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Georgia's Saxby Chambliss the voice of reason in CIA Feinstein conflict

Calif. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein is waterboarding the CIA, but is she doing more damage than good?
Calif. Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein is waterboarding the CIA, but is she doing more damage than good?
Mark Wilson of Getty Images

California Democrat Senator Dianne Feinstein may be the Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman, but it is the Southern panel member Senator Saxby Chambliss who is acting like the voice of reason in the standoff between the CIA and the congressional body on March 11, 2014, according to Politico.

Sen. Feinstein publicly attempted to waterboard the Central Intelligence Agency this week, first accusing them of unethical behavior and unauthorized access to computers used by her staff. Next she sought to turn public opinion against them, claiming the agency had committed crimes against her staff by searching their computers and threatening actions of their own as a result.

Feinstein later admitted that those same staff computers were set-up willingly by the CIA for her staff's use in their review of the intelligence community, specifically regarding past waterboarding allegations pertaining to terrorist detainment and interrogation.

CIA Director John Brennan fired back, telling the public that his agency did not break any laws when they attempted to determine how Senate staffers gained access to classified documents not made available to them in the 6.2 million pieces of data provided for the investigation.

Georgia Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the vice chairman of the committee in question, tried to quiet the verbal confrontation erupting between his fellow female congressional peer and the leader of the intelligence agency, calling for all the facts to be made known before anyone pointed a finger at anyone else.

There's disagreements as to what the actual facts are. What I'm hopeful for is that we will have a kind of study done on what happened so that people can find out what the facts are. Right now we don't know what the facts are," he said.

The Washington Post reported that CIA Director Brennan, who many may remember had to be coaxed into taking the top leadership position by President Barack Obama, sought to share his side of the story in greater detail during the Council on Foreign Relations event on Tuesday.

Reminding the guests that he has only served in the leadership capacity at the CIA for a little over a year, he passionately sought to describe his desire to protect all Americans, including those working on foreign soil for his agency, from future terrorist attacks, for which he is confident will continue against the U.S. government and her people.

Brennan also reminded the audience that he had worked at the CIA in a lesser capacity years before, and had worked in a national security capacity for both former President George W. Bush and current President Obama. And he stated that his goals then and now continue to be the safety of all Americans and being able to detect threats of national security before they lead to actual acts of violence.

And while he didn't say it, Director Brennan didn't have to point out that sometimes national security is jeopardized by those inside the country too. And that may be why he has decided to push for the Justice Department and the CIA Inspector General to investigate Sen. Feinstein's accusations, and the actions of her SSCI staff and his own CIA officers.

As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean we wouldn't do that. I mean that's just beyond the--you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do," Brennan said.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein disagrees, and the LA Times reported on Tuesday that initially she sought an apology from the intelligence agency for the alleged computer snooping. And she had wanted an official acknowledgement that the alleged search of Senate computers was inappropriate. But she admits she never got neither. And if her staffers were the ones to access the documents without authorization, then we know why she did not get such confirmation.

At issue at this point appears to be whether the Senate staffers came upon a draft of an internal review written by former CIA Director Leon E. Panetta and then chose to access it despite it not being included in the data made available to them, or if they sought it out through fraudulent search means of their own on CIA issued computers.

Brennan obviously feels the timing of the attack on his agency is suspect, as well as the way in which derogatory information was obtained. And that has prompted him to make this statement today:

I find too often in Washington, where partisan politics tend to drive commentary, that there are, you know, comments that are made, are done for partisan purposes, which is very unfortunate because I think national security is too important to allow it to be used by the partisan politicians."

So which is it? Did the Senate staffers, acting under the authority of Sen. Feinstein, gain their own unauthorized access to CIA data accidentally, and then seek to use it under "the means justifies the end" mindset? Or did they purposefully seek out this information after not having found any ticking time bomb charge to justify why they were intentionally investigating the CIA now for decades old waterboarding activity?

Maybe the way forward isn't in seeking to determine whether the staffers came upon what they did intentionally or accidentally. And maybe the way forward isn't in Sen. Feinstein attacking a needed national security agency in the public arena. Maybe the way forward is what Director Brennan said on Tuesday when he talked about the decades old waterboarding of terrorists.

We have acknowledged and learned from the (detention and interrogation) program's shortcomings (from back then), and we have taken corrective measures to prevent such mistakes from happening again....Even as we have learned from the past, we must also be able to put the past behind so we can devote our full attention to the challenges ahead of us."

It has been 13 years since 9/11. And it has been five years since Pres. Obama dismantled the facility that served as a partial waterboarding interrogation site for terrorists bent on harming U.S. citizens. But the threat to national security remains, and the Senate has a lot more important jobs on its plate than beating up the reputation of the country's intelligence agency over something that happened years ago. Doesn't it?

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