Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Lying to Congress

Does the CIA lie to Congress? That question is at the heart of the Pelosi matter.

New CIA head Leon Panetta insists that the Agency does no such thing, and that he has the records to prove it. Of course, Panetta is an outsider trying to run an organization that does not cotton to outsiders, and he surely is aware of the resentment, and even death threats, leveled against his predecessors William Colby and Stansfield Turner. His rah-rah company boosterism is a natural reaction.

Let's not pretend that no official hornswoggling occurred during the Bush years. The very phrase "enhanced interrogation techniques," or EIT, should be considered a form of hornswoggling, because it is a euphemism for something nasty and unpalatable. The initials EIT appear in the document allegedly proving Pelosi a liar. But that phrase is anachronistic; the term was not in use then, or at least it did not have a widely-agreed-upon definition.

Given that problem, no-one outside the room can pretend to know just what was said to Pelosi on September 4, 2002, the single occasion on which she was, allegedly, briefed on waterboarding. John Boehner asks Pelosi to "present the evidence" for her version of events -- but how can she? She is not allowed to make a secret tape recording of intelligence briefings. Only the Agency took notes. And looky looky...
She has asked that the CIA release the notes from that briefing, a request the agency has not granted.
Why doesn't Boehner demand that the CIA release the evidence? The fact that he does not do so proves that this imbroglio is just another GOP witch hunt.

If Pelosi is fibbing, then why is she the one asking for the notes?

A further question. Even if Panetta is right -- even if the CIA's records confirm that the Speaker was informed -- do those records tell the full truth and nothing but?

Some Republicans pretend that anyone who asks that question must lack patriotism. In my view, anyone who doesn't ask is unpatriotic. If you read fairly deeply into the Agency's history, you'll find many instances of Agency personnel creating a paper trail which presents a "truth" at a remove from the real truth.

To cite an historical example: I have seen with my own peepers a letter written by then CIA head Allen Dulles to Sidney Gottlieb (head of the Technical Services Section -- or Q Division, in Bond-ian terms) in which Dulles formally castigated Gottlieb in the wake of the Frank Olson affair. At the time, Dulles had no reason to believe that either Congress or the public would ever learn of the suicide. Nevertheless, he got that letter on the record, purely as a matter of what we would now call CYA. Gottlieb, of course, continued on as before and remained a trusted Dulles ally. The paper trail conveyed a "truth" which was not true.

That sort of thing happens all the time -- inside the CIA and inside many other organizations. I can easily see a situation in which a briefer "informed" Pelosi without really informing her. Clever wording can accomplish miracles.

Newt Gingrich's editorial calling for Pelosi to step down has firmly placed me in the pro-Pelosi camp (even though, not long ago, I was sick of the woman):
But Speaker Pelosi did not confine the question to the reliability of memory. Instead, she made the allegation last week that the CIA intentionally misled her - misled Congress - and not just once, but routinely.

“They mislead us all the time,” she said.

She charged that the CIA, deliberately and as a matter of policy, violated the law by lying to Congress.

And with that allegation, Speaker Pelosi disqualified herself from the office she holds.
I admire Pelosi's courage in speaking the truth. Of course the Agency misleads Congress. Has done for decades.

If you want to see a good recent example, head on over to TPM, which has a great scoop (credit where due, and all that...) on a separate instance. A CIA Inspector General's report concluded that the Agency misinformed Congress regarding the downing of a plane (carrying missionaries) over Peru in 2001. Incidentally, the report was released by Rep. Hoekstra, a Republican. For some strange reason, Newt has not complained about Hoekstra.

Perhaps we should ask not "Did the CIA fib to Nancy?" but "When has the CIA not manipulated Congress?" Even this in-house CIA review of a book about the Agency's historical relations with Congress includes the following passage:
And, even when Congress was told about Agency activities, there were limits, at times, on what they were told.
During the Reagan era, one congressional Democrat complained that the CIA treats Congress "like mushrooms" because "they keep us in the dark and feed us manure." One member of the Senate intelligence committee said that getting information out of CIA briefers is like pulling teeth -- "and sometimes the dentist can't see all the teeth."

In every major spook-related congressional inquiry that I can think of -- the Church Committee, the Rockefeller Commission, the Pike Committee, Watergate, the HSCA, the MKULTRA hearings, inquiries pursuant to Gary Webb's journalism, and a host of other occasions -- the Agency has either hid the truth or slanted it or (and this is what happens most often) remained silent when silence was tantamount to lying.

