Let's thank Colorado Senator Mark Udall, for his recent courage, including public release of March 4 letter to White House on CIA resistance to Senate oversight.
As the first of a series of insider dominoes, this pressured Dianne Feinstein who, as the NYT says
has been a reliable supporter of the intelligence agencies and their expanded powers since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (sometimes too reliable)
to quickly make her March 11 Senate floor speech, which has received enormous attention from media and from politicians, including as follows:
Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the judiciary committee and the longest serving US senator, described Feinstein’s speech at the most important he had witnessed in his time in Congress.More below the jump on
• the CIA’s intimidation and many insiders’ strategy of delay,
• recent buried ledes on Republicans’ sabotage and CIA’s conflicts of interest,
• this shock’s impact on 2014 election campaign, and
• the best last chance to preserve federal government checks, balances and transparency, and to limit the executive branch's power of intimidation.
Feinstein was probably already considering making such a speech, but moving too slowly (and perhaps too timidly in selecting final scope, tone and wording) to keep Udall from deciding to pressure her through earlier release of his letter.
Udall’s time pressure on Feinstein reduced the time available for to coordinate her speech with other players, as indicated by Politico:
Feinstein told Chambliss the previous evening that she would be speaking on the Senate floor about the controversy, although he was unaware of the full extent of her remarks. …During an Intelligence Committee meeting afterward, according to several sources, Republicans on the secretive panel criticized the California Democrat for failing to consult them more fully before she made her statement.
This lack of advance warning helps explain why there has been silence from most committee members, including Republican Susan Collins, contrasting starkly with Collins' willingness to make public statements on other committee-related issues last July, when Collins gave a speech repeating the later discredited NSA assertion that:
the program, in which the NSA collected information on the phone calls and emails of millions of Americans...Collins, who has previously benefited from cultivating a moderate image, has a 2014 challenger Shenna Bellows, who is uniquely equipped to deconstruct and spotlight Collins’ silence, misstatements and complicity on these issues.
"…has defeated and thwarted dozens and dozens of terror plots both here and overseas,"
Those insiders who have been compelled to comment on Feinstein’s speech are doing so without much time to coordinate their comments with other commenters and with the public record. This lack of coordination leads to inconsistencies, and to nuggets of revealing information. One nugget of important information is the following buried lede disclosed by ranking Republican committee member Saxby Chambliss:
“The Republican committee members on the Senate Intelligence Committee and staff were not involved in the underlying investigation of the detainee and interrogation report...” Former Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), who was ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, had ordered the Republicans and their aides not to take part in the panel’s review, Chambliss later said.
In other words, every Republican on the committee has been preparing since day-one to frame any eventual report, no matter how watered-down, as a partisan Democratic product, but their boycott of helping the investigation does not reduce their assumption of entitlement to fully participate in deciding how, when and if anything about it should be publicly disclosed, even while:
Democrats also suspect that CIA officials are privately communicating with Republicans on the Intelligence CommitteeAnother semi-buried lede, in
heavily redacted [internal CIA] emails … released to POLITICO under the Freedom of Information Act,is the following:
“...there were too many folks who had been involved in the program working in the [Senior Review Team] Task Force. …no CTC [Counter Terrorism Center] employees who had been involved in the program should have been assigned to SRT [Senior Review Team].”This was explained and criticized by an intelligence expert consulted by POLITICO, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, who said
he was taken aback by the statement in the emails that CIA’s internal review was staffed by people who took part in the hotly disputed interrogation program. “It’s startling,” he said. “It’s a statement that there’s a conflict of interest built into the review team. Some of the reviewers should have been witnesses, not questioners…”
Another buried lede is that
the CIA acting general counsel who filed the complaint with the DOJ had served as a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center beginning in 2004. That suggests that he was directly involved in fashioning the legal justifications for the agency’s torture program under Bush.Another buried lede is the following hint at a likely motivation for the CIA to file the criminal complaint:
spokesman for James Clapper, the director of national intelligence [said] "Commenting on this issue while it is under review by the Justice Department would be inappropriate for someone in his position"Although Udall’s time-pressure on Feinstein and other dominoes has, for now, confronted the CIA’s and Republicans’ (and perhaps the White House’s) basic strategy of delay, they are likely to double-down on this strategy at least until these latest revelations cease to feel like a shock. The dangers that more delay poses to advocates of greater government transparency and accountability are illustrated by these insiders’ benefits, which can be summarized as follows:
The White House benefits from delay in order to enable continuation of its
• stated commitment to avoiding politically risky accountability for holdovers from the W-Cheney administration, and
• apparent commitment to avoiding any substantial reversal of the ratcheting up of all presidential administrations’ executive powers and freedom of action.
