Feature

The CIA: At war with its congressional watchdogs

Sen. Dianne Feinstein accused the CIA of spying on and trying to sabotage Senate staffers investigating the CIA’s use of torture under the Bush administration.

“This isn’t just a scandal,” said David Corn in MotherJones.com.This is a full-blown “constitutional crisis.” In a fiery speech on the Senate floor, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein this week accused the Central Intelligence Agency of spying on and trying to sabotage Senate staffers investigating the CIA’s use of torture under the Bush administration. The CIA lied to her committee’s investigators and illegally hacked into their computers, an indignant Feinstein said, and thereby “violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.” She called the open war between the CIA and its congressional overseers “a defining moment.” It sure is, said John Dickerson in Slate.com. The CIA is trying to conceal from Congress—and the American public—its own damning, internal report on its torture practices, which it mistakenly made available to Feinstein’s investigators, tried to snatch back from their computers, and then accused them of stealing. If the CIA gets away with this outrage, the system that keeps the intelligence community’s vast power in check “has broken down.”

Welcome aboard, Sen. Feinstein, said Peggy Noonan in WSJ.com. In the years since 9/11, many of us have watched the insidious growth of the U.S. surveillance state with deepening discomfort, yet Feinstein—despite her generally liberal Democratic record—always seemed to dismiss our concerns as the “yips and yaps of kids who aren’t aware of the brute realities she hears about in classified briefings.” The CIA’s charter expressly forbids it from doing any domestic spying, said Ed Morrissey in HotAir.com, let alone spying on congressional committees overseeing its conduct. “This is among the worst possible accusations that could be levied against an intelligence service in a constitutional republic.”

There is no longer any doubt about it, said Andrew Sullivan in Dish.AndrewSullivan.com:The CIA has become “a rogue agency.” The agency has already admitted destroying videotapes of interrogation sessions utilizing waterboarding, physical abuse, and other techniques that were clearly “war crimes” under international law. When Feinstein’s committee obtained a previously secret, internal CIA report showing the true, horrific nature of the torture, CIA Director John Brennan and his underlings obviously freaked out, and tried to sabotage the investigation by raiding its computers. This is a perfect example of how the use of torture corrodes a democracy, said Gary Younge in TheGuardian.com. When a state has “deliberately created space for power to be exercised without accountability” in the name of a higher good—that is, defeating terrorism—it’s only a matter of time before the monster turns on the state itself.

Obama deserves as much blame as George W. Bush, said Conor Friedersdorf in TheAtlantic.com. Obama’s nakedly political decision not to investigate or prosecute war crimes under the previous administration left the CIA with “an alarming number of staffers who, a few short years ago, were complicit in torturing humans.” Indeed, many of those officials have risen to leadership positions. Robert Eatinger, the CIA lawyer who authorized the destruction of the torture videotapes, is now fighting Feinstein as the lawyer for the entire CIA. The agency is engaged in a clear-cut “cover-up,’’ said The New York Times in an editorial, and it’s the president’s responsibility to end it. He must authorize the full release of both the Senate and CIA reports on the use of torture. Obama should realize “that when he has lost Dianne Feinstein, he has no choice but to act in favor of disclosure and accountability.”

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