Congressional officials voiced new concern Tuesday over CIA Director Michael V. Hayden’s decision to make the agency’s inspector general the target of an internal probe.
Seeking to defuse the issue, Robert L. Deitz, a senior CIA attorney in charge of the probe, briefed both the House and Senate intelligence committees Tuesday.
But congressional aides said the sessions did little to assuage concerns that the inquiry could undermine the independence of the inspector general, the main in-house watchdog for the nation’s leading spy service.
“I don’t think that we were satisfied with the discussion,” said a Senate aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity. “They gave us their view, but I think there is a great deal of skepticism on our part over whether this is a smart thing for them to be doing.”
The congressional panels could hold formal hearings on the issue or otherwise put pressure on Hayden to alter the scope or nature of the inquiry, which former CIA officials have described as unprecedented.
The probe is focused on the conduct of Inspector General John G. Helgerson. He has been accused of bias and unfair treatment by senior agency officials and veteran spies singled out for criticism in a series of internal reports.
Some of the complaints are said to come from case officers involved in the CIA’s terrorist detention and interrogation operations, which have been a focus of Helgerson’s scrutiny for several years.
Helgerson, who has held the inspector general position since 2002, also has been harshly critical of former CIA Director George J. Tenet and other senior officials for their roles in intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
CIA spokesman George Little confirmed that Deitz, who has long-standing ties to Hayden, had met with the House and Senate intelligence committees on Tuesday, but declined to discuss the information Deitz shared.
“We don’t think it’s appropriate to comment one way or the other on discussions between agency officials and congressional staffers that occur in closed session,” Little said. “And it’s unfortunate that others have chosen not to hold to that standard.”
Deitz described the inquiry as a broad probe of the inspector general’s conduct, according to sources familiar with the discussion.
Deitz also said that the CIA was reluctant to invite an outside panel to review Helgerson’s work, in part because that would require the agency to share information with outsiders on some of its most closely guarded activities, including its secret overseas prison system.
A special President’s Council on Integrity and Effectiveness was established to review allegations against government inspectors general. But CIA officials have characterized the probe as a management review that didn’t rise to the level of enlisting outside help.
Key lawmakers and former CIA officials have questioned that decision, saying it sets a confusing and potentially damaging precedent to have the CIA director investigate its inspector general.
“Whatever conclusions one may draw about the motive for undertaking this,” the Senate aide said, “it has the potential for sending a message to people that it is an attempt to undermine the work of the IG.”