There is a battle raging between Congress and the CIA this week. Intelligence oversight committees are accusing the spy bureaucracy of lying. The problem for the two panels is that these fights are being fought in two parallel and partisan universes.
For Democrats, the action was at the Senate Select Committee for Intelligence, where a bipartisan majority voted Thursday to declassify the executive summary of a massive report on the CIA’s enhanced-interrogation program. The report concludes that the CIA misled Congress, the White House, and the Justice Department on the efficacy of the harsh interrogations conducted in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
For Republicans, the action is at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, where Republicans have uncovered huge swaths of firsthand accounts from U.S. intelligence officials and diplomats that undermine the CIA’s initial assessment that the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi was a protest gone awry.
In both cases, the minority party on both committees thinks the majority is making a mountain out of a molehill. In both cases, the CIA is being accused of contradicting the analysis of its own rank and file that were in a better position to know the ground truth. And in both cases, the considered objections of the CIA’s oversight body will likely do little to diminish the power of America’s main spy agency.
“If you don’t do oversight in a bipartisan basis, the bottom line is you will have no impact on the intelligence community,” said Pete Hoekstra, who served as chairman of the House intelligence committee between 2005 and 2007.
Bill Harlow, who served as spokesman for former CIA director George Tenet, said these parallel investigations were examples of partisanship gone awry. “I find it offensive that Democrats accuse the agency of lying on important issues during the Bush administration and the Republicans accuse the agency of lying on other important issues in this administration,” he said.
Harlow has some proximity to the Senate and House investigation. While he was leading the agency’s public-affairs bureau under Tenet, the CIA was developing the enhanced-interrogation techniques that remain a source of controversy more than a dozen years later. These techniques—which include simulated drowning, slamming detainees up against walls, and sleep deprivation—have long been considered torture by human-rights groups and leading Democrats. A Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, based on millions of documents, found that the harsh techniques did not yield valuable intelligence and did not help eventually locate Osama bin Laden in 2011.
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