Senate vs. CIA

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.


Dana Milbank reacts:

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.

Update 2

Peggy Noonan remarks:

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.

13 comments… add one
  • TastyBits

    After years of allowing presidents to let the CIA do what it wants, the Senate is shocked to learn that the CIA is doing what it wants. This should be a lesson about guarding the Senate’s power, but I am sure, “this is different.” It will be interesting to see how many will connect the dots.

  • jan

    But, “What difference does it make?”

    We’ve seen examples of indiscretions coming from the IRS, the DOJ, modified talking points from the WH, an unsolved ambassador’s murder, freedom of the press interference, lies and unilateral executive changes of ‘settled’ law passed by Congress, and so on. It’s a continuing tale of one “non”-scandal after another wrapped in minimalism, then rationalized, obstructed, even buffered by executive order (F & F), and usually successfully fades away from further public or MSM scrutiny. It’s an equation of corruption that seemingly has been perfected in the past 5 years, and is received by barely a yawn or whisper of concern from the acolytes of the current party in power.

    It will be interesting to see how many will connect the dots.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath. More likely, energy will be spent in scrubbing away any connections between the dots.

    As for Feinstein, she has shown a streak of independent thinking and criticism before, dealing with national security matters. But, soon thereafter, she gets back into line, and any courageous misgivings soon fold — much like what happened when Cory Booker spoke too honestly about Bain Capital, defending it in the midst of an election that was doing nothing but attempting to denigrate it and the person behind it.

  • ...

    Over the past decades she has been exposed to a large number of intelligence professionals who are first rate, America-loving ….

    Which America? UI’m sure they are very loyal to the companies with which they contract, and with which they will take very lucrative jobs when they leave government “service”. I’m also sure they are very loyal to the idea that the government should be allowed to do whatever it wants.

    [Feinstein] is right to feel and share her intellectual alarm.

    Feinstein intellectual? Does not compute!

  • ...

    Generally I don’t care. I hope Feinstein shuts up and starts towing the party line soon, and I hope it is because some anonymous government agent has funneled information to her that they can wreck her or her family. Fuck them. They have voted for this over and over again, and ever since Obama was elected the Senate in particular has been happy to have a dictator in the White House, because he was THEIR GUY. Also, it was easier to just go along with everything rather than DO THEIR JOBS.

    So, no sympathy whatsoever.

  • michael reynolds

    I laugh too at Senate Intelligence Committee. But also at “It’s ultimately the Congress’s job” Given a choice between focusing on doing their jobs and focusing on re-election, I think we see where that goes. But it’s still an extraordinary thing this complete abdication of responsibility. 535 people who want to “be” rather than “do.” I guess drawing parallels to the Roman Senate in the post-Julian era would be overwrought?

  • ...

    Senate vs. CIA: another example of a fight in which one hopes both sides lose.

  • ...

    Also reminds me of a joke I heard from Lemmy:

    How do we know the CIA wasn’t involved in the JFK assassination?

    Well, he’s dead, isn’t he?

  • Andy

    I’m skeptical about the reported details, but the Senate should run this to ground. The administration should fully cooperate.

  • Ben Wolf

    I found the above link an interesting perspective on the matter, but would go further.

    Barack Obama never ended the Bush administration’s torture program. By refusing to hold anyone involved responsible, he simply put it on the DL until such time a president decides it’s once again desirable. I’ve said before his obsessive desire to not rock the boats of the powerful has caused him more problems than the Republicans. This looks like the latest round.

  • Ben Wolf

    There’s a mildly more technical writeup on exactly what the CIA is accused of and how they did it, including this gem:

    In May of 2010, as the documents continued to stream in, some of the committee staffers realized documents they had looked at earlier had disappeared. As it turned out, in two separate incidents, CIA employees had accessed the network without committee approval and had deleted approximately 920 documents from the network’s storage.

    Sen. Feinstein said that “CIA staff first denied they had removed the documents, then they blamed IT support personnel and then said removal of the documents was ordered by the White House.” Feinstein went to White House counsel about the removal, and the complaint was rapidly escalated. The CIA apologized for the removal and gave assurances that it wouldn’t happen again.

    But it would happen again, later in 2010, according to Feinstein, after the discovery of draft documents within the shared data that were part of an internal review ordered by Leon Panetta. The so-called Panetta review documents were actually summaries of the same documents that made up the majority of what the committee staff was reviewing for its report, but they included “analysis and acknowledgement of signs of wrongdoing,” Feinstein said.

    The documents were marked as “deliberative” and “privileged”—meaning that they were intended not to be shared with the Senate under claims of executive privilege. But since they had been shared as part of the data dump, Feinstein said, there was no legal reason for the staff to not review the documents.

    It is not known whether the CIA inadvertently shared the documents that somehow made it through the contractor’s screening process or if they were deliberately added to the data dump by the CIA or possibly by an internal whistleblower. Regardless, shortly after the draft documents were discovered, they started disappearing from the document store—so staffers copied the ones that remained to their local hard drives and printed out copies to preserve them. Staffers also made their own redacted copies of the documents—removing CIA non-executive employee names and locations, as the CIA would have done with other documents—and transported them back to the Hart SCIF for safekeeping.

  • Which supports my contention that the way for the Senate to proceed with this is to imprison CIA officals, starting at the top, for contempt of Congress. Put the onus on them.

    In other words, sentence first, verdict afterwards.

  • PD Shaw

    “Feinstein said, there was no legal reason for the staff to not review the documents.”

    Interesting. From a litigation standpoint, inadvertent disclosure by the attorney will generally not waive the client’s privileges because the client holds the privilege and can only waive it knowingly. The Rules of Federal Procedure don’t apply to whatever relationship exists between branches of government, but in arguably more adversarial situations, attorneys will return such documents, though the increasing tendency appears to be get the judge to so order.

  • PD Shaw

    “Senate vs. CIA: another example of a fight in which one hopes both sides lose.”

    I probably shouldn’t, but that’s pretty much how I feel. Also, Noonan has a point that Feinstein isn’t some radical on these issues and that’s important, but she makes it with such servitude towards Feinstein that its the opposite of persuasion for me.

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