Sunday, July 12, 2009

CIA Nondisclsoure: Cheney v Panetta

CIA Director Leon Panetta told the Senate and House Intelligence Committees that the agency which he now runs had failed to inform them of a covert counter-terrorism program. Today, we are told from "two people with direct knowledge of the matter" that Vice President Richard Cheney may have ordered the CIA to withhold information concerning this classified program.

The Vice president hasn't responded to Panetta's accusations and he may not be forced to disclose such information since the language in National Security Act of 1947 may have provided him and Bush administration officials with the loophole allowing them to withhold information from Congress.

Panetta himself has an agenda that calls into question his accusation. He needs Congressional support to ensure funding for his agency and denying House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's accusation that the CIA misled her on matters concerning the CIA's torture program did not help. By shifting the blame for this latest revelation on Vice President Cheney, Panetta minimizes (or so he hopes) the damage which was done by withholding this information. The vice president and not the CIA itself, Panetta would have the members of the intelligence committees believe, was the sower of distrust.

Mr. Panetta may of course be telling the members of the intelligence committee the truth. The Bush administration did not tell everyone on the intelligence committees about the administration's national surveillance program. Repairing this breach in trust between the CIA and Congress, however, requires full disclosure. Mr. Panetta will have to provide the members of the intelligence committees the information which was withheld from them and now that the former vice president isn't there to order CIA officials to remain silent the Central Intelligence Agency has run out of excuses.

For its part, Congress must, in spite of President Barack Obama's objections, must pass into law a bill closing the loophole and mandating full disclosure to all members on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Mandating such full disclosure will restore the proper balance of power between the legislative and executive branches by prohibiting administrative officials from disclosing such information in a manner that suits its political purposes and it shields the CIA from accusations that it functions as a political (as opposed to a neutral information gathering) agency by prohibiting administrative officials from selectively disclosing the intelligence that suits its political purposes.

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