Senate, CIA face off on deleting agency emails

Key senators are pushing back against a CIA plan to destroy older emails of “non-senior” agency officials.

The heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday sent a letter opposing the proposal, under which only the highest ranking CIA workers would have their email correspondence permanently saved. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The plan “could allow the destruction of crucial documentary evidence regarding the CIA’s activities that is essential for Congress, the public and the courts to know,” Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSenate Judiciary Committee requests consultation with admin on refugee admissions Trump reignites court fight with Ninth Circuit pick GOP's Kennedy sends warning shot to Trump nominee Menashi MORE (D-Calif.) and Vice Chairman Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissThe Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Republicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' MORE (R-Ga.) wrote to the National Archives, which, along with the Records Administration, has tentatively approved the plan.

“The National Archives must ensure there is a thorough, systematic and orderly way to preserve these important documents," the senators added.

Under the CIA’s plan, the agency would be able to destroy the emails of all staffers except for 22 top employees three years after they leave “or when no longer needed, whichever is sooner.”

The proposal has been harshly criticized by transparency advocates and critics of the spy agency, who worry it would allow the agency to expunge key communications.

In tentatively approving the request, the National Archives noted that the emailed information “is unlikely” to exist in other forms that will be marked for permanent storage. 

Any information not found in those other files likely “has little or no research value,” it added.

The two senators disagreed with that analysis. 

“In our experience, email messages are essential to finding CIA records that may not exist in other so-called permanent records at the CIA,” Feinstein and Chambliss wrote.

And though the CIA has claimed that the move would save taxpayer dollars, the two lawmakers say the agency has not shown “any projected cost savings to justify the new email destruction policy.”

The criticism of the agency’s proposal from its top congressional overseers comes amid long-simmering tensions between Capitol Hill and the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va.

Earlier this year, the tensions spilled into the open when the CIA confirmed that a handful of agency officials spied on Senate computers during preparation for an upcoming report on the agency's former "enhanced interrogation" techniques.