Saturday, August 23, 2014

Did CIA/SSCI Revolving Door Lead Feinstein to Suppress Full Torture Report?

Marcy Wheeler at the Emptywheel blog is known for her facility at connecting the dots in relation to government and intelligence matters. An excellent recent example is her most recent posting, which looks at how "vague references to claims that surely were torture derived" were used back in 2004 by now-CIA chief John Brennan in a scare memo to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to substantiate his case for legally justifying a Internet dragnet. (I use the word "substantiate" guardedly.)

I have a tangential interest in this same memo, as it mentions (and not the first time this has been documented) that Tenet spent seven years working for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), the very same institution that was charged with investigating the torture program under George W. Bush's Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet. For over four of those years with SSCI (November 1988 through January 1993), Tenet was SSCI Staff Director.

After leaving SSCI, Tenet went straight to the White House, where he worked as "Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for Intelligence Programs." In a relatively short time, he was appointed deputy director of the CIA in July 1995. By December 1996, Tenet replaced John Deutch as temporary director of the CIA. Bill Clinton would nominate him as full director the next year. (For more on the CIA scandals that led to the fall of Deutch and Tenet's accession, see this 2009 story.)

In four quick years, Tenet went from SSCI Staff Director to head of the CIA.

While Tenet was SSCI Staff Director, the Minority Staff Director was John H. Moseman. In February 1996, Moseman was appointed Director of Congressional Affairs of the Central Intelligence Agency, demonstrating that the revolving door between the CIA and its Congressional overseers was not a partisan affair.

Moseman went on to become Tenet's Chief of Staff at CIA in 2001, serving until 2005. Today, he is an "Executive Advisor" at Booz Allen Hamilton.

Not everyone went from Congressional cloakroom to Langley. The Chief Clerk for the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kathleen McGhee, has served from Tenet's days at SSCI until January of 2014. In addition, sometimes the revolving door rotated in the opposite direction. When in February 2002, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees announced a joint investigation into the facts behind 9/11, they hired former CIA Inspector General L. Britt Snider to head the unified staff for the joint inquiry.

Another hire from CIA was Charles Battaglia. Battaglia, who had been the Navy's director for psychological operations during the Vietnam War, served as special assistant to the Director of Central Intelligence from 1978 to 1981. He was a senior line manager at the CIA from 1981 to 1985, and then went to work on staff at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He ultimately became Staff Director, like Tenet, in the mid-1990s.

If this were any other institution, there would be an outcry, or a least some raised eyebrows, over this revolving door between IC regulators and the IC itself. One has to ask whether what we have with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees isn't an instance of what George Stigler called "regulatory capture."

But, you may ask, isn't there a big conflict between the SSCI and the CIA over the former's attempt to regulate the latter, in the sense of holding them accountable for their torture-interrogation program?

In fact, given the amount of worldwide outrage over the revelations surrounding the US/CIA/DOD torture program, the actions of the SSCI appear to be one of helping the CIA with damage control, rather than actually bringing the scofflaws to heel.

The Senate investigation only began years after the revelations about CIA torture were made public. Indeed, scandals over CIA torture and assassination have come and gone over the decades without the SSCI, including the SSCI under Tenet, initiating any major investigation.

Moreover, even now, with some 6000+ pages of report and millions of pages of documentation, the SSCI has indicated that it will only release a few hundred pages of "Executive Summary." This "Summary" will be so carefully controlled by the CIA, i.e., by the very agency the SSCI is supposed to be overseeing, that, as Jason Leopold revealed the other day, it will not even name key personnel in the torture program like James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, despite the fact their identities were revealed by a separate investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But behind the hullaballoo over the CIA fight with Feinstein and her committee over the Executive Summary is the unassailable fact that the SSCI has suppressed its own report. Feinstein has said there is no planned release of the actual report itself, even though the mainstream press continues to treat the fight over censorship in the Executive Summary as a fight over the report itself. No, there is no fight over the main report. George Tenet's former employers do not threaten the CIA with that.

