Sen. Dianne Feinstein – generally a lover and defender of our growing surveillance state – took to the Senate floor this morning to confirm and clarify a story that came out last week: The CIA snooped on a computer network Congress was using to investigate CIA abuses.
At the heart of this conflict between the executive and legislative branches is a report Congressional staffers have put together said to be extremely critical of the brutal interrogation methods (torture) used by the CIA under the Bush administration. The massive 6,300-page inquiry is classified, but many are pressuring the Department of Justice and White House for its release.
On the Senate floor, Feinstein said that she had not been responding to previous media reports, but felt that she had to come forward now due to inaccurate information being pushed out. To bulletpoint her 50-minute speech:
- When President Barack Obama came into office and Feinstein became chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, her committee began an inquiry into "enhanced interrogation" methods used by the CIA.
- Then-CIA Director Leon Panetta offered to set up a computer system at the CIA for congressional staffers to access CIA documents to work on this report. The only CIA personnel who were to have access to this computer system would be IT personnel, and they were not allowed to share information with anybody else in the CIA.
- CIA personnel searched the computer this January anyway and in one previous incident in 2010.
- In 2010, staffers using this system discovered that some CIA documents they had been consulting for their report were no longer accessible. First the CIA blamed IT personnel. Then the CIA said the removal was on the orders of the White House. The White House denied giving any orders to remove documents. Eventually Feinstein learned the CIA had removed more than 800 pages of documents from the system in February 2010 without the knowledge or approval of the committee. After consultation with the White House, the committee was promised it wouldn't happen again.
- Later in 2010, staffers discovered draft versions of an internal CIA report (called the Panetta Review) available in the computer system that also analyzed the detention and "enhanced interrogation" methods used in the war on terror. Feinstein said the documents acknowledged "significant CIA wrongdoing."
- One of the reasons Feinstein has come forward is because it had been "suggested in the press" that congressional staffers somehow hacked the CIA to get these documents. They were found using the search tools provided by the CIA on the computer system also provided by the CIA. The committee has no idea who provided the Panetta Review documents or whether providing access was intentional, perhaps by a whistleblower.
- After the Senate Intelligence Committee released its 6,300-page report critical of the CIA's detention and torture techniques, the CIA officially responded that it agreed with some findings but disagreed in some other critical areas. Feinstein revealed this morning that the internal Panetta Review actually showed the CIA came to some of the same conclusions where they now claim they disagree.
- The Panetta Review documents then disappeared from the computer system the committee staff was accessing. But the committee has a hard copy of the documents (with sensitive information like names and locations redacted) in its own possession.
- In January of this year, Feinstein told the CIA the committee wanted access to the full Panetta Review. The CIA said no.
- Then, CIA director John Brennan came to Feinstein to tell them that the CIA had searched the committee computers as well as the network drive where staff members were doing their work. Brennan said the search was in response to belief that some staffers already had access to the full 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," Feinstein said. "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." Instead, anonymous allegations made it into the press suggesting that the committee had gotten access to the review through criminal means.
- Feinstein has sent a letter to the CIA asking by what authority are they claiming to be able to search the Senate committee's computers. They have not responded. She has "grave concerns" the search violated the separation of powers and threatened the oversight authority the Senate has over the CIA. She added that the search may have also violated the Fourth Amendment (as every security reporter familiar with her support for mass metadata collection laughs and laughs and laughs), as well as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (that's the law the Department of Justice used against Aaron Swartz) and the executive order that prohibits the CIA from domestic surveillance.
- CIA officials have since forwarded the matter to the Department of Justice for potential criminal investigation of committee staffers for having access to the Panetta Review. Feinstein reiterated that it was the CIA itself who provided the staff with access to the review. She accused the CIA of trying to intimidate her staff.
CIA Director Brennan has already denied Feinstein's accusations and has said he wouldn't step down unless asked by the president.
In December, former Reason intern Jess Remington noted the White House's suppression of the Senate committee's torture report.