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IG nominee may expand reviews of CIA covert operations

Sep. 22, 2010 - 02:58PM   |  
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Nominee for Inspector General, Central Intelligence Agency, David B. Buckley testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during his confirmation hearing September 21 in Washington, D.C.
Nominee for Inspector General, Central Intelligence Agency, David B. Buckley testifies before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during his confirmation hearing September 21 in Washington, D.C. (Thomas Brown / Staff)

The nominee to be the CIA's next inspector general told lawmakers Tuesday that he may expand the office's reviews of covert action programs.

Congressional intelligence committees in 2001 struck a deal with the CIA's Office of Inspector General to review authorized covert actions every three years. David Buckley, whom Obama nominated last month to be the CIA's IG, said at his Sept. 21 nomination hearing that he would continue those studies and if necessary, re-examine some covert actions annually.

Senate Intelligence Committee Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said that the CIA's IG plays an important role in uncovering potential wrongdoing at the secretive agency. She said former IG John Helgerson's 2004 review of the CIA's detention and interrogation practices which concluded that CIA-approved methods amounted to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment was a "watershed moment" that led to changes in how the agency treats detainees.

Helgerson and former CIA Director Michael Hayden clashed over the OIG's investigations. In 2007, Hayden opened his own controversial investigation into the OIG's operations, and the committee said the resulting report implied that the OIG moved slowly, didn't clearly reflect the views of subjects being investigated, didn't provide all exculpatory evidence, and didn't do enough to make sure subjects could review reports of their interviews.

In a written questionnaire sent to Buckley, the committee said such an inquiry was inappropriate. Buckley agreed and said that the inspector general needs to be independent from the CIA director "in substance and in appearance."

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said future attempts to undermine the IG would probably not be as "ham-handed" as Hayden's investigation. He said an unhappy CIA director would probably use more subtle tools, such as restricting the IG's access to personnel or resources, or using overclassification to limit investigators' access to information.

Buckley said if he could not resolve any differences directly with the CIA director and the director of national intelligence, he would then turn to the House and Senate intelligence committees.

But Buckley said in his written responses that his office would welcome suggestions on ways to improve the quality of its investigations. He said that during his time working for the Defense and Treasury departments' IGs, his offices took external criticism seriously and used it to reorganize investigations and hold investigators and supervisors accountable for misconduct.

"IGs and their offices are not perfect," Buckley wrote. "They should seek feedback and have an appropriate measure of transparency."

Buckley also said he would work closely with the CIA's chief financial officer to straighten out the agency's financial records. The committee said the agency has consistently failed audits of its financial statements.

And if the Office of the Director of National Intelligence's inspector general is empowered to review matters affecting the entire intelligence community as the 2010 Intelligence Authorization Act would do Buckley pledged to try to avoid conflicts from overlapping jurisdictions.

"The IC IG and CIA IG would need to create a memorandum of understanding that the offices would use on day-to-day matters concerning investigations, audits and inspections," Buckley wrote. "Such an agreement would guide most of the matters under consideration by identifying the office of primary responsibility for the planning and execution of routine IG matters."

Feinstein said the committee will vote on Buckley by Sept. 28, and she wants the Senate to vote on his nomination before lawmakers adjourn. The Senate is expected to adjourn in early October to give lawmakers time to campaign.

She said Buckley is likely to be confirmed by the full Senate.

Buckley was special assistant to the Defense Department IG from 1995 to 1998. He also helped set up the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and served as assistant IG for investigations from 1999 to 2005. Buckley also was minority staff director for the House Intelligence Committee from 2005 to 2007.

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