Congress is supposed to exercise oversight of all government agencies, and its intelligence oversight committees are supposed to monitor the CIA. But a new report from the McClatchy news service says that there are allegations that the CIA turned the tables and started monitoring the intelligence committees, by spying on members of the staff of those committees.
The CIA is suspected of doing this in connection with the yet-to-be-released Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program. That report has been held up for a long time.
The development marks an unprecedented breakdown in relations between the CIA and its congressional overseers amid an extraordinary closed-door battle over the 6,300-page report on the agency’s use of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists held in secret overseas prisons. The report is said to be a searing indictment of the program. The CIA has disputed some of the reports findings.
It is illegal for the CIA to engage in domestic spying and that may explain CIA Director John Brennan’s angry counterattack at the US Senate yesterday when senators questioned him about these charges.
Relations between the CIA and the US senators charged with its political oversight were at a nadir on Wednesday after the head of the agency issued a rare public rebuke to lawmakers who accused it of spying on their staff.
John Brennan, the director of the CIA, said the claims by members of the Senate intelligence committee were “spurious” and “wholly unsupported by the facts”, and went as far as suggesting the committee itself may have been guilty of wrongdoing.
But what about the torture report itself?
Zeke Johnson of Amnesty International said: “If the reports are true the CIA appears to have doubled down on its own wrongdoing, a shocking but sadly unsurprising move given the agency’s role in torture. The key question is whether President Obama has the backbone to finally set things right.”
The White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told the Guardian on Wednesday that Obama supported declassifying the major findings of the Senate report – although Aftergood pointed out that Obama could do so at will.
So where is president Obama in this? Senator Mark Udall has suggested that president Obama knew about this which would make him complicit in the illegal activities. I have little doubt that he knew about this. But I also expect people to deny that he knew. Obama has shown deep affection for those who lie on his behalf (James Clapper, Keith Alexander) and I do not expect much from him.
The contempt that this constitutional law professor president has for the law and the constitution is something to behold.