Senate Intelligence Committee Accuses CIA of Spying

Dianne Feinstein

The Central Intelligence Agency is under investigation for allegedly spying on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, its Chair and Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California confirmed to reporters from the New York Times on Tuesday. “There is an I.G. investigation,” she said, referring to the agency’s Inspector General David B. Buckley who, as the publication learned through government officials, began the inquiry after lawmakers complained that CIA employees were inappropriately monitoring staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee during a review of a defunct agency program.

The history of the alleged surveillance dates back to the administration of George W. Bush. In the aftermath of 9/11, the Senate committee began a lengthy examination of the CIA’s discontinued detention and interrogation program — an investigation that took lawmakers years to complete. But it appears that the CIA wanted to keep secret the details of the program, details that the still-classified, 6,300-page report would reveal. In essence, the agency’s surveillance on Intelligence Committee’s review was an effort to control how the history of the program was written, as the agency’s detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists was among the most controversial elements of the United States government’s response to the September 11 terrorist attacks.

As for Senate lawmakers, the issue is not one of controlling the writing of history, but of a dangerous overstep. The CIA’s 1947 charter stipulates that the agency may not spy on U.S. citizens, meaning the alleged surveillance it conducted on committee staffers should definitely be examined. The accusations made by members of the Intelligence committee — who believe CIA officials hacked into staffers’ computers — have elevated the dispute between the agency and Congress over controlling the post-9/11 narrative into a violation of the separation of government powers. The Senate Intelligence Committee, which was formed in the 1970s, has oversight of the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and other such spy agencies.

“CIA surveillance of Congress would be another sign that the intelligence community has come to believe that they are above the law, and should get only deference from the other branches of government, not the meaningful oversight that’s required by the Constitution,” Christopher Anders, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told national security news publication Defense One. “Checks and balances, especially for agencies like the CIA and NSA that have many secret operations, are essential for democratic government. At the very least, these reports should spur the committee to vote quickly for the declassification and release of its full report into the CIA’s torture program so the American people can see what it is that the CIA is so eager to hide.”

While the origins of the inspector general’s inquiry is rather murky, through the interview of several government officials who requested anonymity, the Times learned the internal investigation was begun after the CIA took what Democratic Senator Mark Udall of Colorado called on Tuesday “unprecedented action” against the intelligence committee, of which he is a member. He did not describe what that action was, but according to the publication, it came after CIA officials began to suspect that congressional staff members had gained access to unauthorized agency documents over the course of the Intelligence Committee’s years-long investigation.

“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,” Udall wrote in a Tuesday letter to President Barack Obama. “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.”

It is not know whether Buckley has uncovered any troubling information in the probe or if he has referred the case to the Department of Justice for further investigation; both spokespersons from the agency and the Justice Department refused to comment to the Times. But McClatchy Newspapers reported Wednesday that the inspector general had asked the Justice Department to look into the allegations.

While the report remains classified, those that have read the document say it is a withering indictment of the agency’s program, according to the Times; it details numerous occasions on which the CIA misled Congress, the White House, and the American public about the success of the agency’s interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, all of which reportedly revealed little information of value to U.S. intelligence. CIA director John O. Brennan has responded to the Senate report, authoring a 122-page rebuttal that argued the committee’s overarching conclusion, that the interrogation techniques yielded little of valuable, was incorrect. He also specifically targeted certain facts as false.

Of course, his defense did not end the issue. In December, Udall said the Intelligence Committee had obtained internal CIA documents that were “consistent with the Intelligence Committee’s report” and contradicted the agency’s official response.

The Intelligence Committee is under pressure to exhibit tougher oversight on the country’s intelligence agencies after appearing to the public as a defender of controversial programs ranging from the surveillance operations exposed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden to the Obama administration’s targeted-killing drone program.

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