Another Suppressed Congressional Report on the CIA

This is not the first time Congress has suppressed a report on the CIA. In 1976, Congress voted to suppress the House Select Committee on Intelligence's Pike Report. A sampling of the report's conclusions may help one understand why.

"If this Committee's recent experience is any test," the Pike report concludes, "intelligence agencies that are to be controlled by Congressional lawmaking are, today, beyond the lawmaker's scrutiny.
These secret agencies have interests that inherently conflict with the open accountability of a political body, and there are many tools and tactics to block and deceive conventional Congressional checks. Added to this are the unique attributes of intelligence -- notably, "national security," in its cloak of secrecy and mystery -- to intimidate Congress and erode fragile support for sensitive inquiries.

Wise and effective legislation cannot proceed in the absence of information respecting conditions to be affected or changed. Nevertheless, under present circumstances, inquiry into intelligence activities faces serious and fundamental shortcomings.

Even limited success in exercising future oversight requires a rethinking of the powers, procedures, and duties of the overseers."
This was said even after the Committee had spent many months gathering a great deal of evidence (some of which today can be accessed here).

The Pike Report was suppressed by Congress after it was completed and after the CIA complained. It was never officially released to the United States citizens who paid for it. The late Daniel Schorr famously released a leaked copy to the Village Voice, which published it to great fanfare. Schorr was castigated, and his career and liberty temporarily threatened.

The history of what was in the Pike Report has mainly been ignored and forgotten, which is what happens when political history is suppressed.

Could the CIA have learned from this that to keep matters under control that one of their own should be well-placed inside the very oversight instruments of Congress itself? Could this have been George Tenet's role from his very first day working for SSCI?

I have no evidence that is the case, but there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to present to at least ask the question.

Here's another question, though no one -- and ponder that "no one" a bit -- no one has asked Senator Feinstein and her committee why they are not releasing the full report. The taxpayers paid for it. The crimes ostensibly investigated therein constitute among the most heinous possible, being torture and murder by torture, ordered by the Chief Executive of the land.

Why is the SSCI acting as an agent of cover-up? If the Congress cannot do their job of oversight, what options are left for civil society?

Appendix: Who was on the SSCI back when Tenet served? Looking at a hearing from April 1992, we see that Democratic Senator David Boren was chairman , while Republican Senator Frank Murkowski was vice-chair. Others serving included Ernest Hollings, Bill Bradley, John Warner, Alfonse D'Amato, Alan Cranston, John Danforth, John Chafee, John Glenn, Dennis Deconcini, Slade Gorton, Howard Metzenbaum, and Bob Kerrey. George Mitchell and Robert Dole served Ex Officio. Sen. Feinstein entered the Senate as Tenet was leaving his post at SSCI to work for the NSC.

Appendix II (9/1/14): Recently, working on other materials, I discovered yet another CIA/SSCI link. In the mid 1980s, the SSCI Staff Director was Bernard F. McMahon (see this PDF file). Earlier, McMahon had served as Executive Director to the Director of the CIA (date documented as 1997 - see link and this 2002 Baltimore Sun article, which notes McMahon served under then CIA Director Stansfield Turner).


Anonymous said...

What does Andy Johnson, the former SSCI Staff Director before the current staff director, long-time Feinstein aide David Gannis, do now? He writes articles on national security and CIA matters, but his bio never says more than that he worked as SSCI Staff Director, 2007-2009. Before that, I believe he was the Minority Staff Director for about 3 years.

Does Johnson now work (or ever work) for the CIA? I don't know, and have no evidence he does (did). But if he did, then he would be following in a long tradition.

Anonymous said...

“The clandestine service fought hard against giving Congress a role in running the CIA. It feared that among the 535 elected representatives, there might be 5 who understood the first thing about the agency. So the staffs of the congressional oversight committees were quickly seeded with career CIA officers who could look after their own.” Timothy Weiner, Legacy of Ashes, p. 480 (Anchor 2008).

Valtin said...

Thanks very much for the cite from Timothy Weiner's book. I will be sure to reference it in the future.

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