In an extraordinary public accusation, Dianne Feinstein the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee declared on Tuesday that the CIA interfered with and then tried to intimidate a congressional investigation into the agency’s possible use of torture in terror probes during the Bush administration.
Feinstein accused the CIA of clandestinely removing documents and tampering with a computer network set up for lawmakers, in a long and biting speech on the Senate floor. In an escalating dispute with an agency she has long supported, she said the CIA may well have violated criminal laws and the U.S. Constitution.
Why Is the Senate Investigating the CIA?
The dispute between the CIA and senators, which has been going on privately for more than five years, exploded into a public clash as the California Democrat offered a detailed account of the Senate’s secretive dealings with the CIA in an investigation of post-Sept. 11 interrogation and detention practices.
CIA Director John Brennan rejected Feinstein’s accusations, insisting that the agency was not trying to thwart the committee’s work and denying that it had been spying on the panel or the Senate. He said the appropriate authorities would look at the matter further and “I defer to them to determine whether or not there was any violation of law or principle.”
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.
The 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.
Republicans and Democrats seem to split on the issue of agreeing with Feinstein’s accusations. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says, “I support Sen. Feinstein unequivocally, and I am disappointed that the CIA is apparently unrepentant for what I understand they did.” While Republican Senator from Georgia, Saxby Chambliss said, he disagrees with Feinstein on the dispute with the CIA “Right now we don’t know what the facts are,” he told reporters. “We’re going to continue to deal with this internally.”
White House, spokesman Jay Carney and President Obama want the report’s findings to be declassified eventually. 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. 11, 2001.
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.
Why Is the Senate Investigating the CIA? Feinstein Accuses the CIA of Tampering With Senate Computers.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.