‘We were not, I repeat, not, told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation methods were used.” — Nancy Pelosi, May 2009
Responding to the above: “Hmmm. . . . Well, I personally . . . went to the Congress in September 2002 and briefed her on . . . the techniques that we had used, which included waterboarding.” — Jose Rodriguez, former director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, April 2012
Dianne Feinstein just became its latest professor.
On Tuesday, Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), complained that the CIA had spied on her committee in order to “intimidate” its staff.
CIA Director John Brennan insists that “nothing could be further from the truth.”
Still, Feinstein is furious. It’s an assault on the Constitution, she says.
But let’s be clear. Whatever Feinstein claims, this a crisis of her own making. To understand why, we need to look back to where this all began — to 2009, and the start of the SSCI investigation into the CIA’s Bush-era Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs).
At the beginning of its investigation, the SSCI’s stated intention was to bring clarity. Its stated intention.
Unfortunately, instead of pursuing clarity, Democrats on the SSCI sought to rewrite history. The committee members’ thinking was simple: Unless they could obliterate the facts (including their earlier approval of the CIA’s actions), they’d lose the allegiance of anti-CIA donors.
Their fiction was successful. With the encouragement of the media, SSCI Democrats produced a
report defamation of the first order.
The full report remains classified, but Feinstein described its conclusions this way: “[It] was chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us.”
Chilling? Only for those with brain freeze.
Have another read. Notice that, unlike Pelosi, Feinstein doesn’t deny that she was briefed. The senator from California is too smart for that. Instead, she acknowledges only what she must: that she was briefed. Beyond that, she smudges the content of the briefing into nothingness.
The rank politicization doesn’t end there.
As the New York Times has noted, “Several senators [guess which party] . . . said the report concludes that the use of waterboarding, wall-slamming, shackling in painful positions, forced nudity, and sleep deprivation produced little information of value, . . . did not disrupt any terrorist plots, and made no significant contribution to finding Osama bin Laden.”
The bare implication? CIA officers did what they did because they’re sadists.
Of course, there’s a major problem here. An abundance of former CIA officers assert that the SSCI report’s conclusions are ludicrous. In fact, they say, the interrogation program saved many lives. As a case in point, Rodriguez meticulously outlined, in his book Hard Measures, the role of EITs in eliciting cooperation from senior al-Qaeda cadres. The intelligence thus obtained, he writes, enabled the CIA to identify bin Laden’s courier.
Ultimately, this long-brewing discord between the CIA and Senate Democrats helps explain why the agency may have accessed the SSCI’s systems. It’s a two-part issue. First, the SSCI report has let CIA officials know that Senate Democrats will burn them for the sake of political expediency. Correspondingly, the CIA knows it cannot trust the SSCI to practice discretion in handling CIA materials.
And that leads to point two: protection of sources and methods.
While the SSCI likes to portray itself as a bastion of integrity, others regard it as a factory of incontinence, as a place where secrets are leaked for political reasons.
And for the CIA, secrets are a deadly serious matter. Just as with tradecraft failures, leaks empower adversaries and discourage allies. Therefore, if the CIA acted to protect its sources and methods, it had good reason to do so.
Don’t get me wrong: The CIA must fulfill its obligations of disclosure to Congress. Public trust and American democracy demand it. But what the CIA need not do, indeed must not do, is allow the hemorrhaging of information.
On the other side, SSCI Democrats know that they can’t give the CIA an inch on this one. They’re aware that if they do, they’ll open themselves to an accounting of truth. That’s why Democrats have been so furious in their efforts to silence the CIA’s voice. Take Feinstein’s telling declaration: “Leaks defending the C.I.A. interrogation program . . . have been a persistent problem for many years. This behavior was, and remains, unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, SSCI Democrats parade themselves as the shield of the Republic. In her Senate speech, Feinstein described her staffers this way: “The staff members who have been working on this . . . report have devoted years of their lives to it — wading through the horrible details of a CIA program that never, never, never should have existed.”
Yes, how tragic for those poor staffers. What feats they did those long days, bravely suffering in their air-conditioned offices as they fought to produce a mass of partisan piffle.
In the end, Feinstein is showing us Washington at its worst: extreme arrogance blended with grotesque calculation. The living embodiment of le Carré’s warning, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world.” More than that, this is a betrayal.
It’s a betrayal of the CIA’s operations officers, who risk everything to recruit agents and collect information.
It’s a betrayal of its staff officers, who wager skill and luck in favor of their plots.
It’s a betrayal of its analysts, who use imperfect information and probabilities of truth to bring something tangible out of the fog.
It’s a betrayal of its Special Activities Division officers, who embrace extraordinary danger as a way of life.
It is, simply, a betrayal of the CIA — those imperfect professionals and indispensable patriots.