CIA Director John Brennan has joined an exclusive list of CIA directors and deputy directors who have lied to the U.S. Congress and the American people. Unlike Richard Helms, William Casey, Robert Gates, and George Tenet, however, Brennan has gotten protection from the White House and apparently will get away with his perfidy.
Earlier this year, Brennan told the chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and the American people, that it was “beyond the scope of reason” to charge that the CIA was trying to block the committee’s investigation of CIA torture and abuse and had even hacked into the computers of the committee and several staff members. Now, we have learned that Brennan not only knew about the obstruction of the congressional investigation, a violation of the separation of powers, but had ordered one of the CIA lawyers to conduct the search.
Even worse, Brennan established an accountability board to investigate the matter, consisting of three Agency officers and two outsiders, which will recommend no punishment for the five CIA officials involved in the matter. According to the New York Times, the CIA’s Inspector General determined that the CIA improperly monitored the intelligence committee’s activities and sent a criminal referral to the Department of Justice based on false information. Nevertheless, President Barack Obama continues to refer to Brennan as a “patriot.”
Sadly, there is a long history of CIA deceit and dissembling to the congressional intelligence committees. In 1973, CIA director Helms deceived the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, refusing to acknowledge the CIA’s role in overthrowing the elected government of Chile. A grand jury recommended that Helms be indicted for perjury, but the Department of Justice brought a lesser charge against Helms, who pleased nolo contendere; Helms was fined $2,000 and given a suspended two-year prison sentence.
In the 1980s, CIA director Casey and his deputy, Bob Gates, consistently lied to the congressional oversight committees about their knowledge of Iran-Contra. The late senator Daniel P. Moynihan (D-NY) believed that Casey and Gates were running a
disinformation campaign against the Senate intelligence committee. Gates’ lies on Iran-Contra led to the committee’s unwillingness to vote on his confirmation as CIA director in 1987. Gates was nominated again in 1991, and this time he was confirmed, but not before I provided the committee with rhyme and verse on Gates’ tailoring of intelligence to fit the biases of Bill Casey.
Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, Aldrich Ames performed as the most destructive traitor in the history of the CIA, but a brace of CIA directors–Gates, William Webster, and Jim Woolsey–failed to inform the congressional intelligence committees of the serious counter-intelligence problems that had been created. In the late 1980s, Judge Webster concealed from the Congress the information that Saddam Hussein was diverting U.S. farm credits through an Atlanta bank to pay for nuclear technology and sophisticated weaponry.
The greatest CIA disinformation campaign in the Congress took place in 2002-2003, when CIA director Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin consistently lied about Iraqi training for al Qaeda members on chemical and biological weapons as well as the existence of mobile labs to manufacture such weapons. McLaughlin played a major role in providing a spurious briefing on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction to President George W. Bush in January 2003 and to Secretary of State Colin Powell in February for Powell’s presentation to the United Nations in March.
Several years ago, Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), then ranking minority member of the House intelligence committee, documented the CIA’s dissembling to cover-up the Agency’s involvement in a drug interdiction program in Peru that led to the loss of innocent lives. Hoekstra accused CIA director Tenet with misleading the Congress. It is noteworthy that Brennan, protege of Tenet, was a staff assistant to the director at that time.
Former CIA director Leon Panetta publicly stated on many occasions that “it was not CIA policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values.” Well, we have certainly learned a great deal about CIA values in the past several weeks. The fact that there will be accountability for the lies of Brennan and various CIA lawyers to the Congress and even the White House doesn’t augur well for ever repairing the CIA’s moral compass.
Brennan once remarked that “If I did something wrong, I will go to the President and explain to him exactly what I did.” Well, we now know that he has a long list of improprieties, but there is no record of his report to the President. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.
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 counterpunch.org.