Steve Chapman
A diplomat was once defined as someone whose job is to lie for his country. That's apparently what makes them different from intelligence officers, whose function is to lie to their country.

How else can you explain why CIA Director John Brennan hasn't been shown the door? Or how Director of National Intelligence James Clapper remains on the federal payroll? Or why Keith Alexander stepped down as head of the National Security Agency only when he was good and ready?

Each of them lied flagrantly to the American people about vital matters of public concern. None paid a price.

The latest example erupted last week, when the CIA's inspector general confirmed that the agency had hacked into Senate Intelligence Committee computers and read emails sent by staffers. The investigation came after Sen. Dianne Feinstein revealed the surreptitious search, charging that the CIA had violated federal law and the Constitution.

At the time, Brennan rejected Feinstein's accusation, insisting that "nothing could be further from the truth." Places far from the truth are his native land. Only after the inspector general delivered his report was Brennan forced to admit he was wrong about Feinstein's complaint -- without revealing whether the falsehood was the result of dishonesty or of ignorance.

Yet President Barack Obama shrugged it all off. "I have full confidence in John Brennan," he said, raising the question of what the CIA director would have to do to forfeit his trust. Kill Zooey Deschanel with his bare hands on national TV?

The committee's mistake was looking into something the CIA really didn't want examined: how it interrogated detainees and what it got from them. What the still-classified committee report says, according to the Associated Press, is that the methods "were far more brutal than previously understood" and "failed to produce life-saving intelligence" -- and that the agency deceived Congress and the State Department about them.

The assessment is supposed to be made public at some point, but the fight with the committee isn't over. On Tuesday, Feinstein said the CIA is insisting on redactions that would deprive the public of "key facts that support the report's findings and conclusions."

It's no surprise that Brennan finds transparency unappealing. In using waterboarding and other vicious techniques, the agency shredded a 1994 federal law that bans torture. It violated international treaties ratified by the United States.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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