The letter seven members of the House Intelligence Committee signed and promptly released to the media is at once blatant lobbying for an amendment that would expand Congressional access to classified intelligence and a potent example of its dangers. When the majority of Democrats on the most sensitive committee in Congress are disposed to leak a briefing in order to stigmatize the CIA, it is a harbinger of more dangerous leaks to come. Among those who will have access to state secrets should the amendment pass are a congressman who went on a high-profile propaganda trip arranged by Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Intelligence Service, a former federal judge impeached for bribery, and a Democratic Socialist whose husband spent time in prison for check-kiting.
The Left’s assault on the intelligence is both the cause and effect of this letter. Defending himself from Nancy Pelosi’s allegation that the CIA lies to Congress “all the time,” CIA Director Leon Panetta issued a statement May 15 declaring, “It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress.” The newly leaked letter, which was not sent on official letterhead, claims Panetta told the committee on June 24 that “top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all Members of Congress, and misled Members for a number of years from 2001 to this week.” It enjoins the director, “In light of your testimony, we ask you publicly correct your statement of May 15, 2009.”
The CIA and the committee’s Republicans moved to shoot down the story. NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported on Wednesday, “The CIA and Leon Panetta are not acknowledging, in any fashion, that he testified that there was any misleading of Congress. That is not true.” CIA spokesman George Little said any assertion of lies is “completely wrong.” On Thursday, Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-TX, who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, denied the letter accurately represents Panetta’s June 24 briefing. Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan and Rep. Darrell Issa of California said Panetta merely told them the CIA failed to adequately inform them about a classified program that never became active. Rogers insisted, “There was not this pattern of not telling us things.”
An Entreaty for Institutional Hara-kiri
After spending six years accusing the president and the CIA of lying, one can hardly be surprised by the Democrats cynically twisted Panetta’s words. Treating the CIA as a pariah has been de rigueur since the days when Democrats stopped following the Church Committee hearings long enough to watch Three Days of the Condor. Rep. Rush Holt, the New Jersey Democrat who leaked the letter according to the New York Times, confessed on Countdown with Keith Olbermann Thursday, “The point we are trying to make was there was a pattern of denial and deception, a pattern that ultimately affects the security of Americans…over not just the months but the years and the decades.” He generously allowed that “many” CIA agents “are patriotic” – presumably Valerie Plame and Mary McCarthy.
However, the letter demands something at once absurd and perilous. In response to an incomplete briefing (concerning a program about which Panetta himself had just learned), the Democratic majority did not demand an apology, or full briefings in the future; they asked the director of the CIA to tell the world it is CIA policy to mislead Congress. The letter is an entreaty for institutional hara-kiri. The political benefits, particularly to Nancy Pelosi, are as obvious as the damage it would do to CIA morale, citizens’ confidence in their government, and America’s prestige and trustworthiness around the world. The Left’s anti-CIA mania is underscored by the hardball these members are willing to play with a former Democratic Congressman appointed by a leftist Democratic president.
Scapegoating, Blame-Shifting, Conspiracy-Mongering
The political motivation and desire to vindicate Nancy Pelosi’s tarring of the CIA have been lost on no one. Andrea Mitchell observed the signatories “are very close allies of Speaker Pelosi.” Holt seemed to admit the connection. “If people are saying, ‘Heaven forbid the speaker said the CIA deceived Congress’ – anyone who has served any time on these committees and is straightforward will say, ‘Yes, of course.’”
Others prefer to see Bush-era machinations at work. Lanny Davis asked if Dick Cheney (who else?) were involved, calling his baseless rumination “an important subject for a 9/11-type bipartisan commission.” Jack Rice, a commentator for Air America, agreed.
However the breach came about, everyone acknowledges it concerned neither waterboarding nor interrogations – leaving the left-wing imagination free to till its most fertile fields: imagining the evils of the United States. The Huffington Post speculated the program in question was an “Executive Assassination Ring,” a program whose existence is predicated on the reporting of Seymour Hersh. Since no one can legally identify the classified program, the ill-advised letter has touched off waves of speculation – and if it succeeds in its larger design, it will be the first of many.
The Shape of Leaks to Come
The letter’s deeper goal was to bolster the amendment pending before the House to open CIA briefings to all members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, expanding the hearings to 40 people instead of eight. Andrea Mitchell called the letter little more than “a lot of posturing” on the eve of the vote.
