Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Who is Watching the CIA?


Prior to the start of the Church Committee hearings in 1975, Senator Frank Church (D/ID) referred to the CIA as a “rogue elephant out of control.”  I had a conversation with Senator Church in the late 1970s, and he agreed that his remarks were an overstatement and that there were no examples of the CIA conducting even unsavory operations that were not in response to instructions or guidance from the White House.

However, we now have an example of the CIA as a “rogue elephant out of control” in its efforts to block the investigation of the Senate intelligence committee into CIA torture and abuse.  For the first time in my memory, the CIA has challenged the constitutional principle of separation of powers, and the oversight committee–the Senate intelligence committee–seems unable to respond effectively.

In March 2014, CIA director John Brennan emphatically denied that CIA officers had penetrated a computer network used by the Senate intelligence committee and had removed seminal documents relevant to the investigation.  Brennan, who is known for having tight control over the departments and the decisions of the CIA, said the charge was “beyond the scope of reason.”

Five months later, Brennan apologized to the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee for the CIA’s surreptitious search of congressional computers as well as for the fact that CIA officers created a false online identity to access congressional computers and even to read the email of committee staffers.  If Brennan knew in advance about this activity, he should have been immediately fired;  if Brennan didn’t know, he should have been immediately fired because it testified to the fact that he has lost control of his Agency.

President Obama expressed “full confidence” in Brennan in the wake of these disclosures, but key members of the Senate intelligence committee, including minority chairman Saxby Chambliss, have emphasized that there is a total lack of trust between the committee and the CIA director.  Twenty years ago, the Senate similarly made it clear that it had lost confidence in President Bill Clinton’s CIA director, James Woolsey, and Woolsey was forced to resign.  It is bizarre to learn that the CIA spied on the oversight committee of the Senate and lied about it to the committee chairman, but that Brennan received a vote of confidence from the President.  Once again, President Obama has demonstrated his insecurity in dealing with the national security community, particularly the Pentagon and the CIA.

All of this points to the claxon that I sounded at the Senate confirmation hearings in 1991 regarding the damage to the moral compass of the CIA as well as my book in 2008 that tracked the failures in operational and analytical tradecraft, particularly the false intelligence that helped to justify the war against Iraq in 2003.  But the most recent crisis is worse than any of these because the CIA destroyed the “torture tapes” in 2005 and then repeatedly lied to the White House and the Congress about sadistic torture and abuse as well as the results of its so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  The involvement of CIA lawyers in the campaign to block oversight is more than an example of egregious dysfunction, and the failure of the Department of Justice to prosecute the obvious obstruction of justice and the violation of the separation of powers points to a constitutional crisis.

I felt that no one was really paying attention to the travesty of politicized intelligence that I documented in 1991.  And now I must ask again, “Is anyone paying attention to any of this?”  In addition to the limited attention that the issue received from the mainstream media, President Obama answered a question at a news conference last week about the Senate report by stating that “We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.”  Well, if we “tortured some folks,” then perhaps we need to know the folks that did the torturing.  Of course, the CIA’s redaction of the report included the pseudonyms of the operations officers who conducted the “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  It is “beyond the scope of reason” that anyone, including the commander in chief, could read or even be briefed on the sadistic activity that dominates the torture report and blithely answer any question on the topic.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  He is the author of “The Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA” (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008) and “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism” (City Lights Publishers, 2013).

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA,” “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism,” and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015).  Goodman is the national security columnist for

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future