Senator Feinstein Accuses the CIA of Spying on Congress with Impunity

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Senator Dianne Feinstein

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) laid out for the Senate Tuesday an incredible four-year tale of the CIA allegedly spying on Congress, lying about it and then continuing to do it while fighting to prevent publication of a report on its torture/detention program.

Feinstein is chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which has compiled a 6,300-page program review that the agency claims is full of errors and shouldn’t be released. The program, which the senator described as an “un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation” was officially ended in 2009 by newly-elected President Barack Obama.

Senate staffers went public a week ago with claims that the CIA had accessed a Senate computer network, spying and interfering with their work. After days of media reports piecing together elements of the story amid counter-accusations that the staff had improperly obtained confidential information, Feinstein, who has been a stalwart, public defender of the CIA over the years, delivered a tick-tock of events as she saw them on the floor of the Senate.

It starts with the CIA destroying video interrogation files and offering, instead, to provide the committee with internal cables describing the events in 2009. It did so in a huge document dump that swamped the staffers. Under an agreement with former CIA Director Leon Panetta, the Senate received material in a special secure network that the agency administered at one of its facilities in Virginia, with the promise that just IT folks, no spooks, would have access.

And then files began to disappear.

After a Senate inquiry, the CIA fessed up to removing hundreds of files in early and mid-2010. Feinstein said the CIA was finally called on the carpet by the White House, apologized and promised not to do it again.

“And that, as far as I was concerned, put the incident aside,” she said.

In hindsight, she may have been a tad too trusting.

The committee continued its survey of the material and came across a set of documents that have come to be known as the Panetta Review. The documents were apparently an internal agency study of its own actions that found “significant CIA wrongdoing.” Some of that “wrongdoing” confirmed what the committee already knew.

That didn’t stop the CIA from publicly denying what was in its own private assessment.

And then part of the Panetta Review disappeared. So staffers quickly copied what was left of it and transferred it to a computer in the Hart Senate Office Building for safety. The CIA complained that the Panetta Review was not meant for public consumption and in January, Director John Brennan told the committee that the agency had, indeed, probed the Senate computers in Virginia to remove it.

He said the CIA would study “further forensic evidence of the committee network to learn more about activities of the committee’s oversight staff.” Brennan also accused the committee of illegally copying the remains of the Panetta Review and taking them elsewhere. Feinstein defended removing the documents, contrary to an agreed-upon process of CIA vetting, arguing that staffers redacted the documents just the way the CIA would have.

Both the Senate and CIA have demanded that each other be investigated by the Department of Justice. Leading the charge for the CIA is the acting general counsel, whom Feinstein did not name. She said he filed a crimes report that she viewed as an attempt to intimidate the committee and its staff.

Feinstein noted that the counsel used to be a staff attorney in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center—the unit that carried out the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. The New York Times said the counsel was probably Robert Eatinger, whom the newspaper identified in 2007 as being one of two attorneys who signed off on destruction of videotapes.  

The senator renewed her call that the entire report be declassified and made public.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Conflict Erupts in Public Rebuke on C.I.A. Inquiry (by Mark Mazzetti and Jonathan Weisman, New York Times)

Dianne Feinstein Accuses CIA of Breaking Law (by Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle)

Statement on Intel Committee’s CIA Detention, Interrogation Report (by Senator Dianne Feinstein)

CIA Spied on Senate Committee Investigating CIA (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)

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