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02-11-2008, 10:10 PM
Watching the watchdog
Two officials assigned to CIA inspector general compromise his independence


Mon, Feb 11, 2008 (2 a.m.)

The CIA’s inspector general, John Helgerson, has undertaken investigations in recent years that have exposed some agency officials and operations to public criticism.

In 2005, for example, after working on it for two years, Helgerson delivered a report to Congress stating that the CIA had failed to capitalize on opportunities that might have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

Helgerson recommended that George Tenet, who was CIA director at the time of the attacks, and more than a dozen other top CIA officials appear before special agency panels to determine whether they should be disciplined.

The recommendation was never followed, but it received widespread publicity. Also receiving attention in recent years and months have been Helgerson’s investigations into the CIA’s harsh interrogation methods, its programs for detaining terrorism suspects and the agency’s destruction of tapes showing its 2002 interrogation of al-Qaida suspects at a secret prison in Thailand.

These and other investigations by Helgerson, a 37-year CIA employee, show he’s doing his job, which is to conduct independent investigations of controversial CIA activities and prepare classified reports for internal review and for Congress. After classified material is removed, the reports are eventually made public.

In our view, the watchdog service provided by an independent inspector general is critical. Along with a free press, it keeps government agencies mindful that they are accountable for their actions.

So it is very worrisome that CIA Director Michael Hayden this month created two new positions in the inspector general’s office. A “quality control officer” will now oversee Helgerson’s investigative methods and an “ombudsman” will take statements from CIA employees who have concerns about how an investigation is proceeding or why it is even being conducted.

The CIA, The Washington Post reported, “did not make Helgerson available for comment” about the new positions, but an agency spokesman said the inspector general was on board with them.

We believe Congress’ intelligence committees should investigate Hayden’s directive. It sounds to us like the independence of the CIA’s inspector general has just been detained.