Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dianne Feinstein Launches Scathing Attack on CIA Over Alleged Cover-Up


Excerpt: "In a bombshell statement on the floor of the US Senate, Feinstein, normally an administration loyalist, accused the CIA of potentially violating the US constitution and of criminal activity in its attempts to obstruct her committee's investigations into the agency's use of torture."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein blasted the CIA today. (photo: Reuters)

Dianne Feinstein Launches Scathing Attack on CIA Over Alleged Cover-Up
By Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman, Guardian UK
11 March 14

US senator and intelligence committee chair accuses CIA of intimidation in effort to block publication of controversial torture report

-Dianne Feinstein statement – full text

-Follow reaction in The Guardian's live blog

The chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein, on Tuesday accused the Central Intelligence Agency of a catalogue of cover-ups, intimidation and smears aimed at investigators probing its role in an “un-American and brutal” programme of post-9/11 detention and interrogation.

In a bombshell statement on the floor of the US Senate, Feinstein, normally an administration loyalist, accused the CIA of potentially violating the US constitution and of criminal activity in its attempts to obstruct her committee’s investigations into the agency’s use of torture. She described the crisis as a “defining moment” for political oversight of the US intelligence service.

Her unprecedented public assault on the CIA represented an intensification of the row between the committee and the agency over a still-secret report on the torture of terrorist suspects after 9/11. Resolution of the crisis, Feinstein suggested, may come this week at the White House.

Feinstein, who said she was making her statement “reluctantly”, confirmed recent reports that CIA officials had monitored computer networks used by Senate staff investigators. Going further than previously, she referred openly to recent attempts by the CIA to remove documents from the network detailing evidence of torture that would incriminate intelligence officers.

She also alleged that anonymous CIA officials were effectively conducting a smear campaign in the media to discredit and “intimidate” Senate staff by suggesting they had hacked into the agency’s computers to obtain a separate, critical internal report on the detention and interrogation programme.

Staff working on the Senate investigation have been reported to the Department of Justice for possible criminal charges by a lawyer at the CIA who himself features heavily in the alleged interrogation abuses. The CIA’s inspector general has another inquiry open into the issue.

Feinstein said this was a possible attempt at “intimidation” and revealed that CIA officials had also been reported to the Department of Justice for alleged violations of the fourth amendment and laws preventing them from domestic spying.

“This is a defining moment for the oversight role of our intelligence committee ... and whether we can be thwarted by those we oversee,” said Feinstein in a special address on the floor of the the US Senate.

“There is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime... this is plainly an attempt to intimidate these staff and I am not taking it lightly.”

Last week, CIA director John Brennan, a former White House counterterrorism aide to President Obama, issued a rare scathing public statement on the deepening crisis, suggesting that unspecified “wrongdoing” had occurred in “either the executive branch or legislative branch.”

Brennan, who initially withdrew from consideration as CIA director in 2008 out of allegations he did not consider torture to be a serious offence, said last week he was “deeply dismayed that some members of the Senate have decided to make spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts.”

The committee’s report is still classified, and several of its conclusions are sharply contested by the CIA.

Feinstein said that she would immediately appeal to the White House to declassify the report’s major findings. The White House, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, is formally on record as supporting the declassification, which the president has the power to order.

At a previously scheduled event reflecting on the first year of his tenure on Tuesday, Brennan rejected the accusation that the CIA had thwarted the Senate investigation, and denied the agency had inappropriately accessed Senate computers. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that,” he said. Brennan pointed out that he had referred the matter to the CIA inspector general, who was investigating, and would defer to his conclusions.

He also acknowledged there was a Justice Department investigation that encompassed the Senate committee staff members. “There are appropriate authorities are looking at what CIA officers and SSCI staff members did – and I defer to them as to whether there was any violation,” he said.

Brennan said the CIA wanted to put the issue of the torture programme, which he described by its agency nomenclature as “rendition, detention and interrogation”, behind it. “Even as we have learned from the past, we must also try to put the past behind us.” he said.

On the Senate floor earlier, Patrick Leahy, chairman of the judiciary committee and the longest serving US senator, described Feinstein’s speech at the most important he had witnessed in his time in Congress.

“I cannot think of any speech by any member of any party as important as the one the senator from California just gave,” Leahy said.

Senator Mark Udall of Colorado, an intelligence committee member, said in a statement he applauded Feinstein for “setting the record straight today on the Senate floor about the CIA’s actions to subvert congressional oversight”.

