So according to Jane Harman:
In early 2003, in my capacity at Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee, I received a highly classified briefing on CIA interrogation practices from the agency’s General Counsel. The briefing raised a number of serious concerns and led me to send a letter to the General Counsel. Both the briefing and my letter are classified so I cannot reveal specifics, but I did caution against destruction of any videotapes.
Given the nature of the classification, I was not free to mention this subject publicly until Director Hayden disclosed it yesterday. To my knowledge, the Intelligence Committee was never informed that any videotapes had been destroyed. Surely I was not.
This matter must be promptly and fully investigated and I call for my letter of February 2003, which was never responded to and has been in the CIA’s files ever since, to be declassified.
On some level, obviously, one needs to sympathize with a member of congress who’s being stymied by abuse of the classification procedure. At the same time, this is hardly a one-off. The clearest example, at this point, is probably the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, where the Bush administration released a declassified version that had different bottom-line conclusions than did the classified version. Obviously, while it’s perfectly appropriate to classify substantial portions of an NIE, the conclusions themselves don’t contain sources and methods, and there was no justification for them ever to be classified.
What members who find themselves in the position Harman says she’s in — and the position that Dick Durbin, Carl Levin, and others found themselves in regarding the 2002 NIE — need to realize is that on some level acquiescence in these kind of abuses winds up legitimizing them. A member who believes he or she is in possession of evidence of crimes being committed and covered-up through illegitmate classification ought to seriously consider civil disobedience: calling a press conference, stating the facts, and accepting responsibility for the consequences. The White House could, of course, then turn around and seek to prosecute a member for violating classification laws, and the member could argue justification and we’d have it out. That’s a tough call to make, clearly. But our political leaders have responsibilities to the country and to the constitution and I’ve never seen a candidate for office say something like “I’m the one who likes to abdicate responsibility, decline to make the tough calls, and then when someone else gets to the bottom of things try to make sure that my ass was covered.”