Obama nominates CIA watchdog to fill long vacancy

Obama nominates CIA watchdog to fill long vacancy
© Getty Images

President Obama on Thursday nominated a former CIA officer and longtime lawyer who examined missteps in U.S. intelligence to be the spy agency’s next inspector general, hoping to fill a position at the watchdog office that’s been vacant for more than a year.

If confirmed by the Senate, Shirley Woodward would fill the role left empty since David Buckley stepped down in January 2015, on the heels of a landmark determination that CIA officials had gained unauthorized access to Senate computer files. Lawmakers called the episode a potential violation of constitutional separation of powers, and the spat led to one of the bitterest moments in relations between the spy agency and its congressional overseers in recent history.

ADVERTISEMENT

In Buckley’s absence, the spy agency watchdog has been helmed by Deputy Inspector General Christopher Sharpley, who has filled the role on an acting basis.

Woodward was an intelligence operations officer at the CIA from 1985 to 1997 and later clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

In 2004 and 2005, she was a senior lawyer on a special panel created by President George W. Bush to examine errors that led to the false conclusion that Iraq had acquired weapons of mass destruction before the 2003 U.S. invasion. The scathing report concluded that intelligence services had suffered “one of the most public — and most damaging — intelligence failures in recent American history.”

For the past nine years, Woodward has worked at the law firm WilmerHale.

In a statement, Obama praised her as “experienced and hardworking.”

If confirmed, Woodward would take the reins of the inspector general’s office at a time of new scrutiny.

Last month, Capitol Hill revealed that the watchdog office had accidentally destroyed both the digital and hard copies of a classified Senate report lambasting the CIA for its formal brutal interrogation program.

An executive summary of the 6,700-page report was made public, but the full classified version exists in just a few offices aside from Capitol Hill, which has guarded it zealously since Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015.

The apparently unintentional deletion, which occurred last summer, raised eyebrows among critics of the CIA’s past. Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGOP, Kavanaugh accuser struggle to reach deal GOP Senate candidate: Allegations against Kavanaugh 'absurd' Grassley panel scraps Kavanaugh hearing, warns committee will vote without deal MORE (D-Calif.) — the driving force behind the 2014 report and the vice chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee — has called for the inspector general’s office to be given a new copy of the analysis, but that step appears unlikely for the time being.

CIA Director John Brennan appeared to hint at the possibility of a looming nomination while testifying on Capitol Hill earlier on Thursday.

“I like to think that I would be seen as prescient today if I were to say that such a nomination may be forthcoming soon,” he said during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

"I hope you'll convey back to the administration the importance that this committee puts on that position and that we believe an appointment in the immediate future is appropriate," Sen. Angus KingAngus Stanley KingRestoring our national parks would be a bipartisan win for Congress Restore our parks Renaming Senate office building after McCain sparks GOP backlash MORE (I-Maine) told him in response.

This story was updated at 10:28 a.m.