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.