Senator accuses CIA of spying on Congress

March 12, 2014 - 1:28:15 am
Washington: A bitter dispute between the CIA and the US Senate committee that oversees it burst into the open yesterday when a top senator accused the agency of spying on Congress and possibly breaking the law.

Senator Dianne Feinstein delivered a scathing critique of the CIA’s handling of her intelligence committee’s investigation into a Bush-era interrogation and detention programme that began after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks but was only made public in 2006.

“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the Constitution,” Feinstein said in a highly critical speech on the Senate floor by a traditionally strong ally of US intelligence agencies.

Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the CIA searched the panel’s computers to find out how staff obtained an internal agency review that was more critical of the interrogation programme than the official CIA report.

She said the Central Intelligence Agency’s search may have also violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and an executive order that prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance. Feinstein described an emergency meeting on January 15 with Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, where John Brennan, the agency’s director, told the two committee leaders the agency had conducted a “search” of committee computers.

Brennan yesterday denied the allegations on computer hacking. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that,” he said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

He also denied the agency was trying to thwart the release of the panel’s report. “We are not trying at all to prevent its release,” he said. Feinstein’s comments were the latest salvo in a long-running dispute between the intelligence committee and CIA over the agency’s detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, a programme that was phased out when inmates were transferred to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s own 6,300-page report criticised some of the harsh interrogation measures used by the CIA, and Feinstein has been pushing to make its findings public. Feinstein said the internal CIA review mirrored some of the same concerns outlined in her staff’s report, unlike the official CIA assessment of the programme. REUTERS