As you may have read in the New York Times this week, Colorado Sen. Mark Udall is front-and-center in another controversy over "extraordinary measures" taken in recent years to protect national security:
The Central Intelligence Agency’s attempt to keep secret the details of a defunct detention and interrogation program has escalated a battle between the agency and members of Congress and led to an investigation by the C.I.A.’s internal watchdog into the conduct of agency employees.
The agency’s inspector general began the inquiry partly as a response to complaints from members of Congress that C.I.A. employees were improperly monitoring the work of staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to government officials with knowledge of the investigation…
The specifics of the inspector general’s investigation are unclear. But several officials interviewed in recent days — all of whom insisted on anonymity, citing a continuing inquiry — said it began after the C.I.A. took what Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, on Tuesday called an “unprecedented action” against the committee.
The action, which Mr. Udall did not describe, took place after C.I.A. officials came to suspect that congressional staff members had gained unauthorized access to agency documents during the course of the Intelligence Committee’s years-long investigation into the detention and interrogation program.
As you can see, the details of this latest incident between inquiring elected officials and the "national security community" are shrouded in mystery–because they are classified. Even when someone in Udall's position feels they must speak out about improprieties they become aware of through classified information they are privy to, in most cases, they can't. In this latest case, reports suggest that the Central Intelligence Agency was monitoring computers used by Senate staff. The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels reported Tuesday night:
Various news agencies reported the CIA is now investigating whether its officers improperly monitored committee staffers and possibly their computers after Udall publicly revealed in December the existence of an internal CIA report that contradicted public comments about the program. The CIA questioned how the committee got the report.
"I'm deeply concerned that the CIA is trying to subvert congressional oversight through intimidation," Udall told The Post. "My job is to fight like hell to make sure the CIA never dodges congressional oversight again and that the White House publicly commits to declassify as much of the intelligence's committee report as possible."
He conceded that might not make him popular with the president, but Udall said his oversight role is "sacred, regardless of who is in the White House."
Politically, this latest clash with the Obama administration over national security policies (and excesses) is quite good for Sen. Udall. With President Barack Obama's approval numbers suffering post-Obamacare rollout, Udall's public role in opposition to controversial national security issues like harsh interrogation methods and domestic surveillance provide a means of differentiating Udall from Obama with Colorado's independent electorate. Although most Republicans–and yes, some Democrats–have to reckon with personal hypocrisy, Udall does not–and can credibly hold civil liberties and national security up as evidence of his independence.
With all of this in mind, we're amused to see conservative mouthpieces trying to attack Udall on this issue:
— CO Peak Politics (@COpeakpolitics) February 26, 2014
One of the earliest time-honored strategies developed by Republican brainiac Karl Rove is the simple practice of never leaving any issue unanswered–even where one's opponent is the very strongest. We're seeing more attempts like the Tweet above by Republicans to attack Udall over his handling of national security issues from the left–that is, attempting to claim that Udall "didn't do enough" to stop the practices he has decried in cryptic terms from his position on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.
Of course, Udall couldn't do that, any more than he can go into details about this latest controversy involving Senate staffers and the CIA. Because the information is classified. Any reasonable analysis makes clear Udall has done everything he could do to alert the American public about these controversies, and is one of very few lawmakers in either party who civil liberties advocates can trust.
Hopefully, it will make more than a few chutzpah-laden Tweets to change that perception.