Head of the Senate Intelligence Committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday accused the CIA of interfering with the committee's investigation into the agency's Bush-era torture program, including conducting an unauthorized "search" of the committee's computers and removing documents, in an effort to thwart a potentially "searing indictment" of the interrogation program.
In a statement given on the Senate floor, the democratic senator said she had "grave concerns" that the CIA's search "may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution" as well as "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."
She also said the CIA was attempting "to intimidate this staff—and I am not taking it lightly."
As Politico reported, Feinstein's
speech was the latest salvo in an escalating battle between the CIA and the Senate over oversight of an interrogation program conducted by the CIA in the early 2000s and Feinstein’s first remarks on the subject. Last week, the CIA was accused of monitoring Senate staffers and it was reported that Senate staffers had improperly taken classified CIA documents out of a secure facility.
The ACLU praised Feinstein's efforts to call out the CIA's surveillance and its efforts to cover up its own wrongdoing.
"After so many years of Congress being unable or unwilling to assert its authority over the CIA, Senator Feinstein today began to reclaim the authority of Congress as a check on the Executive Branch. Public release of the Senate torture report will be the next step to reining in a CIA that has tortured, destroyed evidence, spied on Congress, and lied to the American people," stated Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel with the group.
Reprieve, a charity that represents some of those tortured under the program, welcomed the senator's comments as well.
"Senator Feinstein is right: the CIA torture program should never have existed," stated Alka Pradhan, Counter-terrorism Counsel at Reprieve US. "The only way to move forward from this terrible chapter in American history is to allow the Senate to fully exercise its oversight function, and to declassify the Senate Select Intelligence Committee Report on the CIA torture program. We cannot learn from history unless we know what it is."
CIA head John Brennan denied the allegations, telling NBC News' Andrea Mitchell, "We wouldn't do that."
"When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous, sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong, " Brennan said.
Yet what continues to stand out to some observers is not Feinstein's defense of separation of powers but the irony that a senator who has been a longtime defender of surveillance is now outraged that her Senate committee was spied upon.
In December, for example, Feinstein said that the NSA's bulk collection of phone data "is constitutional and helps keep the country safe from attack." The comment came a month after she had proposed a bill that would "codify" the NSA's worst abuses. But this defense surveillance goes back years, such as her backing Bush's FISA amendments as well as legal immunity for telecommunications firms for their role in surveillance.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden called out the hypocrisy of Feinstein's outrage over senators being spied upon while supporting of NSA spying on ordinary citizens.
In a statement sent to NBC News, Snowden said, "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," Snowden stated.