Senators Seek Investigation of Impact of CIA Agent’s Exposure

WASHINGTON – Three top ranking Democrats on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee asked for an investigation Friday into how the disclosure of an undercover CIA agent will affect the agency and its ability to protect the nation from foreign threats. Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Senators Daniel Akaka, D-Hi., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked CIA Inspector General John Helgerson to assess how the exposure of the agent, reportedly a specialist in tracking weapons of mass destruction, will affect intelligence about those weapons, as well as agency recruitment.

“Human intelligence is a critically important asset in the war on terrorism,” the Senators wrote. They want the IG to investigate one former CIA agent’s assertion that “the agency’s ability to improve its human intelligence programs has been severely jeopardized by the Administration’s actions.” A number of former CIA agents, expressing a sense of betrayal, have spoken publicly about the damage this incident will cause. Another agent told ABC, disclosure of the undercover agent’s identity “can’t be just another passing scandal.” “It is imperative that we have a complete understanding of all the consequences of this disclosure,” the Senators said. Attached is a copy of the letter: October 24, 2003 The Honorable John L. Helgerson Inspector General The Central Intelligence Agency Room 2X30 NHB Washington, DC 20505 Dear Mr. Helgerson: The Justice Department recently announced that it has begun an investigation into the apparently illegal disclosure of a covert CIA operative’s identity. This disclosure was deeply disturbing not only because it placed the operative at risk, but also because of the serious implications that this disclosure will likely have on the CIA and our national security. In the weeks since the disclosure, a number of former CIA officers have come forward to discuss the far-reaching and potentially serious consequences that this incident will have on the Agency. In one instance, five former CIA officers appeared on ABC’s Nightline where they described in stark terms how the disclosure would affect national security and the on-going mission of the CIA. They expressed a sense of betrayal and outrage, and criticized the administration for seeking political retribution on a clandestine officer. As one officer noted, “it can’t be just another passing scandal…it is way too important…it not only endangers the citizens of the United States, it endangers the agents of the Central Intelligence Agency and makes this world a very, much more dangerous place.” The former officers who have appeared on Nightline also expressed concern that this incident would have a negative impact on the Agency’s recruitment efforts. As the Joint Inquiry Report by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees recently stated, human intelligence is a critically important asset in the war on terrorism. But as one officer interviewed on Nightline suggested, the Agency’s ability to improve its human intelligence programs has been severely jeopardized by the administration’s actions: “recruitments here in the States as well as overseas will suffer…people just will not trust us unless somebody pays a price for this…money, status or the prestige of working for the US in those capacities won’t matter because you’ll wind up potentially dead.” As the General Accounting Office has previously highlighted through its “High-Risk” List, recruitment continues to be one of the more serious human capital challenges currently facing federal agencies and departments. Last year, the Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services held a hearing that discussed, among other issues, the implications that this recruitment challenge has on our national security. Unfortunately, actions such as this disclosure of the CIA operative’s identity will likely exacerbate the recruitment problem by discouraging even more talented individuals from seeking employment with the CIA. These concerns about the future of CIA only serve to underscore the serious breach in national security that this disclosure likely caused. For instance, some news reports indicate that the exposed officer had been involved in tracking weapons of mass destruction throughout the world. If these reports are true, our nation could be far more vulnerable today than before the officer was identified. Therefore, it is imperative that we have a complete understanding of all the consequences of this disclosure. That is why we are asking you to conduct an assessment of how the recent disclosure will affect the CIA and its ability to protect the American people from foreign threats. This assessment should address, but not be limited to, the following questions:

  • If the news reports regarding the exposed officer’s role in tracking weapons of mass destruction are true, has the recent disclosure by an administration official decreased our government’s ability to track the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and increased the vulnerability of our nation to terrorist attack?
  • How will the recent disclosure affect the CIA’s ability to recruit and maintain human intelligence assets? Will the disclosure have an affect on recruitment for non-clandestine services, such as linguists?
  • What actions can the CIA, or other federal agencies, take to minimize the impact of the recent disclosure of the operative’s identity on recruitment and national security? Thank you for your prompt attention to this request. Sincerely, Joseph I. Lieberman Ranking Member Daniel K. Akaka U.S. Senator Richard J. Durbin U.S. Senator
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