Feinstein accuses CIA of spying on Congress

Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused the Central Intelligence Agency of improperly searching and removing documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s computers. The documents removed were related to the congressional investigation into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program in “black prisons” overseas. 

“On Jan. 15, 2014, CIA Director Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman Chambliss that without prior notification or approval CIA personnel had conducted a “search” – that was John Brennan’s word – of the committee computers at the offsite facility,” said Feinstein on the Senate floor yesterday. “This search involved not only a search of documents provided [to] the committee by the CIA but also a search of the standalone and walled off committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications.”

Feinstein said CIA’s searches of the Senate committee’s computers, networks, draft reports, and emails were not authorized and could be unconstitutional.

“Based on what Director Brennan has informed us, I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function,” said Feinstein. “Besides the constitutional implication, the CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”

Feinstein, who – unlike her Senate colleagues – has been reluctant to criticize the intelligence community in the past, suggested the CIA searches to try to remove the so-called Internal Panetta Review from the committee’s possession.

The Internal Panetta Review was the CIA’s internal analysis based on much of the same 6.2 million pages of records that was reviewed by the Senate committee. Feinstein stressed what’s notable about the Internal Panetta Review was its “acknowledgement of significant CIA wrongdoing” and some of those findings were confirmed by the Senate’s investigation. The CIA’s detention and interrogation program ran from 2002 until it was dismantled by President Barack Obama in early 2009.

The committee produced a 6,300 page report on the CIA’s “black prison” detention and interrogation program in December 2012 and sent the executive report to the White House and CIA for review and comment. In June 2013, the CIA submitted its response and disputed some key findings in the report that were acknowledged in the Internal Panetta Review.

“Some of the important parts that the CIA now disputes in our committee study are clearly acknowledged in the CIA’s own Internal Panetta Review. To say the least, this is puzzling,” said Feinstein. “How can the CIA’s official response to our study stand factually in conflict with its own internal review?”

Feinstein also stressed that this was not the first time the CIA has improperly searched and removed documents related to the investigation of the CIA’s possible use of torture from the Senate committee’s computers.

“In May of 2010, the committee staff noticed that the documents have been provided for the committee’s review were no longer accessible,” said Feinstein.

In all, 870 pages of documents were removed in February 2010 and another 50 were removed in May 2010.

The CIA initially denied allegations that the documents were removed but then “blamed information technology personnel, who were almost all contractors, for removing the documents themselves without direction or authority”. Afterward, the CIA claimed the documents removal was “ordered by the White House”, and the White House “denied giving the CIA any such order” when confronted by the committee.

“After a series of meetings, I learned that on two occasions CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee,” said Feinstein. “This was done without the knowledge or approval of committee members or staff and in violation of our written agreement.”

The 2010 matter was settled after the White House and CIA promised that “there would be no further unauthorized access to the committee’s network or removal of access to CIA documents already provided to the committee,” said Feinstein. She noted that then-CIA’s Director of Congressional Affairs apologized to the committee for the documents removal.

Since the latest incident, Feinstein has written two letters objecting to the CIA’s interference to the Senate investigation and asked the CIA to reveal the full scope of the CIA search, who authorized and conducted the search, and the legal basis for the CIA search. Feinstein said the CIA has refused to respond to the Senate’s requests or apologize for their actions.

In a carefully-worded response, CIA Director John Brennan denied the CIA has “hacked” into the Senate’s computer.

“As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that,” said Brennan at the Council on Foreign Relations. However, his response did not directly address whether the agency improperly searched the computer used by the Senate Intelligence Committee and whether documents were removed by the CIA.

The matter has been referred to the Justice Department.

When asked if he would resign if the investigation found improper actions by CIA personnel, Brennan said the President can ask him to resign.

“If I did something wrong, I will go to the President and I will explain to him exactly what I did and what the findings were, and he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go,” said Brennan.

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