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Surveillance, deceit, and safeguarding the public: watching the CIA-Senate feud

When California Senator Dianne Feinstein accused the Central Intelligence Agency of crossing a line last week, improperly searching a computer network set up for lawmakers, she unleashed quite a bit of outrage from the Senate floor.

Feinstein, by the way, also heads up the Senate Intelligence Committee. In her statement and in the attached video from APnews, the California Senator has publicly made clear this much:

"As I mentioned before, our staff involved in this matter have the appropriate clearances, handled this sensitive material according to established procedures and practice to protect classified information, and were provided access to the Panetta Review by the CIA itself. As a result, there is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime. I view the acting general counsel’s referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff—and I am not taking it lightly."

In a story from theGuardian on the matter, it describes the the dramatic scenario using Feinstein's own words. She said the crisis was a “defining moment” for US intelligence services and Congressional oversight. Guardian writers Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman wrote:

"Feinstein accused the CIA of potentially violating the US constitution and of criminal activity in its attempts to obstruct her committee’s investigations into the agency’s use of torture in the aftermath of 9/11."

A 'collapse in trust'

They also stated that the Obama administration was "battling to contain a collapse in trust" as Feinstein, considered to be a very loyal supporter, accused the CIA of "cover-ups, intimidation and smears to hide its role in the torture of terrorism suspects."

Complaints of potential CIA deceit even exists under then-President George W. Bush's Administration. The White House Counsel and the Director of National Intelligence at the time took issue with CIA destroying important video, according to an online article by writer Tim Dickinson for RollingStone. Wrote Dickinson:

"The investigation ... began late last decade, after it was revealed that video tapes of the CIA's torture sessions had been destroyed, over the objection of George W. Bush's White House Counsel and the Director of National Intelligence."

So the CIA began providing the Senate overseers with "CIA operational cables describing the detention conditions and the day-to-day CIA interrogations," writes Dickinson.

He gives what he calls "the 11 most jaw dropping disclosures and accusations" from Feinstein's statement. Number one on the list found that the CIA misled Congress about its torture program. He quotes from Senator Feinstein's statement:

"[The] staff report was chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us."