The CIA last week launched a review of how it briefs key members of Congress after House Democrats complained that the agency has been misleading lawmakers for the past eight years.
In late June, CIA director Leon Panetta held a closed-door session with members of the House Intelligence Committee. In that meeting, he revealed details of a secret program that had been, up to that point, concealed from Congress — a potential violation of the National Security Act. Lawmakers said Panetta told them that he had immediately ended the program.
Details of the program have not been released. Some Republicans say the revelation is no big deal, and that Democrats are playing politics. A man at the center of the controversy — Democrat Silvestre Reyes of Texas, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee — tells NPR's Guy Raz that his committee has pinpointed numerous instances where it was not given "full and complete information," and in at least one case, "we were deliberately lied to."
Guy Raz: Let's start with exactly what was concealed from you and others on the committee. What can you tell us about the program?
Rep. Reyes: Unfortunately, the work that we do precludes me from going into any kind of detail. What I can tell you is that this was a very highly classified program that had been in place since right after the attacks of 9/11 and involved a worldwide effort. It's a very serious program. I know my Republican colleagues have tried to minimize it, but it is a highly classified program that has very serious international implications. For those that are wondering whether or not it would be — all you've got to consider is the fact that as soon as Director Panetta found out about this program, he canceled it, and then I think within less than 24 hours, he was in front of our committee giving us the full scale of information.
Congressman, Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi took a lot of heat for comments back in May that she was misled by the CIA on waterboarding back in 2002. In some ways, do the allegations you're now making support her claim?
There's no way that I or anybody else have any way to know what the issues were when she was briefed. She has given her side. Director Panetta put out a press statement saying that it is not the policy of the CIA to mislead Congress. But that doesn't mean that that hasn't occurred, and since those attacks on the speaker were made in early May, we have, in our committee, come up with a number of instances where we were not given the full and complete information. In some cases, information was kept from the committee, and in at lease one instance we were deliberately lied to.
Deliberately lied to — that's a very serious charge.
Do you believe that in this case the CIA violated the National Security Act, the law that requires them to brief certain members of Congress on significant intelligence activities?
Well, I've been on this committee — this is my ninth year. We have been very vocal in complaining about information that has not been provided to the committee. This latest one is certainly not the only one that we were not told about.
So, in a sense, they did violate the National Security Act.
In my opinion, numerous times.
So are you essentially saying that there has been a pattern of the CIA misleading your committee for several years, this is just the latest example, and it certainly gives credence to Speaker Pelosi's argument?
Obviously, I'm going to let people make up their own mind, but I will tell you this: Certainly an argument can be made that this has been a pattern under the previous administration; we want to fix that. And then secondly, I think when the facts come out, people will be able to make up their own minds. Whatever viewpoint you have politically, you'll be able to say, yes, the committees of jurisdiction have a right to be concerned about not getting the information.
There are some in the CIA who argue that this is just another example of why they shouldn't have to brief Congress on every single program that they implement, because essentially Congress leaks information?
You know what? That is such a bogus argument. Let me give you a real example of something that occurred since I've been chairman of the committee. And that was, we were given information by the previous administration that restricted it to the gang of eight: the two chairs, the two ranking members, and the two leaders on each side of the Capitol. And then subsequent to that, we found out that on the administration side, well over 1,000 people had the same information. So people can make up their own mind: Where is it likely to leak? That is a bogus argument. Again, it's about getting the information that's essential so that we can do the job of oversight, and that's really the bottom line.