The CIA is in a rare confrontation with the Senate Intelligence Committee, a committee widely viewed as a rubber stamp for the intelligence community and headed by Senator Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein has been ridiculed for her defense of the intelligence services, attacks on whistleblowers, and support for the expansion of surveillance operations. Feinstein also helped cover up past intelligence scandals from the torture program to the recent alleged perjury by National Intelligence Chief James Clapper. After dismissing concerns over the surveillance of ordinary citizens, Feinstein is now dealing with surveillance of her own committee and staff. Staff members allege that the CIA violated core constitutional and statutory protections by monitoring their computers in an oversight investigation. The CIA has accused Senate staff members of sneaking out classified documents — documents that the staff say prove that the CIA lied to the Committee in its investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogation and detention program.
The CIA has refused to allow staff member to remove copies of key documents that contain incriminating information contradicting earlier information given to the Committee. It reflects the sense of impunity enjoyed by the national security agencies that it would refuse such copies to be taken to secure locations within the Senate Intelligence Committee. I have testified before that Committee in classified session and they have highly secure SCIFS and storage for such documents.
The CIA accused the staff of removing classified information to take back to the Committee. The panel staff then concluded that the agency had monitored computers that they were using at Langley. The material included a draft of an internal CIA review that at least one lawmaker has said contains clear evidence that officials misled the Intelligence Committee in disputing some of the committee report’s findings.
So let’s recap. The Committee believes that officials lied to it in an oversight investigation and then monitored their computers. Yet, this is being treated once again as a matter for internal deliberation and resolution? We just saw the debacle with Clapper who admits that his testimony was “the least untruthful” statement he could make. Yet, of course, that would still make it an untrue statement — which most people call a lie and lawyers call perjury. Indeed, when Roger Clemens was prosecuted for untrue statements before Congress, he was not told of the option to tell the least untrue statement on steroid use. Now we have intelligence officials not just allegedly lying but monitoring congressional communications.
From torture to illegal surveillance, the Committee has served more as a shield than a sword. Notably, I once put before the Committee a record of false statements and security breaches by national security officials. Those allegations were classified, buried and never saw the light of day again.
Sen. Mark Heinrich, D-N.M., a Senate Intelligence Committee member, “The CIA has gone to just about any lengths you can imagine to make sure that the detention and interrogation report won’t be released.” Yet, it is not supposed to work that way. The Senate exercises oversight authority. However, the Senate’s exercise of oversight has long been feeble and feckless. The fact that this report — dealing with violations under the Bush administration many years ago — is still being bottled up by the CIA is an example of the control exercised by these agencies. Rather than releasing the report on its own authority, the Committee has been delayed for years by the very agency under investigation, which has threatened to cut off access to classified material.
CIA Director John Brennan has denounced members of the Senate for making “spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts.”