By Jeremy Herb and Kristina Wong - 03/11/14 06:38 PM EDT
The Topline: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on Tuesday sparked a firestorm after she accused the CIA of illegally searching her committee’s computers and potentially violating the Constitution.
Feinstein alleged the CIA may have broken laws and violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable government searches over the CIA’s search of a computer network to find an internal CIA review of Bush-era interrogation policies.
Feinstein’s accusation that the CIA was spying on the Intelligence Committee has escalated a simmering feud between the CIA and its oversight committee, which burst into public view last week.
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations two hours after Feinstein’s statement, CIA Director John Brennan denied that the agency had hacked into Senate Intelligence Committee computers.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Brennan said. “We wouldn’t do that. That’s just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we’d do.”
The dispute is centered on the committee’s classified report on waterboarding and other interrogation techniques used during the George W. Bush administration.
Democratic senators on the committee want portions of the report de-classified, and say the CIA is stonewalling those efforts.
The CIA disagrees with many of the study’s conclusions, as did most Republicans on the Intelligence panel, who voted against its approval.
Democrats on the panel allege that the internal CIA review of the interrogation techniques corroborates the Senate panel’s report and contradicts the CIA’s public statements.
Feinstein said Brennan informed her in January that the CIA 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.
The Intelligence chairwoman said that the panel had alerted the CIA inspector general about the allegations. She said that prompted the acting CIA general counsel to file a “crimes report” with the Justice Department, alleging the Intel staffers had improperly taken the documents.
Republicans not on board with Feinstein: While Democrats on the committee like Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) are backing up Feinstein’s allegations, Republicans are saying they want to get all the facts before making any judgments.
“We need to have an independent and full investigation as to what occurred,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. “I think we need to determine what both sides did in this regard.”
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the top Republican on the Intelligence panel, declined to comment, though he said he intended to speak more on the issue later this week.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is a major critic of the Bush-era interrogation techniques, said he thought there should be an independent investigation into the allegations.
“It is very disturbing and we need a thorough investigation,” he said.
Special operators battle more demands with fewer forces: As President Obama aims to get the U.S. off “permanent war footing,” U.S. special operators will maintain “perpetual engagement,” defense officials said Tuesday.
“We are moving from a state of perpetual war to perpetual engagement,” Michael Lumpkin, assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict, said at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing.
Lumpkin said, going forward, there would be a heavy need for special operations forces to train and build other nations’ forces, as well as undertake drone strikes and raids on terrorists.
He added that although the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland is diminishing, the threat to the U.S. interests overseas is growing.
However, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) will have fewer special operators to meet the growing demands. The president’s 2015 defense budget request will be able to fund 69,700 troops, versus the 72,000 previous budget requests slated it to have in 2015.
In addition, SOCOM missions could be affected by a reduction in wartime funding, known as overseas contingency operations funding — the amount of which is dependent upon the size of the post-war mission in Afghanistan.
SOCOM Commander Navy Adm. Bill McRaven said under the 2015 budget request, SOCOM would be able to “meet the priority demands” but would be further affected by cuts to the conventional forces.
For example, if there are fewer ships steaming, it would affect the ability of U.S. Navy SEALs to get underway, he said.
“Most of our enablers are from the services,” he said. “Things that affect the services absolutely affect ... U.S. SOCOM."
Time to 're-look' at AUMF: Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Michael Lumpkin also said he thought it was time to reconsider the legal authority used by the military to target terrorists around the world, known as the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF).
“I think we're at an inflection point that it may be a time to look at the AUMF to see if it does need adjustment to better serve this country,” said Lumpkin.
Lawmakers and military officials have expressed concern in recent months that although the AUMF allows U.S. forces to target al Qaeda and al Qaeda-affiliated forces, they might be unable to go after terrorists who are just "aligned" or "loosely linked" with al Qaeda.
“Are we locked in by their organizational structure? I mean, can the enemy use their organizational structure to deny us capabilities to protect the country?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) asked.
“I think that if there is an affiliate, an associate and it's been recognized regardless of how they — what they call themselves in the relationship, I think that — of course we have a lawyers group, but my sense is that we would probably be in a good place to use the AUMF,” answered Lumpkin.
However, he added, “I think we are at a point where the AUMF — there's some point we need to re-look at it to make sure we — it serves us to the best way,” he added.
“We look forward to working with the Congress if the decision is made to go down that road,” he said.
Congress to tackle Afghanistan: Gen. Joseph Dunford, commander of the International Security Assistance Force, will testify Wednesday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
He will likely field questions as to how big a force President Obama should leave after the U.S. combat mission ends, should a bilateral security force be signed with Afghanistan.
The military has recommended that a force between 8,000 and 12,000 coalition troops should remain there, to continue training and advising Afghan troops, but the White House is also considering a force as small as a few thousand forces.
Dunford will be back on Capitol Hill on Thursday before the House Armed Services Committee.
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