National security must remain a strategic legislative priority that deserves the vigilant and careful attention of Congress. When it comes to protecting Americans and preserving our freedoms, the interests of the people are best served by a permanent relationship of reciprocal confidence and deference between Congress and the intelligence community.
On May 14, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) raised a very serious accusation concerning the credibility of the intelligence briefings Members of Congress receive — charging that the intelligence community misleads Congress “all the time.”
Within hours of her very serious allegations, CIA Director Leon Panetta — himself a former Democratic House Member — issued a direct, unqualified rebuttal.
“It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values.”
Panetta stated: “As the agency indicated previously in response to Congressional inquiries, our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully. We are an agency of high integrity, professionalism and dedication. Our task is to tell it like it is — even if that’s not what people always want to hear. … Our national security depends on it.”
Flash-forward to the present and things don’t seem so black-and-white for Panetta or the CIA.
As the ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a former member of the Intelligence Committee, I recognize the supreme importance of dependable and credible intelligence briefings to Congress. The work of government — especially in the face of resurgent international terrorism — relies heavily on the timely, accurate and thorough relay of pertinent intelligence.
Congress has a right to expect it. The CIA has a duty to provide it. It is often said that there are three sides to every story, but in this case, there can only be one truth.
Speaker Pelosi has served in Congress for more than 20 years and is a former member of the Intelligence Committee. If her charges are true, then the integrity of the information Members of Congress receive from intelligence agencies is compromised.
At the moment, Congress is pulled between two competing truth claims — with new details and disclosures emerging that have only deepened the concerns lawmakers have over the briefings they receive. To get to the bottom of this crisis of confidence, it is only appropriate for the FBI to launch an immediate and thorough investigation so we can get the truth.
When it comes to our national security, we cannot allow the partisan politics of Washington to stand in the way of the truth. FBI Director Robert Mueller recently appeared before the House Judiciary Committee. I asked him to immediately initiate an investigation into whether the CIA lied to Members of Congress. The following morning, I also sent a letter to Director Mueller formally requesting the inquiry and introduced the Classified Information Accountability Act, which would allow Members of Congress who have been lied to by the intelligence community to pursue civil charges.
The whole question of lying to Congress is serious enough that it should always be investigated and taken seriously. We cannot have a cloud of suspicion over Congress that affects the credibility of the intelligence information we receive. We rely on truthfulness and candor behind those closed-door briefings. That’s all we’re asking, to make sure we get truthfulness and candor — the fact is the Speaker has said the CIA lied. The CIA first said, “No we didn’t,” and now has admitted to concealing “significant actions” from Congress since 2001.
I’d like to make sure the Speaker has an opportunity to get her reputation back and ensure that every briefing to every Member of Congress, whether it is at the secret level or the most compartmented level, be honest and have candor. If the CIA willfully lied to Congress on this matter, there needs to be accountability.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.