Littwin: This time, no one is fleeing to Russia
If you haven’t been paying attention to the CIA v. Dianne Feinstein (with an assist from Mark Udall) story, it’s time you did. It’s got everything you could possibly want. Lying, stealing, bullying, spying, mendacity, audacity, betrayal and, of course, because it’s 2014, hacking.
And it also has the one thing nobody needs: our spies, once again, going rogue.
Edward Snowden gave us the vast National Security Agency overreach. And now, Feinstein turns in the CIA. The evidence was all there in Feinstein’s remarkable 40-minute speech, in which she accused the CIA of spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee, covering up the spying and causing a fundamental breach in the constitutional relationship between the executive and legislative branches of government.
What’s remarkable is not that the CIA would break a few rules but that Feinstein, the committee chairwoman and longtime CIA defender, would turn into a whistleblower. If Feinstein has finally had enough, then everyone this side of Dick Cheney should be ready to join her. After all, the story has something for everyone: This is President Barack Obama’s CIA apparently hacking Senate files in order to protect George W. Bush’s torture-era CIA from public view.
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If you’re not outraged — and those in the torture-defending congressional caucus don’t seem to be — you really haven’t been paying attention.
It was Udall, who’s also on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who helped turn this into a story. In a letter to the president, he wrote of the CIA’s “unprecedented action against the committee,” which The New York Times the next day confirmed to mean the CIA’s hacking. According to a Politico story, some Republicans are now privately accusing Udall of revealing too much in that letter, which is kind of funny in that in a recent Colorado Senate Republican debate, Udall was accused of not revealing enough about the NSA problems. The truth is that it’s a tricky area and that it’s one where Udall has done pretty well.
To understand, you have to go back to the beginning and 9/11 and the Bush administration determination that torture would be a key element in combating terrorism. All you had to do was not call it torture but something like enhanced interrogation.
It’s one thing to say that torture is wrong and ugly and morally reprehensible, but then there was this: From the best accounts, it didn’t actually work. We debated it, of course, but not as strenuously as you’d hope.
In 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal broke with its horrifying photos, and opinion began to turn. And in late 2007, The New York Times broke a story that the CIA had destroyed all the video it had taken of its torture of detainees. But the CIA said not to worry. It had written everything down, describing all the methods it used, so you didn’t really need the videos.
(For you foreshadowing fans, note that the CIA “destroyed” the videos. This will come back into play.)
The Senate Intelligence Committee, which was supposed to be on top of this stuff, took a look at the notes that the CIA provided and — shocked — decided it had better look into this thing because it sounded a lot like torture. Obama soon became president and declared there would be no more torture, although he rejected the idea of any full-blown investigation of how the torture began.
Instead, we got the slow-moving Senate committee investigation. In a major document dump, the CIA handed over millions of pages of information and demanded in turn that there be a “stand-alone” computer setup, far from the Capitol, for Senate staffers to examine the information (more foreshadowing).
Getting through the information and then writing a 6,200-page report has taken more than four years — and it still isn’t quite finished. This is not a coincidence. This is the CIA doing all it can to prevent the committee from doing its work — and then some. Sometime in 2010, the Senate staffers noticed that some of the information they had already reviewed was suddenly missing. It turned out the CIA had raided the computers and taken back hundreds of pages of documents. The CIA would apologize, but let’s just say the apology didn’t hold.
At some later point, the Senate staff discovered more files missing, including the so-called Panetta review, an internal report by the CIA that turned up a lot of the same conclusions the Senate review turned up — including some conclusions that the CIA would later deny.
And here’s where it gets strange. Senate staffers had made copies of the report and taken them back to the committee’s safe room in the Capitol complex to keep them safe — from the CIA.
The CIA has now accused the staffers of illegally obtaining the report. And, on top of that, it has referred to the Justice Department a claim that the staffers illegally removed the report. If this seems like a feeble attempt at intimidation, that’s only because it is. Meanwhile, CIA Director John Brennan has denied Feinstein’s charge that he had admitted the CIA went back into the computers, causing Udall to say that he has “lost confidence” in Brennan.
“I don’t understand why he hasn’t come clean,” Udall said the other night on “The Rachel Maddow Show.”
There is much that is difficult to understand. Feinstein, after all these years, is finally outraged. But why isn’t Obama, who is defending Brennan, outraged? And for that matter, why aren’t Republicans, so easily outraged about all things Obama, outraged?
It’s time to release the report on torture — and then we might have a better idea. It’s time to show real oversight. It’s time, finally, for everyone to come clean.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he now writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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