The CIA benefits from delay because
• sufficiently delayed disclosures can be easily disregarded as ‘ancient history’ not relevant to then-current policy or personnel;
• perhaps criminal prosecution and other accountability will be further prevented by the passage of time, and
• the report would be largely buried by any future Republican majority Senate.
Republicans benefit from delay because the 2014 elections
• could give them majority control of the Senate and thus the committee (which could then largely bury the report), and
• might result in Udall himself being removed from the Senate, with national Republican assistance, by:
a rising star in the GOP whose candidacy gives the party its best shot at unseating the Democratic incumbent, Senator Mark Udall. …it's proof Republicans are reasserting control over the chaotic primaries that have been the party's Achilles heel in recent years.
In response to this coordinated effort to unseat him, Udall is demonstrating that his understanding of the value of striking quickly also extends to re-election campaigns, as shown by quick, aggressive and catchy moves to define his new opponent as a clone of his visibly extreme and weak previous leading opponent, and by continuing to be proactive on local/regional issues, and obtaining positive coverage in a Conservative part of his state for his efforts to increase preparedness against:
"…modern mega-fires … and the volume of hazardous fuels on the landscape…"On national issues, Udall has continued to seize the moment, pressuring the CIA, the White House and the committee, by stalling nomination of new CIA general counsel.
The CIA-related political momentum of the moment is favorable, as suggested by the following commentsby the (not directly involved) counterpart committee of the House of Representatives:
Pete Hoekstra, a former Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Daily Beast Tuesday that he did not expect Brennan to survive. On Wednesday, [present House committee chairman] Rep. Mike Rogers said he thought it was a “horrible decision” for the CIA’s general counsel to refer a crime report to the Justice Department against Senate staff members....but a bit of time, coordination of cover-stories, intimidation and political spending can easily reverse this momentum.
Kossacks hardly need to be reminded of the key background, demonstrated in many other countries, that:
• One thing remaining even more fundamental than money to modern Democracy is information. (There's a reason that the Kochs, Roves and Murdochs spend so much money on distorting, fabricating, amplifying and suppressing this intangible stuff), and
• Another thing that can hollow out the substance of democratic forms of government is politicized usage of the government's police power, that always works mainly through deterrence, which becomes "intimidation" when it is used to achieve political or bureaucratic goals.
I recommend that Kossacks endorse, promote and act on the following conclusions:
1. The public
• owes thanks to Mark Udall, and
• owes itself escalating pro-disclosure pressure on other Senators, the White House and the CIA.
• owe themselves keeping Mark Udall involved in Senate oversight and public transparency, and
• owe support to Mark Udall’s re-election campaign (the contribution links on this page includes Elizabeth Warren soliciting funds for Udall, along with Udall’s older solicitation of funds for Warren).
3. Mark Udall
• needs fewer enemies and more allies on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which,
• in 2014, can only be accomplished by more support for, to further build on the recent strong campaign start-up of, oversight-focused civil liberties expert Shenna Bellows, who is the Democrat challenging Blue-state Republican committee-member Susan Collins.
4. The shock of Feinstein’s speech will soon wear off, enabling anti-transparency insiders to regroup, re-recruit Feinstein into their ranks, re-isolate Mark Udall, re-coordinate their cover stories, and resume running out the clock, on what is the best, and possibly the last, chance to reverse (or even to slow) the trend towards ever-increasing power and autonomy of federal intelligence and surveillance agencies.
5. If Mark Udall’s re-election campaign falters, then:
• especially if Susan Collins’ re-election campaign does not falter,
• all insiders will be encouraged and enabled to quickly double-down on eliminating all but the thinnest fig leaf of federal government checks, balances and transparency.
6. If the CIA gets away with intimidating the Senate Intelligence Committee, then how much easier will it be for every intelligence, surveillance or other government agency to intimidate:
• Every senator,
• Every candidate,
• Every dissident,
• Every nonconformist,
• Every other government-perceived threat to "national security" or to the un-accountable enjoyment and abuse of increasingly invisible, absolute and corrupting power.