Capitol Hill was abuzz on Tuesday after Senator Dianne Feinstein (D – CA) publically accused the CIA and its director, John O. Brennan, of spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Speaking from the Senate floor, Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, claimed that the CIA had removed documents from computers used by committee members during their research for a report on the CIA’s detention practices.
She also accused Brennan and the agency of trying to intimidate committee members, and of violating constitutional clauses of speech and debate.
“Based on what Director Brennan has informed us, I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the Speech and Debate clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function,” she said.
In 2009, the Senate Intelligence Committee began research for a major report on the CIA’s detention, interrogation and alleged torture practices of detainees abroad during the Bush administration.
The CIA gave over 6.2 million pages of information to the committee, via CIA-secured computers at a secret location in Virginia. Committee members reported that soon after they began the indexing process, a number of the papers vanished off of the computers, including one series of documents that has come to be known as “the Panetta review,” which involved an admission of wrongdoing on behalf of the CIA. To date it is unclear if the committee was in fact meant to have access to the review.
When the committee completed its report (which has not yet been declassified for the public) in 2012, the CIA maintained that some of the information was inaccurate. The committee claimed that same information was corroborated by the Panetta review.
In the wake of Feinstein’s accusations, the CIA confirmed that it had scanned the CIA-secured computers in addition to another Senate-owned computer used to work on the report in an attempt to discern how they had obtained access to the Panetta review.
On Tuesday, Brennan stated that this in no way amounts to spying on the Senate. During an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations, he said, “Nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that, that’s just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.”
John O. Brennan, the son of Irish immigrants from Co. Roscommon, is a first-generation American. Last summer, along with his brother, Tom, and father, Owen, he attended a Brennan clan gathering in Kilteevan.
March 8 marked the close of his first full year as director of the CIA. Prior to stepping into the position vacated by General David Petreaus, he served as the chief counter-terrorism adviser to President Obama.
The allegations are under review by the Department of Justice.
At a news briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney said, “The president has great confidence in John Brennan and confidence in our intelligence community and in our professionals at the CIA. . . We take everything [Feinstein] says very seriously and we take this seriously. But I'm not going to comment on matters that are under investigation or review by the appropriate authorities.”