By ALEX ISENSTADT 7/12/09 12:10 PM EDT
Calls for an investigation into the Central Intelligence Agency intensified this weekend amid revelations that former Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the concealment of a covert agency spy program from Congress.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that the Senate Intelligence Committee should “absolutely” investigate the program.
“The executive branch of government should not create programs like these programs and keep Congress in the dark,” Durbin said on ABC’s “This Week”. “To have a massive program that was concealed from the leaders in Congress is not only inappropriate, it could be illegal.”
In an article posted to its website on Saturday, the New York Times reported that CIA Director Leon Panetta notified House and Senate intelligence committee members that Cheney ordered the concealment of a surveillance program from Congress.
The article, which sourced the claim to “two people with direct knowledge of the matter,” follows on the heels of reports this week that Panetta had told House intelligence committee members that the CIA had misled Congress for eight years about the program.
Lawmakers have declined to offer any details about the covert program, citing the sensitivity of intelligence information. Intelligence officials have told POLITICO that the program was “on-again, off-again over the years,” and that it “never went fully operational.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that Congress should have been told about the classified program.
“I think you weaken your case when you go outside the law,” Feinstein said on “Fox News Sunday.” “That’s something that should never happen again.”
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who chairs the House Intelligence Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee, said in an interview with POLITICO that the New York Times report only reinforced the need for the launch of formal investigation into the CIA’s practices.
“What it does is really propel a prompt investigation,” Schakowsky said. “An explicit decision was made at the highest levels not to report this program.”
But Republicans insist there is no need to rush into an investigation into the CIA – and are accusing Democrats of trying to make political hay out of the revelations.
“What if it’s a top secret program?” Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl asked on “This Week.” “Let’s don’t jump to conclusions is what I’m saying.”
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), meanwhile, said Democrats were turning the CIA into a “whipping child.”
“That isn’t a reason to disassemble the CIA and make them a whipping child in the middle of public opinion, which basically undermines the whole agency,” Gregg said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “This is a national attempt by some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to basically undermine efforts to collect intelligence.”
But Democrats are making the case that the New York Times report offers vindication for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has come under fire from critics after asserting earlier this year that the CIA had misled her on its use of controversial water-boarding practices.
“It certainly confirms her characterization of the level of openness the intelligence community and the CIA have given to Congress,” Schakowsky told POLITICO.
Asked if Panetta’s charge – which does not seem to directly relate to the question of what the CIA Pelosi about waterboarding – offered validation to the Speaker’s complaint of being misled by the agency, Schakowsky responded: “Absolutely.”
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano declined to comment on the New York Times report, saying, “It’s not agency practice to discuss what may or may not have been said in a classified briefing.”
“When a C.I.A. unit brought this matter to Director Panetta’s attention, it was with the recommendation that it be shared appropriately with Congress. That was also his view, and he took swift, decisive action to put it into effect,” Gimigliano said.
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