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Senator Wages War on the CIA

Dianne Feinstein accuses CIA of spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee and hacking its computer network

Sen. Dianne Feinstein

Sen. Dianne Feinstein

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), one of the CIA's staunchest defenders, lashed out at the agency in March 2014, accusing it of spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee, hacking the committee's computer network, covering up the agency's torture and detention program, and potentially violating the constitution. Charges not to be taken lightly. And they weren't. After her speech on the Senate floor, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced it will investigate the accusations. Many predicted that this was just the beginning of a scandal that could become one of the most controversial in recent years.

"Besides the constitutional implications” of potentially violating the separation of powers, Feinstein said, "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.”

The speech was a long time coming, prompted by several years of what she described as intimidation by the agency, which Congress is charged with overseeing.

"In 40 years here, it was one of the best speeches I’d ever heard and one of the most important," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-VT).

Destruction of Videotapes Leads to Senate Inquiry

In 2009, the Senate Intelligence Committee began investigating the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques" and rendition program, in which terror suspects were transferred to other countries, many which permitted torture. The CIA handed over to the committee some 6.2 million documents. The agency loaded the documents onto a secure computer network in a building in Virginia, neither at a Senate building or a CIA facility. It was agreed that the agency would not access the network after setting it up.

In its preliminary report, the Intelligence Committee called the interrogations "chilling" and far more brutal than the CIA had earlier reported. "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. Feinstein, the chairwoman of the committee, received the go-ahead to dig deeper and continue the investigation after the release of the preliminary report.

In the 6,200-page final report, the committee stated that the CIA exaggerated the intelligence it gleaned from the interrogations and downplayed the tactics it used. The report was completed in Dec. 2012 and is still in the declassification process. The Senate Intelligence Committee voted in April 2014 to release the report. The Obama administration and CIA must clear the report before it is released.

Questions about Access to the CIA's Internal Report

Under CIA head Leon Panetta, the agency undertook its own internal investigation into the programs, and its report was among the trove of documents the Intelligence Committee was given. The CIA said the committee should not have had access to the internal report. Feinstein said her committee found the documents on the network and that it may have either been accidentally included by the CIA or put onto the network by a whistle-blower. The CIA accused the Senate committee of illegally obtaining the report by hacking into the CIA files. Feinstein denied that claim.

In 2010, the Intelligence Committee began to notice documents went missing from the computer network. The CIA's internal report was among the missing files. The committee questioned CIA officials about this, and after first denying they had removed the documents, they blamed the IT department. According to news reports, the CIA internal report was significantly more critical of the programs than publicly acknowledged. The CIA disputed a number of sections of the Intelligence Committee's report, but according to Feinstein, the internal CIA report paralleled many of the concerns of the Intelligence Committee.

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

The Intelligence Committee grew so concerned about the disparity and the missing documents that it brought a hard copy of its report to a secure area of the Hart Senate Office Building. In response, the CIA acting general counsel, Robert Eatinger, referred the case to the Justice Department to investigate. Feinstein noted that Eatinger worked as an agency lawyer in the department that oversaw the rendition program.

After her speech CIA director John Brennan denied that the CIA hacked the committee's computer network, but Feinstein countered that he admitted in January 2014 to searching the database. In response, he said, "a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong."

CIA Admits to Spying Allegations

In late July 2014, the CIA announced that an internal report found that agents did in fact hack into the Senate Intelligence Committee's computer network and used a false identity when doing so. In addition, the CIA's inspector general said that agents read the emails of the committee members. Brennan apologized to Feinstein and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the highest-ranking Republican on the committee.

The news sparked bipartisan outrage. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) called for Brennan's resignation. "The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into the Senate Intelligence Committee computers," he said in a statement. "This grave misconduct not only is illegal but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers."

"This is a serious situation and there are serious violations," Chambliss said. He also said the CIA agents or officials responsible should be "dealt with very harshly." Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) also called for Brennan to resign. "It is illegal for the CIA to spy on Americans and an affront to our Republic to spy on the Senate," Paul said. "Brennan told the American people that the CIA did not spy on the Senate but now he admits that they did. Brennan should dismiss those responsible for breaking the law and be relieved of his post."

—Beth Rowen

Information Please® Database, © 2007 Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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