to records of the internal debates of the Supreme Court Justices in Congress, and the doctrine of Executive Privilege was established clearly in the very Supreme Court Case that required Richard Nixon to surrender control of his tapes.

There are areas in which President Obama, for all the good he has done, is subject to criticism.   As an educator I regularly take him to task for his policies in my field.  As an active political type, I think he took far too long to confront the obstructionism of Congressional Republicans.

When it comes to the abuses and criminal wrong doing of the intelligence community, which has continued long after the previous administration departed, he has been sadly missing from the combat-  because that is what it is, deliberate combat by some who are out of control within the intelligence community.

We have faced aspects of this before. Frank Church in the Senate and Otis Pike in the House led Congressional investigations into the then abuses of the intelligence community.   But the control and oversight began to be removed by George H W Bush, laying the groundwork with Team B at the CIA, which began to politicize the analysis of the CIA.

It has continued to become more out of control, with the leadership of the last administration, led to a large degree by the Vice President, taking off what little oversight was left.

Robinson's last two sentences are therefore key, and I repeat them in bold:  Bush and Cheney created a monster. Obama, in the time he has left in office, had better tame it.

If he does not, it is not clear to me that we will still have a functional elected government overseeing intelligence, but instead may well find our policy and actions being defined by what those in the intelligence community want to do, whether or not that policy is wise, effective, moral, legal or constitutional.

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Comment Preferences

  •  interested in any comments you may offer (5+ / 0-)

    I like hearing what others have to say.  I learn from their different perspectives

    "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

    by teacherken on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:46:11 PM PDT

    •  Obama tells us he banned "some" torture... (9+ / 0-)

      Obama Admits He Banned Only “Some” of the CIA’s Torture Techniques

      By: Jeff Kaye
      Sunday August 3, 2014 2:27 pm

      President Obama: “one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.”

      Forgive the tongue-in-cheek, but it is almost as if the only person who reads and responds to my work on torture is President Obama.

      There was a cascade of coverage of the President’s August 1 remarks concerning John Brennan and his defense of his embattled CIA chief, as Obama was also widely derided for his seeming defense of those who tortured “some folks” after 9/11. (Obama did not mention that the order to torture came from the Oval Office.)

      “Well, at least he called the crimes out as ‘torture,” some observers noted. Others, including some in the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), called for John Brennan’s resignation as CIA director after he admitted the CIA had spied on Congressional investigators who were writing a thousands-of-pages-long report on the CIA Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation program.

      An Executive Summary of that report, in a censored version produced by the CIA itself, is now back in the hands of the SSCI, who may or may not release it soon. The Committee has already decided the full 6000 or so page report itself will not be released for years (if ever), a cover-up of immense proportions.

      Jason Leopold, who has been covering the story for Al Jazeera America and VICE, noted astutely in a tweet the other day, that Obama’s comments at his August 1 press conference included a reference to his only banning “some” of the CIA’s torture techniques. Leopold believed Obama previously had always been more absolute in his prohibition of torture.

      The full quote from the August 1 presser is worth reproducing here. The quote below begins in the middle of Obama’s defense of those who used torture after 9/11, i.e., those who are the subjects of the Senate’s controversial torture report (bold emphasis is added):

      And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

      But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that’s what that report reflects. And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

      Only “some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques”? Not all? Was this merely a slip of the tongue by the President? No one in the press corp seemed to notice, and no one took him up on the issue. To date, no one has in the press has at all (besides Leopold’s tweets), though it is very much worth noting that Jeremy Scahill reported in July 2011 on the CIA’s continuing use of black sites and torture in an important article in The Nation. Others had surmised as much even earlier…

      "I always thought if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough, things would work out. I was wrong." --Katharine Graham

      by bobswern on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:25:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The intelligence/industrial complex is... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, pvasileff, a2nite, dalef77

    ...a sort of meta-organism.  Those in it know they are "special".  The CIA is at the center of this contraption and it has a long history of being rogue.  It has practiced and exported torture for decades. That component of their DNA kicked in after 9/11 and it went on steroids.

    I'm all for, as serious and knowledgeable intelligence officers will say, eliminate the practice of torture immediately.  

    If Obama just made an announcement like this it would push things in the right direction.  It would start the taming of the monster.

