The Oregonian has a knack for making non-stories about Oregon Senators into front page news, and the latest puff piece to come off the assembly line is Sunday’s article by Charles Pope about how the voluble Ron Wyden supposedly keeps his lip zipped about his work on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, where he is the third-ranking Democrat.
Lost in the blizzard [of talk about health care, county payments, town halls] is this significant fact: Arguably Wyden’s most important contribution to the nation as a U.S. senator comes from his work on the Senate Intelligence Committee, a panel with territory that is sprawling, crucial and controversial, but whose members are prohibited from discussing most of their work in public.
Among the intelligence-related accomplishments Wyden is credited with — in a piece that buys into the supposition that everything about the committee is so secret that it can’t be discussed even when an administration is breaking the law and defying Congress rendering it effectively null — is Wyden’s participation in the effort to shut down the Total Information Awareness program proposed by former Iran-contra felon John Poindexter. That effort, however wasn’t initiated by Wyden or any other member of the Intellignce committee. And elements of the program continued to be developed under different rubrics. The article also lists a couple of failed efforts, including the attempt to restrict the CIA from using torture.
What made me laugh, though, was the reporter’s apparent lack of follow-up on a Wyden “win.”
And he led the successful effort to defeat the nomination of John Rizzo to be the CIA’s general counsel. Wyden opposed Rizzo after he refused to repudiate a memo that defined torture as any action that causes organ failure.
Long-time readers may remember back in August of 2007, when Wyden put a hold on Rizzo and he got ink from Jane Mayer at The New Yorker for questioning whether there had been “adequate legal oversight” of CIA techniques. The problem then was that Rizzo had been — according to the International Herald Tribune — “acting general counsel off and on for most of the past six years.” In other words, most of the Bush administration by that point.
I wrote Wyden’s office at the time to ask what would happen if Rizzo didn’t get his confirmation, he replied that he was pleased the nomination had been withdrawn. That, of course, was a month or two before news of the destruction of the recordings that the CIA had of interrogations that potentially showed torture, about which the New York Times had to say this:
In describing the decision to destroy the tapes, current and former officials said John A. Rizzo, the agencys top lawyer at the time, was not asked for final approval before the tapes were destroyed, although Mr. Rizzo had been involved in discussions for two years about the tapes.
Despite the hold on his nomination and its withdrawal, John Rizzo served out the remaining year and a half of the Bush administration as the acting general counsel of the CIA.
As a matter of fact, according to the CIA’s web site, he’s still there.