In the wake of allegations that the CIA spied on the Senate committee that oversees it and hid evidence from them, along with revelations about the NSA’s data mining activities, there is at least some pressure on President Obama to rein in the power of America’s intelligence community. Will he? I think that’s unlikely. Eli Lake suggests that doing so would lead the CIA to retaliate by leaking damaging details about the administration’s policies.
It’s possible the investigations will vindicate Brennan. But Feinstein has a very different view of the facts and that could put pressure on Obama to let one of his closest advisers go. If Obama decides to do that, though, he could face the same kind of political problems that many observers believe besieged the George W. Bush administration after the invasion of Iraq. During the 2004 election, many of Bush’s closest allies suspected the CIA was orchestrating a leak campaign to discredit the war in Iraq in protest of what they saw as a politicized decision-making process to invade.
“Any agency can undermine just about anyone,” said Hoekstra, who served as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence during the first two years of Bush’s second term. “We saw that under the Bush administration, there were leaks coming out all over the place. You never knew where they were coming from and some of them were coming from the intelligence community and the objective was to embarrass President Bush.”
If the CIA and the broader intelligence community come to feel the same way about Obama, the White House could find itself as under siege as Bush was in his second term. Then Obama would not only have to face opposition to his foreign policy from Republicans in Congress, but also the bureaucracy of spies that know many of his darkest secrets.
All of this is very, very dangerous for the country. It means that our intelligence agencies are essentially independent of both executive control and legislative oversight. That should be no surprise at all to anyone who has been paying attention. But it’s clearly time for another Church committee to expose the lawlessness of our intelligence agencies and to push for real reform. But who would such an effort today? Certainly not Dianne Feinstein, even after she feels betrayed by the CIA in the latest scandal. She’s been a staunch defender of the intelligence department for decades, even when they’ve flagrantly violated the law.
Ron Wyden or Mark Udall? Maybe. I think they’d like to, but they don’t chair the intelligence committee. And you can be damn sure that Harry Reid isn’t going to appoint a special committee to do it. I think Rand Paul would gladly join them in that effort, but none of them actually have the power to launch an investigation. And I don’t think anyone can have any confidence that Obama would be behind any such investigations.