Veteran Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said the CIA had
searched computers used by committee staffers examining CIA
documents when researching the agency's counter-terrorism operations
and its use of harsh interrogation methods such as simulated
drowning or "waterboarding."
Speaking on the Senate floor, Feinstein condemned how the CIA had
handled the committee's investigation into the agency's detention
and interrogation program started under President George W. Bush
after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Human rights advocates condemn
the interrogation practices as torture.
"I have grave concerns that the CIA's search (of committee
computers) may well have violated the separation of powers
principles embodied in the Constitution," said Feinstein, who is
normally a strong ally of U.S. intelligence agencies.
She disclosed that the Justice Department had been asked by two
different CIA offices to investigate whether committee officials or
the agency itself might have violated the law.
Her accusations of CIA-led computer searches were denied by CIA
Director John Brennan. They brought into the open a simmering row
between the committee and the agency that had been brewing for
months and disrupted the committee's work.
The committee investigation, which resulted in 6,000 pages of
findings which remain highly classified, was meant to
comprehensively document what the agency did and assess the
effectiveness of its methods.
Sources familiar with the findings say they condemn the CIA's
aggressive interrogations and question whether they produced
significant intelligence information. The CIA has given the
committee a classified rebuttal to the report.
Feinstein said that in January, the CIA's Brennan requested an
emergency meeting with her and the committee's top Republican,
Senator Saxby Chambliss.
She said he informed them that agency personnel, without notifying
the committee or seeking its approval, had conducted a "search" of
computers that committee investigators were using to review
documents related to the CIA program.
She charged that the search may have violated the Fourth Amendment
of the U.S. Constitution, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and an
executive order that prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic
searches or surveillance.
Brennan denied any charge of computer hacking. "Nothing could be
further from the truth. We wouldn't do that," he said in a speech at
the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.
He said the agency was not trying to thwart the release of the
panel's report. "We are not trying at all to prevent its release,"
Feinstein has been pushing to make the report's findings public but
infighting with the CIA had meant the formal process to declassify
the document had not even begun. Feinstein said she hoped
declassification could begin before the end of March.
A key dispute is over how the committee acquired what Feinstein and
others describe as the CIA's own internal review of its
interrogation tactics and secret prisons, and its use of
"rendition," a practice in which prisoners are transferred between
countries without formal judicial process.
[to top of second column]
Feinstein and committee sources say they had found the review in the
computer system the CIA set up for their use and at some point their
staff printed out a copy and took it to their offices on Capitol
In a letter Brennan wrote to Feinstein in January, which was
obtained by Reuters, he acknowledged the data had been deposited in
the part of the CIA computer network to which Senate investigators
had access but said he did not know how this happened.
Feinstein said the review mirrored key concerns outlined in her
staff's report and differed sharply from the official CIA response
to the committee's investigation.
Partly as a result of the committee accessing the internal review,
security sources said, the CIA's acting general counsel sent what is
called a "crimes report" to the Justice Department complaining about
the actions of committee staff.
Feinstein condemned this action on Tuesday as an attempt to
intimidate committee staff. She bristled at suggestions her staff
had gotten information improperly and said the CIA itself provided
her committee with more than 6.2 million documents.
"The committee clearly did not hack into CIA computers to obtain
these documents, as has been suggested in the press," the California
Brennan said he had also asked the CIA's in-house inspector general
to investigate. That led to another "crimes report" being filed by
that office with the Justice Department related to committee
complaints that the agency had violated the law by searching the
computer system its investigators had used.
Brennan, who took the helm of the CIA a year ago, said the agency
was eager to relegate the rendition, detention and interrogation
program to history.
The dispute heightened concerns about the effectiveness of
congressional oversight of U.S. spy agencies. Concern had already
been raised by revelations by fugitive U.S. National Security Agency
contractor Edward Snowden about sweeping electronic surveillance by
the National Security Agency.
Brennan vigorously defended the CIA's commitment to working with
Congress. "We are a far better organization because of congressional
oversight," he said.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Will Dunham;
David Storey and Cynthia Osterman)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.