The CIA vs. The Senate: Spying and Surveillance Takes A New Turn

Diane Feinstein is the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. When Edward Snowden made his revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance program, Feinstein criticized him, saying she believed the program was not only constitutional but necessary to protect the country from attack.

But after the CIA spied on her Senate Committee, she changed her tune quite a bit. Today she took to the Senate floor to warn that the increasing power of the CIA threatens the Constitutional division of power.

Feinstein after speaking with the Senate (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Feinstein after speaking with the Senate (Photo: AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Here’s the background story.

Feinstein’s Intelligence Committee has been investigating the CIA since December of 2007, when the New York Times revealed that the agency had destroyed tapes of its agents using “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Feinstein recalled her first briefing on this issue:

“The resulting staff report was chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us.”

Feinstein said that the CIA did everything they could to hinder the investigation, including hiring a team of, “outside contractors–who otherwise would not have had access to these sensitive documents,” to read through all the documents (6.2 million pages worth) multiple times.

Also, while this was going on, documents that Senate staffers found and marked as interesting would then mysteriously disappear from the CIA’s system.

Black Sites. Source: Wikimedia Commons
“Black Sites”- countries that hosted secret CIA prisons outside US jurisdiction. Source: Wikimedia Commons

It got so bad that the Senate committee decided to move the investigation from the CIA-leased facility that had been hosting them to a Senate office building.

Defending the decision to move the investigation, Feinstein said,

“As I have detailed, the CIA has previously withheld and destroyed information about its Detention and Interrogation Program … there was a need to preserve and protect the Internal Panetta Review in the committee’s own secure spaces.”

The CIA responded by hacking the computers the committee was using at the old site, and then having their top lawyer file a crimes report with the Department of Justice against the committee’s staff.

This really got Feinstein going. Here’s her response:

“I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center–the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the Detention and Interrogation Program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study. And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff–the same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers–including the acting general counsel himself–provided inaccurate information to the Justice Department about the program.”

Edward Snowden, who spoke at South by Southwest Interactive Festival yesterday, called out Feinstein for being a hypocrite, comparing her to German Chancellor Angela Merkel:

“It’s clear the CIA was trying to play ‘keep away’ with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that’s a serious constitutional concern. But it’s equally if not more concerning that we’re seeing another ‘Merkel Effect,’ where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”

White House Spokesman Jay Carney (Photo: AP)
White House Spokesman Jay Carney (Photo: AP)

Where’s the president in all this mess? Well, Obama has avoided speaking directly about it, but White House spokesman Jay Carney said,

“The president has great confidence in [current CIA director] John Brennan and confidence in our intelligence community and in our professionals at the CIA.”

Read more from the Huffington Post here.

Feature image courtesy of Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

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