Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said accusations that the agency
spied on the panel's computers as it investigated the use of harsh
interrogation techniques during the Bush administration raised
concerns about possible violations of the Constitution.
"The CIA has not only interfered with the lawful congressional
oversight of its activities, but has also seemingly attempted to
intimidate its overseers by subjecting them to criminal
investigation," Reid said in a letter to Attorney General Eric
Holder obtained by Reuters.
"These developments strike at the heart of the constitutional
separation of powers between the legislative and executive
branches," Reid, a Nevada Democrat, added.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence
Committee, accused the agency last week of searching computers used
by committee staffers compiling a report on the CIA's use of harsh
interrogation methods such as simulated drowning, or waterboarding,
in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.
Questioning whether the agency broke the law, the veteran California
Democrat also denied wrongdoing by members of her staff in a
strongly worded speech on the Senate floor that brought to light the
simmering dispute between Democratic committee members and President
Barack Obama's CIA chief.
It was a striking departure for Feinstein, one of the U.S. lawmakers
most supportive of the national security community, notably since
former contractor Edward Snowden began releasing secret information
about U.S. surveillance programs.
Republican committee members have mostly stayed out of the fray, as
has Obama. The president said it would be inappropriate to weigh in
on an ongoing investigation.
The CIA accused committee staff members of illegally obtaining
information, and sent a "crimes report" to the Justice Department
about committee staff members' activities in obtaining classified
The Intelligence Committee is responsible for oversight of the CIA.
Its 6,000-page draft report on the interrogation program was
finished over a year ago but is still classified. Sources say it
strongly condemns the now-abandoned harsh interrogation techniques
and concludes they did not produce significant counter-terrorism
Reid said he would have the Sergeant at Arms, the Senate's chief
security officer, begin a forensic examination of computers assigned
for exclusive use by Senate Intelligence staff.
"The CIA's decision to access the resources and work product of the
legislative branch without permission is absolutely indefensible,
regardless of the context," Reid wrote.
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He said the agency's actions cause him "great concern" as leader of
the U.S. Senate.
Reid also wrote to John Brennan, the director of the CIA, asking for
cooperation with the investigation of what Reid said would mark the
third time since 2010 in which the agency acknowledged intruding
into Intelligence Committee computer networks.
Both letters were dated March 19.
"To my knowledge, the CIA has produced no evidence to support its
claims that Senate committee staff who have no technical training
somehow hacked into the CIA's highly secure classified networks, an
allegation that appears on its face to be patently absurd," Reid
wrote to Brennan.
The CIA responded that Brennan is committed to resolving every
outstanding issue related to the Intelligence Committee's report and
strengthening its relationship with Congress.
"We are a far better organization because of congressional
oversight, and we will do whatever we can to be responsive to the
elected representatives of the American people," CIA spokesman Dean
The Justice Department had no immediate response to Reid. "We are
reviewing the letter," department spokesman Brian Fallon said in an
Attorney General Holder told a news conference on Wednesday that
Justice was reviewing the referrals from the CIA on the Intelligence
Committee's interrogation review. He said receiving a referral does
not mean the department would investigate.
(Additional reporting by David Ingram; editing by Doina Chiacu,
Stephen Powell and Tom Brown)
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