That’s how Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) described a CIA move to allegedly spy on the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the committee charged with overseeing the CIA and investigating the CIA’s secret interrogation program conducted under the authority of President George W. Bush.
The New York Times reported the story Wednesday, playing down the new CIA accusations in the headline of its story. The Senate Intelligence Committee is charged with overseeing U.S. intelligence matters.
Of late, Democrats have largely kept out of sight when it comes to investigating the CIA and domestic intelligence activity. Usually, this has been the product of a single senator — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) — who chairs the committee and has spoken out against other Democrats’ efforts to curb President Barack Obama’s NSA spying program. Feinstein has often stopped other Democrats from raising their own concerns or asking questions of intelligence leaders in public hearings, routinely announcing that such matters can be resolved behind closed doors.
“The episode is a rare moment of public rancor between the intelligence agencies and Ms. Feinstein’s committee, which has been criticized in some quarters for its muscular defense of many controversial intelligence programs — from the surveillance operations exposed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden to the Obama administration’s targeted killing program using armed drones,” the Times notes.
“The origins of the current dispute date back more than a year, when the committee completed its work on a 6,000-page report about the Bush administration’s detention and interrogation program,” the paper’s Mark Mazzetti added. “People who have read the study said it is a withering indictment of the program and details many instances when C.I.A. officials misled Congress, the White House and the public about the value of the agency’s brutal interrogation methods, including waterboarding.”
The CIA’s alleged espionage on its own watchdog is reminiscent of the FBI under President Richard Nixon; Nixon used the bureau, then run by J. Edgar Hoover, as a tool to target political opponents.
According to McClatchy, the committee determined early this year that the CIA had monitored computers the agency provided to committee staff that they insisted they use to review documents, cables and other secret reports.
“As you are aware, the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal CIA review and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the committee’s oversight responsibilities and for our democracy,” Udall wrote in a letter to Obama Tuesday. “It is essential that the committee be able to do its oversight work – consistent with our constitutional principle of the separation of powers – without the CIA posing impediments or obstacles as it is today.”
“Udall also called on Obama to strip the CIA of control over how much of the Senate report should be made public,” McClatchy reported. “The report remains classified nearly 15 months after the panel approved the document and turned it over to the agency for vetting.”
Sen. Udall called the CIA’s activity “unprecedented.”
Feinstein offered few details about the new revelations Tuesday. She confirmed only that her staff had begun an internal review. The Times quoted her as saying, “Our oversight role will prevail.”
Reports of the CIA’s new spying come as the Senate committee prepares to release a long-delayed report on the CIA’s secret detention program under President Bush. Completed in 2012, the study has been withheld from the public eye for years.
“The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight,” Feinstein said in a statement in 2012. “It is a comprehensive review of the CIA’s detention program that includes details of each detainee in CIA custody, the conditions under which they were detained, how they were interrogated, the intelligence they actually provided and the accuracy—or inaccuracy—of CIA descriptions about the program to the White House, Department of Justice, Congress and others.”
Feinstein has repeatedly said she would make the report public. She has not.
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