    Daily Kos an oasis of truth. Truth that leads to action. UID: 9742

    by Shockwave on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:51:56 PM PDT

  •  Great column for the most part, Ken (11+ / 0-)

    It's a little disconcerting that after listing the bill of particulars in the body of the column Robinson can still imagine that Obama would have any interest in taming the monster.  He continues to employ James Clapper, after he was caught red-handed lying to Congress.  He has his mouthpiece express full confidence in the torturer Brennan.  He casually mentions that we tortured some folks, ostentatiously ignoring his own responsibility to enforce one of the most important laws on our books.  And this doesn't even touch Obama's ongoing support of NSA domestic spying and other unconstitutional activities.

    Obama isn't taming this monster -- he's feeding it.  Eugene Robinson is smart enough to know that, so his final sentence surrenders much of the courage of the rest of the piece.

    I stand with triv33. Shame on her attackers.

    by Dallasdoc on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:58:50 PM PDT

    •  consider it a "suggestion" (3+ / 0-)

      a prodding of Obama to be willing to go further

      not that I expect he will

      "Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

      by teacherken on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:01:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  None of this is new. It's Hooverism. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Laurel in CA, dalef77

        Appropriate that term. Hooverism has simply expanded to all agencies who can spy on citizens.

        For example, the FBI had a file on artist and Bob Dylan girlfriend Suze Rotolo when she was 17. Largely because her parents were political activists.


        Thump! Bang. Whack-boing. It's dub!

        by dadadata on Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 03:27:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I continue to wonder why it is that Obama (4+ / 0-)

      Continues to "feed" the intelligence monster as he does.  It's the part of his governance that stands in stark contrast to the principles he has purported to hold dear during his whole career.  I don't believe that he is a dictatorial right winger.  I wonder if he is snowed by these people, or if he is terrified of having another 9/11 on his watch, or if they have something on him, or if he has information we don't have, or if he's just out of his depth in this area.  It is utterly mystifying to me that he coddles these corrupt liars at the NSA and CIA, and treats Snowden--who could prove so helpful if given immunity to tell what he knows--like some kind of uber-traitor.  Whatever the reason, it has to change, and change soon, as Robinson writes.

      "It ain't right, Atticus," said Jem. "No, son, it ain't right." --Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

      by SottoVoce on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 09:15:24 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  When the CIA destroyed those torture videotapes (8+ / 0-)

    they did so in direct violation of a court order.  They knew they were destroying evidence of crime and did so very deliberately.

    It's astonishing that Jose Rodriguez and the others involved in that cover up were never even charged.

    •  I don't know what the statute of limitations is... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      skrekk, dalef77

      For obstruction, or whatever else could have been charged related to storing the tapes, but that cover up alone should have led to serious charges. You just can't have any single person or agency in the United States that is above the law.

  •  Not investigating or charging was a mistake... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I think it's clear in retrospect, that the lack of accountability for those involved with the torture program has been a terrible mistake.

    The White House has taken a la-de-dah attitude toward the revelation that the agency charged with spying on the machinations of our foreign enemies instead trained its focus on the official work of our elected officials. Asked whether Brennan now has a credibility problem, press secretary Josh Earnest said, “Not at all.”
    That the White House doesn't see too much of an issue is incredibly alarming. It seems obvious to me that both the CIA and NSA feel free to lie publicly, and to the members of congress tasked with providing oversight. They've broken a number of subsequent laws, and it's hard to have any faith that there is anybody truly watching these folks and willing to hold them accountable.

    He still has a couple of years to fix all this, but Obama's public statements have indicated little willingness to keep the IC from becoming an entirely separate and unaccountable 4th branch of government. That's scary.

  •  Follow the money (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    or, more accurately, stop the money.

    If we as a nation really want to tame the surveillance state, then, we end the continual flow of taxpayer dollars to the contractors who have so richly benefited from it. Easier said than done, of course, especially as there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth about 9-11 and "terrahists" --not just from the contractors affected, of course, their lackeys in Congress will howl along with them. But, there we go: stop the intelligence dollars, put them in medicine, science, and human development, and the giant corporations will suddenly discover the truth in the Ferengi 35th Rule of Acquisition: "Peace is good for business."


  •  Thanks Ken (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I voted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 because it is my right, my responsibility and because my parents moved from Alabama to Ohio to vote. Unfortunately, the republicons want to turn Ohio into Alabama.

    by a2nite on Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 05:01:06 AM PDT

  •  Why do these Jokers (0+ / 0-)

    Sooner or later were going to have to: Trade in those Carbon Footprints ...

    by jamess on Tue Aug 05, 2014 at 05:23:53 AM PDT

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