John F. Kennedy once said he wanted to "splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds." He reached that conclusion after CIA officials, including Director Allen Dulles, had misled him on many of the planning details of the disastrous April 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion.
With the revelations that the CIA has been aggressively obstructing the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee, even to the point of spying on Senate staff conducting a long overdo review of its "detention and interrogation" program, we see the CIA has not changed its ways.
The Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, called the committee's current battle with the CIA "a defining moment for the oversight role of our intelligence committee . . . and whether we can be thwarted by those we oversee."
"Besides the constitutional implications," Feinstein noted, "the CIA's search [of the committee staff's files] may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance."
Long considered by critics to be a toady of the intelligence establishment, yesterday was Senator Feinstein's finest moment. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the chair of the Judiciary Committee and the longest serving U.S. senator, described Feinstein's speech yesterday as the most important he had witnessed in his time in Congress. "I cannot think of any speech by any member of any party as important as the one the senator from California just gave," Leahy said.
The CIA's Department of Justice gambit, where the Agency's tainted "counsel" and other shadowy officials who are not even publicly identified, have sought criminal proceedings against Senator Feinstein's staff for "hacking" into CIA computers must be exposed for what it is: a ham-handed attempt to intimidate the U.S. Senate.
The current Constitutional and legal impasse the Intelligence Committee has reached with what can only be characterized as an arrogant, flagrantly insubordinate, and rogue Executive Branch agency means that CIA Director John Brennan must go. Those activists who protested Brennan's appointment as DCI because of his connections to the drone assassination program have been proven prescient.
It was President Harry Truman who in 1947 signed the National Security Act establishing the CIA in the first place. In December 1963, the former president penned a blistering op-ed in The Washington Post where he took to task the agency he had a hand in creating:
"For some time I have been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times policy-making arm of the Government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas. We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel we need to correct it." (Quoted in James Douglass, JFK and the Unspeakable, 2009, 332)
Throughout the course of its 67-year history, the CIA has perfected the techniques of election rigging, overthrowing governments, arming mercenaries, propaganda, money laundering, "Psy-Ops," sabotage, and, more recently, targeted assassinations and torture. Now we learn that the CIA won't even balk at spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the nation's only "check" on the Agency's power.
In the 1970s, events related to the Watergate scandal forced the CIA to take what its officials privately called a "modified limited hang-out" and admit to some wrongdoing in order to ensure that its "family jewels" remained concealed from the public. (We still don't really know what those "family jewels" were.) Then CIA Director Richard Helms had no choice but to admit that in the early 1960s there existed CIA collusion with Mafia hit men to assassinate Fidel Castro. The revelation was so shocking that a public outcry ensued that was loud enough to compel Congress to form the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA) to look into the John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinations.
The 6,300-page Senate Intelligence Committee study (that has languished for years outside public view), along with key sections of the "Internal Panetta Report" about the CIA's torture program, must be made public so We the People can engage in a much delayed exercise akin to a Truth and Reconciliation commission.
Better late than never
A congressional investigation into the actions of the CIA officials responsible for this overreach must be done during this session of Congress because the whole matter will be probably dropped if the Republicans win control of the Senate this November. Senator Mitch McConnell and Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, currently the Vice-Chair of the Intelligence Committee, will have little incentive as we move into 2016 to look into these egregious criminal abuses since they occurred under a Republican Administration. It will be bad optics. The shadow of George W. Bush has proven to be both dark and long.
The Senate must prevail in this Constitutional showdown between a secretive Executive Branch relic of the Cold War that has a long history of doing nasty things in our name. Allowing things to stand as they are will be inconsistent with the basic tenets of democracy and our system of checks and balances.
Those right-wingers and libertarians who claim to care so much about the U.S. Constitution should be up in arms and join forces with those who are calling for a public inquiry into the activities of the CIA and for the Agency to be reined in. If they become apologists for the CIA we can take it as still more evidence that the whole "movement" we've heard so much about since 2010 is nothing more than a Koch Brothers astroturf scam to beat up Democrats.
The moment for Truth has arrived
Evidence exists from multiple sources that the CIA lied to the American people, and CIA contractors, including doctors and psychologists who monitored prisoners, tortured human beings in our name.
This scandal should open up inquiries as big as the Church Committee hearings of the mid-1970s when the public first learned about the CIA's working relationship with the Mafia to attempt to kill Castro and other shameful revelations, such as the destabilization of the Chilean economy that produced the conditions for the coup d'état on September 11, 1973 that brought General Augusto Pinochet to power.
In the context of the Edward Snowden leaks about the NSA vacuuming up every speck of data on everybody in the country, we should take these rogue actions of the CIA very seriously as a country.
The oversight institutions charged with protecting the public from CIA abuses have been rendered dysfunctional like so many other parts of the regulatory state.
We need new laws to keep up with the new abuses.
Follow Joseph A. Palermo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JosephPalermo1