Bob Kerrey 8:51 p.m. EST December 9, 2014
Intelligence agencies need guidance to do better, Senate Democrats failed to provide it.
I regret having to write a piece that is critical of the Democratic members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Most of them are former colleagues and friends. I hope they will remain friends after reading this.
For eight years I served on this committee. I know how difficult and important the work of providing tough and fair oversight of our nation’s $50 billion top-secret intelligence network.
I will wait until I have fully read and considered Tuesday’s report to enter the debate over whether the CIA handled interrogation of detainees in an appropriate manner. Thanks to the 2005 and 2006 efforts of Senator John McCain I do not have to wait to be certain our interrogation policies and procedures are aligned with our core values.
I also do not have to wait to know we are fighting a war that is different than any in our country’s past. The enemy does not have an easy to identify and analyze military. In the war against global jihadism, human intelligence and interrogation have become more important, and I worry that the partisan nature of this report could make this kind of collection more difficult.
I do not need to read the report to know that the Democratic staff alone wrote it. The Republicans checked out early when they determined that their counterparts started out with the premise that the CIA was guilty and then worked to prove it.
When Congress created the intelligence committees in the 1970’s, the purpose was for people’s representatives to stand above the fray and render balanced judgments about this most sensitive aspect of national security. This committee departed from that high road and slipped into the same partisan mode that marks most of what happens on Capitol Hill these days.
I have participated in two extensive investigations into intelligence failures, once when Aldrich Ames was discovered to be spying for Russia after he had done substantial damage to our human intelligence collection capability and another following the 9/11 attacks. In both cases we were very critical of the practices of the intelligence agencies. In both cases we avoided partisan pressure to blame the opposing party. In both cases Congress made statutory changes and the agencies changed their policies. It didn’t make things perfect, but it did make them better.
In both of these efforts the committee staff examined documents and interviewed all of the individuals involved. The Senate’s Intelligence Committee staff chose to interview no one. Their rationale – that some officers were under investigation and could not be made available – is not persuasive. Most officers were never under investigation and for those who were, the process ended by 2012.
Fairness should dictate that the examination of documents alone do not eliminate the need for interviews conducted by the investigators. Isolated emails, memos and transcripts can look much different when there is no context or perspective provided by those who sent, received or recorded them.
It is important for all of us to remember how unprepared we were for the attacks of September 11, 2001 and how unprepared we were to do the things necessary to keep the country from being attacked again. There was no operating manual to guide the choices and decisions made by the men and women in charge of protecting us. I will continue to read the report to learn of the mistakes we apparently made. I do not need to read the report in full to know this: We have not been attacked since and for that I am very grateful.
It is important for all of us to not let Congress dodge responsibility. Congressional oversight of intelligence is notoriously weak. The 9/11 Commission recommended a number of changes in the authorities of Congressional committees but the proposal – advanced by Senator McCain – did not come close to gathering a majority of votes in either the Senate or the House.
The worse consequence of a partisan report can be seen in this disturbing fact: It contains no recommendations. This is perhaps the most significant missed opportunity, because no one would claim the program was perfect or without its problems. But equally, no one with real experience would claim it was the completely ineffective and superfluous effort this report alleges.
Our intelligence personnel – who are once again on the front lines fighting the Islamic State – need recommended guidance from their board of governors: The U.S. Congress. Remarkably this report contains none. I hope – for the sake of our security and our values – Congress will follow the leadership of Senator McCain and give them this guidance.