Sunday, April 26, 2015

Spies on the Prize

Image from Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers by flamedrake.
Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo in the Times:
When Ms. Feinstein was asked in a meeting with reporters in 2013 why she was so sure she was getting the truth about the drone program while she accused the C.I.A. of lying to her about torture, she seemed surprised.

“That’s a good question, actually,” she said.
But she's just had so much on her mind in the intervening months. The answer is probably somewhere in there too, but who knows where she stashed it?

Here we are again in the war between Congress and the White House where it's obvious to me but nobody else seems able to recognize that the executive is trying to reform an abusive intelligence establishment and the abusers are working with the legislature to make sure it never happens. Worse in the new Congress, where we have to worry not just about the jumbled attics of the minds of Senators Feinstein and Wyden but the actual lunacy of Republicans.

Today it's the catastrophic CIA drone strike errors that killed the hostages Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto (and a couple of US citizens fighting for al-Qa'eda whose presence the agency was unaware of) in northwestern Pakistan in January, for which President Obama apologized last week.
Although lawmakers insist that there is great accountability to the program, interviews with administration and congressional officials show that Congress holds the program to less careful scrutiny than many members assert. Top C.I.A. officials, who learned the importance of cultivating Congress after the resistance they ran into on the detention program, have dug in to protect the agency’s drone operations, frustrating a pledge by Mr. Obama two years ago to overhaul the program and pull it from the shadows.
Last week it was the bill proposed by Mitch McConnell and Richard Burr (R-NC, Feinstein's successor in the Intelligence Committee chair) to reauthorize the 2001 USA Patriot Act, including its obnoxious surveillance provisions, without change. McConnell is using a rare Senate maneuver to introduce it straight to the whole body without sending it through a committee, meaning it will get out ahead of the bill to reform the surveillance law that is currently working its way through the Senate Judiciary Committee under the stewardship of Democrat Patrick Leahy, which would in particular bring a stop to the NSA's bulk collection of data (which can't be done by executive order but requires legislative action).

Where's the White House? Solidly behind Senator Leahy in the push to take the Agency's powers down. Once again, as when it stopped Obama from taking the entire drone program away from CIA and turning it over to the Pentagon, the Congress is working to imperialize the presidency with powers President Obama doesn't want (unless Emptywheel's right and the McConnell bill is a gigantic ruse created in cahoots with John O. Brennan to encourage senators to vote for Leahy's bill, which McConnell publicly opposes, by making it harder for them to do so, in order to give the NSA vastly more power than merely renewing the Patriot Act, under the guise of taking its power away, which requires a level of paranoia I just can't process).

A lot of us formed our views of how the Constitution works during the Nixon, or Reagan-Bush, or Bush-Cheney administrations, when a rogue executive threatened the working of democracy and the legislature needed to assert itself into the national security process to re-establish the balance of power, not that it actually did. Now is not one of those times: the balance is off in a different direction. Now is one of those times when an irresponsible, war-loving Congress threatens the workings of democracy, in collaboration with the CIA as detailed in today's Times, and the executive is trying to assert itself in our favor (as not detailed in today's Times, which badly understates how much Congress has already tied its hands).

We need to support the administration's efforts to restructure the CIA, to limit the drone program, and to limit NSA surveillance. They're the ones who want to do it, not Burr and Feinstein.

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