It turns out that the CIA would do that — and, in fact, had done so. Brennan's reassurances were false, and CIA spooks had been hacking into the committee investigators' computers looking for documents they thought the investigators shouldn't have, violating a promise not to. So, first Brennan broke a promise. Then, he either lied, or showed that he doesn't control his own agency, which in many ways would be worse.
Brennan has apologized, but his apology won't be the end of things. We're already seeing bipartisan calls for his removal, from Sens. Mark Udall, D-Colo., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. The White House is hanging tough so far, but we're now hearing comparisons made to the speed with which Brennan's predecessor, Gen. David Petraeus, was cut loose over an extramarital affair. Does this mean that the White House views spying on, and lying to, members of Congress as less serious than an affair?
The answer to that, alas, is probably "yes." Contempt for Congress, and for separation of powers and historical understandings about the roles of the executive and legislative branches, has been a hallmark of the Obama administration. It's not surprising that in such an atmosphere, CIA operatives would feel comfortable snooping on the Senate, and that a CIA director would feel confident issuing blanket denials when questioned.
And what's the worst that's likely to happen to Brennan? Even if he does lose his job, he will — like former NSA director Keith Alexander — just step through the revolving door into a high-paid private-sector consultancy. But without consequences, why should we expect better behavior in the future?
Call me old-fashioned, but I believe that people respond to incentives: If spying on, and lying to, Congress is dangerous, and the results of being caught unpleasant, then there will be less of it. If, on the other hand, the worst risk is a slap on the wrist and a seven-figure career in the private sector, then I suspect we'll see more of this kind of bad behavior.
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