Oh, good. As if there was ever any doubt that the exposure of CIA torture was never going to result in anyone involved being held responsible, the current push to knock a former Senate staffer off her career path further confirms the government’s preference for shooting messengers.
Alissa Starzak, a former Democratic majority staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee, played a critical and controversial role during her time on the panel: She was a lead investigator for the torture report, and was one of two staffers involved in an ongoing feud over damning internal CIA documents obtained by the committee.
Currently serving as deputy general counsel for the Defense Department, Starzak was nominated last July to serve as general counsel to the Army.
But the critics of the torture investigation — namely, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-N.C.) — are orchestrating a quiet campaign to stall Starzak’s nomination.
Burr confirmed to The Huffington Post that he is working to keep the former investigator from getting approved by the Senate.
This would be the same Richard Burr who ridiculously demanded everyone in possession of the full, unredacted CIA Torture Report return their copies immediately, presumably so he could memory-hole the damning documents as quickly as possible.
So, while everyone else involved walks away with their careers pretty much intact — and covered by the president’s mawkishly-worded admission that “we tortured some folks” — Starzak will be about the only person to emerge from this horrific debacle with her options limited.
The Senate Intelligence Committee is divided against itself. Feinstein tackled the CIA’s torture programs, facing down fellow committee members while doing so. Since Burr can’t hang Feinstein — largely because she’s still a very hawkish on NSA surveillance — he’s just going to fit Starzak with a noose and hang Feinstein in effigy.
Starzak wasn’t involved with the torture review for long, leaving Feinstein’s staff for a job with the Department of Defense in 2011, but she managed to secure a key document that served as a touchstone for future Senate investigative work. While digging through the documents the CIA allowed the Senate to access on its computers in the agency’s basement, she came across the files later known as the “Panetta Review.” At the time (2010), they seemed unimportant. It wasn’t until the CIA began defending itself against claims made in review drafts that Senate staffers realized how instrumental this file was.
It was in June 2013 that the CIA, now under the leadership of John Brennan, sent the committee its official response to the completed torture study. The agency largely defended its use of torture — in stark contrast with what the Panetta Review said — which tipped Senate staffers off to the document’s importance.
After the CIA issued its response, Senate investigators sat through dozens of hours of meetings with agency staff in an effort to resolve the discrepancies between the official CIA line and the Senate’s findings. But those meetings yielded little. Newly aware of the relevance of the Panetta Review — as it backed their findings and undermined the agency’s official response — staffers slipped the document back to their secure committee spaces sometime in late 2013.
This move led to CIA claims that the Senate had improperly accessed documents… which led to the Senate accusing the CIA of spying on staffers. This finally resulted in CIA opening its own investigation into the Senate allegations and (of course) clearing itself of any wrongdoing, while raising new accusations about Senate staffers’ improper access.
So, while CIA, DOJ and administration officials are free to duck questions about their involvement in the approval (either explicit or tacit) of the CIA’s torture programs, Burr and others are holding Starzak’s future hostage until she answers for this supposed improper behavior.
Critics are now holding up Starzak’s nomination — and say they are willing to kill it entirely if need be — to get more answers about the Panetta Review. Specifically, they say, they want the committee’s Democratic staffers to provide more information about how the file was discovered in 2010 and how, in late 2013, staffers slipped the printed documents back to the committee’s secure office spaces, in apparent violation of an agreement with the agency.
“Clearly it looks like … [she] knew that this document existed, knew that people were reading it and as a counsel didn’t try to keep people from doing it,” the lawmaker familiar with the controversy said. “[I want] information that fills in the blanks of what happened. And she clearly knows something.”
It’s nothing but thug tactics, wrapped in the faux concern for an intelligence agency’s operational security. Burr is irritated that Senate staffers didn’t play by the CIA’s self-serving ruleset — not because rules mean much to him, but because it resulted in the exposure of truly vile behavior from officials and operatives Burr routinely defends. And he’s willing to let the record show that he prefers punishing those who expose torture to punishing the torturers themselves.