- - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Spies are paid to lie for their country. Fake identities, hidden compartments in luggage and clandestine meetings are meant to keep the nation’s enemies off balance and its allies safe. Michael J. Morell, the former director of the CIA, will find out Wednesday, when he is grilled by the House Intelligence Committee, that it’s important to know when to stop lying and tell the truth.

The committee is trying to cut through the administration’s obfuscation and obstruction to hide the facts about the murder of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans in Benghazi. It was known immediately that they were killed by terrorists, but the administration blamed the incident on an anti-Islam video made by an obscure Egyptian-born California filmmaker.

As our Guy Taylor reports, Mr. Morell is expected to say who overruled the CIA station chief in Libya and blamed the video posted on YouTube, and not al Qaeda.

Congress wants to know who rewrote the CIA’s talking points that sent Susan E. Rice, who was then the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to spread the cover story that Americans died during a “spontaneous protest” of angered Muslims.

The story wasn’t convincing then, and it’s less credible now that we know the National Security Agency can eavesdrop on every telephone call and read every email.

The spies could have gone through YouTube’s records to find the video, which no one had watched until Mrs. Rice talked about it on the Sunday morning television interview shows.

The testimony Wednesday could get us closer to knowing whether the pressure to lie came from the State Department, the White House or from the senior spies on the top floor at Langley. Mr. Morell no longer works in the administration, and he may feel free to tell the truth at last.

Government officials testifying at a congressional hearing were once assumed to be telling the truth. It’s a crime to lie to Congress. The Obama administration does not feel bound by the law, which the president changes at whim and fancy.

In March last year, a senator asked James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, whether the federal government was keeping “any type of data” on millions of Americans. He replied under oath, “No, sir.”

Three months later, the nation learned that spy agencies have collected cellphone records of everyone in the United States and beyond. Rep. Darrell E. Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, urges President Obama to fire Mr. Clapper for lying under oath.

Mr. Clapper remains in his job, and Mrs. Rice was promoted to the position of national security adviser, and that says loud and clear that Mr. Obama is more concerned about avoiding blame than avoiding tragedy.

Instead of showing restraint in the wake of the spying revelations, the NSA was caught spying on Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. The spy agency brazenly violated the constitutional separation of powers, and then asked the Justice Department to prosecute Mrs. Feinstein’s staff.

Hillary Clinton, when she was secretary of state, was asked to get to the bottom of what happened at Benghazi, and famously replied: “What difference, at this point, does it make?” This administration will say or do anything to stay in power, abusing the facts and its surveillance powers. Mrs. Clinton may get the answer to her flippant question in November.