home Congress, Intelligence Congressional Staff With Agendas Forget They Are Not Elected, And At Times, Not Above the Law

Congressional Staff With Agendas Forget They Are Not Elected, And At Times, Not Above the Law

Yesterday I learned from a colleague on the Hill that there is a vacancy in the Senate for a security officer to manage and oversee the security of classified and sensitive data. They better move to fill the position, fast.

The more I read about the Congress’s latest anti-CIA broadside, it is becoming increasingly clear that someone or some group of people on the oversight Committee staff, possibly with tacit Member support, has decided that the contents and the conclusions of the alleged 6,300 page enhanced interrogation report is not what is needed to make a political point. What point or points? Who knows. In this town, your guess is as good as any.

If the CIA created a computer network to share information with Congressional staff, let’s hope that it was being monitored at all times. Why would you want it any other way? It is not as if there are cameras or listening devices in these rooms. Yet if you spend any time working on Capitol Hill, and are familiar with the security protocols in these matters, you would know that every person entering a SCIF or logging on to a secure computer system must sign in before hand, for starters. The same holds for paper review.

You sign in before access records. No flash drives. You lock up your electronic devices. No pen or paper (unless arrangements have been made to you leave your notes behind for future use). There may be some other restrictions in place, but you get the picture. Access is monitored. Most importantly, however, all classified documents stay where you found them.

If you’re going to hold a security clearance and have access to sensitive records, monitoring comes with the territory. The alleged monitoring, whatever it is, is not the more telling issue in this story. The information sharing protocols in place take in to account separation of powers balanced with national security interests, as well as other equities. It is what Congressional staffers are accused of doing that is being buried way beneath the headlines. According to the not so conservative New York Times:

Ms. Feinstein was infuriated when she learned last month that the C.I.A.’s acting general counsel, Robert Eatinger, had made a criminal referral to the Justice Department, charging that committee staff members might have broken the law by gaining unauthorized access to C.I.A. computers and removing documents from the C.I.A. facility in Northern Virginia where they had been examining them for their report.

When you focus on this, Senator Feinstein’s floor statement begins to make a whole lot more sense. The Democrats are not getting the spin they want from the CIA, so they are going to find a way to embarrass the CIA, and possibly Bush Administration officials, to exact their pound of political red meat. This will in turn be fed to outside groups with political agendas as well as legal cases, such as shutting down GITMO or securing the release of detainees.

Every now and then I need to visit with Congressional offices for a client. Most of the time it is a pleasant experience; however, every now and then you have a disagreement. One works it out and moves on. And, fortunately although not many times, you lock horns staff who think they are the Member. They refuse to listen to reason or to an alternative view of an issue because it does not follow their narrative or ideological agenda. The Member may or may not know that his or her staffer is being a jerk. How do you deal with these people? Patiently.

If Congressional staff removed documents from a secure room or facility, then the staffers who did it have broken many laws and should be investigated by the Congress, as well as the Justice Department. Their security clearances should also be suspended and access denied to all classified information. Judging from Feinstein’s tone yesterday, I doubt there will be any such a review because she has already made up her mind, it is her way or no way.

One thing is very certain, the Hill leaks like a sieve. There are security protocols in place to make sure, as best possible, that sensitive materials remains where it should. Let’s hope someone was doing their job and monitoring, not spying, on staff. As this story unfolds, we may learn that there may have been issues on the CIA side as well; however, two wrongs do not make a right.

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