Nancy Pelosi: When Legislators Take on the CIA, 'They Come After You'

A powerful legislator on the costs of properly overseeing the intelligence community
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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's remarks in support of fellow legislator Dianne Feinstein, who is embroiled in a dispute with the CIA, ought to be the sort of thing that alarms everyone. After all, another powerful member of Congress claims that the spy agency she is charged with overseeing illegitimately resists checks on its autonomy.

Here's how she put it:

  • "I salute Senator Feinstein. I tell you, you take on the intelligence community, you're a person of courage. And she does not do that lightly. Not without evidence."
  • "Wherever the decision is, whether it's from the administration, as was the case in the Bush Administration, to withhold information from Congress, I fought that. But you don't fight it without a price, because they come after you, and they don't always tell the truth about it. Now, where that's motivated from, I don't know." 
  • "This is a matter of great seriousness, the attitude that the CIA had, to the rights of Congress in all of this. It's pretty appalling, what is being alleged or charged." 
  • "The administration is the custodian of intelligence information. It is not the owner." 

If Feinstein were taking on ATF or the Food and Drug Administration, no one would think to describe her as being a "person of courage." Congressional Republicans have been brutally attacking the IRS. None of them has suggested that, as a result, IRS officials or appointed leadership are bound to come after them. 

In other words, the CIA is out of control in a way that these other agencies aren't. And the reason this isn't considered scandalous? We've grown to expect it. There are many patriots who serve their country in the intelligence community, Pelosi said. And presidential administrations are partly to blame here. She is absolutely right—none of which changes the urgent need to rein in the CIA.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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