We’re taught as kids that lying is bad, that liars should be held accountable. But in Washington, lying is so endemic and so flagrant that the perpetrators are rarely even rebuked.
Case in point, CIA chief John Brennan.
Which prompts us to ask: Why won’t President Obama hold him accountable? What does it take to fire this guy?
Back in ’08, voters fed up with the Bush team’s lies yearned for an administration that would tell the truth. Candidate Obama promised transparency and accountability. Yet last Friday, at a press briefing, he signaled that Brennan would pay no penalty for the whopper he uncorked back in March, when he publicly declared with fervent certitude that his CIA was not illegally spying on the U.S. Senate.
At the time, Senate investigators were readying an apparently damning report on the CIA’s use of torture (a redacted version has yet to be released); the investigators strongly believed that the CIA had breached secure Senate computers in an attempt to learn what the evidence was, what the report would conclude, and perhaps to thwart those conclusions. Senator Dianne Feinstein angrily charged that the CIA had “violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.”
But when Brennan was confronted by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell at a think tank event, and asked whether the CIA had illegally accessed the Senate Intelligence Committee computers, here’s what he said in response:
“As far as the allegations of the CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s just beyond the, you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we do….And, you know, when the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.”
Well, now the facts have come out. In a report released last week, the CIA’s own inspector general said that five CIA employes – including two lawyers – conducted the spying and monitoring and hacking, in apparent violation of Title 18 of the federal statutes. (I say apparent only because the Justice Department “declined to open a criminal investigation.” Again, no accountability.)
The senatorial anger was bipartisan. Saxby Chambliss, the Intelligence Committee’s Republican vice chair, said, “This is very, very serious.” Democrat Mark Udall, another panel member, said: “I have no choice but to call for (Brennan’s) resignation…This grave misconduct not only is illegal, but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers. These offenses, along with other errors in judgment by some at the CIA, demonstrate a tremendous failure of leadership, and there must be consequences.”
Consequences…yeah, right. Brennan rotely apologized to the Intelligence Committee. In Washington – and in this administration, which promised accountability – an apology is what passes for consequences.
But why should we be surprised? Back in June ’11, when Brennan was serving Obama as counterterrorism chief, he defended the drone assassination program and declared that no civilians had been killed during the previous year; in his words, “there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.” Turned out, a drone attack just three months earlier had killed 42 Pakistanis, most of them civilians.
Brennan suffered no consequences for that lie, either. Nor has James Clapper, the National Intelligence Director, paid any penalty for the lie he told under oath to a Senate committee. Perhaps you remember it. In March ’13, a senator asked Clapper, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” And Clapper replied, “No sir. Not wittingly.” Three months later Edward Snowden proved with evidence that the NSA was collecting quite wittingly.
So what’s the deal here? Why won’t Obama fire liars?
Maybe Brennan and Clapper are deemed essential in the fight against terrorism. In all likelihood, Obama is playing realpolitik (dictionary definition: “a system of politics based on…needs rather than on ideas about what is morally right and wrong). He probably feels compelled to demonstrate to the national intelligence bureaucracy – over and over – that he’s not a bleeding-heart wimp. So he protects guys who lie to the American people, who lie to the lawmakers tasked with holding them accountable.
Goodbye, moral compass.
Speaking of moral compasses: To mark the impending 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s resignation – on Aug. 9, for sweeping and unprecedented crimes against the Constitution – here are still more noxious Nixonian nuggets from his White House tapes. Just some random stuff. Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States…
“The Italians, of course, those people course don’t have their heads screwed on tight.”
“The Irish can’t drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I’ve known gets mean when he drinks.”
(On the confrontation with Native American militants at Wounded Knee:) “I think we ought to move tanks, the whole goddamned thing. Put a division in there, if necessary, It’s time for action on it. If some Indians get shot, that’s too goddamned bad. If some Americans get shot, that’s too bad, too.”
(Ordering staffers to pressure PBS into canceling Bill Moyers’ show:) “It must not appear that you’re trying to affect the network’s news content. That’s what you must do – but you must not appear to be doing that.”
And White House tapes aside, here’s what he told a political associate early in his career (a quote vetted by historians): “You don’t know how to lie. If you can’t lie, you’ll never go anywhere.” No wonder Richard Nixon got so far in Washington.
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