Sen. Feinstein Suddenly Discovers Surveillance can be Bad…if She’s being Spied on
Being a staunch defender of government spies comes at great risk, considering such loyalty means standing by those whose very business is to snoop and lie for a living. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) now understands what her years of supporting the intelligence community have gotten her: being spied on and lied to.
Until now, it was rare to hear Feinstein disparage the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or other intelligence operations, like the National Security Agency (NSA). Last year, in fact, while one damning account after another was revealed about the NSA’s spying on Americans and others, Feinstein defended the agency’s work in protecting the nation from potential terrorists. When other members of the Senate, including those serving on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Feinstein chairs, wanted to impose tough reforms on the NSA, the California Democrat thwarted such efforts and insisted on weaker changes to the agency’s surveillance programs.
But then the CIA made the mistake of crossing Feinstein … in a really big way.
Despite her steadfast belief in the CIA’s mission to defend the nation from foreign threats, she realized last decade that the agency had gone too far under President George W. Bush when it captured and tortured individuals suspected of being involved in the September 11 attacks and other anti-U.S. plots.
So her committee began investigating the CIA’s interrogation program, albeit with the cooperation of the agency’s leadership. Indeed, Feinstein’s committee staffers had to conduct their review of CIA documents at a secure facility set up by the agency in northern Virginia using a secure computer network operated by the CIA.
The agency didn’t make the committee’s work easy, dumping literally millions of documents into the secure network for staffers to wade through. But Feinstein’s aides combed the file dump meticulously, and in doing so, discovered a trove of information that painted an ugly picture of the CIA’s torture program. During the months it took for the committee to perform this work, the CIA began to realize it had perhaps turned over too much information and began to pull back some of it—after the Senate staffers had already read it and knew of its existence. This meant the CIA was monitoring what the committee was accessing, and essentially spying on a congressional investigation.
This pattern was repeated when the committee found amid the mass of records that the CIA had conducted its own review of its interrogation program and admitted just how out-of-bounds the agency went under Bush in torturing detainees. The CIA not only pulled some of these records from the committee’s computer, but then lied about doing so.
Having realized their mistakes, in both exposing damning evidence to the committee and then trying to cover it up, the CIA did what it often does in its spy work: spread disinformation and discredit its opponent.
In this case the opponent became the agency’s longtime friend, Feinstein. The CIA hasn’t directly attacked the 22-year veteran of the Senate, but it has accused her committee investigators of illegally accessing agency records and removing them from a secure location. The CIA has even contacted the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), requesting an investigation and telling it that charges should be brought against Feinstein’s aides. The CIA’s Office of Inspector General (IG) also opened its own investigation into the matter.
Angered by these actions, Feinstein has gone on the offensive against the CIA. She took to the Senate floor to give a lengthy and detailed account of how her committee conducted its probe under the terms set forth by the spy agency, and that it was the CIA, not her staffers, who had broken the law by interfering with the work of the legislative branch. She also accused the CIA of intimidation by launching the DOJ and IG investigations into her committee’s actions.
“The recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our Intelligence Community,” Feinstein said in her speech. “How Congress responds and how this is resolved will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.”
It remains to be seen how this fight between two powerful forces in Washington ends. But it would be surprising if Feinstein’s view of the CIA wasn’t altered by this ordeal, now that she’s experienced the agency’s underhanded behavior firsthand.
To Learn More:
Statement on Intel Committee’s CIA Detention, Interrogation Report (Senator Dianne Feinstein)
Feinstein Accuses CIA of 'Intimidating' Senate Staff over Torture Report (by Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian)
Probe: Did the CIA spy on the U.S. Senate? (by Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor, McClatchy)
Senate Committee Approves Continued Bulk Spying on Americans (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Feinstein’s Senate Committee Defends NSA Phone Surveillance, Pushes Bill to Retain It (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Senator Feinstein Accuses the CIA of Spying on Congress with Impunity (by Ken Broder, AllGov)
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