Recently declassified documents show that the former CIA director and former director of national intelligence approved illegal spying on Congress and then classified their crime. They need to face punishment, writes John Kiriakou.
(CN Opinion) — Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa made a dramatic announcement this month that almost nobody in America paid any attention to. Grassley released a statement saying that four years ago, he asked the Intelligence Community Inspector General to release two “Congressional Notifications” written by former CIA Director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
Grassley had had his requests to declassify the documents ignored repeatedly throughout the last two years of the Obama administration. He decided to try again because all of the Obama people at the CIA and DNI are gone now. This time, his request was approved.
So what was the information that was finally declassified? It was written confirmation that John Brennan ordered CIA hackers to intercept the emails of all potential or possible intelligence community whistleblowers who may have been trying to contact the Congressional oversight committees, specifically to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Simply put, Brennan ordered his people to hack into the Senate email system—again. Grassley is the longtime chairman of Judiciary Committee, and he was understandably appalled.
First, let me explain what a Congressional Notification is. The CIA is required by law to inform the Congressional oversight committees whenever one of its officers, agents, or administrators breaks the law, when an operation requires Congressional approval because it is a “covert action” program, or whenever something happens at the CIA that’s potentially controversial and the Agency wants to save itself the embarrassment of explaining itself to Congress later.
Brennan apparently ordered his officers to spy on the Senate. Remember, back in 2014 his officers spied on Intelligence Community investigators while they were writing the Senate Torture Report. This time, he decided to inform Congress.
But Brennan and Clapper classified the notification. It was like a taunt. “Sure, I’m spying on Congress, which is illegal. But it’s classified, so what are you going to do about it?”
Grassley went through the proper channels. And even though Brennan and Clapper essentially gave him the middle finger, he didn’t say anything until the documents were finally declassified. He’s a bigger man than I.
I think Grassley missed an opportunity here, though.
First, it’s my own opinion that John Brennan belongs in prison. He has flouted U.S. national security laws with impunity for years. That’s unacceptable. In these declassified notifications, he’s confessing to hacking into the Senate’s computer system. That’s a violation of a whole host of laws, from illegal use of a government computer to wire fraud to espionage. There ought to be a price to pay for it, especially in light of the fact that Brennan was the leading force behind the prosecutions of eight national security whistleblowers during the Obama administration, almost three times the number of whistleblowers charged under the Espionage Act by all previous presidents combined.
Second, it’s a crime, a felony, to overclassify government information. Most Americans have no idea that that’s the case. Of course, nobody has ever been charged with it. But it’s a serious problem, and it’s antithetical to transparency. The CIA Inspector General said of the notifications, “I could see no reason to withhold declassification of these documents. They contained no information that could be construed as sources and methods.” That’s an admission that the notifications were improperly classified in the first place.
Grassley added, “There is a strong public interest in (the notifications’s) content. I do not believe they need to be classified at all, and they should be released in their entirety.”
Grassley went so far as to call out Brennan and Clapper by name. “What sources or methods would be jeopardized by the declassification of these notifications? After four-and-a-half years of bureaucratic foot-dragging, led by Brennan and Clapper, we finally have the answer: None.”
So why weren’t they declassified four years ago? Remember, it’s illegal to classify a crime. And it’s illegal to classify something solely for the purpose of preventing embarrassment to the CIA. Yet those were the very reasons for classifying the documents in the first place. It was because Brennan and Clapper think they’re somehow special cases. (Recall that it was Clapper who lied directly to the Senate Intelligence Committee about intercepting the communications of American citizens. He also did that with impunity.)
Brennan and Clapper think the law doesn’t apply to them. But it does. Without the rule of law, we have chaos in our country. The law has to apply equally to all Americans. Brennan and Clapper need to learn that lesson the hard way. They broke the law. They ought to be prosecuted for it.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism officer and a former senior investigator with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. John became the sixth whistleblower indicted by the Obama administration under the Espionage Act—a law designed to punish spies. He served 23 months in prison as a result of his attempts to oppose the Bush administration’s torture program.