Sen. Feinstein: CIA Hacked Congress and Possibly ‘Violated’ Constitution

The Senate Intelligence Committee leader accused the CIA of interfering with its investigation into the agency’s old interrogation programs.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26: Committee chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (C), ranking member Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) (R) and Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) (L) listen during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee September 26,2 103 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was focused on the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Legislation.
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Dustin Volz
March 11, 2014, 6:11 a.m.

The power­ful chair­wo­man of the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee charged the CIA on Tues­day morn­ing with cov­ertly re­mov­ing key doc­u­ments from com­puters used by her pan­el’s staff to in­vest­ig­ate the gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­rog­a­tion prac­tices.

In an im­pas­sioned 40-minute speech on the Sen­ate floor ac­cus­ing the in­tel­li­gence agency of pos­sibly vi­ol­at­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion, Di­anne Fein­stein la­cer­ated the CIA for ac­cess­ing in Janu­ary the com­puter files used by com­mit­tee staffers to re­view the CIA’s now-de­funct in­ter­rog­a­tion pro­grams. By do­ing so, the in­tel­li­gence agency would have vi­ol­ated a clear agree­ment that it had made with Fein­stein’s com­mit­tee that it would re­frain from mon­it­or­ing its re­view.

“I have grave con­cerns that the CIA search may well have vi­ol­ated the sep­ar­a­tion-of-powers prin­ciples em­bod­ied in the United States Con­sti­tu­tion, in­clud­ing the speech and de­bate clause,” the Cali­for­nia Demo­crat said. “It may have un­der­mined the con­sti­tu­tion­al frame­work es­sen­tial to ef­fect­ive con­gres­sion­al over­sight of in­tel­li­gence activ­it­ies or any oth­er gov­ern­ment func­tion.”

John Bren­nan, the CIA’s cur­rent dir­ect­or, flatly denied Fein­stein’s ac­cus­a­tions, telling NBC News re­port­er An­drea Mitchell later in the day that “the al­leg­a­tions of the CIA hack­ing in­to com­puters … [are] bey­ond the scope of reas­on.”

And Sen. Saxby Cham­b­liss, the com­mit­tee’s top Re­pub­lic­an, said he did not agree with Fein­stein’s con­clu­sions.

“We have some dis­agree­ments as to what the find­ings are,” Cham­b­liss said. “Right now we don’t know what the facts are,” he said, adding that the com­mit­tee will at­tempt to re­solve the is­sue in­tern­ally.

Fein­stein, who is fre­quently re­garded as one of the in­tel­li­gence com­munity’s most res­ol­ute de­fend­ers, said she has also asked the CIA for an apo­logy and re­cog­ni­tion of wrong­do­ing. So far, however, she said she has re­ceived neither — and she stopped just short of say­ing that in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials lied to her pan­el.

“How can its of­fi­cial re­sponse to our study stand fac­tu­ally in con­flict with its own in­tern­al re­view?” Fein­stein asked.

Fein­stein’s pre­pared re­marks, which she said were de­livered to cor­rect mis­in­form­a­tion cir­cu­lat­ing in the press, ar­rive a week after she con­firmed the CIA was un­der in­vest­ig­a­tion by the Justice De­part­ment for po­ten­tially spy­ing on her com­mit­tee. The in­tel­li­gence agency is barred from spy­ing on Amer­ic­ans, and sur­repti­tious tap­ping in­to com­puters used by mem­bers of Con­gress and its staff presents con­cerns about the sep­ar­a­tion of powers en­shrined in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

To­ward the end of her lengthy speech, Fein­stein enu­mer­ated the laws she be­lieves the CIA may have broken: the Fourth Amend­ment, which pro­tects from un­reas­on­able search and seizure; the Com­puter Fraud and Ab­use Act; and Ex­ec­ut­ive Or­der 12333, which bars do­mest­ic sur­veil­lance.

Im­me­di­ately after Fein­stein’s speech, Sen­ate Pres­id­ent Pro Tem­pore Patrick Leahy told the cham­ber, “I’ve heard thou­sands of speeches on this floor. I can­not think of any speech by any mem­ber of either party as im­port­ant as the one the sen­at­or from Cali­for­nia just gave.” Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id later piled on: “There’s no one that has more cour­age and con­vic­tion than Di­anne Fein­stein.”

Con­gress cre­ated the House and Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees in the 1970s to over­see the CIA, the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency, and oth­er spy agen­cies after un­cov­er­ing a string of spy­ing ab­uses.

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