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Diana Shaw: Cheney is the gift that keeps on giving

Posted: July 20, 2009 10:37 p.m.
Updated: July 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.
Really. Dick Cheney is the gift that keeps on giving.

The other day I asked a friend to suggest a subject for this column. I was surprised when my friend answered, "Write about Dick Cheney."

I thought Cheney's grand TV tour to reinvent the concept of torture was old news.

Ah, my friend reported, the new topic du jour is Cheney's purported instruction to the CIA to conceal yet-to-be-revealed intelligence activities from Congress for eight years.

My friend added pointedly, "They say he violated the National Security Act of 1947."

That sounded bad. But, talking heads are often excitable and, with ratings looming, make allegations that sound much worse than facts merit.

So, I decided to figure out exactly what the National Security Act of 1947 is.

Here's the long and short of it: World War II had just ended. Still smarting from the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, President Truman wanted Cold War intelligence to protect us in the future.

In response, Congress created the Department of Defense, the Air Force, the National Security Council, and a spy organization it called the Central Intelligence Agency, each of which was folded into a piece of legislation called the National Security Act of 1947.

Congress put some rules into the Act, setting up intelligence committees to receive assurances that the CIA was following those rules.

But, alas, the nature of the CIA was such that it had trouble with the concept.

Congress pondered long and hard how to handle its rebellious offspring.

By the time Vietnam and Watergate rolled around, it had had enough.

In an act tantamount to taking away the car keys, in 1991 Congress placed a statutory obligation upon the president to ensure that its intelligence committees were kept current, reasoning that the president is ultimately in charge of the agency and should have unique knowledge of its activities.

Congress insisted that the president's obligation was not to be responsive, but to affirmatively keep intelligence committees fully and currently informed.

On June 24, CIA Director Leon Panetta briefed the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that Cheney directed the CIA to conceal a program which Panetta had shut down the day before. It thus appears that Mr. Cheney violated the law.

If you're thinking that requiring the CIA to reveal top secret covert actions might have been outside congressional intentions, think again.

In extraordinary sensitive or covert circumstances, Congress said reporting could be limited to the "Gang of Eight" - the leaders of each of the two parties from each of the two houses of Congress and the chairs and ranking members of the intelligence committees of each of the two houses.

And, Congress conceded that the president could withhold prior notice as long as he fully informed the committees of the particular covert action "in a timely fashion."

What does "timely" mean? The Senate decided it meant "a few days."

So, there is wiggle room for Mr. Cheney, but, come on: eight years?

Last year I followed a line of cars turning left from Valencia Boulevard onto McBean Parkway.

For my trouble, the city provided me with a most unflattering picture of me behind the steering wheel of my car.

For violating the clearly posted law against entering an intersection after the light had turned red, I was fined $381.

I'm still mad about that, but like the National Security Act, the law was clearly posted.

Maybe I could have fought my ticket. Maybe Cheney and Bush, who on the face of it violated the law, can come up with a convincing defense.

But, if Cheney and Bush can ignore the law, that means they can ignore the Constitution that gave Congress the right to make that law in the first place.

And then someone will have to explain to me why they got a free pass, but I was stuck paying for that lousy ticket.

If you happen to be so enamored with Bush and Cheney that you are blinded to the error of their ways, maybe it will help to realize that if they were free to ignore the Constitution that is supposed to protect you and me, so is President Obama.

Power is addictive and from what I read, President Obama is not too eager to address this very issue.

In closing, thank you, Mr. Cheney, for once again giving me something to vent about. You are indeed the gift that keeps on giving.

Diana Shaw, an SCV resident since 1988, is an entertainment attorney, an elected member of the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee and a founding member of Santa Clarita's Democratic Alliance for Action. Her views reflect her own and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Democratic Voices" appears Tuesdays in The Signal and rotates among several Democratic writers.


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