Recently, the CIA has been in the news. This in itself is unusual and the contexts of the news stories makes it even more so. None of the stories are good news for public accountability.
On October 17, Reuters reported “CIA says mistakenly ‘shredded’ Senate torture report then did not” according to Christopher Sharpley, the acting CIA Inspector General, during his confirmation hearing before Senate Intelligence Committee as President Trump’s nominee for the position.
Sharpley said the CIA received the report in December 2014 on a computer disk, which was then uploaded into a classified system. Shortly thereafter, he said, the agency was told to delete it because of ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation.
An email was sent saying the disk should not be destroyed, but Sharpley said he was told months later it could not be found and that an employee said it had been shredded.
But he said the disk was discovered later, after the FOIA litigation concluded that the report was a “congressional” document not subject to FOIA requests.
Sharpley said around that time, (Senator Richard) Burr (chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence), asked him to return the disk and he did so. (Emphasis added)
The timing is interesting….
Of course, Sharpley neglected to mention that the DC circuit ruled it was a congressional record for purposes of FOIA, and that the court explicitly said Burr’s letter was entitled to zero weight:
Before turning to an application of the law to the facts of this case, we must make it clear that we can give no weight to the letter sent by now-Senate Committee Chairman Richard Burr to the President in January 2015. The letter was sent after Appellants had submitted their FOIA request and after they had filed suit in the District Court. Therefore, the letter is a “post-hoc objection to disclosure,” and, as such, it “cannot manifest the clear assertion of congressional control that our case law requires.”
Sharpley also would not commit to protecting any future reports, such as one related to the committee’s probe of potential links between Trump’s campaign and Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election. This brought a rebuke from Senator Wyden:
“I think your highest duty here is to follow the law. The notion that the chairman asked for it and that’s all that governed your judgment isn’t acceptable to me.”
The above scenario is troubling enough. A POGO report the previous day—the day before the confirmation hearing—adds to the concerns. As POGO points out, the Office of the Inspector General depends on whistleblowers to report waste, fraud, and other abuses. In the case of the CIA, however,
President Trump’s nominee to be the Central Intelligence Agency’s Inspector General—its top independent watchdog—is named in at least three open whistleblower retaliation cases. …
Despite a statement POGO received from a senior Republican Senate staffer that Congress has a need-to-know: “There’s no question that information about outstanding retaliation cases involving Sharpley should be fully disclosed before members of Congress are asked to approve such a key CIA official,” POGO notes
It remains unclear whether Sharpley or the CIA has disclosed to Congress a complete list of the open matters, or any details concerning them. If not, Congress may still learn about them through other avenues: key members of a confirming committee are often provided any FBI files that contain details of cases involving the nominee, potentially including criminal or administrative matters. Such material, if it is available, is likely to be of interest for the Senate Intelligence Committee, which must examine Sharpley’s fitness for office, as well as to members of the Whistleblower Protection Caucus and of the full Senate, who will be required to vote on his confirmation.
The Committee has not yet voted on Sharpley’s nomination.
Moving from the IG to the Director’s office, on October 20, the Washington Post reported that, according to CIA Director Mick Pompeo,
“The intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.”
As the Report states, however
This report includes an analytic assessment drafted and coordinated among The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and The National Security Agency (NSA), which draws on intelligence information collected and disseminated by those three agencies. It covers the motivation and scope of Moscow’s intentions regarding US elections and Moscow’s use of cyber tools and media campaigns to influence US public opinion. The assessment focuses on activities aimed at the 2016 US presidential election and draws on our understanding of previous Russian influence operations. When we use the term “we” it refers to an assessment by all three agencies.
We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion. (Emphasis added)
Greg Miller noted in the Post article that
“Pompeo’s mischaracterization of the intelligence report was the latest in a series of statements from the former Republican congressman that have seemed aimed at minimizing the significance of Russian interference in the 2016 election.”