Udall said: “The actions the chairman outlined are the latest events that illustrate why I directly pushed CIA director Brennan to acknowledge the flaws in and misrepresentations about the CIA’s brutal and ineffective detention and interrogation program.

“Unfortunately, the CIA responded by trying to hide the truth from the American people about this program and undermine the Senate intelligence committee’s oversight role by illegally searching committee computers.”

In her speech, Feinstein described repeated attempts by the CIA to frustrate the work of Senate investigators, including providing the committee staff with a “document dump” of millions of non-indexed pages, requiring years of work to sort through – a necessity, Feinstein said, after former senior CIA official Jose Rodriguez destroyed nearly 100 videotapes showing brutal interrogations of detainees in CIA custody.

“We are not going to stop our investigation and have sent our report to the president in the hope it can be declassified and published for the American people to see,” Feinstein said on the Senate floor.

She said the goal of declassifying the report, exposing the “horrible details of a CIA programme that never, never should have existed,” was to prevent torture from ever again becoming American policy.

Zeke Johnson of Amnesty International called on the White House to publish the committee’s report. “President Obama, who has claimed to have the most transparent administration in history, should move immediately to declassify and release the report. Otherwise, the legacy of torture he inherited will become his own,” he said.


Feinstein: CIA Searched Intelligence Committee Computers
By Ed O'Keefe and Adam Goldman, The Washington Post
11 March 14

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday sharply accused the CIA of violating federal law and undermining the constitutional principle of congressional oversight as she detailed publicly for the first time how the agency secretly removed documents from computers used by her panel to investigate a controversial interrogation program.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that the situation amounted to attempted intimidation of congressional investigators, adding: “I am not taking it lightly.”
She confirmed that an internal agency investigation of the action has been referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. And she said that the CIA appears to have violated the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as various federal laws and a presidential executive order that prevents the agency from conducting domestic searches and surveillance.

She has sought an apology and recognition that the CIA search of the committee’s computers was inappropriate, she said. “I have received neither,” she added.
The comments by Feinstein, traditionally a strong advocate for the intelligence community, blew wide open a dispute that has simmered behind closed doors in recent weeks.

[Read a full transcript of Feinstein’s remarks]

On Tuesday, the CIA Director John O. Brennan said during a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations that the agency did nothing wrong and “has tried to work as collaboratively as possible” with the Senate committee. He said he would defer to a Justice Department investigation and wait for the facts to come out.
Brennan said he wants any historical record of the program to be accurate and balanced and said the CIA was not trying to thwart its progression or release.
“The CIA agrees with many findings in the report and disagrees with others,” he said.
Asked if he would resign if the CIA was found to be in the wrong, Brennan said he would let the president decide his fate.

“If I did something wrong, I will go to the president,” the CIA director said. “He is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.”

Through press reports, officials alleged that the CIA had searched computers intended to be used solely by the panel as part of its investigation. The searches, officials said, were conducted in an effort to determine how committee staff members had gained access to a draft version of an internal agency review of its controversial interrogation program.

The computers had been provided by the CIA and were housed at a separate facility in Virginia operated by agency contractors.

Agency officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have previously said that Senate investigators accessed documents to which they were not entitled.
Feinstein confirmed that committee investigators had received and reviewed documents detailing the interrogation policy but said she didn’t know whether they were provided intentionally or unintentionally by CIA officials or by agency whistleblowers.

“The staff had asked the CIA about documents made available for our investigation. At times, the CIA has simply been unaware that these specific documents were provided to the committee,” she said. “And while this is alarming, it is important to know that more than 6.2 million pages of documents have been provided. This is simply a massive amount of records.”

Reading from a prepared text, Feinstein said she was speaking out “reluctantly” but that she wanted to speak in order to clarify the situation. “The increasing amount of inaccurate information circulating now cannot be allowed to stand unanswered,” she said.

After she spoke, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said that “in 40 years here, it was one of the best speeches I’d ever heard and one of the most important.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) credited Feinstein for speaking out and defending the separation of powers. “There is no one who has more courage and conviction than Dianne Feinstein,” he said.

After her speech, Feinstein told reporters that she hopes to make a motion to declassify the report on the interrogation program by the end of the month. It’s not clear if she has the necessary votes to declassify the report.

The Republicans on the committee had refused previously to participate in the report.

The swing vote on the committee, Angus King, an independent from Maine, said recently, “I am leaning toward ‘yes,’ but I am not fully there.”

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