As a Senate staffer involved in establishing the first postwar congressional oversight over U.S. intelligence agencies, it has been astounding to observe Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) not only bury the full Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s torture program — but then lead a shuttered confirmation process for a new CIA director who was intimately involved in running the program.
By these actions, the senator aids and abets a coverup of his own past role in supporting a highly controversial clandestine operation that besmirched the reputation of the United States.
The Trump White House had to dig deep into the Washington “swamp” to find Gina Haspel, the new nominee. After decades of living in the shadows of several CIA. stations abroad, Haspel blinked in the bright lights of a Capitol Hill hearing and feigned amazing ignorance of her agency's history.
And oh yes, she had willingly overseen, as station chief, the torture of terrorism suspects at a “black” site in Thailand—but the public audience on television would have had to largely infer the darker meaning of that part of her record from one half day of public testimony before the Senators heard her in executive session.
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A true creature of the CIA's operations directorate — who revealed before the world an uncertain moral compass -- Haspel displayed remarkable unawareness of what was prominently in the news in the past that bore upon controversial matters on her watch. For example, the media coverage that had erupted the very week the videotapes of waterboarding sessions were summarily destroyed with the active participation of Haspel and her immediate supervisor. She seemed to be managed by a “team” of advisers who neglected to remind her of the context in time of public discovery and debate of the torture practices. She was under wraps from the get-go, protected in her “cocoon” by Chairman Burr.
Under questioning, Haspel made an incredible admission: Trapped in a straitjacket of bureaucratic "guidelines,” as acting director she had decided what could be DE-classified in regard to her own operations record. She had total control over which parts of her clandestine record could be declassified for the Senate hearing. Nevertheless, she managed to cowardly suggest that — in fairness to other covert employees — she would not allow public discussion of her decades spent in clandestine activities.
Had she been living under a peach bushel basket? Clearly, she had been under cover for too many years to know how to behave when being considered for one of the highest posts in the national government. She wasn’t up on the public news affecting her own agency? Instead of the agent who knew too much, she came across as the spy who never was.
As argued by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), her nomination and likely confirmation will set a terrible precedent, a SECRET CONFIRMATION PROCESS for one of the top national security posts in the American government:
Wyden said, “I believe if Americans could see what I have read, what is classified, they would tell their senators they have no choice but to turn down the nominee.”
To confirm Haspel as director of the C.IA. would be to make a mockery of the constitutional role of the Senate in giving its advice and consent. Not to mention the Founding Fathers’ concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances in an open, democratic society.
William E. Jackson Jr. served From 1974 through 1977 as the legislative assistant for national security to Sen. Alan Cranston (D-CA), the majority whip.