May 18, 2006
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm
of the Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. He was a CIA analyst
for 27 years and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence
Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
Is Congress aiding and abetting the creation of a
police state? Recently, the chairman of the House Intelligence
Committee, Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., helped to give the CIA and NSA
unprecedented police powers. By inserting a provision in the FY07
Intelligence Authorization Act, Hoekstra has undermined the
existing statutory limits on involvement in domestic law enforcement.
This comes after revelations
in January of direct NSA involvement with the Baltimore police in order
to "protect" the NSA Headquarters from Quaker protesters.
Add to this, the disquieting news that the White House has been
barraging the CIA with totally improper questions about the political
affiliation of some of its senior intelligence officers, the ever
widening use of polygraph examinations, and the FBI’s admission that it
acquires phone records of broadcast and print media to investigate
leaks at the CIA. I, for one, am reminded of my service in the police
state of the U.S.S.R., where there were no First or Fourth Amendments.
Like the proverbial frog in slowly boiling water, we have become
inured to what goes on in the name of national security. Recent
disclosures about increased government surveillance and illegal
activities would be shocking, were it not for the prevailing
outrage-fatigue brought on by a long train of abuses. But the heads of
the civilian, democratically elected institutions that are supposed to
be our bulwark against an encroaching police state, the ones who stand
to lose their own power as well as their rights and the rights of all
citizens, aren’t interested in reining in the power of the intelligence
establishment. To the contrary, Rep. Hoekstra and his counterpart at
the Senate, Pat Roberts, R.-Kan., are running the risk of whiplash as
they pivot to look the other way.
James Bamford, one of the best observers of the inner workings of
U.S. intelligence, warned recently that Congress has lost control of
the intelligence community. "You can’t get any oversight or checks and
balances," he said. "Congress is protecting the White House, and the
White House can do whatever it wants."
Consider the following nuggets drawn from Sunday’s Washington Post article
by R. Jeffrey Smith about the firing of senior CIA analyst Mary
McCarthy. Apparently McCarthy learned that at least one "senior agency
official" lied to Congress about agency policy and practice with regard
to torturing detainees during interrogations.
According to Smith’s article, one internal CIA study completed in
2004 concluded that CIA interrogation policies and techniques violated
international law. This is said to have come as something of a shock to
agency interrogators who had been led by the Justice Department to
believe that international conventions against torture did not apply to
interrogations of foreigners outside of the United States. McCarthy
reportedly was also chagrined to learn that the CIA’s general counsel
had secured a secret Justice Department opinion in 2004 authorizing the
creation of a category of "ghost detainees," prisoners transported
abroad, mostly from Iraq, for secret interrogation—without notification
of the Red Cross, as required by the Geneva Convention.
No problem, said senior CIA officials. We’ll just lie to the
committee leaders about the torture; they will wink and be grateful we
did. The lying came during discussion of draft legislation aimed at
preventing torture. As deputy inspector general, McCarthy became aware
that CIA officials had misled the chairmen and ranking members of the
congressional "oversight" committees on multiple occasions. Neither of
the committees seemed interested in taking a serious look at the
It will be highly interesting to see what the intrepid chairmen of
the House and Senate intelligence committees do, if anything, to
followup on Smith’s report that "a senior CIA official" meeting with
Senate staff last June lied about the agency’s interrogation practices.
Or that a "senior agency official" failed to provide a full account of
CIA’s policy for treating detainees at a closed hearing of the House
intelligence committee in Feb. 2005 under questioning by Rep. Jane
Harman, the ranking Democrat. Will Roberts and Hoekstra hold those
agency officials accountable, or will they let the matter die—like some
of the detainees subjected to "enhanced" interrogation techniques to
which the chairmen have so far turned a blind eye?
Hoekstra is a master at Catch-22. On the one hand Hoekstra insists
that those in intelligence who have information on illegal or improper
behavior report it to his intelligence committee; then he refuses to
let them in the door. Russell Tice, a former NSA employee, has been
trying since last December to give Hoekstra a first-hand account of
illegal activities at the NSA. He has rebuffed Tice, with the lame
explanation that the NSA will not clear Hoekstra or any of his
committee members for the highly classified programs about which Tice
wants to report. With the door locked to the intelligence committees,
Tice has turned to the Senate Armed Services Committee and said that he
will meet soon with committee staff in closed session to tell of
"probable unlawful and unconstitutional acts" at the NSA while Gen.
Michael Hayden was in charge.
Amid the recent revelations of secret CIA-run prisons abroad,
torture and illegal eavesdropping, Hoekstra has chosen to express
outrage—but not at the prisons, torture or eavesdropping. Rather,
the House Intelligence Committee chairman is outraged that information
on these abuses has found its way onto the public square. Hoekstra has
turned his full attention to pursuing those who leak such
information—never mind that is the activities disclosed, not the leaks,
that are the real outrage.
The executive branch is "walking all over the Congress at the
moment," complained Sen. Arlen Specter, R.-Pa., last week to the Senate
Judiciary Committee which he chairs. Unlike Roberts and Hoekstra,
Specter seems genuinely troubled at the president’s disdain for the
separation of powers and particularly his end-run around the Foreign
Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, which prohibits eavesdropping on
American citizens without a court warrant.
But when Specter meets a stonewall, he caves. He may ask telephone
company CEOs why they surrendered records to the government,
but—illegal eavesdropping or no—Specter will likely remain a spectator,
as Pat Roberts greases the skids for Big Brother Gen. Michael Hayden,
architect and implementer of eavesdropping on Americans in violation of
FISA, to become the next director of the CIA. Hayden’s disingenuousness
in his testimony before the intelligence committees has been clear, but
the committee chairmen are as much to blame for winking at it.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has told Rep. Maurice Hinchey,
D.-N.Y., that it is stopping its months-long investigation into who
approved the NSA’s eavesdropping-on-American-citizens initiative (now
euphemistically dubbed "the terrorist surveillance program"). Justice
explained to Hinchey that the NSA would not grant Justice department
investigators the appropriate security clearances to investigate the
NSA program. Kafka would smirk.
Rep. Hoekstra’s speaks of "vigorous oversight" of the NSA, but the
evidence of that is lacking. Late last year the current head of the
NSA, Army Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, deliberately misled House
intelligence committee member Rush Holt, D-N.J., on the eavesdropping
program. On Dec. 6, Holt, a former State Department intelligence
specialist, called on Alexander and NSA lawyers to discuss protecting
Americans’ privacy. They all assured Holt that the agency singled out
Americans for eavesdropping only after warrants had been obtained from
the FISA court. Later that month, when disclosures in The New York Times
made it clear that Alexander had lied to a member of his committee,
Hoekstra merely suggested that Holt write a letter to Alexander to
complain. The inescapable message to Alexander? Fear not: Hoekstra the
fox is watching the hen house.
When the writers of the Constitution envisioned a separation of
powers to ensure checks and balances in our government, they were
relying on the leaders of those branches to fight to maintain their own
power within the system. Fresh from the struggle against King George,
they could not have predicted that some of our leaders would
voluntarily sign away their own rights to another George who would be