Can The CIA Be Controlled?

One reasonable reading of the report is that the CIA cannot be relied upon to share accurate information about controversial practices with its overseers in Congress and the executive branch. That would mean effective oversight is not possible. And if a congressional inquiry of CIA practices triggers a full-scale battle between the agency and the committee, that, too, would indicate the CIA might be too tough to monitor. Moreover, if the agency and the lawmakers tasked with scrutinizing CIA actions cannot agree on basic realities, that also does not bode well for oversight.

The torture—as far as we know—is over. But the CIA’s secret war against Al Qaeda, ISIS, and other extremists continues, as does a host of other covert actions conducted by US intelligence agencies and military services. The Senate intelligence committee’s torture report and the conflict surrounding its investigation call into question the basic rules that are supposed to ensure accountability when American spies and soldiers have to toil in the shadows. This is a matter for President Obama and Congress to come to terms with—though there seems to be little appetite for such follow-up to the Senate torture report. The report is not merely an accounting of a dark past that can now be permitted to slip away; it is a warning sign of an alarming and fundamental problem: Secret government is not working—and it might not be workable.