Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category
I have occasionally remarked that “CIA” stands for “Criminals In Action,” and that certainly seems to be the case in their kidnapping and torture program, which also resulted in some homicides. Ali Watkins, Jonathan Landay, and Marisa Taylor have a report at McClatchy of some sections leaked from the Senate report. Well worth reading. The report begins:
A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.
The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.
The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”
The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.
Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:
_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.
_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.
_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.
_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.
The 6,300-page report is . . .
This is the first step: Congress is specifically informed that firefighter training is inadequate to fight crude-oil fires from tanker trains. So the knowledge is out there.
My guess: Nothing will be done until the inevitable catastrophic fire, and then the cry will be “No one could possibly have foreseen…” (aka “Who could have known?”)
They really should be thinking, “What are our plans if it does turn out to be real? What should we now be doing if that turns out to be the case?” But it’s easier just to fall back on denial and work hard to stop people talking about it or studying it. Emily Atkin reports at ThinkProgress:
Two days after a U.N. report warned of increased famine, war, and poverty from unmitigated carbon emissions, the Republican-led House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to focus less on studying climate change, and more on predicting storms.
The bill, introduced last June by Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), wouldn’t require NOAA to stop its climate research entirely, but it would require the agency to “prioritize weather-related activities, including the provision of improved weather data, forecasts, and warnings for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy.” . . .
The Supreme Court has just lifted all limits on giving money to political parties, which will (I imagine) become even more obviously on the take and willing to sell their votes for the right price. It’s sad to see the country fail so obviously, but I do not believe the trend can be reversed.
It’s pretty evident that Sen. Leahy puts the country’s welfare very much second to Senatorial privilege. The NY Times editorial:
The job of federal judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina has been vacant for more than eight years, one of the longest vacancies of 83 on the federal bench around the country. Last June, President Obama nominated Jennifer May-Parker, a federal prosecutor, for the position, but she hasn’t even received a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee because Richard Burr, the state’s Republican senator, is blocking her.
The strange part is that Mr. Burr himself recommended her for the seat in 2009. But now he’s changed his mind and won’t say why, exploiting an archaic Senate tradition to make sure Mr. Obama can’t fill that vacancy.
That tradition, known as the blue slip, gives senators the ability to block any judicial nomination in their state, no explanation necessary, before it even reaches the stage of a committee hearing — never mind the Senate floor. There’s no formal rule enshrining this tradition, and the committee’s chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, could end it tomorrow. But he has inexplicably clung to the practice, preventing worthy nominees from being confirmed and allowing petty Republican politics to reduce Mr. Obama’s influence on the bench.
If a home-state senator won’t return a blue piece of paper agreeing to a judicial nomination, Mr. Leahy won’t give the nominee a committee hearing or a vote. It’s a form of senatorial courtesy that goes back to 1917 or so, giving senators an anti-democratic power never contemplated in the Constitution.
As with the filibuster, members of both parties have abused the privilege, but only when it suits them. When Senator Orrin Hatch, a Republican of Utah, was the chairman of the committee during the presidency of George W. Bush, he would allow nominations to proceed over the objections of both home-state senators, as long as the president “consulted” with them first.
Senator Leahy has not the done the same for President Obama and his nominees, thus undercutting the important Senate rules change in November that prevented a minority of senators from blocking any executive nomination. Blue slips, or the lack thereof, have held up 11 judicial nominees; there are also 30 vacancies with no nominees because it is clear that a Republican senator would object.
The administration has been reduced to nominating a few unpalatable judges in the hopes of cutting deals. Texas has nine court vacancies, but its two senators won’t work with the White House on any nominees.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Mr. Leahy claims that the Senate will always defer to home-state senators. But, if he were to eliminate the practice, he would force senators to raise their objections publicly.
Now they hide behind a procedure that allows them to block able nominees because they want one of their cronies to get the job, or don’t want liberals or minorities on the bench or are afraid that any appearance of collaboration would rile the Tea Party.
Senators with real complaints should state them on the floor and hope to persuade a majority. At the moment, unfortunately, Republicans believe they have a serious chance of regaining the Senate in November, and they seem to have no interest in approving any of Mr. Obama’s judicial nominations through the end of his term. That’s an abuse of the system, and Mr. Leahy is running out of time to stop it.
The outcome of the war on the environment is now obvious, and the environment loses. The reason is simple: you can go time after time after time defending the environment, and yet if just one time you lose—as in this article—and you have lost forever. Eventually, they’ll get a win, and when they do, a bit more environment is destroyed. And the natural environment is limited—and growing smaller annually through the process described: the occasional yet inevitable failure on some issue.
