CIA Accused Of Spying On Senate Torture Probe
A senior US senator has accused the CIA of illegally accessing a computer network used by a Senate panel investigating the agency over its alleged use of torture.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, made the accusations public on Tuesday, exposing a previously behind-the-scenes dispute between Congress and the CIA.
The California Democrat said the CIA searched the computer network in January and that she had pressed CIA Director John Brennan about the agency’s actions and the legal basis for its search.
She said she had not received a response despite letters sent on January 17 and January 23, and that the matter had since been referred to the Justice Department.
Asked about the senator’s accusations, Mr Brennan said the agency was not trying to stop the committee’s report and that it had not been spying on the panel or the Senate.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.
Mr Brennan said the appropriate authorities would look at the matter further and “I defer to them to determine whether or not there was any violation of law or principle”.
Both Sen Feinstein and the CIA have accused each other’s staffs of improper behaviour.
She said she had “grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution”.
The CIA provided computers to congressional staffers in a secure room in northern Virginia in 2009 so the panel could review millions of pages of top secret documents in the course of its investigation into the CIA’s detentions and interrogations during the Bush administration.
At issue now is whether the CIA violated an agreement made with the Senate Intelligence Committee about monitoring the panel’s use of CIA computers.
Sen Feinstein said CIA personnel electronically removed nearly 1,000 previously provided documents without the knowledge of the committee.
She said she has asked the agency for an apology but the CIA has been silent.
The dispute comes as the Obama administration is trying to regain public trust after classified details about widespread surveillance of Americans were disclosed by former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden last summer.
Sen Feinstein has defended the NSA against criticism of its practises, making her comments about the CIA dispute highly unusual.
On Tuesday, Mr Brennan said: “We are not in any way, shape or form trying to thwart this report.”
“I am confident that the authorities will deal with this appropriately
“I would just encourage some members of the Senate to take their time, to make sure they don’t overstate what they claim and what they apparently believe to be the truth.”