House Minority Leader John Boehner pushed on Thursday for a bipartisan panel of lawmakers to investigate the veracity of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's claim that the CIA lied to her about whether it was waterboarding detainees.
"Her allegation that the CIA lied to her and that they misled Congress ... is a very serious charge," said Boehner (R-Ohio). "The Speaker has had a full week to produce evidence to back up her allegations, and I'm frankly disappointed that she has not done so."
The Central Intelligence Agency would never lie to Congress about breaking the law, would it?
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) knows a little something about that. During the late 1980s, he led a two-and-a-half year investigation into the CIA, the Nicaraguan Contras and cocaine trafficking, and the senator was on the receiving end of CIA deception.
So, would the CIA ever lie?
"In the case of one person who was tried and convicted, they lied. He overtly lied and was prosecuted for it by the government of the United States," said Kerry just off the Senate floor. "He was the director of operations for the region."
The CIA's inspector general later opened a second investigation looking into the matter and also determined that the agency was aware of the Contra involvement in drug trafficking, did nothing to stop it and in fact interceded with the Drug Enforcement Administration to block investigations -- and then misled Congress about it.
Besides drug trafficking, the Contras were also funded by proceeds from illegal arms sales to Iran. The CIA lied to Congress about that too, numerous investigations found.
Alan Fiers Jr., head of the CIA's Central American Task Force, pleaded guilty to withholding information about the Contras from Congress. Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, chief of CIA Contra support operations, was indicted for lying to Congress but was pardoned before trial.
On December 24, 1992, just before leaving office, President Bush also pardoned Fiers, Caspar Weinberger, Clair George, Elliott Abrams and Robert McFarlane for their various roles in the scandal.
The Kerry report cites a 1986 meeting about Contra cocaine activity as one example of the CIA lying to Congress. The CIA cited classified documents to back up its false claim.
"On May 6, 1986, a bipartisan group of Committee staff met with representatives of the Justice Department, FBI, DEA, CIA and State Department to discuss the allegations that Senator Kerry had received information of Neutrality Act violations, gun running and drug trafficking in association with Contra organizations based on the Southern Front in Costa Rica," reads the report.
"At the same meeting, representatives of the CIA categorically denied that the Neutrality Act violations raised by the Committee staff had in fact taken place, citing classified documents which the CIA did not make available to the Committee. In fact, at the time, the FBI had already assembled substantial information confirming the Neutrality Act violations, including admissions by some of the persons involved indicating that crimes had taken place."
Kerry wanted to be clear that he wasn't indicting the entire CIA. "I have a lot of respect for the CIA and the people who work there," he stressed.
But the senior CIA officials who lied to Congress can't simply be viewed as a few bad apples. Rather, said Kerry, they're an example of what he dubbed "client-itis" - the tendency of government officials to confuse their immediate boss to be the person they work for.
"Maybe he thought he was acting in the best interests of the president," said Kerry of the convicted CIA official. "It was two decades ago, but it goes to the issue of client-itis. Do you work for a party or a president? Or do you work for the country?"
Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America
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