The Senate's intelligence oversight panel had its computers searched by CIA workers, who also improperly removed some documents that had been provided to the panel, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a lengthy and scathing speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. She said some of the actions could be illegal or unconstitutional.
The computers in question had been provided by the CIA to the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Feinstein chairs, so it could review thousands of the agency's secret documents on a closed network.
Feinstein, D-Calif., says the CIA never asked the panel how it acquired a sensitive internal agency review that was among the records.
"In place of asking any questions, the CIA's unauthorized search of the committee computers was followed by an allegation which we now have seen repeated anonymously in the press that the committee staff had somehow obtained the document through unauthorized or criminal means," she said.
In a separate appearance in Washington today, CIA Director John Brennan said the agency had not hacked into the committee's computers.
"Nothing could be further from the truth," Brennan said at a Council on Foreign Relations event. "We wouldn't do that. I mean, that's just beyond the scope of reason."
Brennan added that there are "appropriate authorities" reviewing the incident, concerning both the CIA and other agencies.
"I defer to them to determine whether or not there was any violation of law or principle."
In the Senate, Feinstein told her colleagues that the situation is "a defining moment for our intelligence committee." She added that she's hoping to complete the panel's long-in-coming report on the CIA's interrogation program, parts of which she wants declassified.
From Foreign Policy:
"For years, the Senate panel has been researching and fine-tuning a 6,300 page report that's said to be highly critical of the agency's interrogation practices. In order to research the program, committee staffers had to use computers provided by the agency in a CIA facility."
In recent years, Feinstein says, the CIA executed "a true document dump" that inundated the Senate panel with millions of pages' worth of documents, without an index or other means of collating them. She said the staff asked the CIA to create a search tool, which was provided.
Roll Call has some of the recent background:
"During her speech, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she learned in January that the Central Intelligence Agency improperly searched committee computer files, confirming several media reports. She said the incident has been referred to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution. But Feinstein was also riled by a separate referral by the CIA to the Department of Justice suggesting that the committee staff had improperly received classified information."
The CIA's move was "a potential effort to intimidate this staff," Feinstein said, after realizing the committee had obtained a version of the agency's internal review of its interrogation program, known as the Panetta review. The CIA seems to have come to that realization after Feinstein requested the full and complete version of the document, rather than the incomplete one the panel already had.
Feinstein also says the CIA removed hundreds of pages of documents from a special database that had been created under strict rules. They were removed, she said, "in violation of CIA agreements and White House assurances that the CIA would cease such activities."
Asked about the senator's allegations today, Brennan said, "We are not in any way, shape or form trying to thwart this report's progression [or] release." He later added, "We want this behind us."
He added that he had referred the matter to the agency's inspector general for review.
"When the facts come out on this," Brennan said, "I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring, and hacking, will be proved wrong."
Before launching into her Senate speech, which lasted for nearly 40 minutes, Feinstein described how she had resisted recent media requests for interviews about the Senate panel's clash with the CIA.
"However, the increasing amount of inaccurate information circulating now cannot be allowed to stand unanswered," she said.
She then revisited a decade's worth of tension between the committee and the CIA, noting that there had been a gap between 2002 and 2006 before any members of the panel other than its two leaders were informed of the CIA's detention and interrogation program.
"In fact, we were briefed by then-CIA Director Hayden only hours before President Bush disclosed the program to the public," Feinstein said. She also recalled that the agency had destroyed video records of interrogations that had used "enhanced techniques."
That and other incidents were mentioned as forming a pattern of attempts by the CIA to obfuscate details of its interrogation and detention program.
Here's an extended passage from Feinstein's speech today:
"In early January 2014, the CIA informed the committee it would not provide the internal Panetta review to the committee, citing the deliberative nature of the document.
"Shortly thereafter, on Jan. 15, 2014, CIA Director Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and vice chairman [Rep. Saxby] Chambliss that without prior notification or approval, CIA personnel had conducted a search that was John Brennan's word of the committee computers at the offsite facility.
"This search involved not only a search of documents provided... by the CIA but also a search of the stand-alone and walled-off committee network drive, containing the committee's own internal work product and communications.
"According to Brennan, the computer search was conducted in response to indications that some members of the committee staff might already have had access to the internal Panetta review. The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the internal review, or how we obtained it.
"Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee's computers. The CIA has still not asked the committee any questions about how the committee acquired the Panetta review. In place of asking any questions, the CIA's unauthorized search of the committee computers was followed by an allegation which we now have seen repeated anonymously in the press that the committee staff had somehow obtained the document through unauthorized or criminal means, perhaps to include hacking into the CIA's computer network."
"This is not true," Feinstein said. "The document was made available to the staff at the off-site facility, and it was located using a CIA-provided search tool."