Dems try to right the intel ship

July 15th, 2009

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Originally published in Politico.

When the story broke recently that the CIA had concealed a secret program from Congress for more than eight years, Republicans reacted with the predictable but laughable claim that Democrats were politicizing intelligence. In fact, it’s just the opposite. The real story here is the rank politicization of intelligence by Republicans, led by former Vice President Dick Cheney, and how Democrats have stepped in to clean up his mess.

Cheney’s record of politicizing intelligence is well-known. He pressured CIA analysts to adjust their finding on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, some of whom later told The Washington Post that it was clear that a predetermined, “certain output was desired.” He led the Bush administration’s disingenuous push to war in Iraq, blatantly lying that Saddam Hussein “aids and protects terrorists, including members of Al Qaeda.” His chief of staff was convicted for obstructing justice in the Valerie Plame case, which centered on outing a covert CIA operative.

The hits keep coming on his trail of undermining our intelligence services. So it is not surprising that Cheney reportedly (and possibly illegally) instructed the CIA to lie and conceal this program from Congress.

Of course, congressional Republicans share a big part of the blame. They controlled Congress for six of the eight years of the Bush-Cheney administration, and they raised almost no questions about any of this.

Consequently, the image of America’s intelligence community took a beating. Colin Powell’s U.N. presentation was revealed to be constructed on a bed of sand; Douglas Feith ran his own bumbling intelligence shop at the Pentagon, designed to falsely tie Iraq and Al Qaeda; and President George W. Bush himself attempted to blame the CIA for the Iraq war (“Much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong”).

This almost decadelong assault by Cheney and the Bush administration on our intelligence professionals led to serious doubts in the quality of U.S. intelligence, a catastrophic danger to national security in a time of war.

Now, finally, Democrats are trying to right the ship. They have taken steps to ensure that intelligence agencies are able to produce the highest-quality intelligence — without politically motivated pressure — and that programs fall under some sort of congressional oversight. CIA Director Leon Panetta’s decision to immediately shut down the secret program and inform Congress as soon as it was revealed to him is evidence that responsible stewardship has returned to America’s intelligence community.

In response, Republicans have turned to Page One in their playbook and accused Democrats of being soft on security. Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) leveled the charge recently: “This national attempt by some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to basically undermine the capacity to protect and develop intelligence is, I think, going to harm us in the long run.”

Gregg has it backward. It is the Bush-Cheney legacy of secrecy, politicization and deceit that has deeply wounded our intelligence capabilities and, consequently, our national security. When CIA programs were concealed from Congress at Cheney’s behest, trust was broken. With the CIA’s admission, it is coming clean and working for trust to be restored.

Unfortunately, congressional Republicans have decided they are interested only in protecting the Cheney legacy and attempting to score cheap political points against Democrats. That is regrettable.
But as Panetta has shown, these political attacks have not cowed reformers inside our intelligence community and in Congress who are interested in working together to clean up the mess and restore American intelligence to greatness.