A One-Sided Conversation

Posted by CODEPINK Staff

By Laura Mills, CODEPINK DC intern

On Tuesday, CODEPINK DC trekked over to room 331 in the Hart Senate Office Building to meet with Richard Harper, Legislative Assistant to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).  The Senator chairs the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.  The committee oversees the CIA and other intelligence agencies.  We thought it would be the perfect place to share our message -- take drones out of the hands of the CIA -- and learn the Senator’s thoughts on the current program.

But at the end of thirty minutes, we knew little more about Congress’ oversight of the CIA than we did when we came in.  Beyond a slew of standard political rhetoric, there was little substance behind Harper’s words.  Of course, Senator Feinstein is very concerned - as is he - about the use and proliferation of drones.  Although the committee holds all meetings behind closed doors, save one open hearing a year, the senator is interested in transparency.  She wants a conversation, with CODEPINK, with the larger anti-drone movement, with Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan . . . and so the vague reassurances went.  Despite saying that he spoke to members of the intelligence committee to prepare for this meeting, it was clear Harper either truly did not know the answers or was unwilling to discuss them with us.  So rather than simply sigh at his feeble answers, I researched further some of the questions we brought up during the meeting:

On Oversight: According to the LA Times, members of the Intel Committee and their staffers visit the CIA headquarters once a month to watch footage of drone attacks. They assess actual strikes and related evidence used to justify killings.  Senator Feinstein is credited with beginning this program as the Obama administration increased attacks in the past three years.  Before that point, the CIA’s drone use had little congressional review.

On Anwar Al-Awlaki: After the U.S. citizen’s assassination in Yemen, Senator Feinstein released a statement calling him an extremist who had declared war on the United States.  Six months later when Attorney General Eric Holder gave his speech on targeted killings, saying that the Constitution does not guarantee “judicial process” to citizens, the Senator released a statement backing the administration’s view.  She claims the Intel Committee is kept fully informed on counterterrorism operations.  However, Senator Ron Wyden, senior member of the committee, had a contradictory response to Holder’s speech.  He says secret legal analysis continues to be withheld from the committee, suggesting Congress does not have the total oversight Feinstein presents it as having.

On Donors: Over the course of her career, Senator Feinstein’s campaign committee has benefited from the donations of many weapons manufacturers. Since 1989, Northrop Grumman has given $90,648. General Atomics has given $82,750. General Dynamics has given $66,550.

Ultimately a Google search produced better results than our meeting with Harper.  Such is the story of CODEPINK’s most anti-climactic outing.  We came.  We saw.  We were nodded at.  And maybe that is the best we could hope for.  But if the Senator is really interested in serious dialogue, there are plenty of people waiting for that conversation.  The people of Pakistan are screaming for it.

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