Senate investigation of CIA dogged by controversy

By David Espo

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, March 12 2014 12:59 p.m. MDT

CIA Director John O. Brennan pauses as he speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Washington. The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday the CIA improperly searched a stand-alone computer network established for Congress in its investigation of allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program and the agency's own inspector general has referred the matter to the Justice Department for possible legal action.

Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WASHINGTON — House Speaker John Boehner said Wednesday he is concerned over allegations of CIA snooping into computer files used by Senate investigators delving into allegations of past spy agency torture.

At the same time, Boehner said he would keep his fuller opinions to himself until an internal report is completed by the CIA's inspector general.

The Ohio Republican spoke one day after Sen. Dianne Feinstein said the CIA's actions appeared designed to hamper the Senate Intelligence Committee's probe and may have violated the Constitution and federal law. The California Democrat chairs the panel.

Boehner made his comment as the White House said top aides have been in touch with key senators in the past day about completing declassification of the Senate panel's report into the Bush-era treatment of detainees in the war on terror after the attacks of Sept. 9, 2011.

"The President wants to ensure the review is completed, declassified and its conclusions released so we can close this chapter," Caitlin Hayden, National Security Council spokeswoman, said in a statement.

So far, the controversy has brought Feinstein and other senators into conflict with the CIA, although it clearly has the potential to expand.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said, "Well, it's really been something that those two (Feinstein and CIA Director John Brennan) were working out. I didn't think it was my place to do that.

"Clearly, things have changed," he said.

Whatever their partisan differences or disagreements on policy, lawmakers generally are united when it comes to defending Congress' role as overseer of the executive branch of government.

Even before the day's developments, the episode had the markings of a classic Washington controversy as interpretations of facts diverge, some lawmakers choose sides, others suggest the new probe and the White House seeks a middle ground.

At its core, the controversy involves Feinstein's allegation that a CIA search of a computer network it set up for Senate investigators may have violated the Constitution and federal law.

"As far as allegations of the CIA hacking Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth," the agency's director, John Brennan, said Tuesday, denying an allegation that Feinstein, D-Calif., did not make in her extensive remarks on the Senate floor.

Brennan said the agency had not sought to thwart Senate investigators put to work investigating the issue. He added that the agency was eager to put to rest the controversy stemming from the interrogation of detainees in the war on terror, and said agency personnel "believe strongly in the necessity of effective, strong and bipartisan congressional oversight."

But bipartisanship seemed to erode in the wake of Feinstein's speech, in which she said the CIA's search of the dedicated computer system possibly violated the Constitution as well as federal law and an executive order that prohibits the agency from conducting domestic searches.

Several Democrats praised her, while some Republicans pointedly did not.

"I support Sen. Feinstein unequivocally, and I am disappointed that the CIA is apparently unrepentant for what I understand they did," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters in the Capitol.

Another Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said Feinstein had learned the lesson established by an investigative committee that looked into FBI and CIA activities more than three decades ago.

"She's speaking the truth," he said. "The Church Committee taught us you've got to be willing to do that or you're not going to get the truth," he added, referring to the long-ago investigation headed by the late Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho.

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