I’d argue that one of Barack Obama’s core weaknesses these past six years has been his appeasement of the CIA. It’s an agency that has come to believe that it is above the law, outside any constitutional accountability, and empowered to fight countless little wars – undeclared, covert, and with no democratic checks – and to spy and torture and become what is in effect a paramilitary adjunct to our constitutional armed forces. With that kind of untrammeled power, as well as the capacity to hide itself under the vast cloak of government secrecy, it is not surprising that its chiefs dictate to presidents rather than the other way round.
And so, in its concerted and passionate attempt to conceal its war crimes under Bush and Cheney, it has done all it can to stymie and delay and censor the Senate Intelligence Committee’s inquiry into the torture years. It has tried to turn this vital act of accountability and truth into a partisan affair, in league with Republicans who see nothing wrong with torture anyway and are committed to bringing it back. It actually spied on the Senate Committee itself, an act that is not so much remarkable for its illegality (the law is for others, not the CIA), as indicative of its conviction that it can get away with anything.
The CIA chief, John Brennan, initially denied any such thing – either a transparent, bald-faced lie or a sign that even he doesn’t control the agency he runs. The CIA is, in fact, now so out of control that one of its key defenders and enablers for years, Senator Feinstein, has finally seen it as the threat to our democracy that it is. And yet we still haven’t seen the Senate report, because the CIA so censored it to render it unintelligible, and the bare-knuckled Beltway brawl to bring it to light is still underway. The CIA top brass are not just content with their legal impunity for some of the foulest war crimes, but they want the record erased, obliterated and classified. That way, they set a precedent for future wars and war crimes over which the American people and the American president have little or no control.
The contempt for our democracy continued last week, as McClatchy reported:
Tensions between the CIA and its congressional overseers erupted anew this week when CIA Director John Brennan refused to tell lawmakers who authorized intrusions into computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to compile a damning report on the spy agency’s interrogation program …
After the meeting, several senators were so incensed at Brennan that they confirmed the row and all but accused the nation’s top spy of defying Congress. “I’m concerned there’s disrespect towards the Congress,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who also serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told McClatchy. “I think it’s arrogant, I think it’s unacceptable.”
“I continue to be incredibly frustrated with this director,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. “He does not respect the role of the committee in providing oversight, and he continues to stonewall us on basic information, and it’s very frustrating. And it certainly doesn’t serve the agency well.” Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said he was “renewing my call” for Brennan’s resignation.
The person missing here is the president.
John Brennan has been exposed as the head of an agency that clearly broke the law and precipitated a constitutional crisis by spying on its own Congressional overseers, as a bald-faced liar or know-nothing when asked about it, and as someone who continues to refuse to answer basic questions from those whom he is supposed to defer to. The CIA’s explanation for this contempt for Congress is that someone else at the agency should answer the questions:
Levin dismissed Brennan’s defense that CIA Inspector General David Buckley was the appropriate person to answer Feinstein’s questions. “It may or may not be appropriate for the (CIA) IG to answer, but it’s not appropriate for Brennan to refuse to answer. If he doesn’t know the answers, he can say so,” said Levin. Levin continued, “He either knows the information or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t know the answers, OK, tell us. It’d be kind of stunning if he didn’t know the answers to those questions, but if that’s what he wants to say, he should tell us.”
Of course he should. But the ultimate responsibility for Brennan’s misconduct, lies and contempt for his Congressional over-seers belongs to the president who appointed him. And he has backed Brennan to the hilt throughout. It’s past time we blamed Brennan for the rogue CIA now at large. This is the president’s doing. And the president’s policy. And the president’s legacy.
(Photo: Getty Images.)