March 5, 2014
While at times, it’s appeared that the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Dianne Feinstein, serves more to prop up the intelligence community than to handle oversight, it has actually clashed quite a bit with the CIA. We’ve discussed a few times how the Committee has been pushing to release a supposedly devastating 6,000 page report about the CIA’s torture program, which cost taxpayers an equally astounding $40 million to produce. However, the CIA has been fighting hard to block the release of the report, arguing that it misrepresents the CIA’s actions.
However, things are getting even more bizarre, as the NY Times is reporting that the CIA is now accused of spying on the Intelligence Committee and its staffers in its attempt to keep that report from being released.
The details are still a little cloudy, but in December, Senator Mark Udall revealed that the Senate Intelligence Committee had come across an internal CIA study that apparently corroborated the information that is in the big Senate report — and which directly contradicted claims by the CIA to the Committee about how the report was inaccurate — suggesting that, on top of everything else, the CIA lied to the Intelligence Committee. Udall quizzed CIA boss John Brennan about that internal report. And according to the NY Times, it appears that CIA folks freaked out that the Intelligence Committee somehow got access to that internal study, and responded the way the CIA knows best: by starting to spy on Intelligence Committee staffers:
The agency’s inspector general began the inquiry partly as a response to complaints from members of Congress that C.I.A. employees were improperly monitoring the work of staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to government officials with knowledge of the investigation.
The committee has spent several years working on a voluminous report about the detention and interrogation program, and according to one official interviewed in recent days, C.I.A. officers went as far as gaining access to computer networks used by the committee to carry out its investigation.
On Tuesday, Udall sent a strongly worded letter to President Obama, pushing for the declassification and release of the big 6,300 page report, but also that internal CIA study, which would highlight how the CIA lied. On top of that, he made an oblique reference to this spying activity by the CIA:
As you are aware, the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the Committee in relation to the internal CIA review, and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the Committee’s oversight responsibilities and for our democracy. It is essential that the Committee be able to do its oversight work — consistent with our constitutional principle of the separation of powers — without the CIA posing impediments or obstacles as it is today.
In many ways, the idea that the CIA is directly spying on the Senate Committee charged with its own oversight is a bigger potential scandal than many of the Snowden NSA revelations so far. Even more importantly, it may finally lead to Congress taking action against an out-of-control intelligence community.