Subverting Bush at Langley

By Robert D. Novak
Monday, December 24, 2007

Outrage over the CIA's destruction of interrogation tapes is but one element of the distress Republican intelligence watchdogs in Congress feel about the agency. "It is acting as though it is autonomous, not accountable to anyone," Rep. Peter Hoekstra, ranking Republican on the House intelligence committee, told me. That is his mildest language about the CIA. In carefully selected adjectives, Hoekstra calls it "incompetent, arrogant and political."

Chairman Silvestre Reyes and other Democrats on the intelligence committee join Hoekstra in demanding investigation into the tape destruction in the face of the administration's resistance, but the Republicans stand alone in protesting the CIA's defiant undermining of President Bush. In its clean bill of health for Iran on nuclear weapons development, the agency acted as an independent policymaker rather than an adviser. It has withheld from nearly all members of Congress information on the Israeli bombing of Syria in September. The U.S. intelligence community is deciding on its own what information the public shall learn.

Intelligence agencies, from Nazi Germany to present-day Pakistan, for better or for ill, have tended to break away from their governments. The Office of Strategic Services, the CIA's World War II predecessor, was infiltrated by communists. While CIA tactics were under liberal assault in Congress during the Watergate era, current accusations of a rogue agency come from Republicans who see a conscious undermining of Bush at Langley.

The CIA's contempt for the president was demonstrated during his 2004 reelection campaign when a senior intelligence officer, Paul R. Pillar, made off-the-record speeches around the country criticizing the invasion of Iraq. On Sept. 24, 2004, three days before my column exposed Pillar's activity, former representative Porter Goss arrived at Langley as Bush's handpicked director of central intelligence. Goss had resigned from Congress to accept Bush's mandate to clean up the CIA. But the president eventually buckled under fire from the old boys at Langley and their Democratic supporters in Congress, and Goss was sacked in May 2006.

Goss's successor, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, restored the status quo at the CIA and nurtured relations with congressional Democrats in preparation for their coming majority status. Hayden, an active-duty four-star Air Force general, first antagonized Hoekstra by telling Reyes what the Democrats wanted to hear about the Valerie Plame-CIA leak case.

There is no partisan divide on congressional outrage over the CIA's destruction of tapes showing interrogation of detainees suspected of terrorism. Hoekstra agrees with Reyes that the Bush administration has made a big mistake refusing to let officials testify in the impending investigation.

Republicans also complain that the National Intelligence Estimate concluding that Iran has shut down its nuclear weapons program was a case of the CIA flying solo, not part of the administration team. Donald M. Kerr, principal deputy director of national intelligence, said on Dec. 3 that the intelligence community "took responsibility for what portions of the NIE Key Judgments were to be declassified." In a Dec. 10 column for the Wall Street Journal, Hoekstra and Democratic Rep. Jane Harman, a senior member of the intelligence committee, wrote that the new NIE "does not explain why the 2005 NIE came to the opposite conclusion or what factors could drive Iran to 'restart' its nuclear-weapons program." (Six days later on "Fox News Sunday," Harman called the NIE "the best work product they've produced.")

Hoekstra is also at odds with Hayden over the CIA's refusal to reveal what it knows about the Sept. 6 Israeli bombing of Syria's nuclear complex. Only chairmen and ranking minority members of the intelligence committees, plus members of the congressional leadership, have been briefed. Other members of Congress, including those on the intelligence committees, were excluded. The intelligence authorization bill, passed by the House and awaiting final action in the Senate, blocks most of the CIA's funding "until each member of the Congressional Intelligence committees has been fully informed with respect to intelligence" about the Syria bombing.

In a June 21 address to the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, Hayden unveiled the "CIA's social contract with the American people." Hoekstra's explanation: "The CIA is rejecting accountability to the administration or Congress, saying it can go straight to the people."

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