In an unusual and highly concerning move, CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden has ordered an internal investigation of the CIA's Office of Inspector General (OIG) after that internal watchdog issued numerous critical reports which have bred resentment among the secretive agency's operatives, in particular those involved in the CIA's secret prisons program.
This is an unprecedented instance of an agency or department head beginning their own investigation into their own inspector general. Usually when there are allegations of wrongdoing by a presidentially appointed inspector general or senior OIG staff, the matter is turned over to the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency (PCIE) -- an association of all of the government's presidentially-appointed IGs (agency head-appointed IGs, which tend to exist at smaller agencies, are part of the Executive Council on Integrity and Efficiency). By turning to a body outside of the IG's agency or department, the independence of the IG is not undermined.
Compounding the institutional conflict of interest of an agency investigation into its own watchdog, is the important detail that the internal investigation is headed by someone long close to Hayden, attorney Robert Dietz, who was the National Security Agency's general counsel under Hayden in the 1990s. Hayden's move is highly troubling and violates the spirit of the IG Act, as well as the independence of the CIA IG.
Frederick P. Hitz, who served as the CIA's inspector general from 1990 to 1998, argued that Hayden was sending a signal to John Helgerson, the CIA IG, "to call off the dogs."
"What it would lead to is an undercutting of the inspector general's authority and his ability to investigate allegations of wrongdoing," Hitz said. "The rank and file will become aware of it, and it will undercut the inspector general's ability to get the truth from them."
Former Defense Department IG Eleanor Hill has repeatedly and strongly stressed that the Defense Department intelligence agencies--including notably the National Security Agency, formerly headed by Hayden--do not have statutorily independent IGs. She has rather scathingly pointed out that military service and Defense Department agency IGs often would come to her, since they did not have the clout, independence or resources to fully tackle certain kinds of sensitive investigations themselves:
“As Defense IG, I worked closely with the military IGs and oversaw many of their investigations. My work with them - and with many other administrative Defense Agency IGs - reinforced my belief that independence is absolutely essential for federal statutory IGs. Military IGs often requested that our office conduct top-level, particularly sensitive investigations since they did not believe they had the independence needed to conduct an investigation that would both be and appear to be objective. I had similar conversations with some administrative Defense Agency IGs, who are appointed and serve, without the benefit of statutorily-protected independence, at the pleasure of the Directors of their agencies. All of those IGs recognized that in investigations of very senior officials or in audits of programs dear to the agency head, the statutorily protected independence of the Departmental IG was critical to both the integrity of the inquiry and to the credibility of the findings in the Department, on Capitol Hill, and with the American public. I could not help but recall those conversations when I read reports last year that oversight of what has been referred to as NSA’s ‘terrorist surveillance program’ had been handled by the NSA IG, who has limited resources and no statutory independence, and not by the Department of Defense IG. In my view, that is exactly the kind of program where the oversight should have been conducted, from the very beginning, by the independent Defense Department IG.