So last week we learned the truth. The CIA did indeed spy on members of the US Senate Intelligence Committee: the very people responsible for overseeing the CIA.
For the past five years, the Intelligence Committee has been investigating the CIA's program of "rendition, detention, and interrogation," the anti-terrorism efforts that included torturing some suspects and shipping others off to countries well-known for their own brutality.
A few months ago, senators became concerned that agents might have hacked into their investigators' computers. When committee members questioned CIA Director John Brennan about their suspicions, though, he was outraged, insisting that "nothing could be further from the truth." The charge, he said, was "just beyond the scope of reason."
Last week he took it all back and apologized. An internal CIA investigation had found that CIA employees and attorneys hacked into the computer network that the Senate committee used to review CIA documents. And, the investigation found, CIA staff read some of the Senate committee's e-mails.
The CIA had plenty of reason for wanting to know what the Senate committee was up to, because the committee was finding evidence confirming that in the post-911, Bush-Cheney period, the CIA had been doing some horrifying things. And it had lied about it.
The Intelligence Committee completed its work and produced a report. That report is still classified, but some of its key points have been made public. Among those noted in a March 31 Washington Post article:
Ÿ The CIA "routinely" lied to Congress and the public about its "enhanced interrogation techniques." It lied, for instance, about the severity of some of the techniques, which included waterboarding and smashing a prisoner's head against a wall.
Ÿ The CIA has insisted that the harsh interrogation techniques were effective, that they got prisoners to reveal crucial intelligence that helped prevent future terrorist attacks. But that wasn't true, government officials who have read the report told the Post. The report found that the torture and brutality "yielded little, if any, significant intelligence," the Post article said.
Other media say the Senate report reveals that the "black sites" where the CIA tortured prisoners included one at Guantanamo and one on an island in the Indian Ocean controlled by Great Britain. And, those articles say, the Senate report says the CIA lied about how many prisoners it was holding at black sites.
There may be more troubling revelations when the full report is released, whenever that is. After it was completed, it was sent to President Obama for security review, and he has now turned it back over to the Intelligence Committee. Washington reporters were expecting it to be released soon after that, but late last week, committee chair Diane Feinstein said the administration made so many redactions in the report that the committee needs to review it again.
Meantime, the spying story broke. Senators, Republicans and Democrats alike, were furious. The CIA's actions, said Colorado Senator Mark Udall, were both illegal and unconstitutional.
Given the CIA's history, nobody should be surprised that the agency would spy on US senators. This isn't the first time the CIA has shown that it thinks it's above the law.
And the public ought to be as furious as the senators, not only about the spying but also about the torture, the detention, the rendition, the whole ugly, illegal mess.
Maybe this time we'll decide that the CIA has gone too far. Maybe, at last, the agency will be brought under control. But that'll happen only if the public puts pressure on Congress and the president. And given past history, that's not likely. With national security and terrorism, we're willing to bend the law and erode our rights and the Constitution.
And when the CIA says it needed to do what it did to protect us, we believe it. No matter what a Senate investigation shows.