by Kevin Gosztola, MintPress News:
When the CIA and other agencies in the United States government pushed for the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) in 1981, it was crafted to exclude “covert agents” who resided in the U.S.
There was consideration by the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of how the legislation might “chill or stifle public criticism of intelligence activities or public debate concerning intelligence policy.”
More than three decades later, the CIA is apparently unsatisfied with the protections the bill granted “covert agents. It has enlisted a select group of senators and representatives to help expand the universe of individuals who are protected, making members of the press who cover intelligence matters more vulnerable to prosecution.
Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, was involved in adding language to expand the IIPA to the Intelligence Authorization Act moving through Congress.
“Schiff is once again putting the interests of the intelligence agencies in concealing their misdeeds ahead of protecting the rights of ordinary Americans by criminalizing routine reporting by the press on national security issues and undermining congressional oversight in his Intelligence Authorization bill,” declared Daniel Schuman, who is the policy director for Demand Progress.
Schiff’s expansion of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act beyond all reason will effectively muzzle reporting on torture, mass surveillance, and other crimes against the American people—all at the request of the CIA. Schiff is clearly the resistance to the resistance, and he should drop this provision from his bill.”
The CIA put their specific request for what language they would like amended in writing and sent it to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Their request was essentially copied and pasted, with no changes, into the intelligence bill.
“Undercover agency officers face ever-evolving threats, including cyber threats,” the CIA argued. “Particularly with the lengths organizations such as WikiLeaks are willing to go to obtain and release sensitive national security information, as well as incidents related to past agency programs, such as the RDI investigation [CIA torture report], the original congressional reasoning mentioned above for a narrow definition of ‘covert agent’ no longer remains valid.”
“This proposal would provide protection for all undercover agency officers by allowing for the prosecution of individuals responsible for disclosing the identities of those officers, regardless whether the undercover officer serves inside or outside of the United States,” the agency additionally stated.
Schiff supports the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and shares the CIA’s view that WikiLeaks is a “non-state hostile intelligence service,” not a media organization.
In 2018, when Assange was willing to speak with investigators about the Russia probe, he replied, “Our committee would be willing to interview Julian Assange when he is in U.S. custody, not before.”
“I deplore the potentially treasonous disclosure of classified and sensitive national security information, and urge the Department of Justice to bring any responsible party to justice,” Schiff stated in 2010.
Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said he is concerned about how the bill expands the IIPA so that it applies indefinitely, including to individuals who have been in the United States for decades and have become senior management or have retired.”
“I am not yet convinced this expansion is necessary and am concerned that it will be employed to avoid accountability,” Wyden declared. “The CIA’s request that the Committee include this provision, which invoked ‘incidents related to past Agency programs, such as the RDI [Rendition, Detention and Interrogation] investigation,’ underscores my concerns.”
Gina Haspel, the CIA director, likely favors the law because she faced scrutiny over her role in the destruction of torture tapes that showed the waterboarding of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. She was still a “covert agent” when news of this scandal erupted, and the protection of her identity played a role in enabling her ascension to the top of the agency.
Various groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Demand Progress, Human Rights Watch, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Physicians for Human Rights, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Society of Professional Journalists, wrote a letter objecting to the proposed expansion that was sent to both intelligence committees.
“The provision would expand the definition of ‘covert agent’ for purposes of prosecution under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, in what appears to be a clear attempt to subvert transparency, oversight, and accountability,” the groups assert.
The groups contend it would “harm congressional oversight of the intelligence community, making it much more difficult to obtain information about almost any individual’s relationship to intelligence agencies and allowing the executive branch to avoid oversight through arbitrary classification. Additionally, it would potentially make it more difficult for intelligence community whistleblowers to approach Congress with reports of fraud, waste, and abuse.”