I want to get it out of my system right at the get-go. I always have to chuckle when I read the words “Senate Intelligence Committee”. That having been said I think that California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is pretty good as California senators go and, if her allegations about the CIA spying on the committee are true, it’s very disturbing:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate intelligence committee, took to the Senate floor and accused the CIA of spying on committee investigators tasked with probing the agency’s past use of harsh interrogation techniques (a.k.a. torture) and detention. Feinstein was responding to recent media stories reporting that the CIA had accessed computers used by intelligence committee staffers working on the committee’s investigation. The computers were set up by the CIA in a locked room in a secure facility separate from its headquarters, and CIA documents relevant to the inquiry were placed on these computers for the Senate investigators. But, it turns out, the Senate sleuths had also uncovered an internal CIA memo reviewing the interrogation program that had not been turned over by the agency. This document was far more critical of the interrogation program than the CIA’s official rebuttal to a still-classified, 6,300-page Senate intelligence committee report that slams it, and the CIA wanted to find out how the Senate investigators had gotten their mitts on this damaging memo.
See also here. As a mark of how much more restrained Sen. Feinstein and the other members of the committee are than I would be under the circumstances, if I were on the committee CIA Director John Brennan would be in the clink for contempt of Congress until the CIA had demonstrated to the satisfaction of the committee members that a) the CIA had not spied on them and b) the CIA was completely innocent of the charges that are being investigated, possibly for the rest of his life, rather than firing back bòns móts.
What’s necessary for the security of the United States is not up to the CIA to determine or even up to the president. It’s ultimately the Congress’s job with the cooperation of the president toilers in the vineyards of the executive branch should be aware of that.
Also, there is no offense greater than lèse-majesté and the Senate is about as close to majesté as it gets around here.
If the White House wishes to repair the damage, it would declassify without further delay the report done by Feinstein’s committee — along with the Panetta Review. If the White House won’t, Feinstein’s panel and others would be justified in holding up CIA funding and nominations and conducting public hearings.
Obama also should remove those people involved in spying on the Senate panel and in harassing Senate staffers. First out should be Robert Eatinger, the CIA’s acting general counsel. Previously, Eatinger had been a lawyer in the unit that conducted the interrogation program at the heart of the Senate’s probe. Eatinger, Feinstein said, filed a “crimes report” with the Justice Department suggesting that congressional staffers had stolen the Panetta Review.
I still think they need some encouragement. Getting out of what we laughingly call “public service” into a high-paying lobbying job is not exactly the cat o’ nine tails.
If it is true it is very bad, but not a shock. We have been here before, as Ron Fournier notes. But this story will likely make a difference, and wake some people up on the Hill. Dianne Feinstein of California has been a U.S. senator for more than 21 years and has been a vocal defender of the U.S. surveillance apparatus since it came under attack with the emergence of Edward Snowden. She views surveillance from a national-security perspective. As chairman, for five years, of the Senate Intelligence Committee she is more aware than most of the security threats and challenges under which America operates. There is a sense she has viewed the alarms and warnings of antisurveillance forces as the yips and yaps of kids who aren’t aware of the brute realities she hears about in classified briefings. Over the past decades she has been exposed to a large number of intelligence professionals who are first rate, America-loving and full of integrity, and so worthy of reflexive respect. Her loyalty would be earned and understandable.
But now she, or rather her committee’s investigators, have, she believes, been spied upon. Which would focus the mind. She is probably about to come in for a great deal of derision. She should instead be welcomed into the growing group of those concerned about the actions and abilities of the surveillance state. It could not have been easy for her to say what she’s said. She is right to feel and share her intellectual alarm.
We can only hope. Too soon we get old. Too late we get smart.