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Bill Press: Feinstein vs. the CIA

Greg Nash

There’s open warfare going on in Washington these days between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

On one side, the Senate Intelligence Committee, under Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), is accusing the CIA of lying to Congress and the American people about the torture program it conducted under George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, and of hacking into allegedly secure computers used by Senate staff in their investigation of the CIA. For its part, the CIA, under Director John Brennan, is accusing committee staff of stealing sensitive documents and exaggerating the frequency and level of violence associated with its use of torture. Each side has petitioned the attorney general to investigate possible illegal activity by the other.

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Things got personal this weekend when former CIA Director Michael Hayden, appearing on “Fox News Sunday,” accused Feinstein of being too “emotional” to conduct an objective investigation of the CIA. It was an insensitive comment, and demonstrates not only how sexist the agency is, but how quickly it’s turned on a senator who has long been its staunchest defender. 

The war escalated further Thursday when the Senate Intelligence Committee, by a lopsided bipartisan vote of 11-3, voted to make public almost 500 pages of its report, which exposes torture methods employed by the CIA between 2001 and 2006 at secret prisons overseas as both excessively cruel and failing to produce any valuable intelligence. Score one for Feinstein.

Then, in a move that denies all logic or common sense, President Obama denied the request of several lawmakers and six human rights groups to let White House lawyers review and edit the final product before release, and instead sent it to the CIA for final revision. Which means the agency targeted in the report will have final say in what’s redacted and what’s not. Obama’s put the fox in charge of the hen house. Score one for the CIA.

In the media, there’s a lot of talk about who’s going to win this war. Will Feinstein succeed in reining in the CIA? Or will the CIA justify its use of torture? I think they’re missing the point, however. The real question is not who ends up winning this war, but why this war is happening at all.

Last time I checked, the CIA is not the fourth branch of government. The agency might be powerful, but it’s just another government agency. Congress doesn’t work for the CIA. The CIA works for the president, the Congress and the American people — at least, it’s supposed to. The very fact that the CIA would publicly criticize a senior senator and threaten legal action against the Senate committee responsible for overseeing the CIA is proof that our intelligence agencies, starting with the CIA, are out of control.

The stakes in this war are high. Its outcome will determine whether anybody can control our intelligence agencies, or whether, in the wake of 9/11, they have become so independent and so all-powerful that they answer to no one.

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.