Diane Feinstein: "You know, maybe this whole surveillance state thing isn't as kosher as I thought…" http://t.co/rdPIXYCK2o
— billmon (@billmon1) March 12, 2014
Senator Feinstein has always been known as a prominent defender of the National Security State “protecting America“. Per the NYTimes:
Ms. Feinstein has proved to be a bulwark for intelligence agencies in recent years: publicly defending the National Security Agency’s telephone and Internet surveillance activities, the C.I.A.’s authority over drone strikes and the F.B.I.’s actions under the Patriot Act against a growing bipartisan chorus of critics.
Which is why her floor speech yesterday is raising so many eyebrows… because this time, it’s personal. From Roll Call:
The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee torched the CIA in a floor speech Tuesday, charging the agency with spying on her committee’s computers in a possibly illegal search she said has been referred to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution.
The on-the-record allegations by Sen. Dianne Feinstein shook the Senate, with lawmakers in both parties warning of serious fallout if proved true. And her speech put the Department of Justice and the White House in an awkward spot between CIA Director John O. Brennan, who later denied the allegation of spying, and Feinstein, who has been a strong backer of the intelligence community generally and of President Barack Obama.
During her speech, the California Democrat said she learned from Brennan in a Jan. 15 meeting that the CIA improperly searched committee computer files as the committee neared the end of its yearslong investigation of the CIA’s interrogation and detainee practices, confirming several media reports. She said the incident has been referred to the Department of Justice. But Feinstein was also riled by a separate referral by the CIA to Justice suggesting that committee staff had improperly received classified information.
The California Democrat called that referral “a potential effort to intimidate this staff” and called the matter “a defining moment” for whether the Congress would be able to provide oversight of the intelligence community…
“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate,” she said…
It’s complicated, because the separate parties are talking about their conflicting interpretations of millions of pages of materials that are not available for independent review. The NYTimes, last week, had the clearest explanation I’ve seen so far. Amy Davidson, at the New Yorker, is less blandly non- judgmental:
… This all goes back to the first years after September 11th. The C.I.A. tortured detainees in secret prisons. It also videotaped many of those sessions. Those records should have been handed over, or at least preserved, under the terms of certain court orders. Instead, in November, 2005, a C.I.A. official named Jose Rodriguez had ninety-two videotapes physically destroyed. “Nobody wanted to make a decision that needed to be made,” he told me when I interviewed him in 2012. (He also said, “I really resent you using the word ‘torture’ time and time again.”)
Feinstein, in her speech, said that the C.I.A.’s “troubling” destruction of the tapes put the current story in motion. Michael Hayden, then director of the C.I.A., had offered the committee cables that he said were just as descriptive as the tapes. “The resulting staff report was chilling,” Feinstein said. The committee voted to begin a broader review. The terms were worked out in 2009, and staff members were given an off-site facility with electronic files, on computers supposedly segregated from the C.I.A.’s network, that added up to 6.2 million pages—“without any index, without any organizational structure. It was a true document dump,” Feinstein said. In the years that followed, staff members turned that jumble into a six-thousand-page report, still classified, on the C.I.A.’s detention practices. By all accounts, it is damning.
But, Feinstein said, odd things happened during the course of the committee members’ work. Documents that had been released to them would suddenly disappear from the main electronic database, as though someone had had second thoughts—and they knew they weren’t imagining it, “Gaslight”-style, because, in some cases, they’d printed out hard copies or saved the digital version locally. When they first noticed this, in 2010, Feinstein objected and was apologized to, “and that, as far as I was concerned, put the incidents aside.” Then, after the report was completed, the staff members noticed that at some point hundred of pages of documents known as the “Panetta review” had also, Feinstein said, been “removed by the C.I.A.”…
This is where the C.I.A. seems to have lost its bearings and its prudence. As Feinstein noted, there have been comments to the press suggesting that the only way the committee staff members could have had the Panetta review is if they’d stolen it. The pretense for the search of the committee’s computers—where the staff kept its own work, too—was that there had been some kind of security breach. Feinstein says that this is simply false: maybe the C.I.A. hadn’t meant for the Panetta review to be among the six million pieces of paper they’d swamped the Senate with, but it was there. (Maybe a leaker had even tucked it in.)…
There were crimes, after September 11th, that took place in hidden rooms with video cameras running. And then there were coverups, a whole series of them, escalating from the destruction of the videotapes to the deleting of documents to what Feinstein now calls “a defining moment” in the constitutional balance between the legislature and the executive branch, and between privacy and surveillance. Senator Patrick Leahy said afterward that he could not remember a speech he considered so important. Congress hasn’t minded quite enough that the rest of us have been spied on. Now Feinstein and her colleagues have their moment; what are they going to make of it?
Or, as David Corn puts it in the Mother Jones report linked in the tweet at the top of this post:
… [S]ince the founding of the national security state in the years after World War II, there have been numerous occasions when the spies, snoops, and secret warriors of the US government have not informed the busybodies on Capitol Hill about all of their actions. In the 1970s, after revelations of CIA assassination programs and other outrageous intelligence agency misdeeds, Congress created what was supposed to be a tighter system of congressional oversight. But following that, the CIA and other undercover government agencies still mounted operations without telling Congress. (See the Iran-Contra scandal.) Often the spies went to imaginative lengths to keep Congress in the dark. More recently, members of the intelligence community have said they were not fully in the know about the NSA’s extensive surveillance programs. Of course, there was a countervailing complaint from the spies. Often when a secret program becomes public knowledge, members of Congress proclaim their shock, even though they had been told about it.
Overall, the system of congressional oversight has hardly (as far as the public can tell) been stellar. And it has raised doubts about the ability of a democratic government to mount secret ops and wage secret wars in a manner consistent with the values of accountability and transparency. What was essential to decent governance on this front was the delicate relationship between congressional overseers and the intelligence agencies. The intelligence committees have to be forceful and fierce in monitoring the spooks (a responsibility often not met), and the spies have to be cooperative and forthcoming (again, a responsibility often not met). There has to be trust. The committees have to hold faith that the agencies are indeed coming clean, for there is no way a handful of congressional investigators can fully track all the operations of the massive intelligence establishment, and the agencies have to be assured that secrets they shared with the investigators will not be leaked for political purposes. And at the end of the day, elected representatives have to be able to come to the public and say, “We’re keeping a close eye on all this secret stuff, and we are satisfied that we know what is happening and that these activities are being conducted in an appropriate manner.” If such credible assurances cannot be delivered, the system doesn’t work—and the justification for allowing secret government within an open democracy is in tatters….
My God, CIA bugged the Senate Intelligence Committee. I am sure nothing like that has ever happened before.
— Richard M. Nixon (@dick_nixon) March 11, 2014
Waiting for CIA to tell Feinstein if she had problems with their spying, she shoulda taken it up with proper authorities, not gone public.
— billmon (@billmon1) March 12, 2014