When the New York Times disclosed yesterday that Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s black sheep brother, Ahmed Wali, was on the payroll of the CIA, Congressional leaders were quick to note that this was the first they had learned of the agency’s relationship with a man widely thought to be at the center of Afghan drug smuggling operations, and they demanded a briefing. And House intelligence committee member Jan Schakowsky was also quick to make note of what seemed to her an increasingly familiar pattern: Congressional leaders learn about CIA operations from the press. Their complaints to the agency meet with a familiar retort, Schakowsky said: “We’ve been meaning to brief you about that…”
The House Intelligence Committee is systematically surveying the CIA’s compliance record with its briefing obligations over the last eight years. The committee’s work isn’t yet finished, but it’s already come up with five reasonably clear-cut cases in which the CIA either failed to brief or lied to Congressional oversight. TPM’s Zachary Roth sums up the comments:
Earlier this year, Speaker Nancy Pelosi charged that the agency had lied to her about its enhanced interrogation techniques program, during a September 2002 briefing — provoking outrage from Republicans. But that episode was among the examples that Schakowsky and Eshoo pointed to today.
• Another concerned the top secret program to assassinate al Qaeda operatives which CIA director Leon Panetta first told Congress about in June.
• A third concerned the CIA’s 2005 destruction of videotapes showing the interrogation of al Qaeda operatives.
• And a fourth, already known, related to the shooting down of a plane carrying missionaries over Peru in 2001, information about which was concealed [from] Congress.
The CIA isn’t issuing a ringing defense in response. In a statement released to The Hill, it stresses that under current management, it will do better:
It is the policy of the Central Intelligence Agency to be clear and candid with the United States Congress. Director Panetta has made a relationship of trust, confidence, and respect a top priority.
Back in June, a political flap erupted over Pelosi’s charge that the CIA misled her about its torture program, and particularly the use of waterboarding. Republican leaders accused Pelosi of lying and suggested that she should be investigated to see if she had authorized the waterboarding program—even as they were staunchly opposing an investigation of the program itself. This political reduction to absurdity missed the point of the question, of course, since it cannot be answered in a binary yes-no fashion. There is at this point no question that briefings about the torture program occurred, but that many of the briefings the CIA claimed happened in fact did not, and that the briefings fell far short of disclosing what was being done and on what authority. The crux of the matter lies, as usual, in the details, and the CIA operatives conducting the briefings unsurprisingly go no further than their political bosses want them to go. In any event, however, the latest conclusions give Speaker Pelosi and her allies more ammunition, and the CIA’s whimpering response is telling.