Why Congress caves to the CIA

Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic on how the CIA is trying to roll the Senate Intelligence Committee — and is getting away with it.

“The CIA gambled that it could can spy on, antagonize, and obstruct its overseers, denying them relevant documents and even trying to get them in legal trouble for doing their jobs. The fact that the CIA believes this might work is problematic. It shows how backward the relationship between agency and overseer has become. Not that this should surprise us. Give someone an inch and they take a mile. Let them get away with illegal torture and what did we expect?”

Why Does Congress Lack the Backbone to Oversee the CIA? – Conor Friedersdorf – The Atlantic.

8 thoughts on “Why Congress caves to the CIA”

  1. Jim Garrison summed it all up in a 1967 interview with Playboy:

    “…our Government is the CIA and the Pentagon, with
    Congress reduced to a debating society…We won’t build
    Dachaus and Auschwitzes; the clever manipulation of the mass
    media is creating a concentration camp of the mind that
    promises to be far more effective in keeping the populace in
    line…I’ve learned enough about the machinations of the CIA
    in the past year to know that this is no longer the dream
    world America I once believed in…Huey Long once said,
    “Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism.”
    I’m afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will
    come to America in the name of national security.”

  2. A select congressional committee launched a vast investigation into issues of historic importance and constitutional scope. The committee necessarily relied on the CIA for crucial information. The committee published a massively documented report, which, in part, was critical of the performance of the agency. Subsequently, the committee learned that it had become the target of an intelligence operation by the agency during its investigation.

    The burgeoning scandal of the CIA’s operation against the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI)is beginning to unfold.
    When the former Chief Counsel for the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) stated publicly years ago that the same agency had engaged in deceptive practices aimed at the HSCA during its investigation in the late 1970s, where was the outrage and action by the congress that had been targeted? (The HSCA had been long ago dissolved by the time the intelligence operation against it was uncovered.) Now a distinguished professor of law at a leading university, the former HSCA Chief Counsel has suggested that significant investigative issues and, potentially, conclusions of the HSCA’s report could have been compromised.

    As a recent article by the NY Times about the current flap phrased it:

    “The extraordinary battle [between the SSCI and the CIA] has created an unprecedented breakdown in relations between the spy agency and its congressional overseers and raises significant implications for the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches.”

    Will the breach of the separation of powers be swept under the carpet?

    On the surface, the dispute appears to be about this: The CIA issued a rebuttal saying where it thought the SSCI report was wrong. Yet the SSCI learned that the CIA’s internal investigation agreed in key parts with the SSCI report. When the SSCI noted that the CIA’s own internal investigation disputed the 123 page CIA rebuttal to the SSCI report, the CIA’s reaction was: “How did the SSCI get access to the internal report?” The CIA reportedly has referred the matter to the Justice Department to determine whether the SSCI violated the law. However, the SSCI now is asking how the CIA learned that the SSCI obtained access to the internal CIA report. It appears to the SSCI that the CIA conducted some form of surveillance on the committee (i.e., gathered intelligence on the SSCI’s investigation).

    Let’s hope all of this gets sorted out in public. Is the CIA prohibited from conducting ANY operations on US soil (setting aside how exceptions for terrorist acts by foreigners), much less against a senate committee?

    If the CIA has a concern about a “security breach,” should the CIA be required to ask the Justice Department whether a subpena may be issued to investigate the SSCI?

    The confrontation between the SSCI and CIA is a current symptom of concerns that were expressed when the CIA was founded (referred to in The Brothers by Stephen Kinzer) and reiterated by former President Truman on December 22, 1963. (See JFK Facts 12/22/13;

  3. There’s a story out today about Senator Feinstein’s public criticism of the CIA for spying on senate computers. John Brennan, CIA head, has fired back that the spying was “appropriate.”

    I call that open defiance of the senate. If I had the bet, I’d bet on the CIA to win this one. Just as J. Edgar Hoover had the goods on everyone in power, the CIA surely has some of the same goods. Either from its own eavesdropping or from what friendly foreign intel services have shared.

    Truman created a monster. It probably helped in some way to take down JFK. It helped to ruin LBJ’s presidency via Viet Nam. It helped Nixon commit political hara kiri. It undermined the HSCA and to an extent the ARRB.

    As head of the senate intel committee, Feinstein has petted the monster fed it treats.

    1. The comment “Truman created a monster” is incorrect. The CIA was created during Truman’s administration and he signed the bill, but the legislation was not his creation. Further, the original intent, and obvious intent, was for the CIA to be an intelligence-gathering organization. The “covert ops” stuff came later and almost certainly was not the original intent. Truman himself has stated the CIA became something it was never intended to be.

  4. Money. The Corporate Interests of America through lobbyists subvert any and all attempts to correct their path. One of the few intelligent things Marina ever said (in the 90’s I think). “Follow the Money”.

  5. A question for those in the know who use this blog:

    Is there a definitive book on the period when Senator Frank Church of Idaho was investigating the CIA?

    This might help to shed some light on how our unelected officials have skillfully “managed” our elected officials to the point where they have remained omnipotently free from real scrutiny. I also think it relates to the problem faced by researchers wanting CIA and FBI to give up any secrets RELATED TO THE JFK ASSASSINATION they may still be hiding from the citizenry.

    1. Richard McColman

      I can’t say that I have a good recommendation for about a book on the Church Committee, JSA, though I will note that Gaeton Fonzi wrote a good deal about how the CIA worked to sabotage the HSCA investigation in his book, *The Last Investigation*. (But you probably knew that already.)

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