Unfortunately, none of the examples of how to conduct an investigation of a scandal cited by Hamilton, all of which he participated in, performed the task they were charged with performing. The Iran-Contra investigation covered up the drug smuggling operation the CIA conducted out of Costa Rica to help funnel money into its black operations budgets. Lee Hamilton of all people knows that best. After all, one of his constituents from Patoka, Indiana, John Hull, owned the ranch in Costa Rica where arms and drugs were airlifted by the CIA. The 9/11 Commission failed to uncover the actual culprits behind the attacks, failing to even acknowledge that Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda terrorist organization was a creature of our own CIA. Similarly with the Iraq Study Commission, there's no mention of Saddam Hussein's previous role as an agent of the CIA.I’ve done my share of digging into complex matters — as co-chair of the Iran-Contra Special Committee, of the 9/11 Commission and the Iraq Study Group — and what I know is this: an investigation ought to be forward-looking and constructive, focused on a key question that is important to the country and to the American people.
What does it take to keep our U.S. missions secure? That’s what the Benghazi inquiry is really about. How do we make sure the IRS remains rigorously non-partisan and competently managed? In the AP case, how should the government balance respect for freedom of the media against the need to safeguard national security? These are matters of national interest, and the investigations give us a chance to pursue each of them.
But retaining a laser-like focus on what really counts is difficult in Washington. Any inquiry is bound to arouse people and groups who have something at stake in it, and they will fight long and hard to make sure their point of view prevails. Politicians look for partisan advantage. The federal bureaucracy protects its turf, and agencies do everything they can to spin testimony or cast blame elsewhere. Lobbyists protect the interests they represent. The White House always wants to shield the President, and can be counted on to drag its heels if an investigation heads in a direction it doesn’t like.
Then, too, the press, politicians, even members of investigating committees will get off track. Was there a cover-up? Who’s to blame for mistakes? Was there criminal wrongdoing? These are legitimate and serious questions. But they are less important to the long-term well-being of the country than trying to discover what went wrong and determining how to fix it; in the case of criminality, that’s an issue for prosecutors to pursue, not Congress.
To ensure that legislative investigators stay on track, their overall approach is crucial. Most important, they need to come in with an open mind and focus on the facts — on what actually happened. It’s amazing how much time gets spent arguing over what took place. Determining this is the bedrock of a good investigation, because once you get an understanding of events and how they came about, it becomes much easier to discern and agree upon solutions for the future.
An investigation’s overall approach also matters because simply launching one does not give you the credibility you need to fix things. That credibility only comes through seriousness of purpose, a bipartisan attitude, fair-minded professionalism, your relationship with the media, and the quality of the staff. A partisan staff generates partisan results, and doesn’t serve the investigation well. Similarly, if you adopt a posture of secrecy or appear to have a hidden agenda, you’ll feed the innate skepticism that meets any investigation; communicating openly to all parties is crucial.
Hamilton opines in his column that the focus on Benghazi should be limited to how we keep U.S. missions secure. God forbid that the American people be told the truth about how this CIA outpost was used to ship arms to Turkey to aid Al Qaeda operatives in Syria seeking to overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad, or that this outpost may have been a black site for carrying out renditions of persons our government suspected of being terrorists and that the attack was instigated to secure the release of those being held captive there?
Incidentally, I've sent an e-mail to Hamilton seeking comment on the recent disclosures by the FBI that confirm that the 9/11 hijackers were being directed by a prominent Saudi businessman with very close ties to a Saudi prince. This information has been withheld from the public for more than a decade. There's no mention of it in the 9/11 Commission Report, which was nothing more than a whitewash of what really happened on that fateful day that forever changed our way of life in America. I won't hold my breath waiting for Hamilton to respond.