Harry Reid Calls for Probe of ‘Absolutely Indefensible’ CIA Spying

The majority leader is asking the Senate sergeant-at-arms to dig up answers in the ongoing controversy between his chamber and the intelligence community.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 11: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) answers questions following a weekly policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol on March 11, 2014 in Washington, DC. Reid commented on allegations made by Sen. Dianne Feinstein regarding the CIA and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
March 20, 2014, 8:37 a.m.

Harry Re­id is ask­ing the Sen­ate’s top law-en­force­ment of­fi­cial to in­vest­ig­ate how doc­u­ments on a power­ful com­mit­tee’s com­puters were ob­tained, mark­ing the latest battle cry in the on­go­ing stan­doff between the CIA and Con­gress.

The Sen­ate ma­jor­ity lead­er, in sep­ar­ate let­ters to At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Eric Hold­er and CIA Dir­ect­or John Bren­nan, said he has in­struc­ted the Sen­ate ser­geant-at-arms to carry out a “forensic ex­am­in­a­tion” of a com­puter net­work that had been meant for ex­clus­ive use by the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­munity in or­der to de­term­ine how the CIA’s in­tern­al “Pan­etta re­view” de­tail­ing Bush-era for­eign in­ter­rog­a­tion prac­tices got there.

“The CIA’s de­cision to ac­cess the re­sources and work pro­duce of the le­gis­lat­ive branch without per­mis­sion is ab­so­lutely in­defens­ible, re­gard­less of the con­text,” Re­id wrote in his let­ter to Hold­er.

The Nevada Demo­crat also sum­mar­ily dis­missed any no­tion that Sen­ate staffers hacked the CIA’s com­puters to il­li­citly ob­tain the re­view. The CIA, in re­fer­ring the is­sue to the Justice De­part­ment, has claimed the com­mit­tee il­leg­ally con­fis­cated agency doc­u­ments, though it has not ex­plictedly sug­ges­ted any hack­ing took place.

“The al­leg­a­tion that Sen­ate com­mit­tee staff who have no tech­nic­al train­ing some­how hacked in­to the CIA’s highly se­cure clas­si­fied net­works is so ab­surd as to be com­ic­al,” he said, adding that such ac­cus­a­tions un­der­mine the cred­ib­il­ity of Bren­nan’s claim that the agency has nev­er at­temp­ted to “thwart” the com­mit­tee’s in­vest­ig­a­tion.

Re­id’s let­ter is a fol­low-up to a 40-minute speech Sen. Di­anne Fein­stein de­livered from the cham­ber floor earli­er this week where she ac­cused the CIA of pos­sibly vi­ol­at­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion. Fein­stein, the chair­wo­man of the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­munity, said the in­tel­li­gence com­munity im­prop­erly ac­cessed com­puter files that com­mit­tee staffers were ex­amin­ing as part of a re­view of the now-de­funct Bush-era for­eign in­ter­rog­a­tion pro­grams.

Such sur­repti­tious ac­cess of the pan­el’s files breached an agree­ment made with former CIA Dir­ect­or Le­on Pan­etta that the CIA would re­frain from mon­it­or­ing the re­view pro­cess, Fein­stein said.

“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 wrote. “These de­vel­op­ments strike at the heart of the con­sti­tu­tion­al sep­ar­a­tion of powers between the le­gis­lat­ive and ex­ec­ut­ive branches.”

Fein­stein has said that the Pan­etta re­view was giv­en to her com­mit­tee on a se­cure CIA net­work as part of mil­lions of files handed over for its in­vest­ig­a­tion in­to wa­ter­board­ing and oth­er in­ter­rog­a­tion tac­tics used dur­ing George W. Bush’s pres­id­ency. Her com­mit­tee has writ­ten a 6,300-page re­port on the pro­grams that re­mains clas­si­fied.

Re­id’s let­ter to Bren­nan asks for co­oper­a­tion to al­low the ser­geant-at-arms’ staff to pro­ceed with a com­plete in­vest­ig­a­tion in a “timely and ef­fect­ive man­ner.” 

The CIA said it is “com­mit­ted to resolv­ing” the on­go­ing hack­ing dis­pute and strength­en­ing its re­la­tions over­all with Con­gress.

“The CIA be­lieves in the ne­ces­sity of ef­fect­ive, strong and bi­par­tis­an con­gres­sion­al over­sight,” an agency spokes­man told Na­tion­al Journ­al. “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.”

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