Over the years, the right has managed to make criticism of military operations from the left a mark of disloyalty, a perspective the press has only been happy to reproduce. That same immunity to criticism has now been extended to the CIA, which we can see in the reaction to Nancy Pelosi's suggestion that she was mislead by the CIA in their briefings on interrogation practices.
In fact, the CIA has lied to members of Congress a number of times, detailed in Tim Weiner's history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes. Here are just a few prominent instances:
In the 1950s, Director of Central Intelligence Allen Dulles, after being told by Senator Joseph McCarthy that tha CIA was "neither sacrosanct nor immune from investigation," began waging a "down and dirty covert operation on McCarthy" which included attempting to bug his office and feeding his staff with disinformation "in order to discredit him."
Former CIA Director Richard Helms was convicted in 1977 of lying to Congress about the United States' role in overthrowing the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende. Allende was succeeded by brutal dictator Augusto Pinochet.
In 1982, Congress passed a law prohibiting the administration from ousting the leftist regime in Nicaragua. The CIA kept trying to overthrow the Sandanistas. CIA Director Bill Casey testified frequently before oversight committees Congress about the agency's covert action plans, during which he was often misleading. "Casey was guilty of Contempt of Congress from the day he was sworn in," Robert Gates, former head of the CIA and current Secretary of Defense, told Weiner. When the Iran Contra Scandal began to break, Casey lied to Congress, denying that they had traded arms for hostages with Iran.
On September 17, 2001, George Tenet told Congress that Iraq had provided al Qaeda with training in combat, bomb-making, and weapons of mass destruction. That information was based on a single source, the interrogation Ibn al-Shakh al Libi, who later recanted and whom we now know was tortured for that information. Tenet of course, hasn't recanted.
These are just some of the cases in which the CIA lied to Congress. In the context of a number of covert operations, the CIA has even lied to the President. This is part of the nature of what we, as a country ask them to do as an organization--the CIA is constantly being asked to engage in illegal behavior, punished when their analysis doesn't fit the preordained conclusions of whatever administration is in power, and then is exclusively blamed when the information comes out or the operations go sour. That's a regrettable state of affairs that says more about the hypocrisy of our leaders than it does about the committed men and women of the CIA.
It's possible that Pelosi isn't telling the whole truth about what she knew. But it wouldn't be unprecedented for the CIA to lie or withhold information from members of Congress. Leon Panetta's letter to CIA employees, obtained by Greg Sargent, is so completely ambiguous that it both asserts that the CIA briefed members of Congress "truthfully" about the interrogation of Abu Zubayda even as it says "Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened." If it's "up to Congress," how can the CIA's version of events be relied upon?
-- A. Serwer