That, of course, is quite apart from the major devastation of climate change—but some in Congress, in a spectacular example of burying-head-in-sand, are determined to put an end to any discussion of that issue.
UPDATE: See also this article in Salon.
One graphic (from this ThinkProgress post, which further explains it) makes it clear:
Interesting that Harry Reid is taking some action to get to the bottom of what’s going on, while Obama simply stalls and refuses to release reports. Obama is looking bad in this interaction, and the CIA is looking worse. David Joachim’s report in the NY Times is worth reading. From that report:
. . . In letters sent to Mr. Brennan and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Wednesday, Mr. Reid said he had instructed the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms to conduct a forensic analysis of the committee’s computers to resolve the question of misbehavior on the part of committee staff members.
“The C.I.A. has produced no evidence to support its claims that Senate committee staff who have no technical training somehow hacked into the C.I.A.’s highly secure classified networks, an allegation that appears on its face to be patently absurd,” Mr. Reid wrote to Mr. Brennan.
In his letter to Mr. Holder, Mr. Reid singled out a former acting general counsel of the C.I.A., Robert Eatinger, for referring the C.I.A.’s claims to the Justice Department even though he was mentioned 1,600 times in the Intelligence Committee’s report on C.I.A. interrogation. Mr. Reid added that the referral “appears to be a transparent attempt to intimidate the committee and undermine its oversight of the agency.”
Democratic senators have claimed that the Panetta review, which is still classified, is broadly consistent with the Intelligence Committee’s voluminous report about the C.I.A.’s now-defunct detention and interrogation program.
According to several people who have read the committee’s report, it concludes that the agency gained little valuable intelligence from its brutal questioning of Qaeda detainees, and that C.I.A. officials repeatedly misled the White House, Congress and the public about the value of the program. . .
Jason Leopold reports for Al Jazeera America:
A still-classified report on the CIA’s interrogation program established in the wake of 9/11 sparked a furious row last week between the agency and Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. Al Jazeera has learned from sources familiar with its contents that the committee’s report alleges that at least one high-value detainee was subjected to torture techniques that went beyond those authorized by George W. Bush’s Justice Department.
Two Senate staffers and a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information they disclosed remains classified, told Al Jazeera that the committee’s analysis of 6 million pages of classified records also found that some of the harsh measures authorized by the Department of Justice had been applied to at least one detainee before such legal authorization was received. They said the report suggests that the CIA knowingly misled the White House, Congress and the Justice Department about the intelligence value of detainee Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah when using his case to argue in favor of harsher interrogation techniques.
The committee’s report, completed in 2012, must go through a declassification review before any part of it may be released, but conflicts between the CIA — the original classification authority for the documents on which the report is based — and the Senate Intelligence Committee have complicated the process. Even if the report was declassified, releasing it would require Senate approval, and it’s not clear that Feinstein, a California Democrat, could muster enough votes to do so. President Barack Obama last week expressed support for releasing the report “so that the American people can understand what happened in the past … That can help guide us as we move forward.”
CIA Director John Brennan delivered a rebuttal to the report last June, more than four months after a deadline imposed by the Intelligence Committee. The 120-page CIA response, which addresses what the agency says are flaws in the Senate report, also remains classified.
The Intelligence Committee probe began in 2009 after allegations that detainees had been tortured in CIA captivity after the 9/11 attacks. Feinstein has said that a CIA internal review contradicts statements previously made by the agency, but Brennan insists that the committee never should have seen documents assembled by former CIA Director Leon Panetta — which Panetta claims was not a review — because they contain sensitive material protected by executive privilege.
The CIA alleges that Senate staffers walked out of a secure facility in Northern Virginia in possession of documents they were not authorized to access. Feinstein and Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., have accused the CIA of monitoring the computers the agency had set up for Senate investigators to review the classified documents related to the agency’s rendition, detention and interrogation program. The Justice Department and FBI are now reviewing the matter.
Agent’s notes missing
Even before accessing the documents, committee staffers received crucial information in a briefing from former FBI agent Ali Soufan in early 2008, according to Al Jazeera’s sources. Soufan — who now runs a private security and intelligence consultancy — told the staffers that he had kept meticulous notes about the methods used by a psychologist under CIA contract to interrogate Abu Zubaydah at a CIA black site in Thailand after his capture in Pakistan in March of 2002. Soufan’s account, the staffers say, shows that torture techniques were used on Abu Zubaydah even before some had been sanctioned as permissible by the Bush administration.
Soufan described his briefing of Intelligence Committee researchers in his memoir, “The Black Banners.”
