Congress is supposed to have oversight over the intelligence community. Not the other way around.
But according to a new report by Sharyl Attkisson, that’s what happened. In 2014, the Obama CIA under John Brennan secretly intercepted sensitive congressional emails that discussed whistleblowers within the intelligence community. Then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper wrote members of Congress that this information was not meant to be shared; of course, by then he was quite practiced at lying, having testified in 2013 that the CIA did not “wittingly” collect data on millions of Americans. Information that was leaked just weeks later by Edward Snowden proved quite conclusively that Clapper hadn’t told the truth.
We just keep finding out more and more that is bad within the intel community, and it’s probably still only the tip of the iceberg. It seems that, in recent years, the policies, longstanding traditions and even the law no longer applied. Before going on with the details of this new revelation, I just want to say that this is a major reason why the elections on Tuesday are so important. It’s the kind of thing that needs to be exposed and rooted out, and if (shiver) Nancy Pelosi takes up the gavel again in the House and (shudder) Adam Schiff chairs the House Intelligence Committee, any congressional investigation of this garbage –- happening as it did under President Obama –- will be shut down for good, while instead they examine every year of President Trump’s tax returns with an electron microscope.
We know about what the CIA did because the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, was finally, after four years, able to get a couple of revealing “letters of Congressional notification” declassified. The slow-walking of this process occurred under Brennan and Clapper, and even after Trump became President, the declassification just wasn’t happening. Grassley was finally able to get it done by appealing to the new Intelligence Community Inspector General, Michael Atkinson.
“The fact that the CIA under the Obama administration was reading Congressional staff’s emails about intelligence community whistleblowers raises serious policy concerns as well as potential constitutional separation-of-powers issues that must be discussed publicly,” Sen. Grassley said in a statement.
The letters were from the person who had previously held Atkinson’s job, Charles McCullough, and were sent to four key members of Congress, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. They were written to inform these committee leaders that during “routine monitoring of counterintelligence monitoring of Government computer systems,” the CIA collected emails between congressional staff and the CIA’s head of whistleblowing and source protection. (This kind of makes a joke out of “source protection,” doesn’t it?) McCullough goes on to express his concern “about the potential compromise to whistleblower confidentiality and the consequent ‘chilling effect’ that the present [counterintelligence] monitoring system might have on Intelligence Community whistleblowing.”
McCullough tells congressional leaders that the type of monitoring that took place was legal (!), but adds, “I am not confident that Congressional staff fully understood that their whistleblower communications with my Executive Director of whistleblowing might be reviewed as a result of routine [CIA counterintelligence] monitoring.” You know, I’ll bet he’s right about that –- I’ll bet they didn’t anywhere NEAR “fully understand” that, and I don’t see how the practice can be legal because it seems to be a blatantly unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. What we have here is the CIA monitoring communications of U.S. government officials within the legislative branch. Not only that, but these particular emails were extremely sensitive.
When Sen. Grassley, along with Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, asked Clapper about the possibility of the intel community monitoring congressional communications, Clapper implied that any incidental collection of such material would not be saved or passed up the chain. As he wrote to them on July 14, 2014, “In the event a protected disclosure by a whistleblower somehow comes to the attention of personnel responsible for monitoring user activity, there is no intention for such disclosure to be reported to agency leadership under an insider threat program.”
Note the weasel words, however. It’s not that no such disclosure gets reported to agency leadership –- it’s that there is no INTENTION for that to happen. Gosh, maybe it would still happen “unwittingly,” to use a favorite world of Clapper’s.
Wittingly or unwittingly, it happened, according to the letters sent by McCullough to committee members: “CIA security compiled a report that includes excerpts of...whistleblower-related communications and this report was eventually shared with...the Director of the Office of Security and the Chief of the Counterintelligence Center” who “briefed the CIA Deputy Director, Deputy Executive Director, and the Chiefs of Staff for both the CIA Director and the Deputy Director.”
Wow, did they leave anybody out?
Clapper has denied lying on the occasions he has misrepresented the activities of the intel community, attributing any incorrect information to mistakes or misunderstandings. It hardly seems possible that someone in such a high position –- even in government work –- could have misunderstood such basic things.
Attkisson reminds us that Clapper and Brennan were involved in the unmasking of the protected names of U.S. citizens that are incidentally (“unwittingly”?) captured during counterintelligence operations. This is supposed to happen very rarely and only after serious justification because, at least in theory, American ciizens are supposed to have these things called “privacy rights.” But in 2016, under Obama, such unmaskings were pretty much an everyday occurrence.
So this is just one more thing that went wrong within Obama’s intelligence community. One way to make sure the swamp is never drained is to intimidate whistleblowers, and this way of treating their “confidential” communications certainly does that. Can you imagine putting your career and maybe even your life on the line when you can’t be sure of confidentiality? Much more needs to be done in the way of reform, and it won’t happen unless Republicans retain control of the House and Senate.
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