Someone HAS to be the Grownup

Rich Galen

7/13/2009 12:12:43 PM - Rich Galen

Those shipments of paper bags to the House and Senate Office Buildings over the weekend are to treat the hyperventilating of Members and staff over the news that the CIA did some spying about which it did not tell the Congress.

The New York Times front pager yesterday started thus: The Central Intelligence Agency withheld information about a secret counterterrorism program from Congress for eight years on direct orders from former Vice President Dick Cheney, the agency's director, Leon E. Panetta, has told the Senate and House intelligence committees, two people with direct knowledge of the matter said Saturday.

I have now idea - nor, by the way, do most Members of the House and Senate - what that "secret counterterrorism program" did or didn't do, whether it worked or didn't work, whether it was legal or illegal.

Here's what I do know. This upping the ante between the Congress - especially the U.S. House - and the CIA has got to stop.

Read the last clause of that opening graf from the NY Times piece again. I'll help you: "… two people with direct knowledge of the matter said …"

This is why the CIA is so eager to run up to the Hill every hour or so to report on how many bathroom flushes there have been at Langley this week.

Because no sooner does the CIA keep members of the Intelligence Committees informed of important activities than "two people with direct knowledge of the matter" race out of the room in the Capitol and grab their cell phones to call a newspaper like reporters in a 1930's black and white courtroom drama after a witness has spilled the beans racing to the payphones in the courthouse hallway shouting for "rewrite!"

The CIA is largely a group of analysts who do things like look at the prescriptions of foreign heads of state and deduce the medical conditions for which they are being treated.

Some member of a spy agency, stationed in a foreign land, has to convince the person who cleans the foreign leader's bathroom to write down what's on the labels in the medicine cabinet so the analysts have something to analyze.

Not exactly Burn Notice, but there you are.

The Times reported that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the CIA not to report whatever this particular surveillance activity was to its Congressional overseers.

How can the Veep do that? If the CIA leadership agreed with the Vice President then they were just following the policies as directed by what is called "the National Command Authority."

Even if someone at the CIA disagreed with the policy, he or she had all the cover anyone could ever ask for: "We had to assume the Vice President was acting at the direction, and with the consent and knowledge, of the President."

Not that many people in Washington will pick up a phone and, having reached the President, will say: "This is what the Vice President has instructed us to do. Does that comport with your policy?"

You do that, your last name better be the same as the President's and you'd better have the title: First Lady.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi will use this latest report as evidence that she was correct in her assertion that the CIA lied to her about waterboarding in spite of the fact that this activity had nothing whatever to do with waterboarding. Pelosi has been scrambling for a hand-hold in this CIA thing and she now has been handed a scaffold.

If the CIA lied about this surveillance program, doesn't it stand to reason it would lie about the waterboarding thing? No. It doesn't but this is not a college debating society, this is the Congress versus the nation's spy agency.

The problem is, the nuances of this fight will be lost on our enemies. The Taliban is killing Afghans and Americans in Afghanistan. Iran is looking for any cracks in the dam of Western opposition to its nuclear program. North Korea is … North Korea.

One or all will see this as further evidence that America's leaders are more focused on scoring cheap domestic political points than protecting the nation from outside attacks. I don't believe that to be true, but that's what it would look like to me if I were sitting in a hut somewhere in Southwest Asia looking for talking points to buck up a sleeper cell in the American Midwest.

This has got to stop. Someone has to be the grownup. Pelosi has to find out who the "two people with direct knowledge of the matter" are and have them arrested. The CIA has to obey the law and brief the Congress as required.

If Pelosi can't or won't and the CIA can't or won't, then it falls to the President.

We all know where this buck stops.