What Congress' war with the CIA is really about

Dianne Feinstein
(Image credit: (T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images))

Sen. Dianne Feinstein knew exactly what she was doing when she took to the well of the Senate and lobbed firebombs up the Potomac River, to the campus of the Central Intelligence Agency. Feinstein knows that Americans are worried about domestic surveillance, and that the intelligence community has been under constant siege by all four branches of government (the press included) for the better part of a year. She knows, moreover, that the reporters who cover national security tend to see her as an adult who doesn't go off, half-cocked, on the CIA, an agency she generally supports and defends.

Her allegations became instant BREAKING NEWS and page 1 headlines. On closer inspection, there is no free speech issue at stake, and this ain't a domestic spying scandal. It's functionally about the constitutional status of a shared, segregated computer system owned and operated by the CIA. The CIA obviously didn't secretly spy on the staffers, since the internal review's existence was acknowledged as soon as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) staffers discovered it. But post-facto entering the "secure" quasi-executive-branch/quasi-congressional-branch computer system to remove documents is politically stupid. It violates the spirit of the CIA's agreement with Congress, although, I am almost certain, not the law. And it was bound to enrage Feinstein.

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Marc Ambinder

Marc Ambinder is TheWeek.com's editor-at-large. He is the author, with D.B. Grady, of The Command and Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. Marc is also a contributing editor for The Atlantic and GQ. Formerly, he served as White House correspondent for National Journal, chief political consultant for CBS News, and politics editor at The Atlantic. Marc is a 2001 graduate of Harvard. He is married to Michael Park, a corporate strategy consultant, and lives in Los Angeles.