As literature’s most famous private detective, Sherlock Holmes, reminds us in the Silver Blaze, in evaluating a complex pattern of facts, we must consider not only the established facts but also things which should have happened but did not. As the curious case of the dog in the stables that did not bark.
And today the Washington Post brings us another installment in the Silver Blaze/Bush Administration series:
An independent oversight board created to identify intelligence abuses after the CIA scandals of the 1970s did not send any reports to the attorney general of legal violations during the first 5 1/2 years of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism effort, the Justice Department has told Congress. Although the FBI told the board of a few hundred legal or rules violations by its agents after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the board did not identify which of them were indeed legal violations. This spring, it forwarded reports of violations in 2006, officials said.
The President’s Intelligence Oversight Board — the principal civilian watchdog of the intelligence community — is obligated under a 26-year-old executive order to tell the attorney general and the president about any intelligence activities it believes “may be unlawful.” The board was vacant for the first two years of the Bush administration. The FBI sent copies of its violation reports directly to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. But the board’s mandate is to provide independent oversight, so the absence of such communications has prompted critics to question whether the board was doing its job.
“It’s now apparent that the IOB was not actively employed in the early part of the administration. And it was a crucial period when its counsel would seem to have been needed the most,” said Anthony Harrington, who served as the board’s chairman for most of the Clinton administration. “The White House counsel’s office and the attorney general should have known and been concerned if they did not detect an active and effective IOB,” Harrington said.
I put it to you—as my British barrister friends like to say—that there is an alternative and completely encompassing explanation for the IOB’s silence. If it were to report, it would be giving an account of a crime spree without modern precedent, certainly vastly greater than anything that occurred under the Nixon Administration and was exposed by the Church Committee and its report. And there is another key distinction. Rather than being a crime spree by a few rogue agents, under the Bush Administration the criminal conduct has been guided and pressed from the top down—often over the resistance of career professionals. Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington, and the nation’s supposed chief law enforcement officer, Alberto Gonzales, have been in the thick of the conspiracy from the start. This is the story that silence tells.