The Central Intelligence Agency and one of the congressional panels that oversees its work, the Senate Intelligence Committee, are in what looks to be an increasingly bitter battle over just who’s been behaving improperly.
McClatchyDC and The New York Times have been rolling out stories this week about claims that the CIA may have been monitoring the work of the committee’s staffers in recent years and that some of those congressional aides may have left CIA headquarters with classified documents that shouldn’t leave that secure facility.
We’ll try to explain what’s going on by walking through the stories.
Tuesday, the Times reported that:
“The Central Intelligence Agency’s attempt to keep secret the details of a defunct detention and interrogation program has escalated a battle between the agency and members of Congress and led to an investigation by the C.I.A.’s internal watchdog into the conduct of agency employees.
“The agency’s inspector general began the inquiry partly as a response to complaints from members of Congress that C.I.A. employees were improperly monitoring the work of staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to government officials with knowledge of the investigation.”
McClatchy’s story on Tuesday started this way:
“The CIA Inspector General’s Office has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations of malfeasance at the spy agency in connection with a yet-to-be released Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program, McClatchy has learned.
“The criminal referral may be related to what several knowledgeable people said was CIA monitoring of computers used by Senate aides to prepare the study. The monitoring may have violated an agreement between the committee and the agency.”
On Wednesday, the Times followed up with another report that began:
“For four years, investigators working for the Senate Intelligence Committee toiled away at a secret facility in Northern Virginia, poring over C.I.A. documents in an attempt to compile a history of the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Outfitted with secure computers and encrypted locks, it was set up by the C.I.A. so that the committee staff members could review millions of highly classified documents and stitch together a report that would eventually grow to 6,000 pages. …
“Senior lawmakers contend that C.I.A. officers conducted unauthorized searches of the computers used by committee staff members in an effort to learn how the committee gained access to the agency’s own 2009 internal review of the interrogation program. A chorus of Democratic senators on Wednesday said the C.I.A. had thwarted Congress’ constitutional role as overseer, suggested that federal laws may have been broken, and demanded answers from the Obama administration.”
But also on Wednesday, there was a story from McClatchy that put the spotlight on the Senate staffers:
“Congressional aides involved in preparing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s unreleased study of the CIA’s secret interrogation and detention program walked out of the spy agency’s fortress-like headquarters with classified documents that the CIA contended they weren’t authorized to have, McClatchy has learned.
“After the CIA confronted the panel in January about the removal of the material last fall, panel staff concluded that the agency had monitored computers they’d been given to use in a high-security research room at the CIA campus in Langley, Va., a McClatchy investigation found.
“It remained unclear Wednesday if the monitoring, the unauthorized removal of classified material or another matter were the subject of a recent CIA request to the Justice Department for an investigation into alleged malfeasance in connection with the committee’s top-secret study. …
“Some committee members … contend that their oversight powers give them the right to the documents that were removed.”
Meanwhile, there were some sharp words Wednesday from CIA Director John Brennan, as The Guardian reports:
“I am deeply dismayed that some members of the Senate have decided to make spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts,” Brennan said.
“I am very confident that the appropriate authorities reviewing this matter will determine where wrongdoing, if any, occurred in either the executive branch or legislative branch,” Brennan continued, raising a suggestion that the Senate committee itself might have acted improperly. …
“Until then I would encourage others to refrain from outbursts that do a disservice to the important relationship that needs to be maintained between intelligence officials and congressional overseers.”
“The CIA searched computers intended to be used solely by the Senate Intelligence Committee in an apparent effort to determine how committee staff members gained access to a draft version of an internal agency review of its controversial interrogation program, U.S. officials said.
“The action, some officials say, would mark the first time a U.S. intelligence agency has accessed congressional computers and would be an apparent violation of the constitutional principle of separation of powers.”
The report the Senate staffers were compiling, The Associated Press notes, is an examination of “the CIA’s use of torture during the Bush administration.” The wire service adds that:
“Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee completed the 6,000-page interrogation report last year and are revising it with CIA comments, before asking the White House to declassify its 300-plus-page executive summary, and its conclusions.
“When the report was first approved by Democrats on the committee in December 2012, [committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.] said her staffers reviewed 6 million pages of records from the CIA and other sources, and came to the conclusion that the detention and interrogation program yielded little or no significant intelligence.”