The wheels up party is a venerable CIA tradition, normally celebrated at overseas stations when a particularly incompetent Chief of Station or a hostile ambassador was in the process of permanently leaving post. The drinking would begin at a time estimated to coincide with the moment when the dearly departed’s aircraft lifted off from the tarmac on its way to Washington.
Wheels ups are rarer at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., though celebrations were reported when Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in 1980; but as a number of senior officers in the Agency actually had a hand in that development, there was probably a measure of self-congratulation at a job well done.
One might well imagine that the partying began at Langley shortly after the polls closed last Tuesday, as soon as it became clear that there would be a GOP Senate majority. More to the point, Sen. Dianne Feinstein would be performing her own wheels up, relinquishing her position as Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) chair to be replaced by the little known Richard Burr of North Carolina. Burr is regarded by the Agency as a good friend, someone who had already staked out a position in favor of protecting government secrecy, stating “I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly.” He also basically supports the CIA position that torture produced information critical to the killing of Osama bin Laden, commenting that “The information that eventually led us to this compound was the direct result of enhanced interrogations…” Burr is regarded as a right-wing conservative and has earned the ultimate accolade of a zero rating from the American Civil Liberties Union.
Now some might argue that Feinstein herself did her best to preserve the executive branch’s right to assassinate Americans overseas, to spy secretly, set up black site prisons and to engage in other activities that are best not discussed in polite company. Many of these activities were carried out by the CIA, but Feinstein did draw the line at torture, which is one of the few illegal acts that the Obama administration credibly claims to be against, placing Feinstein on safe ground bureaucratically speaking. She only turned against the Agency when she learned that it had had the temerity to spy on the activity of her own committee.
In a recent speech made before the midterms, election Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper expressed his confidence that congressional moves to rein in National Security Agency spying had pretty much lost momentum. With Republicans now firmly in charge, remaining watered down measures are likely to die in committee.