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Senator Feinstein and CIA Brennan not so secret brouhaha

Senator Diane Feinstein

American’s expect, even know, many politicians stretch the truth or outright lie, but when it comes to government intelligence agencies, taxpayers expect honest oversight from those lawmakers. The latest national security brouhaha between Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director John Brennan and Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Senator Diane Feinstein revealed the deep distrust between elected officials and those charged with protecting America.

In a rubber meets the road moment last week, Feinstein aired her frustrations with the CIA. Her deliberate speech alerted the Senate that closed door hearings and investigations into CIA programs were allegedly compromised by the covert agency spying on Senate Committee investigators. Brennan countered Feinstein’s allegation with another accusation that it was the Senate staff that illegally took a classified material from the CIA.

Watch San Diego 6 News segment here

The Senate 30-minute speech accused the CIA of lying, stealing and cheating to block a 6,300-page report conducted by former CIA Director Leon Panetta on CIA secret prisons and torture. “I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution.”

NSA leaker Edward Snowden marveled at the Congressional hypocrisy. “It’s clear the CIA was trying to play ‘keep away’ with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that’s a serious constitutional concern,” Snowden said to NBC News. “But it’s equally if not more concerning that we’re seeing another ‘Merkel Effect,’ where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”

Feinstein makes her case

Over the past week, numerous articles written about the Intelligence Committee’s oversight review of the “Detention and Interrogation Program of the CIA” report, highlighted a possible CIA intrusion into the Senate Select Committee’s computers as well as the committee’s acquisition of an internal CIA document known as the Panetta Review sent Senator Feinstein to the floor with an impassioned speech.

“The significance of the Internal Review given disparities between it and the June 2013 CIA response to the committee study. The Internal Panetta Review summary now at the secure committee office in the (Senate) Hart Building is an especially significant document as it corroborates critical information in the committee’s 6,300-page Study that the CIA’s official response either objects to, denies, minimizes, or ignores.

In late 2013, I requested in writing that the CIA provide a final and complete version of the Internal Panetta Review to the committee, as opposed to the partial document the committee currently possesses.

In December, during an open committee hearing, Senator Mark Udall echoed this request. 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 January 15, 2014, CIA Director Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman 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 to the committee 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,” Feinstein explained.

“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 have now 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.

As I have described, this is not true. The document was made available to the staff at the offsite facility, and it was located using a CIA-provided search tool running a query of the information provided to the committee pursuant to its investigation.

Director Brennan stated that the CIA’s search had determined that the committee staff had copies of the Internal Panetta Review on the committee’s “staff shared drive” and had accessed them numerous times. He indicated at the meeting that he was going to order further “forensic” investigation of the committee network to learn more about activities of the committee’s oversight staff.

Two days after the meeting, on January 17, I wrote a letter to Director Brennan objecting to any further CIA investigation due to the separation of powers constitutional issues that the search raised. I followed this with a second letter on January 23 to the director, asking 12 specific questions about the CIA’s actions—questions that the CIA has refused to answer.”

In response, current CIA Director John Brennan said, “If I did something wrong, I will go to the president and I will explain to him exactly what I did, what the findings were, and he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.”

The CIA's spokesperson in Langley, Virginia, Dean Boyd, elaborated a bit further on the differences between the Senate Intelligence chairwoman.

“The CIA conducted a thorough review of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program and presented an extensive written response to the committee in June 2013,” he wrote in a USA Today. “The CIA’s response agreed with a number of the findings of the report, but disagreed with others. Since that time, we have worked extensively with the committee to resolve differences and determine the best way forward on potential declassification and we will continue to do so.”

“In recent months, the CIA had reason to believe, based on comments and correspondence from Intelligence Committee members and staff to CIA officials, that committee staff may have improperly accessed and retained sensitive CIA documents that were stored on a CIA local area network," Boyd continued. "These documents were privileged, deliberative, pre-decisional Executive Branch material that implicated separation of powers concerns. The CIA quickly notified the committee leadership and requested that copies of these materials be returned.”

President Obama refused to comment specifically on the lying allegations but did say; “With respect to the issues that are going back and forth between the Senate committee and the CIA, John Brennan has referred them to the appropriate authorities and they are looking into it and that’s not something that is an appropriate role for me and the White House to wade into at this point.”

However the president did wade into the IRS internal review and declared there was not a smidgen of corruption even though the report has not been finalized.

The White House statement did little to calm other Senate Intelligence Committee members. Senator Jay Rockefeller said, “As our 6,300 pages show, there’s a hell of a lot lying going on, to the White House, to everybody,” referring to a lengthy Intelligence Committee report on the interrogation and detention of suspected terrorists during Bush’s administration.

