Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today accused the CIA of trying to use the Justice Department to pressure Senate staffers who worked on a highly contentious review of George W. Bush-era interrogation tactics.
The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee essentially declared war on the CIA this morning with Senate floor speech publicly accusing the spy agency of a potential crime in secretly accessing Senate computers. She said she was giving the speech to “set the record straight” about what she called “inaccurate” information about the committee’s inquiry.
Feinstein’s Senate floor speech raised the stakes in what had been a simmering behind-the-scenes conflict over the agency’s response to a Senate investigation into the brutal interrogation techniques used against terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
CIA officials have said Senate staffers gained improper access to a highly critical internal CIA draft review of the interrogations. The CIA, in turn, conducted an unauthorized search of Senate computers to find out how the document was obtained. The CIA’s inspector general, David Buckley, looked into the matter asked the Justice Department to determine whether CIA personnel committed a crime, Feinstein said.
What happened next, Feinstein said today, was a “potential effort to intimidate this staff.”
The CIA’s “acting general counsel” – whose name Feinstein said is mentioned more than 1,600 times in the still classified Senate report — filed a “crimes report” with the Justice Department about the Senate staff’s actions, the senator said.
Feinstein did not name the CIA official, but the New York Times said it appears to be a reference to Robert Eatinger, the agency’s senior deputy general counsel.
“[T]here is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime,” Feinstein said on the Senate floor. ”I view the acting general counsel’s referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff — and I am not taking it lightly.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney in a briefing today declined to comment on the Justice Department referral but said there had been “periodic disputes” between the CIA and Senate staff about a protocol for interaction.
He also President Barack Obama “has great confidence” in CIA Director John Brennan, as well as “our intelligence community and our professionals at the CIA.”
Feinstein noted that the CIA official who made the criminal referral was the chief lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009.
“And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff— the same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers — including the acting general counsel himself— provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice about the program,” Feinstein said.
Feinstein’s committee a year ago completed a 6,000-page report about the detention and interrogation program, which included techniques like waterboarding that critics have assailed as torture. The New York Times, citing “people who have read the study,” called it a “withering indictment of the program” and includes instances in which C.I.A. officials misled Congress, the White House and the public.
CIA Director Brennan issued a 122-page rebuttal last June, that also isn’t public.
As part of the Senate inquiry, the CIA allowed committee staff to review millions of classified documents at a special facility in Virginia.
“The staff members who have been working on this study and this report have devoted years of their lives to it— wading through the horrible details of a CIA program that never, never, never should have existed,” Feinstein said. “They are now being threatened with legal jeopardy, just as the final revisions to the report are being made so that parts of it can be declassified and released to the American people.”