CIA’s internal watchdog post remains vacant despite mounting calls to fill it

CIAThe administration of United States President Barack Obama has yet to nominate a replacement for the Central Intelligence Agency’s inspector general despite calls by Congress to quickly fill the sensitive post. The position has remained vacant since the end of January of this year, when David Buckley resigned after four years on the job. The position was created in 1989 in the aftermath of the so-called Iran-Contra affair, as part of a broader effort to institute independent oversight of the CIA. The Agency’s inspector general is tasked with, among other things, probing allegations of institutional illegality or personnel misconduct, and evaluating concerns raised by whistleblowers.

According to Michael Isikoff, chief investigative correspondent of Yahoo News, there are “mounting concerns on Capitol Hill” about the failure of the White House to nominate a replacement for Buckley, more than six months following his departure. Isikoff wrote that Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Ca), who chairs the Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, wrote to President Obama in June urging him to nominate a new CIA inspector general “as soon as possible”. In her letter, Feinstein expressed alarm over the delay, which could adversely affect a growing list of sensitive internal probes at the Agency. But the White House has yet to respond to Feinstein, let alone nominate a candidate for the position, said Isikoff.

Several government watchdogs and observers told Yahoo News that the situation at the CIA inspector general’s office is “hardly unique” and noted that the process for appointing inspector generals for US government agencies usually “takes too long”. Moreover, the Agency’s office of the inspector general is not headless; it is led by interim inspector general Christopher R. Sharpley, a government lawyer who worked under Buckley. However, many wonder whether the delay stems from the President’s inability to find an individual with a reputation for impartiality and the determination to handle one of the US Intelligence Community’s most challenging posts.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 August 2015 | Permalink

Brennan apologizes after internal report finds CIA spied on Congress

John Brennan and Dianne FeinsteinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The director of the United States Central Intelligence Agency has apologized to Congress members after an internal inquiry found that the Agency spied on Congressional staff investigating its use of torture in interrogations. The investigation, conducted by the CIA’s Office of the Inspector-General, was prompted by the very public spat back in March between the Agency and the Senate Intelligence Committee. The latter is tasked, along with its sister body in the House of Representatives, with exercising legislative oversight of the Intelligence Community. Many members of the Committee, which has just concluded a probe over the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation against terrorism detainees, believe that, not only was the CIA’s use of torture methods illegal, but that it also failed to generate useful intelligence. The CIA, however, has denied this all along, and has been quite possessive of documents relating to the subject, which the Committee believed had a right to access. When the Committee accused the CIA of illegally searching the computers used by staffers to carry out their research into CIA files, the Agency responded by asking the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into whether Congressional staffers illegally removed classified documents from the CIA’s archives that were beyond the scope of the Committee’s investigation. But the CIA’s own report appears to have completely vindicated Congress, having found that CIA officers created a fake online identity in order to surreptitiously access a number of computers used by Congressional staffers. The report’s findings prompted a private meeting earlier this week between CIA Director John Brennan and two senior members of the Committee, Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga), during which Brennan reportedly apologized. Feinstein, however, who was very vocal in denouncing the CIA’s shenanigans back in March, allegedly took Brennan to task about his staunch defense of his employees last spring. Read more of this post

Israel sends top intel official to US to complain about spy claims

Yuval SteinitzBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
A senior Israeli intelligence official will be meeting with the head of the United States Senate Intelligence Committee today to complain about reports in the media that Israel spies aggressively on American targets. The Israeli government reacted angrily last week to claims by Newsweek magazine’s intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein that Israeli spies were aggressively trying to steal American secrets. Stein quoted Congressional staffers saying that America’s Jewish allies had “crossed red lines” in their efforts to steal secrets from the United States. One staffer told Newsweek that Congress members had been briefed by American intelligence officials about Israeli espionage operations against the United States that were “very sobering […], alarming, even terrifying”. The Israeli embassy in Washington reacted angrily to Newsweek’s revelations, condemning what it called “outrageous, false allegations […] being directed against Israel”. Stein, however, did not back down. In a follow-up article published last Thursday, he quoted US intelligence officials and Congressional insiders who said Israel had been “caught carrying out aggressive espionage operations against American targets for decades”. The article included an allegation that Israeli intelligence tried to spy on US Vice President Al Gore during an official state visit to Jerusalem 16 years ago. The effort was allegedly aborted after a US Secret Service agent caught an Israeli spy trying to enter the Vice President’s hotel room through a ceiling vent. In other instances, Israeli intelligence operatives have allegedly tried to entice American officials visiting Israel with drugs and prostitutes. Stein reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, America’s primary counterintelligence agency, regularly summons Israeli diplomats stationed in Washington “for a scolding” after uncovering Israeli espionage operations on American soil. Such “scolding” sessions have taken place “dozens of times” since 9/11, says Stein, citing a former senior FBI official. Read more of this post

