Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Dishonor in High Places: Sandbagging the Intelligence Chief—Again

Joel Brenner writes Dishonor in High Places: Sandbagging the Intelligence Chief—Again "Wyden is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and had long known about the court-approved metadata program that has since become public knowledge. He knew Clapper’s answer was incorrect. But Wyden, like Clapper, was also under an oath not to divulge the story. In posing this question, he knew Clapper would have to breach his oath of secrecy, lie, prevaricate, or decline to reply except in executive session—a tactic that would implicitly have divulged the secret. The committee chairman, Senator Diane Feinstein, may have known what Wyden had in mind. In opening the hearing she reminded senators it would be followed by a closed session and said,  ‘I’ll ask that members refrain from asking questions here that have classified answers.’ Not dissuaded, Wyden sandbagged he director.

This was a vicious tactic, regardless of what you think of the later Snowden disclosures. Wyden learned nothing, the public learned nothing, and an honest and unusually forthright public servant has had his credibility trashed. Unfortunately the tactic has a pedigree, but for that, we’ve got to wind the clock back forty years."

Interesting take and some history I didn't know. There's definitely something wrong when a Congressional witness is under a catch-22 and can't answer without breaking an oath.

"The Senate intelligence committee has nineteen members. Only one other member shared his view. The house intelligence committee has twenty-three members. None of them appeared to share his view." I'm not sure this is really true. Did all the members know? I know that during the Bush years some classified information was shared with only the leadership of the committee which put them in the position of knowing but being able to do nothing since they couldn't divulge the classified information to the rest of the committee. I don't know if that's the case here or not.

Brenner's two options for Wyden are interesting. Proposing a bill limiting the NSA is a good idea (anyway) but I agree it will probably go nowhere. Releasing the information as an act of civil disobedience is interesting too. I had forgotten about the Constitution's Speech and Debate Clause. It's true that Congress members can't be arrested or even questioned about stuff they bring up on the floor, though Brenner doesn't mention the beginning of the clause "They shall in all Cases, except Treason, Felony and Breach of the Peace" and I've certainly heard the term treason brought up in connection with Edward Snowden. I'd suspect that Wyden's experience would probably be different than Mike Gravel's with the Pentagon Papers.

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