The CIA Forces A Constitutional Crisis

Finally, Dianne Feinstein – not exactly a radical critic of the surveillance state – is pushed to the Senate floor to expose the CIA’s unauthorized obstruction of the Senate’s inquiry into their torture program:

She nails the CIA under John Brennan as being contemptuous of Congress and demands to know why they haven’t responded to her inquiries:

This is a remarkable, unprecedented speech – an open accusation from a respected Senator that the CIA has illegally spied on the Congress, done its utmost to prevent the truth about the torture program coming out, and has been engaged in stone-walling and misinformation and deliberate “intimidation” of Senate staffers tasked with the huge task of finding out what happened. The full text of DiFi’s remarks are below. They’re meticulous and damning about the CIA’s actions under director John Brennan – so damning, I’d argue, that the president has to ask himself if this man can be trusted to follow the constitution and the law. I urge you to read the entire speech. It’s one for the history books.

Feinstein reminds us that the Senate investigation began after the news broke that the CIA had destroyed tapes of its torture sessions – over the objections of the Bush White House Counsel and the Director of National Intelligence. The CIA insisted that the tapes’ destruction was not obstruction of justice because there were countless other records of the torture sessions. So the Senate Committee convened an inquiry into those other cables and documents. Here’s what they found:

The resulting staff report was chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us. As result of the staff’s initial report, I proposed, and then-Vice Chairman Bond agreed, and the committee overwhelmingly approved, that the committee conduct an expansive and full review of CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

At the very beginning, then, the CIA – in the person of Jose Rodriguez – was destroying video evidence of its war crimes. Brennan’s subsequent shenanigans with the Committee – and attempt to sue back in retaliation after being exposed as spies on their very over-seers – is utterly of a piece with this pattern of concealment. Through all the details of this battle, that has to be kept in mind. The CIA’s actions are bizarre – unless you understand the gravity of the war crimes they committed and illegally and unconstitutionally concealed from the Congress. And it seems they sure do, as their own internal Panetta report – the smoking gun Feinstein says the CIA itself provided to the Senate – confirmed. Hence the bottom line from DiFi:

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 clause. It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function. … The CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as Executive Order 120003, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.

Brennan this morning said that “nothing could be further from the truth.” And yet this is how Feinstein says she found out about the illicit spying on the committee’s staffers:

On January 15, 2014, CIA Director Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman Chambliss that without prior notification or approval, CIA personnel had conducted a “search” — that was John Brennan’s word — of the committee computers at the offsite facility. This search involved not only a search of documents provided to the committee by the CIA, but also a search of the ”stand alone” and “walled-off” committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications.

According to Brennan, the computer search was conducted in response to indications that some members of the committee staff might already have had access to the Internal Panetta Review. The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the Internal Review, or how we obtained it.

Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers.

So either Brennan or Feinstein isn’t telling the truth. Then there’s this passage from the speech that got me to sit up straight:

As I mentioned before, 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. 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 general counsel’s referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff—and I am not taking it lightly.

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.

Think about that for a moment. A man who was once the lawyer for the torture unit is now the lawyer for the CIA as a whole! A man deeply invested in war crimes is now the designated point man for “intimidating” the Senate staff. If that alone doesn’t tell you how utterly unrepentant the CIA is over its past, and how determined it is to keep its actions concealed, as well as immune to prosecution, what would?

And how do we know that the lawyer is not just protecting his own posterior, because the report could lead to consequences for those who enabled such war crimes?

We don’t. The evidence is mounting that the CIA committed horrific war crimes, destroyed the evidence, and subsequently obstructed the Senate’s inquiry and intimidated Senate staffers with a spurious counter-suit. We still cannot read the Senate report on a vital matter for this country’s historical record and the rule of law. The CIA is obviously trying to stonewall the truth about this as long as is possible – perhaps in the hope that a GOP Senate victory this fall could bottle up the report for ever.

The president must make sure this doesn’t happen. He needs to hold Brennan fully accountable for the unconstitutional crimes he is accused of. He needs to ensure that if he doesn’t have the stomach to investigate and prosecute war crimes from a previous administration, which is his legal obligation under the Geneva Convention, he at least won’t prevent the full and awful truth from seeing the light of day. So far, I have not seen any clear sign that Obama is on the side of transparency and constitutionalism in this. And many of us are sick and tired of waiting.

I’m with David Corn on this:

What Feinstein didn’t say—but it’s surely implied—is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It’s a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.

And it must be resolved in favor of the rule of law.

Here’s the full transcript:

Statement on Intel Commi…Enator Dianne Feinstein

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