Obama Doesn’t Trust These People…
President Obama, a leftist committed to national security “openness,” has threatened to veto the measure if it passes, saying it would run “afoul of tradition by restricting an important established means by which the President protects the most sensitive intelligence activities that are carried out in the Nation’s vital national security interests.” The media report the White House also worries “briefing more lawmakers might compromise the most sensitive U.S. intelligence operations.”
Why is that? The House is Democrat-controlled. As head of the party, Barack Obama knows those who would be briefed better than anyone else. And that is why he is restricting their access to material that could get Americans killed.
The cavalier attitude the Gang of Seven took toward releasing this letter about a classified CIA briefing is an argument they should not be entrusted with national security. Holt told Politico,“It seemed to us that we weren’t getting the response to the letter that it deserved…After weeks of no response and no action, what were we going to do?” Holt, et. al., argue that since the Director of the CIA did not throw the entire national security apparatus under the bus within nine days, it justified leaking the letter and touching off endless speculation. Rep. Anna Eshoo, a Democratic signatory, has told The Huffington Post the seven released the letter because their lawyers “made a determination recently that it did not need to be classified so we made it public.”
This begs the question: what else will their unelected staffers determine “need not be classified” if they receive regular CIA briefings?
If the amendment passes, classified CIA briefings will be open to all House Intelligence Committee members. Examining the records of but a few of the letter’s signatories chills the reader at the prospect.
- Mike Thompson, D-CA. If allowed to sit in on CIA briefings, Thompson would be the first Congressman to my knowledge to receive classified information after having been manipulated by the intelligence agency of a foreign government. Thompson went to Iraq with Rep. Jim McDermott and former Congressman David Bonior in September 2002, on the eve of war. Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) reportedly bribed Muslim activist and former Michigan CAIR organizer Muthanna al-Hanooti to arrange the trip. As intended, the trio toured carefully selected areas of the nation – the mass graves of children were not among them – then recycled Iraqi propaganda on U.S. television. Thompson insists he did not know he was being manipulated, which is itself an argument he has no business receiving classified information.
- Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-IL. In addition to being a member of the House Progressive Caucus, Schakowsky was the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic Socialists of America’s 46th annual Debs-Thomas-Harrington dinner and an early outspoken supporter of Cindy Sheehan (she who met with Iraqi parliamentarians who supported killing American GIs in battle). Schakowsky’s husband, Robert Creamer, was convicted of check-kiting in 2006 as head of the Illinois Public Action Council, on whose board Schakowsky sat. (He is now a blogger for The Huffington Post.) Such material would provide blackmail to foreign intelligence agents, if her extremist ideology did not place her in their orbit. Now that Roland Burris has declared he will not run for election, Schakowky is a likely candidate for Barack Obama’s old Senate seat.
- Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-FL. Pelosi’s original choice to chair the House Intelligence Committee was impeached for bribery as a federal judge. More lucrative funds could come his way after a CIA briefing. Hastings has already shown his unwillingness to get serious about his role in leaking intelligence. When Darrell Issa suggested those who drafted the letter take polygraph tests, Hastings, replied, “Cut me some slack.” (National security by J.R. “Bob” Dobbs.)
In the Senate, the amendment would open these doors to far-leftists Russ Feingold, D-WI; Ron Wyden, D-OR; Barbara Mikulski, D-MD; and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI. It was a staffer of Chairman Jay Rockefeller who produced an infamous memo suggesting Senate Democrats politicize the committees investigations. Rockefeller has testified to having loose lips abroad, saying, “I took a trip by myself in January of 2002 to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Syria, and I told each of the heads of state that it was my view that George Bush had already made up his mind to go to war against Iraq, that that was a predetermined set course which had taken shape shortly after 9/11.”
Increasing the number of people who have classified intelligence inevitably invites greater leaks – especially in a party that glorifies “white-blowers” and justified the media’s destruction of Homeland Security programs after 9/11.
This widening of the net affects the intelligence services of our allies, as well. After the Church Committee, foreign nations declined to share information with us for fear of leaks. William F. Buckley Jr. noted, “they did not wish to risk their own assets by letting the CIA, whose secret information, post-Church, was available to as many as 36 U.S. legislators, have knowledge of them.” Among the members of the House Intelligence Committee at one point was Castroite Ron Dellums. The current letter demonizing the CIA is intended to open the gates to as many as 40 Congressmen, some of whom have proven themselves Dellums’ worthy successors.
This article originally ran as the weekend lead on Friday, July 10, 2009, on FrontPage Magazine.