Controversy Amid Investigation of CIA 03/12 10:48
A marathon Senate investigation into allegations of CIA torture during the
Bush-era war on terror is veering toward partisan political territory and
possibly the federal courts after unusually pointed accusations against the spy
agency, including potential criminal wrongdoing.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A marathon Senate investigation into allegations of CIA
torture during the Bush-era war on terror is veering toward partisan political
territory and possibly the federal courts after unusually pointed accusations
against the spy agency, including potential criminal wrongdoing.
As a result of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's remarks Tuesday, yet another
investigation may be in the offing to sort out what the CIA did --- or didn't
do --- to help or hamper Senate investigators.
Already, the episode has the markings of a classic Washington controversy as
interpretations of facts diverge, some lawmakers choose sides, others suggest
the new probe and the White House seeks a middle ground.
At its core, the controversy involves Feinstein's allegation that a CIA
search of a computer network it set up for Senate investigators may have
violated the Constitution and federal law.
"As far as allegations of the CIA hacking Senate computers, nothing could be
further from the truth," the agency's director, John Brennan, said Tuesday,
denying an allegation that Feinstein, D-Calif., did not make in her extensive
remarks on the Senate floor.
Brennan said the agency had not sought to thwart Senate investigators put to
work investigating the issue. He added that the agency was eager to put to rest
the controversy stemming from the interrogation of detainees in the war on
terror, and said agency personnel "believe strongly in the necessity of
effective, strong and bipartisan congressional oversight."
But bipartisanship seemed to erode in the wake of Feinstein's speech, in
which she said the CIA's search of the dedicated computer system possibly
violated the Constitution as well as federal law and an executive order that
prohibits the agency from conducting domestic searches.
Several Democrats praised her, while some Republicans pointedly did not.
"I support Sen. Feinstein unequivocally, and I am disappointed that the CIA
is apparently unrepentant for what I understand they did," Senate Majority
Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters in the Capitol.
Another Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said Feinstein had learned
the lesson established by an investigative committee that looked into FBI and
CIA activities more than three decades ago.
"She's speaking the truth," he said. "The Church Committee taught us you've
got to be willing to do that or you're not going to get the truth," he added,
referring to the long-ago investigation headed by the late Sen. Frank Church,
One Republican also had a warning for the CIA. "Heads should roll, people
should go to jail if it's true," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said.
But he appeared to be in a minority within his party.
Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Intelligence
Committee, said he disagreed with Feinstein on the dispute with the CIA,
without fully specifying how. "Right now we don't know what the facts are," he
told reporters. "We're going to continue to deal with this internally."
A second committee Republican, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, declined
to comment, saying he had not yet read Feinstein's speech.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the party's leader, declined to comment on
the ongoing investigation into what happened.
At the White House, spokesman Jay Carney sidestepped most questions on the
subject and reminded reporters, "We are talking about an investigation into
activities that occurred under the previous administration" and which President
Barack Obama ended soon after taking office.
Carney said Obama wants the report's findings to be declassified eventually.
There were suggestions that yet another investigation be established to look
into Feinstein's charges and Brennan's rebuttal, a process that could add
months if not years to a public accounting of detentions and interrogations
that occurred a decade or more ago.
The activities at issue were approved by the George W. Bush administration
and carried out by the CIA in the years after the terrorist attacks of Sept.
Obama outlawed their use when he became president in January 2009. The
committee began an investigation two months later, and the CIA provided access
to documents totaling more than 6.2 million pages, Feinstein said.
The Senate committee staff wrote a 6,300-page report that the panel approved
in December 2012, and the CIA provided a formal response six months later.
Neither the full report nor a shorter summary has been released to the public.
In her speech, Feinstein accused the CIA of possible criminal activity in
improperly searching the computer network set up for lawmakers investigating
allegations that the agency used torture in terror investigations during the
In addition, more than 900 pages of documents the CIA initially made
available to Senate aides were inexplicably withdrawn in the first few months
of 2010, she said.
"I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of
computers used by its oversight committee was inappropriate. I have received
neither," she said.
Brennan told Feinstein in a letter in January that he took responsibility
for ordering CIA technicians to audit the computer systems used by the Senate
staffers --- to determine whether there was a security breach.
In the letter, shared with CIA workers and obtained by The Associated Press
on Tuesday, Brennan said he asked for the review after finding that Senate
investigators may have "improperly obtained and/or retained ... sensitive CIA
documents" that the CIA had no record of sharing with them. He repeated his
request for their return.
Feinstein also disclosed that after the CIA inspector general had referred
the agency's conduct to the Justice Department, a top spy agency lawyer in
return "filed a crimes report ... concerning the committee staff's actions."
Feinstein said she viewed the move as "a potential effort to intimidate this
staff --- and I am not taking it lightly."
The lawmaker did not name the CIA official, although congressional officials
identified him as Robert Eatinger. Feinstein said he had once worked in the
unit at the agency that carried out the activities under investigation. "He is
mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study," she added.