Congress Must Force the CIA to Obey the Law
Alleged questionable activity by the CIA during an ongoing investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee may finally spark bipartisan outrage over what many fear is becoming an imperial presidency that refuses to fully cooperate with Congress.
The CIA may be attempting to withhold or even sabotage information in the Senate’s investigation of the enhanced interrogation and detention program implemented in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Democratic Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein charges that the CIA searched a computer system used by congressional investigators working to uncover vital information, and is possibly trying to intimidate them by referring their conduct to the Department of Justice.
This is unacceptable. Complying with requests from Congress is not optional. It is mandatory.
The CIA is clearly thumbing its nose at Congress by citing “executive privilege” over withholding certain documents, just as it did years ago when CIA official Jose Rodriguez authorized the destruction of videos that recorded some of the enhanced interrogations, even though it was well-known that Congress wanted to review the materials.
It was illegal then. It would be illegal today.
If the allegations are determined to be true, it would be another arrogant abuse of power that creates an Image of an agency operating outside the law and playing by its own rules.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress need to fight this fight. Ensuring that the intelligence community adheres to its responsibilities to report on its activities to Congress is absolutely essential.
If conducted with a bipartisan approach — in which all information collected from the CIA in the investigation is available to the majority and minority parties — this investigation could result in the final and definitive analysis of the program. Members of Congress and others might still disagree over particular elements, but they would be able to judge it based upon substantive information and no longer on allegations or hearsay.
During my time as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, we were similarly charged with investigating issues in the intelligence community that potentially created “stovepiping” and other breakdowns among intelligence agencies that may have led to 9/11.
I worked through long nights and weekends with staff and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Jane Harman, as well as Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate, to craft a bill that resulted in the largest reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community since Congress created the CIA in 1947.
Not everyone was happy with every detail in the final product — and similar to today’s ongoing investigation, we faced some opposition from the intelligence community – but we worked with the administration and across the aisle to write a bill that Congress passed with bipartisan approval.
We proved that it is possible for the administration and Congress to work within the framework of the Constitution and produce positive results.
My time on the Intelligence Committee also provided me with the opportunity to meet hundreds of people in the intelligence community who were proud of their work, and who performed it well. They welcomed congressional oversight because it provided them with a platform to showcase their work and accomplishments. Yet they knew their boundaries and stayed well within their lanes.
I am sure that today they are as disappointed as I am by the actions of the CIA. They have been let down. The efforts to hide information and attempt to intimidate congressional investigators should not tarnish the entire community.
The CIA can immediately end its alleged obstruction over the enhanced interrogation program under review by the Senate Intelligence Committee and fully cooperate with Congress.
In doing so it will help it to regain the confidence of Congress and the American people that it is currently in danger of losing by attempting to evade accountability.
Former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and now is the Shillman Senior Fellow with the Investigative Project on Terrorism. This article was originally published by The Washington Examiner.