For a classic example of the last-mentioned technique, simply review George Tenet's actions, or lack of actions, in the run-up to the Iraq war. He could have told Congress that Iraq had no WMDs -- instead, he took personal responsibility for false statements made by Colin Powell before the UN.

Pelosi's attackers seem to have forgotten the Niger yellowcake affair:
The Niger uranium story becomes a matter of contention within the CIA; By early 2002, the intelligence—still unverified—had begun to play a role in the Administration’s warnings about the Iraqi nuclear threat. On January 30th, the C.I.A. published an unclassified report to Congress that stated, “Baghdad may be attempting to acquire materials that could aid in reconstituting its nuclear-weapons program.”
We now know that this assessment was based on a document that was not only a forgery but an obvious forgery.

I don't like Nancy Pelosi. Coming to her defense is not easy. But the Republican attack machine is making that job a whole lot easier. Some of the conservative commentary actually tries to blame the Iraq war on the Democrats!

The mere fact that there is now a blog-wide astroturf assault on Nancy -- similar to the blog-wide astroturf assault on Hillary in 2008 -- tells me that something big is afoot. The attacks are popping up all over, on sites both right and left. This is a classic hate campaign, an exercise in the manipulation of public perception. But why? What's the motive? Is Obama behind it? The Republicans? Both?

Incidentally, Senator Bob Graham also says that the CIA has not been telling the truth.

Those who think that the CIA never lies should consider the following:
Still, claims that Democrats were fully briefed on the Bush administration's torture program have been leveled as recently as last December by Vice President Dick Cheney and in books by former Bush officials such as John Yoo, the former deputy assistant attorney general at the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), who helped draft one of the four memos released last week.

But the veracity of those assertions have been called into question by former CIA official Mary O. McCarthy, who said senior agency officials lied to members of Congress during an intelligence briefing in 2005 when they said the agency did not violate treaties that bar, cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees during interrogations, according to a May 14, 2006, front-page story in The Washington Post.

"A CIA employee of two decades, McCarthy became convinced that 'CIA people had lied' in that briefing, as one of her friends said later, not only because the agency had conducted abusive interrogations but also because its policies authorized treatment that she considered cruel, inhumane or degrading," The Washington Post reported.

"In addition to CIA misrepresentations at the session last summer, McCarthy told the friends, a senior agency official failed to provide a full account of the CIA's detainee-treatment policy at a closed hearing of the House intelligence committee in February 2005, under questioning by Rep. Jane Harman (California), the senior Democrat," The Washington Post reported.
No doubt the attack machine will now try to portray McCarthy as a liberal activist.


Sextus Propertius said...

"Is Obama behind it? The Republicans?"

Is there a difference?

Anonymous said...

"Is Obama behind it? The Republicans?"

Is there a difference?

Reminds me of what they were saying about Clinton.

Joseph Cannon said...

I remember the '90s real well, anon. (He said, while combing his three-foot-long white beard and rocking in his chair while smoking acorn cob pipe and swilling moonshine.) Back then, by cracky, lots of people accused Clinton of lots of things. But very few accused him of working in league with the Republicans.

With the Roos-kies, yeah. You heard THAT one a lot.

Peter of Lone Tree said...

Not exactly on topic, Joe, but C.I.A.-related from
"Obama Lawyers Urge Rejection of Leak Suit Against Cheney, Rove."

glennmcgahee said...

You gotta wonder what is making Obama change his mind so frequently. It really does seem he's being lead around in circles. Whats he afraid of I wonder?

Just Me said...

I am not a man without a country, I still have one, at least for now.

However, I am definitely a man without political affiliation, a man without governmental representation, and a man who now sees basically every national politician, of any persuasion, as useless, corrupt, and owned by someone other than we the people.

I have no sympathy for Pelosi, nor do I have any empathy for her accusers. Piss on all of them.

All of the current BS going on has about the same effect on me that the Taleban fighting al Qaeda would have.

Perhaps they will all destroy each other, and some semblance of sanity and truth will emerge from the ruins.

Rich said...

The Gingrichian/spook assault on Pelosi has made me a reluctant born-again supporter of Nancy with the annoying smile.

BTW, re:CIA venality -- their liaison to the HSCA in the late 70's was the handler of the militant anti-Castro youth op DRE in the early '60s, overlapping with numerous attempts on Castro's life and the Kennedy assassination. Except no one ever told the investigating committee staff.