“In early 2008, in a conference room that is referred to as a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF), I gave a classified briefing on Abu Zubaydah to staffers of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” Soufan wrote. “The staffers present were shocked. What I told them contradicted everything they had been told by Bush administration and CIA officials. When the discussion turned to whether I could prove everything I was saying, I told them, ‘Remember, an FBI agent always keep his notes.’ ”
The committee tried to gain access to Soufan’s notes — then in possession of the CIA and FBI — after it launched a review of the agency’s detention and interrogation program in 2009. But Senate investigators were told, according to Al Jazeera’s sources, that Soufan’s notes were missing and could not be found in either the FBI’s or CIA’s computer system, where other classified records about the interrogation program were stored.
More than a year later, the notes ended up with the Senate Intelligence Committee, although it’s not clear whether they were turned over to committee investigators by the CIA or FBI or if they were in the cache of documents taken by investigators from the secure facility in Northern Virginia in 2010, which Senate staffers refer to as the Panetta review.
Two Senate staffers told Al Jazeera that the Panetta documents question the Bush administration claims about the efficacy of Abu Zubaydah’s torture, and the staffers noted that some of the techniques to which he was subjected early in his captivity had not yet been authorized. . .
The CIA tipped its hand when it deliberately destroyed all 92 videotapes of their interrogations. That was done for one obvious reason: the tapes showed war crimes being committed.
Marcy Wheeler writes at The Intercept:
The fight between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the Committee’s Torture Report – which Dan Froomkin covered here – has now zeroed in on the White House.
Did the White House order the CIA to withdraw 920 documents from a server made available to Committee staffers, as Senator Dianne Feinstein says the agency claimed in 2010? Were those documents – perhaps thousands of them – pulled in deference to a White House claim of executive privilege, as Senator Mark Udall and then CIA General Counsel Stephen Prestonsuggested last fall? And is the White House continuing to withhold 9,000 pages of documents without invoking privilege, as McClatchy reported yesterday?
We can be sure about one thing: The Obama White House has covered up the Bush presidency’s role in the torture program for years. Specifically, from 2009 to 2012, the administration went to extraordinary lengths to keep a single short phrase, describing President Bush’s authorization of the torture program, secret.
Some time before October 29, 2009, then National Security Advisor Jim Jones filed an ex parte classified declaration with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, in response to a FOIA request by the ACLU seeking documents related to the torture program. In it, Jones argued that the CIA should not be forced to disclose the “source of the CIA’s authority,” as referenced in the title of a document providing “Guidelines for Interrogations” and signed by then CIA Director George Tenet. That document was cited in two Justice Department memos at issue in the FOIA. Jones claimed that “source of authority” constituted an intelligence method that needed to be protected.
As other documents and reporting have made clear, the source of authority was a September 17, 2001 Presidential declaration authorizing not just detention and interrogation, but a range of other counterterrorism activities, including targeted killings.Both former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzohave made clear that the torture program began as a covert operation. “A few days after the [9/11] attacks, President Bush signed a top-secret directive to CIA authorizing an unprecedented array of covert actions against Al Qaeda and its leadership.” Rizzo explained in 2011. One of those actions, Rizzo went on, was “the capture, incommunicado detention and aggressive interrogation of senior Al Qaeda operatives.”
As Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy, noted in 2009 – shortly after Hayden revealed that torture started as a covert operation – this means there should be a paper trail implicating President Bush in the torture program. “[T]here should be a Presidential ‘finding’ authorizing the program,” he said, “and  such a finding should have been provided to Congressional overseers.”
The National Security Act dictates that every covert operation must be supported by a written declaration finding that the action is necessary and important to the national security. The Congressional Intelligence committees – or at least the Chair and Ranking Member – should receive notice of the finding.
But there is evidence that those Congressional overseers were never told that the finding the president signed on September 17, 2001 authorized torture. For example, a letter from then ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jane Harman, to the CIA’s General Counsel following her first briefing on torture asked: “Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the President?” The CIA’s response at the time was simply that “policy as well as legal matters have been addressed within the Executive Branch.”
Nevertheless, the finding does exist. . .
Good brief article, the hook being that the Senate is losing its appeal to politicians.
And I would think some charges should be filed—as Sen. Feinstein said, we have a number of choices: ““Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”
Dan Froomkin writes at The Intercept:
CIA Director John Brennan’s decision to search Senate committee computers was such a blatant violation of the constitutional separation of powers that some pro-accountability groups in Washington are starting to seek his ouster.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) disclosed in a fiery speech on Tuesday that Brennan told her in January that CIA personnel had conducted a search on computers at a CIA-leased facility that had been reserved for the use of committee staffers investigating the agency’s role in the Bush-era torture of detainees.
The Constitution clearly gives the legislative branch the authority to investigate the executive branch — and not the other way around.
