By claiming that the CIA lies to Congress, Democrats in the House are conducting a “jihad” to protect House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Kit Bond, the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, tells Newsmax.
Bond received the same briefing from CIA Director Leon Panetta as did seven House Democrats who have claimed that the briefing proves Pelosi’s charge that the CIA routinely lies to Congress.
Bond says that what Panetta disclosed to his committee not only does not support Pelosi’s claim it does not suggest that the CIA has done anything wrong.
Instead, according to the Missouri Republican, Panetta said he decided to terminate a minor intelligence collection effort that had never produced any results. Hundreds of intelligence efforts never get off the ground because of technical, practical, or legal problems.
According to intelligence sources, the effort in question proceeded in fits and starts under President Bush’s 2001 intelligence finding or directive instructing the CIA to capture or kill al-Qaida operatives. The idea was that in addition to killing terrorists on the battlefield or from the air, the CIA might hunt down and capture or take out top al-Qaida leaders individually.
If the effort had succeeded, the CIA would then decide whether to proceed with the next step of killing a particular terrorist. If it decided to go ahead, the agency would not be violating an executive order first instituted under President Gerald Ford banning assassinations because the order bans political assassinations and does not apply to killings as part of self-defense or military actions.
In briefing the intelligence committees, Panetta mentioned notes from 2001 by the CIA’s legislative liaison, who has since died. The notes referred cryptically to Vice President Dick Cheney’s having told the CIA that there was no need to brief the committees on individual actions taken under the finding because it gave the CIA the necessary broad legal authority, and the committees were aware of the finding.
In fact, according to sources, when asked specifically during the committee briefings if the effort that has recently captured headlines was illegal or inappropriate or if he thought the CIA had violated any laws by not briefing the committees earlier, Panetta said no.
In sum, rather than being a well-defined program, the effort was more aspirational than real. Nor did it involve any unusual technology. When the intermittent effort was re-instituted under former CIA Director Michael Hayden, he considered it so minor that he did not tell the Bush White House about it, let alone Congress.
“There are programs which have not been briefed, there are minor programs for intelligence collection that do not involve U.S. citizens, that were tried without success,” Bond says. “And Congress doesn’t get advised on every small action the agency undertakes. If we ask about it, they tell us. This one apparently did not rise to the level that needed to be briefed.
“Panetta thought he would terminate the program. My main questions were, The program seemed like a good idea, but how could we do a better job collecting the information that program was supposed to have?”
Bond says that if he could disclose them, the details of the program would demonstrate how baseless the Democrats’ claims are. But the fact that the program is classified and cannot be disclosed gives Democrats cover to make whatever claims they want.
“The Democrats toss out these wild charges about classified programs in an effort to give cover to Speaker Pelosi,” Bond says. “And they are still trying to unwind the mess, to dig her out of the hole she got herself in, saying that the CIA lied to her about waterboarding.”
Bond says what should and should not be briefed to Congress is fairly clear. At the same time, the CIA recognizes that any classified disclosure to Congress may quickly leak, as happened with Panetta’s disclosure two weeks after he made it.
“The CIA doesn’t have the time, we don’t have the time, to be briefed on everything the agency’s doing around the world,” Bond says. “Every time they sneeze, we don’t hear about it, unless it’s a significant impact, or there’s a major impact on our activity. And this was another activity to collect better information on potential threats. It did not work . . . it’s not an interrogation program. It didn’t even rise to the level of covert action,” referring to programs described in my book “Inside the CIA: Revealing the Secrets of the World's Most Powerful Spy Agency” as being meant to influence or topple governments or terrorist organizations through secret funding, training, propaganda, or paramilitary action.
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Bond says that after Panetta briefed both the Senate and the House intelligence committees, “Some on the Democratic side in the House decided to go out on their usual jihad to try to protect the speaker.”
In contrast to claims by Democrats, Bond says he reacted to Panetta’s briefing by telling the director he thought the program he terminated was a “good idea.”
“There’s absolutely no evidence that anyone lied to or misled Congress,” Bond says.
The June 26 letter from seven House Democrats says Panetta testified to the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that “top CIA officials had concealed significant actions from all members of Congress, and misled members for a number of years from 2001 to this week.”
The letter claims that testimony contradicted Panetta’s public statement in May. He said then, “Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our law and values.”
The Democrats who signed the letter asked Panetta to publicly correct the May statement in light of his alleged comments to the committee.
As detailed in the Newsmax story, "Obama Has Paralyzed the CIA," Bond says that constant efforts to undermine the CIA and impugn its intelligence officers have led the agency to revert a risk-averse atmosphere imposed on the agency by CIA Director John Deutch prior to the 9/11 attacks.
“The result of the attack by the Democrats on the CIA is to potentially add to the irreparable damage that’s been done to the morale of the men and women of the CIA who have to be out on the forefront taking the risks to get the information that we need to keep our country safe,” Bond says. “It is clear that the CIA is becoming risk averse. We know a number of people who work in the field, and our staff has come from that background, and they talk with those people, and they hear it there.”
Only half the Democrats on the House committee signed the letter. Rep. Dan Boren, a Democrat from Oklahoma who declined to sign, explained to a news Web site in his home state, “I just think there’s a real problem with politicizing our intelligence community, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans.”
The fact that Boren and Republicans did not take Panetta’s disclosure as any big deal suggests that Panetta was acting in good faith and was not trying to help Democrats support Pelosi’s charges. Nor has Panetta backed away from his statement that the CIA does not mislead Congress.
On the other hand, by rushing to the Hill, Panetta showed his inexperience. Given that the disclosure was so minor, previous CIA directors would have gathered the facts more fully before informing Congress and likely would have done so by calling the staff directors of the two intelligence committees.
“I think Panetta was trying to show the committees that he was a good guy by briefing them even when it wasn’t necessary,” an intelligence source said.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via
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