August 6, 2014–Senator Diane Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is now at the center of the storm over release of the report her investigators assembled after looking into CIA torture. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) made an exhaustive documentary inquiry into the black prison and torture programs the CIA conducted during the Bush administration and is now being stalled on releasing it. The California Democrat and chairwoman said publicly not long ago that the nation has reached “a defining moment” in terms of our system for oversight of the intelligence agencies. This is a defining moment for Feinstein as well.
At every turn the CIA dragged its feet and played the angles on the SSCI investigation. They were slow to produce evidence, finicky about what the inquisitors would be permitted to see, difficult about the conditions for access. The agency encouraged political maneuvers to isolate the investigators. Langley’s denizens trumped up allegations the SSCI had violated classification regulations, then not only made illegal entries into congressional computer networks but read congressional emails and filed a criminal complaint with the Justice Department against the SSCI–which the CIA’s own investigation of the matter has found was filed under false pretenses by an individual implicated in the torture report. True to form, once it came time for “declassification review” the CIA sat on the Senate report for twenty months before returning the document with just the combination of redactions that robs the SSCI document of its meaning. In my book The Family Jewels I showed at considerable length the construction of the CIA secrecy system. Here, the declassification review that CIA Director John Brennan referred to as ensuring the Senate report gives a “fair and balanced” account results in a version of the SSCI document shorn of the evidence demonstrating the falsity of CIA claims as to the effectiveness of its torture, not to mention removing references to the perpetrators. This is a corrupt process.
The Senate resolution which originally created its Select Committee on Intelligence includes a procedure for the SSCI itself to release classified material. Ms Feinstein has never invoked that provision. The time to do so is now. Sending letters of complaint to President Barack Obama and holding up any release of the Senate torture report accomplishes nothing. A Senate assertion of its own co-equal power, on the other hand, will put down a marker that not even the blind savants of Langley can miss. This is a defining moment for Chairwoman Feinstein, not just for the intelligence oversight system.