Democrats, Republicans in New Dispute Over CIA

09 July 2009

Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are engaged in a new dispute over the Central Intelligence Agency, involving allegations the CIA misled Congress.

CIA Director Leon Panetta (file photo)
Leon Panetta (file photo)
The latest controversy was sparked by a letter released on Wednesday by Democrats on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to CIA Director Leon Panetta, regarding remarks he made in a closed door session with the committee last month.

The seven Democrats say Panetta acknowledged in the June testimony that top CIA officials had concealed "significant actions" from Congress since 2001, and they urged him to correct a statement he made in May that it is not the policy or practice of the CIA to mislead Congress.

That earlier statement by Panetta was in response to the controversy over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's assertion that the CIA misled Congress over the use of harsh detainee interrogation methods during the Bush administration.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (file photo)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (file photo)
At her regular weekly news briefing, Pelosi was asked whether the new information about Panetta, which lawmakers have not discussed because of its classified nature, has silenced the debate over her assertion that the CIA misled lawmakers and the flood of attacks against her by minority Republicans.

"This is an excuse, not a reason," she said. "As I told you, our [the Democrats'] success is driving Republicans to distraction; any excuse will do. But the fact is, there is a briefing that is of serious concern for members of the committee and they have their course of action to deal with it."

Republicans assert that the letter about Panetta's recent briefing is another effort by Democrats to shield Pelosi from further criticism.

The Democratic Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Silvestre Reyes, issued a statement saying he believes the CIA has "in the vast majority of matters, told the truth".  

But he said that in rare instances, certain CIA officers "have not adhered to the high standards held, as a rule, by the CIA with respect to truthfulness in reporting."

In a letter to the ranking committee Republican Representative, Pete Hoekstra, Reyes said the committee "has been misled, has not been provided full and complete notifications, and [in at least one occasion] was affirmatively lied to."  

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) speaks at a news briefing on Capitol Hill, 21 May 2009
House Minority Leader John Boehner (file photo)
House Republican leader John Boehner says the letter to CIA Director Panetta from committee Democrats changed nothing regarding Speaker Pelosi's initial allegation against the CIA.

"I am still waiting for Speaker Pelosi to either put up the facts or retract her statement and apologize," he said.

Meanwhile, a statement by the CIA said Panetta stands by his earlier remarks and believes it is vital to keep Congress fully informed.

The controversy spilled into consideration by the House of Representatives of an intelligence authorization bill for the 2010 fiscal year, which begins in October.

Democrats disallowed a Republican-sponsored amendment, which they view as an effort to embarrass Pelosi, that would have required the CIA to release unclassified accounts of its briefings on the use of enhanced interrogation techniques.

President Obama issued his second veto threat of his administration on the intelligence measure, opposing a Democratic proposal to expand to more than 40 the number of lawmakers who must be briefed about secret activities. Currently, classified briefings are given to the top Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress, and the majority and minority heads of the House and Senate intelligence committees.