President Obama’s refusal to fire Director of Central Intelligence John Brennan is appalling. Even more appalling is his statement, “I have full confidence in John Brennan.”
Honesty and the rule of law are the currency of the realm.
Yet Mr. Brennan’s tenure at the CIA has featured deceit, disinformation and the most flagrant violation of the Constitution’s separation of powers in the history of the republic. He has generated or bowed to a CIA ethos contemptuous of accountability to Congress and the American people.
We are back to the bad old days before the Church Committee hearings on covert CIA and FBI affairs and the creation of the House and Senate Intelligence committees, when the NSA’s Minaret program targeted Sen. Frank Church, Illinois Democrat, and Sen. Howard Baker, Tennessee Republican, for surveillance.
Under Chairperson Diane Feinstein, California Democrat, the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated the CIA’s post-9/11 use of torture or enhanced interrogation techniques on suspected al Qaeda suspects. The committee examined the CIA’s claims as to the counterterrorism utility of its questionable methods of extracting information. The result is a classified 6,600-page report and a 480-page executive summary, both of which remain unpublished while the committee and Mr. Obama skirmish over declassification issues.
According to leaks, the committee found that the enhanced interrogation techniques provided no critical counterterrorism information; and, that the CIA misled other agencies, Congress and the American people about that deficiency. The committee also apparently found that the CIA leaked to reporters stories of phantom terrorist plots that were allegedly disrupted by information extracted from enhanced interrogation.
This wrongdoing occurred before Mr. Brennan’s confirmation in 2013 as CIA director and cannot be laid at his doorstep.
But in March, Ms. Feinstein and other senators accused the CIA of improperly accessing the committee’s computers after senators asked questions about documents the CIA thought it had concealed from investigators: namely, the so-called internal “Panetta Review,” which confirmed many of the CIA’s worst abuses and failures of enhanced interrogation. Ms. Feinstein further charged that the CIA attempted prosecution of Senate staff for allegedly gaining unauthorized access to classified information. Although it urged the Department of Justice and FBI to launch a criminal investigation, neither did.
Mr. Brennan categorically disputed Ms. Feinstein: “As far as allegations of CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that. That’s just beyond the scope of reason.”
The CIA’s inspector general, David Buckley, investigated the dispute. Ms. Feinstein was sustained. Mr. Brennan was exposed as stating an untruth. CIA employees had accessed confidential Senate computer files. They had read Senate staff emails. They had made a criminal referral to the Department of Justice based on inaccurate information. And three of the CIA’s IT staff members “demonstrated a lack of candor about their activities during interviews” with the IG.
The IG’s findings demonstrate the CIA’s sneering at the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause enshrined in Article I, section 6, clause 1. A major purpose is to encourage aggressive congressional oversight of the executive branch. According to decisions of the United States Supreme Court, it protects both members and staff from investigation, intimidation, or prosecution based on their legislative acts. The CIA’s surveillance of the committee’s work and attempted prosecution of its staff clearly flouted the Speech or Debate Clause. The CIA’s illicit objective was to obstruct or intimidate Congress in discharging its oversight duty to escape accountability.
The exception to government transparency afforded the CIA make confidence in the director’s honesty and devotion to strict compliance with the law all the more urgent. Mr. Brennan’s proven untruths and systematic evasiveness thus disqualify him for the job. As Sen. Mark Udall, Colorado Democrat, elaborated: “The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee computers. This grave misconduct is not only is illegal, but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers. These offenses, along with other errors of judgment by some at the CIA demonstrate a tremendous failure of leadership, and there must be consequences.”