More even than the act itself, some critics see Brennan’s lack of recognition of the extent of his violation of key constitutional principles to be the biggest cause for him to be fired.
“The recent revelations that CIA Director Brennan reported the surveillance directly to Chairman Feinstein is stunning,” said Angela Canterbury, public policy director of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
“How can we hold such impunity accountable? Remove Brennan, for starters,” she said. “And then there must be a full investigation that is more independent than one might expect from DOJ.”
Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, said that the concerns about the Senate investigation that led Brennan to launch his search were “ridiculous, as well as simply incorrect.”
Buttar continued: “Given his false assurances to the Senate Intelligence Committee about CIA drone strikes, and his continuing failure to let the public finally know the facts about CIA torture, Brennan should resign or be removed from office so the Committee can examine and confirm new leadership.”
Some senators appeared to be close to calling for Brennan to go. “I’ve lost confidence in Director Brennan, particularly because he won’t acknowledge the misdeeds and misconduct of the CIA,” Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said on MSNBC on Tuesday. He added: “The CIA has an important role to play, but if the public doesn’t trust the CIA, if the Senate overseers don’t trust the CIA, I don’t know how Director Brennan can continue to lead the agency.”
“Despite Director Brennan’s commitment to ‘strengthen the trust’ between the CIA and the Intelligence Committee, the relationship between our respective bodies has only deteriorated during the first year of his tenure,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M), said in a statement.
Brennan, in his own remarks after Feinstein’s speech on Tuesday, vaguely ridiculed allegations of CIA “hacking” and said that “when the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.” But nothing he said actually disputed Feinstein’s version of events.
And as Michael Masnick reported for Techdirt, a January 27 letter to Feinstein that Brennan sent out to CIA staff on Tuesday actually confirmed the search, though Brennan described it — and the need for it — in the context of concern about a security breach:
Because we were concerned that there may be a breach or vulnerability in the system for housing highly classified documents, CIA conducted a limited review to determine whether these files were located on the SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] side of the CIA network and reviewed audit data to determine whether anyone had accessed the files, which would have been unauthorized.
And he said he wasn’t done. “Only completion of the security review will answer how SSCI staff came into possession of the documents,” he wrote, saying that he had only “temporarily” suspended further action until getting Feinstein’s consent.
The “breach” in question concerned the committee staff’s possession of an internal CIA review of the materials the agency had previously turned over to Feinstein’s committee during the course of the four-year congressional investigation into the Bush-era torture practices.
Feinstein said the document, which has become known as the Panetta Review because it was evidently prepared for then-director of the CIA Leon Panetta, was first discovered by committee staff using CIA-provided search tools in 2010. It became particularly relevant more than two years later, after the committee completed a scathing 6,300-page report in December 2012, and the CIA sent its official response in June 2013.
While the CIA officially rebutted key parts of the committee’s report, the internal review apparently corroborated them.
The CIA learned the committee was aware of the internal review in December 2013, which evidently caused them great alarm — either because of concerns about a “security breach” or because, as Feinstein put it, its “unique and interesting… acknowledgement of significant CIA wrongdoing.”
Feinstein said Tuesday that she responded to Brennan’s January visit with several letters expressing her concerns that the action was illegal and unconstitutional.
Brennan’s letter in response shows him glibly dismissing her complaints: . . .
Astonishing. Pay close attention: you’re seeing history being made.
A good example of how businesses attempt to use the government. Matt Lee-Ashley writes in ThinkProgress:
Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell’s recent rejection of a proposal to build a $75 million road through an Alaska wilderness area has sparked a flurry of attacks from right-wing blogs and media outlets — led by Fox News, National Review, and CNS News — who cite the decision as an example of the “The Obama Administration’s War on Humans” and their “despicable callousness toward the value of human life.”
At issue is a proposal to build 20 miles of road through Congressionally-protected wilderness in the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to connect the town of King Cove (population 948), to Cold Bay (population 108) — ostensibly to help residents get access to a larger airport for health care purposes.
But the rub is that tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have already been spent on alternative solutions to improve medical care — including to fulfill King Cove’s request for a hovercraft and to upgrade its own health clinic — under the condition that the road would therefore not be built. And, if approved, the so-called ‘Road to Nowhere’ would set a precedent as the first new road built in a protected wilderness area in the United States.
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has long fought for the road, even trying to hold up nominations to get approval. A review of political gifts to Senator Murkowski and her political action committee, Denali Leadership PAC, reveals a trail of donations made by organizations and lobbyists with a financial stake in the construction of the road. It appears to reinforce what anti-government waste advocates, local emergency personnel, Native Alaskan villages, wildlife professionals, and former agency leaders have long been saying: there is a lot more to the story than what Senator Murkowski and the conservative outlets claim.
