Pelosi vs the CIA: A Sad Fight

| Fri May 15, 2009 12:56 PM EDT

Here's a good example of what's been wrong with congressional oversight of the intelligence agencies for decades: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the CIA did not tell her at a September 2002 briefing (when she was the senior Democrat on the House intelligence committee) that it had used waterboarding on a captured al Qaeda operative; the CIA says it did. And this dispute apparently cannot be settled. From The Washington Post:

Government officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified briefings, suggested that the record might never be clear as to what Pelosi and [Republican Rep. Porter] Goss were told. One official familiar with the congressional briefings acknowledged the difficulty of establishing exactly what lawmakers were told. Internal CIA memos about the briefings were "not designed to be stenography" but were based on recollections after the fact, the official said. There were no recordings or precise transcripts, he said.

Shouldn't there be better record-keeping? It's pretty absurd that the CIA cannot say what it actually told a legislator during an official briefing.

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Pelosi has accused the CIA of lying, claiming that at this September 2002 briefing she had been informed that waterboarding was under consideration, but not yet in use. She says she learned a few months later that Rep. Jane Harman, her successor as the ranking Democrat on the intelligence committee, had been told by the CIA that waterboarding had been employed. In any event, there's no indication Pelosi made a fuss about waterboarding during this timeframe.

But given that Pelosi says the CIA is lying—a rather serious charge—doesn't the American public deserve to know if she's telling the truth about that? How sad that the agency that is supposed to discover secrets from around the world to keep us safe cannot determine what it did or did not say to a legislator in charge of watching the spies.

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