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Feinstein: CIA searched Intelligence Committee computers

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday sharply accused the CIA of violating federal law and undermining the constitutional principle of congressional oversight as she detailed publicly for the first time how the agency secretly removed documents from computers used by her panel to investigate a controversial interrogation program.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that the situation amounted to attempted intimidation of congressional investigators, adding: "I am not taking it lightly."

She confirmed that an internal agency investigation of the action has been referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. And she said that the CIA appears to have violated the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches and seizures, as well as various federal laws and a presidential executive order that prevents the agency from conducting domestic searches and surveillance.

She has sought an apology and recognition that the CIA search of the committee's computers was inappropriate, she said. "I have received neither," she added.

The comments by Feinstein, traditionally a strong advocate for the intelligence community, blew wide open a dispute that has simmered behind closed doors in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, CIA Director John O. Brennan said during an event at the Council on Foreign Relations that the agency did nothing wrong and "has tried to work as collaboratively as possible" with the Senate committee. He said he would defer to a Justice Department investigation and wait for the facts to come out.

Brennan said he wants any historical record of the program to be accurate and balanced and said the CIA was not trying to thwart its progression or release.

"The CIA agrees with many findings in the report and disagrees with others," he said.

Asked if he would resign if the CIA was found to be in the wrong, Brennan said he would let the president decide his fate.

"If I did something wrong, I will go to the president," the CIA director said. "He is the one who can ask me to stay or to go."

Through press reports, officials alleged that the CIA had searched computers intended to be used solely by the panel as part of its investigation. The searches, officials said, were conducted in an effort to determine how committee staff members had gained access to a draft version of an internal agency review of its controversial interrogation program.

The computers had been provided by the CIA and were housed at a separate facility in Virginia operated by agency contractors.

Agency officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, have previously said that Senate investigators accessed documents to which they were not entitled.

Feinstein confirmed that committee investigators had received and reviewed documents detailing the interrogation policy but said she didn't know whether they were provided intentionally or unintentionally by CIA officials or by agency whistleblowers.

"The staff had asked the CIA about documents made available for our investigation. At times, the CIA has simply been unaware that these specific documents were provided to the committee," she said. "And while this is alarming, it is important to know that more than 6.2 million pages of documents have been provided. This is simply a massive amount of records."

Reading from a prepared text, Feinstein said she was speaking out "reluctantly" but that she wanted to speak in order to clarify the situation. "The increasing amount of inaccurate information circulating now cannot be allowed to stand unanswered," she said.

After she spoke, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) said that "in 40 years here, it was one of the best speeches I'd ever heard and one of the most important."

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) credited Feinstein for speaking out and defending the separation of powers. "There is no one who has more courage and conviction than Dianne Feinstein," he said.

After her speech, Feinstein told reporters that she hopes to make a motion to declassify the report on the interrogation program by the end of the month. It's not clear if she has the necessary votes to declassify the report.

The Republicans on the committee had refused previously to participate in the report.

The swing vote on the committee, Angus King, an independent from Maine, said recently,"I am leaning toward 'yes,' but I am not fully there."

[Source: By Ed O'Keefe and Adam Goldman, The Washington Post, 11Mar14]

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