Among the political contributions to Murkowski, the most significant are from a firm that has been paid nearly $800,000 since the 1990s to lobby Congress and the Administration on behalf of the Aleutians East Borough (AEB), a long-standing advocate for the road project.
According to the Sunlight Foundation, the firm, Robertson, Monagle, and Eastaugh, (which, according to financial disclosure forms, changed its name to Hoffman, Silver, et al) has contributed more than $11,000 to Murkowski and her Denali Leadership PAC, while being paid more than $350,000 by AEB to lobby on its behalf. Hoffman, Silver et al is listed as having donated an additional $7,700, while collecting more than $435,000 to lobby on behalf of AEB. Lobbying disclosure forms for both Robertson, Monagle and Eastaugh and Hoffman, Silver et al specifically list the firm as lobbying on the Izembek road project on behalf of AEB.
Both Robertson, Monagle, and Eastaugh and Hoffman, Silver, et al also list major seafood producers among their biggest clients, including Trident Seafoods, which is reported to be the largest seafood supplier in North America.
Senator Murkowski also received Peter Pan Seafood’s largest political contribution in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and she is the only member of the Senate they have donated to in 2014. Peter Pan operates the largest cannery in King Cove.
Despite the claims of Murkowski and conservative commentators that the road is needed to help residents get access to health care, former Interior Secretary Bruce noted in an op-ed published Tuesday in the Los Angeles Times that the original purpose of the road — when it was initially proposed in the 1990s — was to expedite the shipping of seafood from the canneries of King Cove to Cold Bay.
The road’s proponents have changed their sales pitch over the last 20 years … They now claim they have no intention of hauling seafood over the road. They say the road is simply needed for emergency medical evacuations. But despite pledges and promises to the contrary, the real purpose for building the road is the same as it ever was: moving fish and workers to and from King Cove’s canneries.
Moreover, Babbitt notes that in a deal he helped reach with former Senator Ted Stevens in 1998, “U.S. taxpayers have already accommodated alternative solutions to King Cove’s concerns about medical emergencies, with the clear understanding that the road would therefore not be built.” Under this agreement, King Cove requested and was provided $37.5 million to upgrade its own health clinic and buy a state-of-the-art hovercraft that the mayor of King Cove praised as a “life-saving machine.”
Yet Murkowski is now back “as if the 1998 deal never happened,” says Babbitt, insisting the road is not for moving seafood. But hauling fish from King Cove to Cold Bay is a long-established goal of the road. A local assemblyman acknowledged in 2010, for example, that one of the benefits of the road is to enable the transportation of “fresh product” from Peter Pan Seafood’s cannery in King Cove to the Cold Bay airport. From here, the local government — the Aleutians East Borough (AEB) — would like to see live crab harvested from King Cove shipped directly from the Cold Bay airport to China and other Asian markets.
For fiscal watchdogs, the Izembek road project evokes the era before Congress banned earmarks in 2010. According to Tom Schatz, president Citizens Against Government Waste, the Izembek road proposal:
…appears to serve only local and special interests; it is evocative of other infamous Alaskan transportation projects like the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ and the $75.5 million airport built last year on an uninhabited island.
Truly: what is the stereotype of the “bad-guy” Soviet KGB of Cold War times? That the KGB would detain people—arrest them for no cause, torture them with impunity, dump the innocent aside, murder prisoners, torture prisoners, destroy evidence of their crimes—like, say, 92 videotapes worth? Somehow that stereotype has become realized in the CIA, and the CIA really is in a fight for its life—and look at what they are doing, in public, showing what is at stake for them. Just read the story in The Guardian by Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman:
The chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein, on Tuesday accused the Central Intelligence Agency of a catalogue of cover-ups, intimidation and smears aimed at investigators probing its role in an “un-American and brutal” programme of post-9/11 detention and interrogation.
In a bombshell statement on the floor of the US Senate, Feinstein, normally an administration loyalist, 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. She described the crisis as a “defining moment” for political oversight of the US intelligence service.
Her unprecedented public assault on the CIA represented an intensification of the row between the committee and the agency over a still-secret report on the torture of terrorist suspects after 9/11.
Feinstein, who said she was making her statement “reluctantly”, confirmed recent reports that CIA officials had been accused of monitoring computer networks used by Senate staff investigators. Going further than previously, she referred openly to recent attempts by the CIA to remove documents from the network detailing evidence of torture that would incriminate intelligence officers.
She also alleged that anonymous CIA officials were effectively conducting a smear campaign in the media to discredit and “intimidate” Senate staff by suggesting they had hacked into the agency’s computers to obtain a separate, critical internal report on the detention and interrogation programme.