Obama comments on Senate-CIA dispute, fails to mention Feinstein

Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, John BrennanBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Yesterday in a radio interview I opined that I would not be surprised if the White House stepped in to mediate the ongoing dispute between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Today, President Barack Obama broke his silence “with respect to the issues that are going back and forth between the Senate committee and the CIA”, as he said. But he refused to take sides —or did he? On Wednesday afternoon, the President responded to a question on the matter by a White House pool correspondent. The question related to the increasingly heated public spat between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee. The latter is tasked, along with its sister body in the House of Representatives, with exercising legislative oversight of the Intelligence Community. Many members of the Committee, which is currently investigating the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation against terrorism detainees, believe that, not only was the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods illegal, but that it also failed to generate useful intelligence. The CIA, however, denies this, and has been quite possessive of documents relating to the issue, which the Committee believes has a right to access. The Agency has now asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to look into whether Congressional staffers illegally removed classified documents from the CIA’s archives that were beyond the scope of the Committee’s investigation. The Committee has in turn asked the Bureau to investigate whether the CIA illegally searched the computers used by staffers to carry out their research into CIA files.

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Comment: The significance of the spat between Congress and the CIA

John Brennan and Dianne FeinsteinBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, had gone out of her way in recent days to avoid commenting on the ongoing quarrel between her Committee and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). That ended yesterday, when she gave a press conference accusing the CIA of illegally spying on her Committee’s Congressional staffers. Her stunning announcement came shortly after her tense meeting with the Director of the CIA, a bad-tempered John Brennan. She told the media that at the meeting she requested from Brennan an apology and acknowledgement that the alleged CIA spying was “inappropriate”. By her own account, she failed to get either, so she decided to go public. In an interview I gave yesterday to Michigan’s WILS 1230 AM’s Capital City Recap, I argued that the quarrel between the two government bodies is not in itself important. What is important, I told radio host Mike Cohen, is that the dispute has entered the public arena. A routine ‘push and shove’ mêlée has turned into an all-out fistfight in full view of the media. One Republican Senator, Lindsay Graham, told the Associated Press on Tuesday that the time had come for “the legislative branch [to] declare war on the CIA”. In response to the Committee’s accusations, the CIA has apparently instructed the Department of Justice to investigate the alleged removal by Congressional staffers of classified documents that were “protected by executive privilege [and were] beyond the scope of the Committee’s investigation”.

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US Senate hearing accidentally reveals Mossad director’s secret visit

Tamir PardoBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The chairwoman of a public hearing at the United States Senate, which was televised live across America, accidentally revealed that the Director of Israeli intelligence service Mossad secretly visited the US for talks last week. The revelation took place on Tuesday at a high-profile hearing conducted by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, with the participation of the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Central Intelligence Agency Director David Petraeus. While addressing the latter, Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein mentioned in passing that “the vice chairman [of the Committee] and I have just met this past week with the director of Mossad”, and that the meeting was classified. She was referring to Tamir Pardo, the newly installed head of Israel’s foremost external intelligence agency. Without blinking an eye, Petraeus responded saying: “Like you, obviously, I met with the head of Mossad when he was here”. Subsequent discussion during the hearing appeared to establish that Pardo visited the United States specifically to discuss the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran’s known nuclear installations. In responding to Senator Feinstein’s comment, the CIA Director said that Pardo’s secret visit was “part of an ongoing dialogue that has also included conversations that I’ve had with [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and with [Defense] Minister [Ehud] Barak”. No further information was shard on the Mossad official’s visit, and US government representatives refused to elaborate, when asked about it later. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #559

Manuel Noriega

Manuel Noriega

►►Why did Pakistani spy chief secretly visit China? Reports reveal Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, head of Pakistan’s main military intelligence agency, the ISI, flew on a secret mission to Beijing for urgent talks this Monday. China’s ties with Pakistan have traditionally been tense, and have become worse in recent years, because China accuses Pakistan of harboring secessionist Chinese Muslim militants. Some observers suggest that Pasha’s trip may have been more of a summons than a visit.
►►France to extradite Manuel Noriega to Panama. France has confirmed it will extradite Manuel Noriega to Panama, where he is wanted over human rights violations during his rule in the 1980s. The former Panamanian military leader is currently serving a prison sentence in France for money laundering. Speaking during his trial in Paris last year, the former US ally claimed that millions of dollars he deposited in several French bank accounts were CIA payments for his services, not income from illicit drug sales.
►►US intel budget drops by $500 million. More than $500 million would be cut from US intelligence agencies under a bill authorizing programs and spending for spying operations next year, Read more of this post