Will an apology be enough to soothe the strained relations between the CIA and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee? It’s a critical lingering question in the rare public spat between the intelligence agency and the lawmakers charged with the agency’s oversight.
Tempers on the committee flared in recent months over reports that the CIA spied on computers used by intelligence committee staffers. A CIA inspector general’s report confirmed these reports this past week, prompting CIA Director John Brennan to apologize to committee members Thursday. However, some members aren’t satisfied, citing Brennan’s previous remarks that batted down the spying accusations
“I don’t think an apology is enough,” Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine told CNN’s Candy Crowley on “State of the Union.” “I think we’ve really got to have some serious discussions about John Brennan, find out what he knew about this when he was making those statements, what he knew about it at the time. I’m not calling for his resignation, but I’m pretty skeptical right now.”
In contrast, the White House reconfirmed support of Brennan.
“John Brennan is a man of great integrity and ability. He’s someone the President knows very well, and the President has confidence in,” White House Senior Advisor Dan Pfeiffer told ABC’s “This Week.”
Pfeiffer pointed to Brennan’s actions since the reports of spying came to light.
“When there were allegations of improper conduct, [Brennan is] the one who referred it to the inspector general. The inspector general came back with its report this week; he’s setting up an accountability review board to ensure that the right steps are taken to provide accountability.”
Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, called for a fuller look at the facts as the two sides begin to rebuild trust.
“This is very serious, but I don’t think this is some conspiracy notion that they wanted to spy on either of our committees. Than would, of course, be intolerable. I think it would be a crime,” Rogers told Crowley. “It is a very serious breach of trust, but I don’t think this should be taken and extrapolated that every CIA officer out there is operating under this culture of lawlessness.”
King, however, pressed the broader point that transparency from the CIA is critical to the committee’s work.
“If we can’t trust the information they’re giving us, how do you do oversight?” King asked. “We may have to embed people in the agency or create an office of oversight in the agency because it’s just essential. The American people are relying on us to watch what’s going on.”
The computers were used by staffers investigating the controversial post-9/11 CIA interrogation and detention program. The investigation resulted in a 6,800-page report. A 700-page summary of that report could soon be declassified and released as early as this week.
Senators on the committee have indicated the report is critical of the CIA’s treatment of terrorism suspects, saying it amounted to torture, something CIA officials have denied. It also finds that harsh interrogation techniques did not help disrupt future attacks as many in the intelligence community have claimed.
The report that was approved a year and a half ago by the committee, which was sharply divided along party lines. King said he voted to declassify it not as a means to smear the agency, but as a lesson for future leaders faced with challenging events.
“I think it’s an object lesson to future presidents, future intelligence agencies, future Congresses about how things can get off the rails, how things can go awry,” King said.
Pfeiffer said the President, who has called for the report to be declassified, wants to acknowledge it and continue to move forward.
“What we want to do now is we want to make sure it never happens again.”