WASHINGTON – The disclosure Wednesday of the CIA’s decision five years ago to let a private security contractor help manage its sensitive effort to kill senior al-Qaida members drew congressional criticism Thursday on the eve of key decisions by the Obama administration that current and former intelligence officials fear could compound the spy agency’s political troubles.
Those decisions include the expected release Monday of newly declassified portions of a 2004 CIA report that questions the legality and effectiveness of the agency’s harsh interrogations at secret prisons. Additionally, Attorney General Eric H. Holder may order a probe of possible criminal actions by CIA officers and contractors during those interrogations.
“In September, you are going to have a hurricane coming through Washington that is aimed right at the intelligence community,” warned Porter Goss, the CIA’s director from 2004 to 2006. He noted that a Justice Department inquiry is also pending into whether laws were broken when CIA officers destroyed videotapes of the harsh interrogations.
Democratic House and Senate lawmakers and staff members have already described as inappropriate the Bush administration’s decision to hand management and training responsibility for the CIA’s “targeted killing” efforts to Blackwater USA, and they have reiterated their intent to press for speedier and more complete disclosure by the agency of such activities in the future. CIA Director Leon Panetta formally terminated the program in June.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the intelligence committee, sharpened her previous criticism of the program. “It is clear to me that the failure to notify before now constituted a violation of law,” she said in a statement Thursday.