Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, publicly accused the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Tuesday of spying on certain members of Congress and destroying hundreds of documents relating to the Agency’s use of torture.
In a Senate floor speech, Feinstein said that the CIA secretly searched Congress’s internal computer network to remove emails, internal memos and video files depicting so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques being reviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee has been investigating a secret report that detailed the United States’ use of torture during the Bush Administration after the 9/11 attacks.
The CIA “assured us that this was not destruction of evidence as detailed records of the interrogations existed on paper,” Feinsten said. But in 2010, several hundred documents and about 50 videos were scrubbed from committee-members and staff’s computers without authorization, she said.
The removed documents detailed the CIA’s detention conditions and day-to-day interrogations, Feinstein said. According to the senator, the CIA blamed IT staffers before stating the White House ordered the removal of the documents. The White House apparently denied this, but has not yet put out a statement in response to Feinstein’s floor speech.
Her comments follow up on recent media reports that the CIA accessed panel members’ computers to ascertain whether staff accessed a copy of a classified report of the agency’s controversial detention and interrogation program.
Feinstein, who has been a staunch supporter of the National Security Agency’s (NSA’s) mass surveillance techniques, learned of the unauthorized access in January and said she tried to discreetly resolve the issue, asking for the CIA to admit its wrongdoings and apologize. She’s received neither.
The senator’s speech reveals a deep-seated feud between intelligence agencies and their Congressional watchdogs. The CIA has suggested Senate staff illegally took the documents out of the CIA, charges Feinstein sees as “a potential effort to intimidate this staff.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also blasted the CIA’s alleged interference, suggesting the agency had violated the Constitution, criminal law, and possibly “the core founding principle of the separation of powers.” Though the two senators have butted heads over NSA surveillance, “I cannot think of any speech by any member of either party as important as the one the senator from California just gave,” Leahy said on the floor.
Feinstein’s remarks, coupled with the CIA’s response to the committee’s investigation, “made a powerful case” for declassifying the Congressional report. “The public has a right to know the truth about the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, and we need more safeguards in place to ensure the CIA never uses torture,” said Zeke Johnson, director of Amnesty International USA’s security and human rights program, in a statement.
In response to a question from NBC’s Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday, John Brennan dismissed Feinstein’s charge that the CIA hacked the committee’s computers. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that,” he said. “If I did something wrong, I will go to the president…He is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.”