GOP backs CIA in dispute with Pelosi

May 15, 2009 6:57:47 AM PDT
Congressional Republicans are rushing to defend the CIA after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the spy agency of misleading her and other lawmakers about its use of waterboarding during the Bush administration. The issue of what did the speaker know about the interrogation method -- and when did she know it -- has deepened the fault lines between the two political parties. Pelosi was unequivocal about a CIA briefing she received in the fall of 2002.

"We were told that waterboarding was not being used," the speaker said Thursday. "That's the only mention, that they were not using it. And we now know that earlier they were." She suggested the CIA release the briefing material.

Pelosi vehemently disputed Republican charges that she was complicit in the use of waterboarding, and she suggested the GOP was trying to shift the focus of public attention away from the Bush administration's use of techniques that she and President Barack Obama have described as torture.

On Friday, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee contradicted Pelosi's claims and questioned her criticism of the nation's spy operations.

"I think it's a tragedy that we are seeing this massive attack on our intelligence community which has kept us safe," Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri said in an interview on NBC's "Today" show where he questioned why Pelosi was "going after the agency and calling them liars."

Bond said he reviewed the CIA's material and it was clear that Pelosi had been informed about the enhanced interrogation method, although Bond said he was not with Pelosi when the spy agency briefed her.

The CIA was widely criticized for its intelligence gathering prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and faced questions about its information on suspected weapons of mass destruction in Iraq prior to the start of the war in March 2003. The weapons were never found.

CIA spokesman George Little said it is not the policy of the agency to mislead Congress, although he refused to answer directly questions about Pelosi's accusation.

Pelosi has been the target of a campaign orchestrated in recent days by the House Republican leadership, which is eager to assign Democrats partial responsibility for the use of waterboarding -- a kind of simulated drowning -- in the Bush administration.

GOP officials secured the release of an unclassified chart by the CIA that describes a total of 40 briefings for lawmakers over a period of several years. Pelosi's name appears once, as having attended a session on Sept. 4, 2002, when she was the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Former Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., who at the time was the chairman of the committee and later became CIA director, also was present.

The notation says the briefing was on "enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah ... and a description of the particular EITs that had been employed."

Little, responding to Pelosi for the CIA, said the chart "is true to the language in the agency's records." But he did not say whether the information was accurate.

Instead, he pointed to a recent letter from CIA Director Leon Panetta to lawmakers saying it would be up to Congress to determine whether notes made by agency personnel at the time they briefed lawmakers were accurate.

Coincidentally, Pelosi spoke as the CIA rejected former Vice President Dick Cheney's request to release secret memos judging whether waterboarding and other harsh techniques had succeeded in securing valuable intelligence information.

CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the request was turned down because the documents are the subject of pending litigation, which makes them not subject to declassification.

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