CIA Director Leon Panetta told lawmakers in a recent briefing that the intelligence agency he heads misled Congress on "significant actions" for a "number of years," a group of Democrats revealed on Wednesday.
In a letter written to Panetta on June 26 by seven Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, the CIA chief is urged to "publicly correct" an earlier statement he made in which he insisted that it was not agency policy to mislead Congress.
As the letter details, Panetta apparently acknowledged in an earlier briefing that this statement was not, in fact, true.
"Recently you testified that you have determined that top CIA officials have concealed significant actions from all Members of Congress, and misled Members for a number of years from 2001 to this week," the Democratic lawmakers write. "This is similar to other deceptions of which we are aware from other recent periods."
The letter does not explain what those "significant actions" were. But a source with knowledge of the dispute says it concerns Bush administration interrogation policies. Panetta briefed the Intelligence Committee about these and other matters two days before the letter was written, as well as other dates.
Early reports on the matter said that the letter was signed by six Democratic lawmakers: Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., John Tierney, D-Mass., Rush Holt, D-N.J., Mike Thompson, D-Calif., Alcee Hastings, D-Fla. and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. (These are the members who signed the above document). A source with direct knowledge of the letter's content says that Rep. Adam Smith D-Wash., has also added his name to the letter.
The note was made public just hours after Congressional Quarterly reported that the chairman of the House Intelligence committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, also stated that the CIA had "affirmatively lied" to his committee.
The CIA, in a statement from spokesman George Little, pushed back on these dual allegations.
"It is not the policy or practice of the CIA to mislead Congress," Little said. "This Agency and this Director believe it is vital to keep the Congress fully and currently informed. Director Panetta's actions back that up. As the letter from these six representatives notes, it was the CIA itself that took the initiative to notify the oversight committees."
Nevertheless, the late-evening stories provide a boost to earlier claims from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she was drastically misled by the CIA when it was briefing members about the Bush administration's enhanced interrogation techniques. They also threaten to rip open the debate on whether Congress should revamp the process of how it is briefed on covert intelligence. The Obama White House on Wednesday said it would veto any legislative effort to change the current structure of the briefings, which limits the session to only the "Gang of Eight" lawmakers. Pelosi and her allies want to give the Intelligence Committee the authority to determine who is briefed on the critical intelligence.