Spy v. Spy
So much for keeping secrets. We learned this weekend that there's an internal dispute at the Central Intelligence Agency over the legality of the agency's interrogation and detention programs.
On the one side, the CIA's lawyers and leadership--with the backing of Justice Department officials--vouch for the constitutionality of the controversial techniques used on terrorist suspects since 2001. On the other side, the CIA's inspector general has doubts about whether the practices-- torture or not-- are lawful. And now, the CIA director is reviewing the inspector general's reviews.
If the spies themselves aren't sure if what they're doing is legal, why should any of the rest of us be? And how does this get us any closer to finding Osama?
At first glance, this may seem just another intra-agency turf war of the type that roils many of the government's biggest bureaucracies. But this is much more important than a jurisdictional squabble over who gets to regulate the distribution of widgets. The fight over how we treat terrorist suspects has enormous political and security and religious ramifications. It's not only Abu Ghraib disaster to understand why.
The take of CIA Director Michael Hayden's people is that Inspector General John Helgerson was conducting investigations with "a prosecutorial mentality and the director could not ignore them." A senior intelligence official complained to The Washington Post that the agency's clandestine operators "find the CIA general counsel says a technique is okay, the IG months or years later says no," which leads "first to job anxiety, then to a drop in morale and, finally, to risk aversion." A second intelligence official said there was concern about how long the inspector general's investigations took and that there might be bias in his approach.
The Inspector General's people, meanwhile, consider the director's intervention "part of an effort by Hayden to protect such case officers and to solidify his support within the agency's directorate of operations," according to the Los Angeles Times. They complain about the unprecedented nature of the director's review and about the threat to the inspector general's independence. One "U.S. official familiar with the probe" told the LA Times that it "could at least lead to appearances he's trying to interfere with the IG, or intimidate the IG or get the IG to back off."
There is a reason why the inspector general is so busy and has gotten under the skin of the people he's investigating. The reason is that the policies themselves are legally dubious.
It's clear that the Congress still can't muster up the courage to fix the problem. The best the lawmakers have come up with so far was the mealy-mouthed 2005 compromise on torture that the President quickly blew off via signing statement.
So maybe it's time for another branch of government to muster the courage to finally put a stop to the practices that are causing CIA strife. Instead of arguing over who is investigating whom or continuing to rely on faulty Justice Department logic, the agency would be better off seeking some sort of declaratory judgment in the federal courts. It an outside-the-box thought, but, then, that's what the CIA is supposed to be about anyway, right?
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