Feinstein drops CIA bombshell

The CIA conducted an unconstitutional search of a Senate Intelligence Committee computer network that amounted to illegal spying, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) charged Tuesday in a dramatic speech on the Senate floor.

Feinstein said the CIA’s actions were illegal and violated both the Fourth Amendment and the government’s separation of powers.

She added that the CIA inspector general was investigating the search and had turned over information to the Department of Justice, given the possibility of a criminal violation.   

“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution,” Feinstein said.

“Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance,” she said.

She also charged that the agency had subsequently sought to intimidate congressional investigators by filing a “crimes report” with the Justice Department over the Intelligence Committee staff’s decision to print out a CIA document and take it to the Senate.

The search by the CIA involved a computer network at a CIA facility set up for committee staff to use under a 2009 agreement between then-CIA Director Leon Panetta and the Senate Intelligence panel.

The agreement was intended to allow the panel access to millions of CIA documents related to the agency’s interrogation techniques, which the committee was reviewing, Feinstein said.

The work led to a 6,300-page study that remains classified and that Democratic members on Feinstein’s panel have been pushing to make public.

The CIA disagrees with many of the study’s conclusions, as did most Republicans on the Intelligence panel, who voted against its approval.

Feinstein said CIA Director John Brennan informed her in January that the agency had conducted a search of the committee’s computers at the CIA facility. She said the search involved the “stand alone” and “walled-off” computer network drive that contained the committee’s own internal work and communications.

“I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee was inappropriate. I have received neither,” Feinstein said on the Senate floor.

“Because the CIA has refused to answer my questions ... I have limited information about exactly what the CIA did in conducting its search,” added Feinstein, who demanded more information from the CIA and the White House.

Feinstein did not identify the CIA general counsel who filed a crimes report against committee staff but said he “is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study,” which she said had acknowledged wrongdoing by the CIA in its interrogation policies.

A source said Feinstein was referring to Robert Eatinger.  

“I view the acting general counsel’s referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff — and I am not taking it lightly,” Feinstein said.

Two hours after her comments, Brennan denied that the CIA had hacked into Senate computers.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Brennan said at an event with the Council on Foreign Relations. “We wouldn’t do that. That’s just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we’d do.”

“If any inappropriate actions were taken related to that review, either by CIA or [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] staff, I’ll be the first one to say let’s get to the bottom of this,” Brennan said.

Brennan didn’t elaborate further, citing ongoing investigations.

In her comments, Feinstein said Brennan told her the search was conducted in response to indications that members had access to an internal CIA review of interrogation methods known as the Panetta review.

She said that Brennan said at the meeting he planned to “order further ‘forensic’ investigation of the committee network to learn more about activities of the committee’s oversight staff,” a statement Feinstein suggested was meant to further intimidate the panel.

She acknowledged and defended the decision to transport a printed, redacted portion of the draft Panetta review on the grounds that the CIA had previously withheld and destroyed information about its interrogation and detention programs, including a 2005 decision to destroy interrogation videotapes.

She argued that the document was unique and interesting because it acknowledged serious wrongdoing by the CIA in the interrogation policies, and that it was necessary and appropriate for staff to keep a copy given differences between that document and what the CIA has said publicly about the Senate Intelligence panel’s report on interrogation policies.

Some of the things the CIA disputes in her panel’s report, Feinstein said, “are clearly acknowledged in the CIA’s own Internal Panetta Review.

“To say the least, this is puzzling,” she said. “How can the CIA’s official response to our study stand factually in conflict with its own Internal Review?”

Feinstein also noted that at one point access to the vast majority of the Panetta review records were cut off by the CIA.

She further defended her staff’s decision to examine the Panetta review materials in the first place, saying the documents were not labeled more highly classified than many other documents provided by the CIA and that staff had no way of knowing whether it had been provided intentionally by the CIA, unintentionally or by a whistle-blower.

Most Republicans on the committee did not agree with the report’s findings and voted against it.

On Tuesday, the panel’s Republicans said they wanted more information from the investigations before weighing in on Feinstein’s allegations.

“I think we need to determine what both sides did,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the top Republican on the committee, declined to comment on Feinstein’s statement, adding he would say more later this week.

Feinstein said she was so frustrated in May 2010 that she raised this controversy with White House counsel. The White House and the CIA gave her a “renewed commitment” that there would “be no further unauthorized access to the committee’s network,” according to Feinstein.

White House press secretary Jay Carney refused to weigh in on Feinstein’s charges Tuesday, saying it would be inappropriate for him to comment amid an ongoing inspector general investigation and ahead of a possible Justice Department investigation.

“This is under investigation,” Carney said. “These matters are under two separate investigations, an IG review as well as a referral to the Department of Justice. So I’m not going to provide an analysis.”

Carney also said the president had “great confidence” in Brennan and the intelligence community, and said Brennan had spoken “forthrightly” in defending the agency’s actions Tuesday morning.

— This story was posted at 9:58 a.m. and updated at 4:37 p.m. and 8:33 p.m.