Panetta contradicts Pelosi, tries to mitigate the damage she inflicted on his agency

CIA Director Leon Panetta, a former House colleague of Speaker Pelosi, has contradicted Pelosi’s claim that his Agency lied to her about waterboarding. In a letter to CIA employees, Panetta stated that, according to CIA records, “CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing ‘the enhanced techniques that had been employed.'” Panetta added:

We are an agency of high integrity, professionalism and dedication. Our task is to tell it like it is — even if that’s not what people always want to hear. Keep it up. Our national security depends on it.

Panetta plainly views Pelosi’s attack on the CIA as not only untruthful, but detrimental to Agency morale and thus to our national security. Thus, he told his employees:

My advice — indeed, my direction — to you is straightforward: Ignore the noise and stay focused on your mission. We have too much work to do to be distracted from our job of protecting this country.

JOHN adds: A key fact, I think, is that the CIA’s press office sent copies of Panetta’s memo to reporters. Thus, it represents a public, institutional response that flatly contradicts Nancy Pelosi’s claims. It is hard to see how the matter can come to rest here; I continue to think that Pelosi, having declared with no supporting evidence that the CIA misleads Congress “all the time,” cannot remain long in the Speaker’s chair.

Panetta’s memo to the Agency’s employees is worth reproducing in full:

There is a long tradition in Washington of making political hay out of our business. It predates my service with this great institution, and it will be around long after I’m gone. But the political debates about interrogation reached a new decibel level yesterday when the CIA was accused of misleading Congress.

Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values. As the Agency indicated previously in response to Congressional inquiries, our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing “the enhanced techniques that had been employed.” Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened.

My advice–indeed, my direction–to you is straightforward: ignore the noise and stay focused on your mission. We have too much work to do to be distracted from our job of protecting this country.

We are an Agency of high integrity, professionalism, and dedication. Our task is to tell it like it is–even if that’s not what people always want to hear. Keep it up. Our national security depends on it.

Meanwhile, President Obama doesn’t want to touch the Pelosi-Panetta dispute with a stick. This colluquy is from Robert Gibbs’ news briefing earlier today:

QUESTION: … Does this White House agree with the Speaker that the CIA lied to her? Does it have any opinion on the propriety of airing that kind of accusation in public?

GIBBS: I think you’ve heard the president say this a number of times. The best things that we can do is to look forward. The president is spending his time on any number of issues, including keeping the American people safe by looking forward.

QUESTION: Yes. But it is a crime what the speaker alleged.

GIBBS: You know… QUESTION: A serious allegation. One that wouldn’t necessarily alarm the American public at a time of war which the president, I know as you’ve told us, takes very seriously.

GIBBS: He does. And I — Major, I appreciate the invitation to get involved in here, but I’m — I’m not going to RSVP. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: (OFF MIKE) (LAUGHTER) QUESTION: But do you have any…

GIBBS: Could I go now? (LAUGHTER) Fair enough. (LAUGHTER) You did ask a lot of questions. (LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: I forgot that my job as a journalist is to ask questions, and I apologize. (LAUGHTER) (CROSSTALK)

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