Thiessen: The FBI's scandalous attempt to block the Nunes memo

Thiessen: The FBI's scandalous attempt to block the Nunes memo

February 7th, 2018 by Mark Thiessen/Washington Post Writers Group in Opinion Free Press Commentary

A intelligence memo is photographed in Washington, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

WASHINGTON — Washington is debating the significance of the memo released by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, but this much should not be debatable: The effort by the FBI to prevent its release was scandalous.

The ostensible reason for suppressing the memo was that it was classified. But now that we have seen the memo, it is hard to see anything that justifies a national security classification, much less the highest level of classification — top secret. No diplomatic secrets were revealed, and no sources or methods were exposed by making it public. If that is the case, then what was the real reason the FBI opposed the memo's release? The bureau's public statements made clear that their real concern was something other than the release of national security information, when the FBI declared it had "grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."

But there is nothing in the law that allows the government to suppress the release of a document simply because it has "material omissions of fact." The only justification for classifying information is to protect national security. Indeed, government officials are explicitly prohibited from preventing the release of a document under the guise of "classified information" because they believe it is politically biased or may embarrass the government. Executive Order 13526, signed by President Obama on Dec. 29, 2009, clearly states: "In no case shall information be classified, continue to be maintained as classified, or fail to be declassified in order to: conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error; prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency or prevent or delay the release of information that does not require protection in the interest of the national security."

Recall that in 2014, then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein released a document prepared by committee Democrats about the CIA's terrorist interrogation program that was rife with "material omissions of fact." Indeed, Feinstein and her staff did not interview a single CIA official involved in the interrogation program, because they did not want to hear inconvenient facts that might undermine their predetermined narrative. Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, who had sat on the Intelligence Committee, decried "the partisan nature of this report." Yet no one in the media decried its release, nor did the Obama administration suppress it. Instead, the Republican minority was allowed to publish a separate report, and the CIA released a document of its own rebutting Feinstein's many falsehoods — and then left it to the public to judge.

If the FBI thinks the Republican memo is incomplete or misleading, then, by all means, the bureau should prepare and release a rebuttal. But under no circumstances did they have the right to try to suppress it. Not only were they wrong on legal grounds to oppose the memo's release, they were politically stupid for doing so.

If the FBI knew the Christopher Steele dossier was paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee when they submitted it as (in the words of the Nunes memo) "an essential part" of the FISA application for a warrant to spy on an American citizen, and failed to tell the court its provenance, then that is corrupt. This revelation is embarrassing. But in a democracy, that does not allow them to use government classification laws to keep it from the American people.

The real threat to national security came not from the memo's release but from the FBI effort to suppress it. We depend on FISA warrants to obtain critical intelligence on terrorist threats to the American homeland. If the FBI's actions cause Americans to lose trust in the FISA process, then their elected representatives may impose greater restrictions on it, making it harder for the intelligence community to protect America.

The only way to restore that trust is full transparency. Democrats and the FBI should be able to offer their versions of story. But trying to keep this information from the public is corrupt, undemocratic and arguably unlawful. Let the American people see the evidence and decide who is right.

The Washington Post Writers Group

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315