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Public Interest Groups Call For Brennan's Resignation

A coalition of public service groups released a letter Tuesday calling for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan in the ongoing fallout of revelations that the Central Intelligence Agency snooped on Senate staffers working on a report on President George W. Bush-era interrogation practices.

The letter to President Barack Obama was signed by 20 groups, including the Sunlight Foundation, Public Citizen, and the Project on Government Oversight. The groups' call for Brennan to step down echoes Congressional calls that came in late July from Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich, both Democrats.

The letter calls for Obama to declassify the CIA's inspector general's report on the improper access to Senate computers and for Brennan to resign for his role in what the groups said is "a long series of CIA attempts to conceal and obstruct oversight of its use of torture after September 11." Going further, the groups wrote that under the leadership of Brannen, the CIA has become "an agency without limits," threatening the work of the majority of CIA employees playing by the rules.

The inspector general's report confirming that the CIA accessed Senate computers was a particular embarrassment for Brannen given the veracity and speed with which he denied Sen. Dianne Feinstein's allegations of CIA lawbreaking. "Nothing could be further from the truth," Brennan said in March hours after the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman said she had "grave concerns that the CIA search may well have violated the separation of powers principles."

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They Shoot Corrupt Officials, Don't They?

Truth is reportedly stranger than fiction. Reality, on the other hand, "leaps ahead of the satirist, like a cheetah," Christopher Buckley wrote to me in an email, when I asked if a character in his latest book is based on a real-life Chinese leader who just recently fell from grace. (He attributed the quote to the pro-communist Irish journalist Claud Cockburn, with what may or may not have been irony.)

The satirist Buckley, who penned Thank You for Smoking and is the son of conservative hero William F. Buckley Jr., published in 2012 They Eat Puppies, Don't They?: A Novel, about a defense lobbyist contracted to foment turbulence with China to justify an expensive weapons system. The pleasantly absurd tale involves poisoning the Dalai Lama, the Chinese president holding meetings in his bathroom to avoid being spied on by his security services, and a D.C. think tank with the not-too-unbelievable name of the Institute for Continuing Conflict.

But character Lo Guowei, the "scary, sexually aggressive minister of state security" seems all too real. A subplot concerns Lo's power struggle with the Chinese party secretary Fa Mengyao, a gray apparatchik modeled after Hu Jintao, China's top leader from 2002 to 2012. Lo loses: Fa successfully frames him for trying to poison the Dalai Lama without consulting the rest of the top leadership. At the end of the book, agents from the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Chinese Communist Party organization tasked with policing party members, detain Lo. "You will look back on this day and curse your mothers' wombs," Lo says, as he is taken into custody. 

There aren't too many fictionalized accounts of power struggles among China's top leadership -- in part because the real ones are so opaque. On July 29, as part of a sweeping anti-corruption drive instituted by President Xi Jinping, Beijing announced an investigation into Zhou Yongkang, the domestic security czar from 2007 to 2012 who oversaw the police force, the courts, and other organs of state security. Such a public proclamation means he almost certainly will be found guilty; Xi's move against Zhou is probably the biggest shake-up in elite politics in China in decades.

Did Zhou have Lo in mind? While Zhou is a level above the fictional Lo on the party hierarchy, "There are a few parallels between the two gents," Buckley wrote FP in an email. That said, "Lo is my own confection, disappointing as that may be." 

It is unknown exactly how Zhou fell -- probably some combination of corruption, his reported support for disgraced former Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, and a power struggle between Xi, and Zhou and the more conservative faction that he represents. It is also unknown what role Hu, the former party secretary, played in Zhou's ouster, if any. It is safe to assume a plot to poison the Dalai Lama -- still healthy at 79 -- had nothing to do with Zhou's fall.

But who knows? Maybe the real reasons are far more intriguing. As Buckley said: "You can't beat reality."

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