Staff working on the Senate investigation have been reported to the Department of Justice for possible criminal charges by a lawyer at the CIA who himself features heavily in the alleged interrogation abuses. The CIA’s inspector general has another inquiry open into the issue. John Brennan, the CIA director, rejected Feinstein’s claims that the agency had monitored the Senate committee’s computer networks, which were set up specifically for it to access confidential CIA documents.
Feinstein said the two investigations, launched at the behest of the CIA, amounted to an attempt at “intimidation”. She revealed that CIA officials had also been reported to the Department of Justice for alleged violations of the fourth amendment and laws preventing them from domestic spying.
“This is a defining moment for the oversight role of our intelligence committee … and whether we can be thwarted by those we oversee,” said Feinstein in a special address on the floor of the the US Senate.
“There is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime… this is plainly an attempt to intimidate these staff and I am not taking it lightly.”
Feinstein said that she would immediately . . .
You seldom see such a naked confrontation of power. This is historic, I think. A lot hangs in the balance, and the President—for this will quickly involve the White House—has already declared that we must look forward and not backward—that is, in the plainest possible language, that we are not to look at archives or records that would reveal actual war crimes, done in direct violation of the Convention Against Torture. And the President has also refused to order an investigation—a serious investigation, as in looking for criminals, not conducting a cover-up—of the misdeeds committed before he was sworn in. And now his hand is being forced because a lot is happening in public, where people can see, and of course Sen. Feinstein has only to push a button to publish that 6000-page report. But she’d better push it fast. We have already been told how NSA can erase any digital information it thinks should be gone.
And, not to put too fine a point on it, some extremely powerful people are highly threatened by what such an investigation would reveal.
Extremely high stakes, much power on both sides. Feinstein has power of connections, of course, and power of position, but I think she also has the public backing her, and that is still a potent force. But of course, I could be wrong about how the public would go.
This is right out of George Orwell. Or Philip K. Dick.
UPDATE: The Switch in the Washington Post has an excellent analysis.
A couple of observations:
- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) seems to be reprising the experience of Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA). Rep. Harman strongly supported George W. Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, right up until she found that her own phone was wiretapped (in a call in which she agreed to lobby the Department of Justice on behalf of AIPAC, ending the call with the comment “This call never happened.”). At that point, Rep. Harman suddenly saw the light. Perhaps Sen. Feinstein will also be awakened.
- John Brennan, CIA director, was intimately involved with the program of kidnapping, secret prisons, and torture of prisoners instituted by George W. Bush. He obviously has a very direct personal interest in closing down any investigation into those programs. (And, of course, Obama supports that: Obama has said that we should not “look backward” at offenses.)
- Brennan has denied that the CIA spied on the Senate committee, but his phrasing is odd: he said that the CIA “wouldn’t” do such spying, not that it “didn’t.” And—obviously—the question arises of how the CIA knew what the Senate committee had on their computers in the absence of spying. A lucky guess? Assuming that what they feared might be on the computers was on the computers?
Dan Froomkin has an excellent report at The Intercept:
Two top Senate leaders declared Tuesday that the CIA’s recent conduct has undermined the separation of powers as set out in the Constitution, setting the stage for a major battle to reassert the proper balance between the two branches.
Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), in a floor speech (transcript; video) that Judiciary Committee chair Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) immediately called the most important he had heard in his career, said the CIA had searched through computers belonging to staff members investigating the agency’s role in torturing detainees, and had then leveled false charges against her staff in an attempt to intimidate them.
“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause,” she said. “It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function.”
She concluded: “The recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our intelligence community. How Congress responds and how this is resolved will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee. I believe it is critical that the committee and the Senate reaffirm our oversight role and our independence under the Constitution of the United States.”
She also accused the CIA of obstructing her committee’s torture inquiry in general, and of disputing findings that its own internal inquiry had substantiated.
The document at the heart of this confrontation is an internal review conducted by the CIA of the materials it had turned over to Feinstein’s committee during the course of the four-year congressional investigation into the Bush-era torture practices.
Feinstein said the document, which has become known as the Panetta Review after then-director of the CIA Leon Panetta, was first discovered by committee staff using CIA-provided search tools in 2010. It became particularly relevant later, after the committee completed a scathing 6,300-page report in December 2012, and the CIA sent its official response in June 2013.
The committee’s detailed report is still classified, but it is known to be highly critical of both the CIA’s role in the torture regime and its campaign to deceive Congress about it. The CIA vehemently took issue with those conclusions.
“Unlike the official response, these Panetta review documents were in agreement with the committee’s findings. That’s what makes them so significant and important to protect,” Feinstein said.
