WASHINGTON - Key members of Congress vowed yesterday to defend the independence of the CIA's inspector general and to put an end to the agency's probe of its own internal investigator.
Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, asked Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell in a letter to terminate the investigation of the conduct of CIA Inspector General John Helgerson.
"I just don't want to see the intimidation of inspector generals in Washington, D.C., and I'm of the view that people who know that they're doing the right thing aren't afraid of oversight," Wyden, a member of the Senate intelligence committee, said in an interview with the Associated Press.
"The initiation of this investigation, if accurately reported, is troubling," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes, a Texas Democrat, said in a statement.
Congress overhauled the inspector general's office to be an independent watchdog for the agency nearly two decades ago, Reyes noted, saying it would now "very aggressively preserve" that independence.
The CIA confirmed Thursday that its director, General Michael Hayden, had ordered the internal review. In a series of reports on the agency's conduct before and after the Sept. 11 attacks, Helgerson has criticized senior figures at the spy agency, including former director George Tenet and officers involved in the CIA's detention of terrorist suspects.
Wyden has been among the legislators pressuring the CIA to release those IG reports.
"Hayden fought me every step of the way in doing that," he said. "When it came out Hayden basically said the IG was all wet, he was wrong on key points but he didn't even say why he didn't agree with the work of IG."
Word of the probe touched off a bipartisan wave of concern among the agency's congressional overseers that the CIA is trying to muzzle one of its sharpest critics and the only officially independent voice inside the secretive agency.
The Senate panel's top Republican, Kit Bond of Missouri, said he also would "make sure that nothing is done to restrain or diminish" the inspector general's office. Bond said in a statement that the CIA "has a track record of resisting accountability."
Representative Dutch Ruppersberger, Democrat of Maryland, a House intelligence committee member whose district includes the National Security Agency, said Hayden made a mistake in launching the inquiry.
"When you are working in the clandestine arena you need to make sure the CIA is following the law and procedures set in place. That's the purpose of the IG. It makes the agency stronger," Ruppersberger said in an interview.