16 May 2009

Panetta Defends Agency; Speaker Under Fire

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The Hill:

CIA Director Leon Panetta challenged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s accusations that the agency lied to her, writing a memo to his agents saying she received nothing but the truth.

Panetta said that “ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened.”

Pelosi (D-Calif.) infuriated Republicans this week when she said in a news conference that she was “misled” by CIA officials during a briefing in 2002 about whether the U.S. was waterboarding alleged terrorist detainees.

Panetta, President Obama’s pick to run the clandestine agency and President Clinton’s former chief of staff, wrote in a memo to CIA employees Friday that “CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing ‘the enhanced techniques that had been employed,'” according to CIA records.

“We are an agency of high integrity, professionalism and dedication,” Panetta said in the memo. “Our task is to tell it like it is — even if that’s not what people always want to hear. Keep it up. Our national security depends on it.”

In the pep talk-style memo titled “Turning Down the Volume,” Panetta encourages CIA employees to return to their normal business and not to be distracted by the shout-fest Pelosi’s remarks created.

“My advice — indeed, my direction — to you is straightforward: Ignore the noise and stay focused on your mission,” Panetta wrote. “We have too much work to do to be distracted from our job of protecting this country.”

In what may be the most critical moment of her speakership, Pelosi is under fire about what she knew of the enhanced interrogation techniques used by the Bush administration and when she knew it.

At the same news conference where she accused the CIA of misleading her on the topic, Pelosi acknowledged for the first time that she knew in 2003 that terrorism suspects were waterboarded. She said she learned that from an aide who sat in on a briefing in February 2003.

For weeks, Pelosi had dodged questions about what she knew about waterboarding and when she knew it. Republicans have called her a hypocrite for criticizing techniques as “torture” when she tacitly agreed to the practices after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. At least one lawmaker — Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) — called on Pelosi Friday to step down as Speaker.

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