Based on the CIA’s extensive record of removal and destruction of evidence, which Feinstein detailed in her floor speech, committee staff decided “there was a need to preserve and protect” a copy of the review, which meant bringing it back from the CIA-leased offices in Virginia where staff had been forced to conduct their investigation to secure facilities in a Senate office building.
In December of 2013, Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) revealed that the intelligence committee was aware of the internal report, which he noted “is consistent with the Intelligence committee’s report, but amazingly it conflicts with the official CIA response.”
Feinstein said that a month later, John Brennan, the current director of the CIA, informed her that CIA personnel had conducted a search of the committee’s computers in the Virginia facility, including the standalone network that contained the committee staff’s own internal work product and communication.
The senator was outraged, she said, and fired off a letter expressing her concerns that the action was illegal and unconstitutional.
“I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee was inappropriate. I have received neither,” she said.
“Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”
Feinstein said she later learned that the CIA’s own inspector general had made a criminal referral to the Justice Department regarding the search of the congressional computers by CIA personnel.
But what seemed to really set her off was the CIA’s counter-charge, made through acting CIA general counsel Robert Eatinger, that her staff had illegally accessed and removed the document.
“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,” she said.
“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 counsel general’s referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff, and I am not taking this lightly.”
She added: “I should note that for most if not all of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, the now-acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s counterterrorism center, the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study.
“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’s fighting words were in stark contrast to her role as a champion of NSA surveillance. In most cases, Feinstein has served as an example of how badly oversight over the intelligence community has failed, serving as an accessory to the very kind of excesses her committee was established, in the 1970s, to prevent. . .
CIA: We Spied On Senate Intelligence Committee Only Because They Took Classified Documents That Prove We’re Liars
At the time I did not think John Brennan was a good pick for director of the CIA. His predecessor, Leon Panetta, is well respected and was not involved in the CIA during its program of torture. Panetta did allow evidence to be destroyed (92 videotapes of torture sessions) with no punishment for the CIA officer who obstructed justice—or would have obstructed justice had Obama shown one-tenth the prosecutorial zeal he’s shown in the case of Edward Snowden, who unfortunately for him does not have the wealth and connections that protect those who instituted and ran the US torture program. (For those, Obama elected to just let it go: “Look forward, not back,” a sentiment he has yet to express regarding Snowden.)
Brennan was highly involved in the torture program and naturally enough wants to avoid accountability, so he is fighting against the release of the report prepared under Panetta, who had no ax to grind. The problem with the Panetta report that the Senate committee now has is that it shows that the report prepared by Brennan is packed with self-serving lies.
Earlier this week, we wrote about the accusations that the CIA was spying on Senate staffers on the Senate Intelligence Committee as they were working on a massive $40 million, 6,300-page report condemning the CIA’s torture program. The DOJ is apparently already investigating if the CIA violated computer hacking laws in spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee computers. The issue revolved around a draft of an internal review by the CIA, which apparently corroborates many of the Senate report’s findings — but which the CIA did not hand over to the Senate. This internal report not only supports the Senate report’s findings, but also shows that the CIA has been lying in response to questions about the terror program.
In response to all of this, it appears that the CIA is attempting, weakly, to spin this as being the Senate staffers’ fault, arguing that the real breach was the fact that the Senate staffers somehow broke the rules in obtaining that internal review. CIA boss John Brennan’s statement hints at the fact that he thinks the real problem was with the way the staffers acted, suggesting that an investigation would fault “the legislative” branch (the Senate) rather than the executive (the CIA).
In his statement on Wednesday Brennan hit back in unusually strong terms. “I am deeply dismayed that some members of the Senate have decided to make spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts,” Brennan said.
“I am very confident that the appropriate authorities reviewing this matter will determine where wrongdoing, if any, occurred in either the executive branch or legislative branch,” Brennan continued, raising a suggestion that the Senate committee itself might have acted improperly.
A further report detailed what he’s talking about. Reporters at McClatchy have revealed that the Senate staffers working on this came across the document, printed it out, and simply walked out of the CIA and over to the Senate with it, and the CIA is furious about that. Then, in a moment of pure stupidity, the CIA appears to have confronted the Senate Intelligence Committee about all of this… directly revealing that they were spying on the Committee staffers.
Several months after the CIA submitted its official response to the committee report, aides discovered in the database of top-secret documents at CIA headquarters a draft of an internal review ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta of the materials released to the panel, said the knowledgeable person.
They determined that it showed that the CIA leadership disputed report findings that they knew were corroborated by the so-called Panetta review, said the knowledgeable person.
The aides printed the material, walked out of CIA headquarters with it and took it to Capitol Hill, said the knowledgeable person.
