March 11, 2014– The chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein, is taking the gloves off. In a speech earlier today in the Senate chamber, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) chief hit back at the Central Intelligence Agency for its innuendo campaign painting black hats on the SSCI investigators by accusing them of absconding with classified documents.
Senator Feinstein (D-CA) says she has been reluctant to bring this out into the open, having attempted to solve the problem privately with CIA director John Brennan. On January 15 of this year, Feinstein reports, Brennan asked her for an emergency meeting and disclosed that agency personnel had carried out a “search”–his word–of the SSCI’s investigative computers. Two days later the SSCI sent Brennan a letter protesting the intrusion and citing constitutional separation of powers as precluding CIA actions of this sort. On January 23 Feinstein sent Brennan a further letter asking a dozen specific questions about the CIA intrusion, including a demand the agency reveal the full scope of its hacking. In Feinstein’s account, “the CIA has not provided answers to any of my questions.”
All of this, as related here previously (see my posts of March 6 and March 7) concerned the already-notorious “Panetta Review.” In her Senate speech Feinstein now provides details on just what went down. The story goes back three CIA directors–to when General Michael Hayden led the agency. Hayden explained away the CIA’s destruction of the torture tapes by saying that they were not destruction of evidence, they were meaningless because everything that had been done to CIA prisoners was recorded in cable traffic, which he offered to show the SSCI. Senate staffers spent many months going through these cables and came back with a chilling report– what had been done to prisoners was “far different and more harsh” than CIA had represented to Congress. It was at that point, in March 2009, when the SSCI initiated its CIA torture investigation. Then-agency director Leon Panetta held out for the alternative of SSCI using agency offices for its research. Feinstein accepted that arrangement.
In May 2010 SSCI investigators discovered that documents previously available on their computers had disappeared. This involved 870 pages or full documents in February 2010 plus another 50 that May. When asked, CIA liaison personnel first denied anything had been removed, then attributed this to agency IT people, then said the White House had ordered the action. The Obama White House denies issuing any such order.
After that the SSCI investigators found the Panetta review. The Senate committee deliberately decided to bring that document back to SSCI’s premises because of the precedent of CIA’s earlier destruction of the tapes, the fact that the review differed so substantially from agency claims that the document’s continued existence was endangered, and the fact that CIA had earlier infiltrated the SSCI computers and removed materials from them.
In late 2013 the Senate committee officially asked CIA to provide the Panetta review. Director Brennan has refused to do so, and on bogus grounds I shall not go into here. Equally ominous, CIA’s general counsel filed a crimes report with the Justice Department against the Senate staff. (This goes beyond the action of the Inspector General in simply referring the case to Justice.) That CIA lawyer was working with the agency’s Counterterrorism Center when the agency destroyed the torture videotapes in December 2005.
It should not be necessary to say this, and even less to do so again–the CIA is out of control. The cover-up is ongoing. It now threatens proper constitutional control over intelligence activities.