The Associated Press
In an extraordinary public accusation, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee declared on Tuesday that the CIA interfered with and then tried to intimidate a congressional investigation into the agency’s possible use of torture in terror probes during the Bush administration.
The CIA clandestinely removed documents and searched a computer network set up for lawmakers, said Sen. Dianne Feinstein in a long and biting speech on the Senate floor. In an escalating dispute with an agency she has long supported, she said the CIA may well have violated criminal laws and the U.S. Constitution.
At odds on major contentions, both sides noted the matter has now been handed to the Justice Department for further investigation and potential prosecution. The CIA’s inspector general, David Buckley, first referred the matter to Justice, and the CIA’s acting counsel responded by filing a criminal report about the intelligence committee staff.
“I am not taking it lightly,” Feinstein said of the tit-for-tat investigations.
“I view the acting counsel general’s referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff” in the interrogation investigation.
The dispute between the CIA and senators, which has been going on privately for more than five years, exploded into a public clash as the California Democrat offered a detailed account of the Senate’s secretive dealings with the CIA in an investigation of post-Sept. 11 interrogation and detention practices.
More broadly, all U.S. spy agencies have drawn intense scrutiny since revelations last summer about surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency. The Obama administration has struggled to rebuild public trust since former analyst Edward Snowden made the disclosures. Feinstein has been one of the intelligence community’s most ardent advocates, arguing that the wide surveillance of people’s electronic and telephone communications was a necessary counterterrorism tool.
In the current matter, a long-running dispute has centered on whether waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning, and other harsh interrogation techniques were factors in aiding the CIA’s antiterror efforts and helped the agency track down Osama bin Laden.
CIA Director John Brennan rejected Feinstein’s accusations, insisting that the agency was not trying to thwart the committee’s work and denying that it had been spying on the panel or the Senate. He said the appropriate authorities would look at the matter further and “I defer to them to determine whether or not there was any violation of law or principle.”