- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

The politically explosive clash between the CIA and congressional Democrats flared anew Thursday as CIA chief Leon Panetta rejected fresh charges that the spy agency had systematically lied to lawmakers about key administration policies in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Seven Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee in a letter made public Wednesday evening said that Mr. Panetta recently conceded privately that CIA briefers misled lawmakers and demanded he “correct” earlier statements denying information had been concealed from Congress.

The letter built on previous allegations from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that CIA officials had lied to her in 2002 about harsh interrogation methods being used under the George W. Bush administration, allegations Mr. Panetta also forcefully denied.

“Director Panetta stands by his May 15 statement,” CIA spokesman George Little said. “This agency and this director believe it is vital to keep the Congress fully and currently informed. Director Panetta’s actions back that up.”

An intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the letter mischaracterized Mr. Panetta’s testimony to the committee in a closed-door June 24 session.

“Panetta didn’t say that the agency misled Congress,” the official said. “He took decisive steps to inform the oversight committees of something that hadn’t been appropriately briefed in the past. He didn’t attribute motives to that. He wasn’t director at the time.”

Another intelligence official familiar with the matter in dispute said the Democrats’ complaints focused on a CIA program that was developed in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that had not been disclosed to Congress until the June briefing by Mr. Panetta.

“When this program came to Panetta’s attention, it was with the recommendation that it be briefed to the Congress. He agreed and got the job done in about a day, as soon as the members of the oversight committees could be brought together,” the official said. “He has also asked a senior officer to take a look at what happened and to explore what the CIA can do to improve its reporting to the Congress.”

Some Democrats said Mrs. Pelosi had been vindicated by the letter from the House Democrats, but Republicans Thursday stepped up their demands that Mrs. Pelosi and her colleagues back up the charges against the CIA or apologize.

Michigan Rep. Peter Hoekstra, ranking Republican on the House intelligence panel, said on The Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show that the entire dispute is “very, very bizarre.”

“The Democrats are just throwing this term ‘lied’ around very, very loosely. And, at the same time, they’re saying, ‘You Republicans, don’t politicize this,’ ” Mr. Hoekstra said. “It’s kind of like we are doing nothing, you’re the ones who are sliding letters under my door after hours in the middle of the night and sending them to the press before I ever get them.”

In their letter dated June 26, the seven Democrats - Anna G. Eshoo of California, John F. Tierney of Massachusetts, Rush D. Holt of New Jersey, Mike Thompson of California, Alcee L. Hastings of Florida, Janice D. Schakowsky of Illinois and Adam Smith of Washington - asserted the Mr. Panetta said in the June 24 briefing that CIA officials had essentially lied in congressional briefings over a period of seven years.

“Recently you testified that you have determined that top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all members of Congress, and misled members for a number of years from 2001 to this week,” they wrote. “This is similar to other deceptions of which we are aware from other recent periods.”

Their claims were seconded late Wednesday by House Intelligence Chairman Silvestre Reyes, Texas Democrat.

In a letter to Mr. Hoekstra, Mr. Reyes wrote that the intelligence panel “has been misled, has not been provided full and complete notifications, and (in at least one case) was affirmatively lied to.”

A spokesman for Mr. Reyes did not respond to a request for comment.

Neither letter specified what information the CIA is said to have suppressed.

The latest criticisms put Mr. Panetta, a former Democratic congressman, in the difficult position of trying to maintain good relations with lawmakers, who control the agency’s budget, while defending the CIA’s integrity. They came as the House considers next year’s intelligence authorization bill, which earlier this week drew a veto threat from President Obama over a provision to expand the number of lawmakers privy to secret intelligence briefings from eight to 40. Mrs. Pelosi said Democrats on Capitol Hill are working with the administration on a compromise.

The controversy over CIA congressional briefings had been largely dormant since Mrs. Pelosi’s assertion in mid-May that she was lied to about the agency’s use of waterboarding and other tactics now often deemed torture. Her refusal to produce evidence or withdraw the statement drew considerable ire from House Republicans.

Asked by reporters about the letters from Mr. Reyes and other Democrats on Thursday, Mrs. Pelosi gave a vague response: “I know what you know. I’ve seen the letters from the members, and obviously they have concern.”

She added that she does not speak with Mr. Panetta often and is usually briefed by Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence.

House Minority Leader John A. Boehner questioned whether the letter from the Intelligence Committee Democrats “changes anything with regard to the speaker’s action.”

“I do not believe that the CIA lied to Congress. I’m still waiting for Speaker Pelosi to either put up the facts or retract her statement and apologize,” the Ohio Republican said.

Missouri Sen. Christopher S. Bond, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Democratic charges “appear to be an attempt to cover up for Speaker Pelosi’s faulty memory and baseless accusations about the hard-working men and women of the CIA.”

Mr. Reyes said in his letter that he is gathering information that “may well lead to a full committee investigation.”

Mr. Boehner and California Rep. Darrell E. Issa, the senior Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have repeatedly demanded a probe of Mrs. Pelosi’s charges.

“The work of our intelligence professionals to stop terrorists, alert decision makers about the plans of dictators around the world, and protect American lives is too important to allow serious accusations about alleged criminal conduct to go uninvestigated,” Mr. Issa wrote Thursday in a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller, asking him to investigate “possible criminal wrongdoing by CIA employees.”

Eli Lake contributed to this article.

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