“All this goes back to what is the technical structure here,” said the U.S. official who confirmed the unauthorized removal. “If I was a Senate staffer and I was given access to documents on the system, I would have a laptop that’s cleared. I would be allowed to look at these documents. But with these sorts of things, there’s generally an agreement that you can’t download or take them.”
The CIA discovered the security breach and brought it to the committee’s attention in January, leading to a determination that the agency recorded the staffers’ use of the computers in the high-security research room, and then confirmed the breach by reviewing the usage data, said the knowledgeable person.
There are many more details in the McClatchy report, which I highly recommend reading. And, yes, perhaps there’s an argument that Senate staffers weren’t supposed to take such documents, but the CIA trying to spin this by saying it was those staffers who were engaged in “wrongdoing” is almost certainly going to fall flat with Congress. After all, the intelligence committee is charged with oversight of the CIA, not the other way around. “You stole the documents we were hiding from you which proved we were lying, so we spied on you to find out how you did that” is not, exactly, the kind of argument that too many people are going to find compelling.
Still, the latest is that the CIA has successfully convinced the DOJ to have the FBI kick off an investigation of the Senate staffers, rather than of the CIA breaking the law and spying on their overseers. . .
Quite apart from anything else, the CIA can legally exercise its power outside the US. The CIA cannot legally undertake domestic operations. Juan Cole has a post via RawStory:
A dispute between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Senate Intelligence Committee may have spilled into dangerous territory, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said on Wednesday, following a New York Times report that agency operatives gained access to the computers being used by lawmakers to investigate the agency.
“This is kind of death of the Republic kind of stuff,” Maddow said. “The whole separation of powers thing almost pales in comparison to the seriousness of the allegation that a nation’s own spy services have been turned against its’ own government. Particularly, where that government is supposed to be overseeing the spy services.”
The Times reported that the allegations exacerbated an ongoing rift between the agency and the committee over the CIA’s now-defunct interrogation program, which included waterboarding and other techniques in secret prisons located outside the U.S. Agency officials reportedly grew concerned that committee members had gained unauthorized access to CIA documents in the course of compiling the report, which is reportedly more than 6,000 pages long and highly critical of the agency. The program was shut down by President Barack Obama not long after he took office.
McClatchy Newspapers also reported that the agency’s inspector general has asked the Justice Department to open its own criminal investigation into the matter.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-UT) hinted at the allegation in a letter to President Barack Obama, Maddow said, alluding to “unprecedented action” taken by the CIA against the committee.
“I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the Committee’s oversight responsibilities and for our democracy,” Udall wrote.
CIA Director John Brennan issued a statement ripping “spurious allegations” against the agency, without mentioning Udall by name, and saying he would “encourage others to refrain from outbursts that do a disservice to the important relationship that needs to be maintained between intelligence officials and Congressional overseers.”
Times reporter Mark Mazetti told Maddow that intelligence officials are calling the rift unprecedented.
“What you had for years was a dispute between the CIA and the Intelligence Committee over, basically, the history,” he said. “Who writes the history of this extraordinarily controversial program that took place during the [George W.] Bush administration. But what we’ve seen is, it’s really escalated from there, and it’s gone to this issue of separation of powers, congressional oversight, how independent is Congress in overseeing intelligence agencies.”
Watch Maddow’s report and interview with Mazetti, as aired on MSNBC on Wednesday, below. . .
Continue reading. Video at the link.
UPDATE: Also see Dan Froomkin’s report in The Intercept.
Jonathan Landay, Ali Watkins, and Marisa Taylor write in McClatchy:
The CIA Inspector General’s Office has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations of malfeasance at the spy agency in connection with a yet-to-be released Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program, McClatchy has learned.
The criminal referral may be related to what several knowledgeable people said was CIA monitoring of computers used by Senate aides to prepare the study. The monitoring may have violated an agreement between the committee and the agency.
The development marks an unprecedented breakdown in relations between the CIA and its congressional overseers amid an extraordinary closed-door battle over the 6,300-page report on the agency’s use of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists held in secret overseas prisons. The report is said to be a searing indictment of the program. The CIA has disputed some of the reports findings.
White House officials have closely tracked the bitter struggle, a McClatchy investigation has found. But they haven’t directly intervened, perhaps because they are embroiled in their own feud with the committee, resisting surrendering top-secret documents that the CIA asserted were covered by executive privilege and sent to the White House.
McClatchy’s findings are based on information found in official documents and provided by people with knowledge of the dispute being fought in the seventh-floor executive offices of the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Va., and the committee’s high-security work spaces on Capitol Hill.
The people who spoke to McClatchy asked not to be identified because the feud involves highly classified matters and carries enormous consequences for congressional oversight over the executive branch.
The CIA and the committee declined to comment. . .