How surprised can anybody really be that the CIA surreptitiously attempted to thwart an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee of the agency's torture of al Qaeda militants? The CIA is a body that has long believed that it can act unilaterally without consideration for normal constitutional principles or democratic oversight because it believes it alone has the highest claim on defending American security. Even the president who set up the CIA, Harry Truman, later regretted that he had allowed the organization to be created.
Look at its record over the last 67 years. Without any prior consultation with Congress, it intervened in 1953 and 1954 to oust democratically-elected governments in Iran and in Guatemala, respectively. Both overthrows had bloody and horrifying consequences. Iranian religious zealots took over the Iranian state leading to today's confrontation with the US over nuclear arms. In Guatemala, a brutal civil war ensued that left more than 200,000 people dead. And, later in the 1950s, the CIA sent spy planes over the Soviet Union without informing Congress. One was eventually shot down, leading to the cancellation of a summit between Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and President Dwight Eisenhower.
In the 1960s, the CIA convinced then-President Kennedy to approve the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, guaranteeing that it was a carefully planned operation. It proved to be a disastrous failure. That imbroglio prompted Kennedy to oust the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles. By the mid-1970s, so many instances of the CIA's mishaps, unlawful actions, ham-handed undertakings and blatant lying occurred that the US Senate, under the leadership of Senator Frank Church of Idaho, formed an investigative committee which publicly exposed the CIA's dark machinations. In its turn, the US Senate on May 19, 1976, created the permanent Select Committee on Intelligence by an overwhelming vote of 72-22.
Since then, the instances of CIA illegal activities have somewhat diminished, but they have not gone away. In the 1980s, the CIA under the direction of William Casey violated US laws to arm the contras in Nicaragua during their clandestine campaign against the Sandinista regime. An ensuing scandal, the Iran-contra affair, grew out of these forays and severely damaged the Reagan Administration, resulting in the convictions of several Reagan officials.
Even today CIA continues to believe it has the right to act outside the law. For example, agency operatives in foreign countries do not inform the American ambassadors in most countries about what they are doing or are secretly involved in. In one case, in Pakistan, the US envoys have never had the knowledge of or control over CIA-initiated drone strikes in that country, even though the Pakistani government complains to the embassy itself about the strikes.
And, of course, more recently there is the galling instance wherein the CIA , after the media uncovered the torture practices of the CIA following 9/11, took upon itself to destroy the tapes of those brutal interrogations without informing Congress or getting permission from the Department of Justice to do so. And the CIA sometimes does not even tell their commanders-in-chief what they are doing -- either for reasons of "plausible deniability," or, as I mentioned earlier, because they think they know better than anybody else what it takes to protect American security. Who knows what else the CIA has been up to, especially under the cover of the "War on Terrorism"?