A near inviolable truth of politics is that the more indignantly an official denies a serious allegation, the more likely it is that the allegation is true. (Call it the Rob Ford Law of Inverse Credibility.) This truism was reinforced last week when the director of the CIA, John Brennan, admitted that, yes, agency employees had hacked into the computers of Senate Intelligence Committee members. A few months earlier Mr. Brennan had sharply dismissed the possibility of the CIA ever committing what he portrayed as an absurdly unthinkable act. “I mean, we wouldn’t do that,” he told NBC News.
Yes, you would. You’re the CIA, and you’re fighting for your reputation.
The CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee have been battling for months over an upcoming committee report that will almost certainly be damning for the CIA. The report is likely to sharply contradict the spy agency’s assertion that the brutal, possibly illegal detention and interrogation techniques it employed after 9/11 (waterboarding included) produced valuable intelligence and prevented further terrorist attacks.
An internal CIA review released last week says agency officials hacked into a computer network used by Senate committee staff working on the upcoming report, and read the e-mails of Senate investigators. The review also found that CIA officials, in what comes across as a tit-for-tat move, made false criminal allegations to the Justice Department, accusing Senate staff of breaking the law in the course of investigating the CIA.
Mr. Brennan has now apologized to the Senate. He has promised a review of the incident. But everyone would be better off if, for a start, Mr. Brennan resigned. His agency has crossed an enormous red line in a democracy. The CIA spied on Congress. It hacked government computers, a possible crime. And it did this not to protect national security but for the sake of damage control. It was spying on its civilian masters in the name of protecting its own skin.
The CIA was in a tough spot after 9/11: It had to prove it could protect America from foreign threats. But in prosecuting the war on terror, it (and the Bush administration it served) developed a disregard for the rules. This latest revelation is evidence that the CIA is prepared to double down on its lawless ways. Elected officials need to dump Mr. Brennan, release their report on the CIA, launch a wider investigation – and bring a renegade spy agency to heel.