Majority Say Brennan Violated Checks and Balances, and Must Go
By Dan Froomkin, The Intercept
According to a new poll, a sizeable majority of American voters believe CIA officials violated the constitutional system of checks and balances when they hacked into computers being used by Senate staffers investigating torture.
And by a two-to-one margin (54 percent to 25 percent, with 22 percent not sure) they believe that CIA Director John Brennan should resign on account of the misleading statements he made about the incident.
The poll found overwhelming public support for release of a long-completed report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The report is said to disclose abuse that was more brutal, systematic and widespread than generally recognized, and to expose a pattern of deceit in the Bush administration’s descriptions of the program to Congress and the public.
But despite having been completed in December 2012, the report remains inaccessible to the public. Most recently, the White House and the CIA have proposed redactions that Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein said effectively undermine its key findings.
Fully 69 percent of those polled said they support releasing a declassified version of the report “to establish the historical record and to find out more about what happened”; compared to 22 percent who chose the option of not making the report public “because the findings might be damaging or embarrassing”.
Calls for Brennan’s ouster emerged quickly after Feinstein’s floor speech in March, describing a blatant violation of the principle that Congress conducts oversight over the executive branch, not vice versa. Brennan quickly issued an angry denial whose qualifications were widely overlooked. A CIA Inspector General’s report, whose conclusions were made public in July, confirmed Feinstein’s allegations.
Until the Senate report is released, a report issued last year by the Constitution Project’s blue-ribbon task force on detainee treatment remains the most comprehensive public reckoning of the torture regime. And while it authoritatively assigns the blame for the use of torture on George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and their top aides, the report also blames the Obama administration for a cover-up that has stifled any sort of national conversation on the topic – and the media, for splitting the difference between the facts and the plainly specious arguments made by torture regime’s architects.
Anatomy of a Non-Denial Denial
By Dan Froomkin, The Intercept
(T)he non-denial denial is fundamentally an act of deception.
So when and if the accused has to admit what they did publicly – i.e. by saying something to the effect of “I wasn’t lying because I carefully didn’t answer the real question” – they are de facto admitting that they were intentionally being deceitful. If they are public officials, that means they are admitting they betrayed their public trust.
The background: Back on March 11, Senate intelligence committee chair Dianne Feinstein took to the Senate floor to accuse the CIA of having violated the Constitution’s separation of powers principle by searching through computers being used by Senate staff members investigating the agency’s role in torturing detainees
Later that day, Brennan made comments to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell at a Council on Foreign Relations event that were widely interpreted as a blanket denial of the accusations.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Brennan said. “That’s just beyond the – you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.”
But in July, a CIA inspector general’s report confirmed that the CIA had in fact improperly accessed those computers, just as Feinstein had charged.
Last week, on a panel at a national security and intelligence trade show, Brennan made his first public comments on the subject since the contradiction emerged between what he said and the truth.
Brennan now says that his denial had been mischaracterized, and that it was specific to the way Mitchell asked her question, which included a slightly hyperbolic and conflated paraphrasing of the charges that Feinstein had carefully drawn out that morning.
I’m assuming that Brennan felt safe brushing off the “hacking” charge because CIA staffers didn’t technically have to circumvent security to conduct their search; the computers were at a CIA facility, and were maintained by the CIA. What the CIA circumvented was a well-documented agreement between it and the Senate committee. But calling that “hacking” is somewhat imprecise.
But consider the context:
1) It was Brennan’s duty to publicly respond to Feinstein deeply troubling and very specific accusations, which happened to be correct.
2) He could have argued his real position, but chose not to.
3) This was Brennan’s strategy, not an isolated, spur-of-the-moment decision.
4) Brennan’s non-denial denials weren’t the only way his approach to this issue was deceitful.
5) He still refuses to admit he’s done anything wrong.
The reason you so infrequently see the word “lie” in elite media news stories is that the editors generally take the position that even when someone has said something clearly not true, a reporter’s use of the word “lie” – rather than, say, “misspoke” or “was incorrect” – requires knowledge of the subject’s intent to deceive. And a fair-minded journalist, they argue, can’t be sure what’s going on in someone else’s head.
But when someone who has so clearly uttered a non-denial denial has to go back and explain how he intentionally responded to an accusation in a very circumscribed or elliptical way, and how that answer was mischaracterized as a denial – and how he made no attempt to correct the record – isn’t that prima facie evidence of intent to deceive?
Nevertheless, even those reporters who had noted the limitations of Brennan’s denial didn’t really keep on the story. And over time, the skepticism and the nuance faded away, leaving the general impression that Brennan had in fact denied everything.
What could reporters have done? It’s not like anyone at the CIA was going to say anything more. But could they have kept demanding a straight answer somehow? Or simply kept writing about the story, treating Brennan’s statements as irrelevant, or even an admission?
But how could the Washington press corps change its ways, so that a non-denial denial is no longer such an effective technique for people like Brennan to use, when they want a story to die, and their own careers to live?