While it’s true that Democrats have tried and failed for years to learn more about the controversial interrogation “waterboarding” program, the CIA has been in the care of Democrats for the last five years and conceivably it could have released any wrongdoing by now. Insiders say the lack of transparency indicates both parties and high-ranking CIA officials knew and endorsed the contentious interrogation program.

The House Oversight Committee Chairman told Breitbart News, “I think Senator Feinstein is as outraged as anyone and I share her outrage. I think the violation of the Constitutional separation of powers should be an offense of the highest level—virtually treason. I don’t know who gave the orders, but to spy on other branches is in fact a constitutional violation at the level of high crimes and misdemeanors and certainly should cause the removal of anyone involved.”

The Senate spat that erupted last week triggered both organizations to file grievances with the Department of Justice, which refrained from weighing in until today. “We get referrals all the time. The fact that we get a referral does not necessarily mean we make a decision that we’re going to investigate on the basis of that referral,” Attorney General Eric Holder said today. “And so, we are looking at the matters that have been referred to us before we make any determinations about what action, if any, the Justice Department will take.”

Spying and lying

Americans were first introduced to the depth of intelligence agencies' spying inside the US when Edward Snowden began to release his treasure trove of documents exposing the extra-curricular activities of the NSA.

Shortly after that revelation, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden asked if the NSA collects data on millions or 100s of millions of Americans? Director of National Intelligence James Clapper famously said, “No sir, it does not, not wittingly. There are cases where we could inadvertently, perhaps.” The stumbling answer appeared to catch the DNI director off guard, however Clapper was given the question from Senator Wyden ahead of time, leaving many perplexed why he flat out lied to Congress and why no perjury charges were filed?

The Osama bin Laden raid in Pakistan provides another example of the government trying to hide details of questionable activities. During the actual Osama bin Laden covert operation, President Obama proved his “acting aplomb” by collecting applause for one liners at the White House Correspondents dinner, demonstrating his ease with distracting an admiring media.

However, shortly after the OBL killing, the military recognized an aggressive media might want more details of the daring raid and acted to ensure secrecy. US Special Operations Commander Adm. William McRaven quickly moved to destroy photos of the dead terrorist. A Freedom of Information Act request was filed by Judicial Watch that revealed, 11 days after the event, Adm. McRaven sent an email to subordinates directing them to either destroy or send the all-photographic evidence to the CIA. Hints of the email first surfaced in a Pentagon inspector general’s draft report, but the final report failed to include McRaven’s request.

According to McRaven’s mostly blacked-out email, “One particular item that I want to emphasize is photos; particularly UBLs remains. At this point - all photos should have been turned over to the CIA; if you still have them destroy them immediately or get them” blacked-out. A CIA spokesman said, “Documents related to the raid were handled in a manner consistent with the fact that the operation was conducted under the direction of the CIA director (Leon Panetta). The records of a CIA operation such as the raid, which were created during the conduct of the operation by persons acting under the authority of the CIA director, are CIA records.”

The National Archives was unaware of the inter-agency transfer of the records as required by federal law.

The fading Snowden affect

Further unveiling of government spying on Americans came last year from Edward Snowden. His leaked documents lit up the Internet and opened eyes to a vast internal surveillance program. It publicized nothing was private anymore.

For months the Obama administration had been playing defense on the NSA spying programs. After the initial media kerfuffle, President Obama claimed he was unaware the scope of the NSA’s tactics.

Unfortunately, Americans learned that the NSA eavesdropping program would be handled just like other scandals, all talk and no action. “We are not going to comment publicly on every specified alleged intelligence activity, and as a matter of policy, we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said at a White House press briefing. Senator Feinstein responded to the same NSA revelations by simply saying, "It's called protecting America."

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham famously told the media he was glad cell phone companies willingly turned over data to the federal government in the same of national security. Nevertheless, Snowden’s continued document leaks barely make headlines, leaving many Americans scratching their heads and asking if anyone in DC really cares about the civil liberty infringements?

Closing statement

So far, the executive branch shows no signs of curbing the intelligence community’s breadth and scope of spying on Americans invoking the national security line. NSA Director and General Keith Alexander recently said, “We would like to cast it aside, but if we do, it is our fear that there will be a gap and potential for another 9/11.”

Despite turning the world upside down last year, Snowden told South by Southwest Conference attendees that if he the opportunity to do it all over again, he would, “absolutely yes.”

While Senator Feinstein demands a personal apology from the CIA for spying on her committee, she has mentioned nothing of an apology to the millions of Californians she represents, nor other Americans victimized by government surveillance, and remain a steadfast believer in spying on the rest of America.

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© Copyright 2014 Kimberly Dvorak All Rights Reserved.

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