Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has accused CIA director John Brennan of domestic spying. It’s time for the Obama administration to hold Brennan and the CIA accountable for the Senate allegations and more.
“All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out,” said legendary journalist I.F. Stone.
As the public release of the Senate’s report on a four-year investigation into the CIA’s torture program approaches, John Brennan, the agency’s director, is in an uncomfortable spotlight. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the CIA, has accused the agency of abusing its power. See Brave New Films’ short video below.
Brennan – CIA director since March 2013 – vehemently denies any such conduct. President Obama originally tried to nominate him to CIA director in 2009, but appointed Leon Panetta instead after a backlash from the left. Since then, we have seen a massive expansion of the CIA’s drone program, with Brennan playing an important role in its development.
Due to the shadowy nature of the drone program, no definitive statistics are available. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates that in the last 10 years, 338 of the 389 drone strikes in Pakistan were under Obama’s presidency. Estimates of the total number of people killed range from 2,342 to 3,789, with 416 to 957 being civilians.
Brennan tells a different story. Speaking before an audience at Johns Hopkins University in 2011, Brennan said, “In the last year, there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.” Further adding, “if there are terrorists who are within an area where there are women and children or others, you know, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women and children in danger.”
Contrary to that profession, however, there were 128 drone strikes in 2010 that killed 84 to 196 civilians, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Approximately 20 were children. Several months prior to Brennan’s comments, a drone strike in Datta Khel killed over 40 civilians.
Either Brennan was sincerely unaware of this – thus revealing his lack of qualifications for director of the world’s most powerful intelligence agency – or it was a blatant lie. Despite his comments, Brennan remains in power with the support of President Obama.
“I have full confidence in John Brennan,” the president said at a press conference. “I think he has acknowledged and directly apologized to Senator Feinstein that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff.”
Shortly after Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, the Senate Intelligence Committee began their four-year investigation into the CIA’s torture program, examining, among other things, its overall effectiveness and to what extent it produced reliable intelligence.
At a cost of $40 million, the 6,300-page report will be released to the public by September. After finishing the report in December 2012, the committee gave it to the CIA for review, expecting a comment by February 2013. There was no response until June.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chairperson of the Senate Intelligence Committee, expressed concern over the CIA’s handling of the investigative process. “Based on what the CIA told us, the CIA’s search may well have violated Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance,” Feinstein said.
At nearly every step of the investigation the agency has deliberately mislead the investigative process, using fake online identities and hacking Senate computers being used to compile reports. In March, Feinstein publicly accused the CIA of spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Brennan replied, “As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth,” adding rather unconvincingly, “we wouldn’t do that.” But far from the truth is the realm in which the CIA prefers to operate.
Brennan wrote a 122-page rebuttal in response to the investigation’s findings and convened an accountability board chaired by former Senate Intelligence Committee member Evan Bayh.
The ease with which Brennan lies about spying domestically and killing civilians abroad is quite disturbing. If John Brennan remains in power, furtherdisaster lies in wait.
While the CIA continues to operate beyond the bounds of legality, the smoke they create will blemish our integrity around the world. If the United States’ reputation can be rehabilitated, we must neither lie about nor trivialize what we are doing or what we have done.
“If I did something wrong,” Brennan said in an interview with Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, “I will go to the president, and I will explain to him exactly what I did and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.”
Perhaps it is time for the president to take Brennan up on his offer.