Today, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein released an astonishing statement on her committee’s investigation into torture by the CIA – and the intelligence agency’s shocking, and possibly illegal, activities to spy on the committee itself.
A bit of important background: The investigation into the CIA’s “enhanced techniques” of interrogation – doublespeak for torture – began late last decade, after it was revealed that video tapes of the CIA’s torture sessions had been destroyed, over the objection of George W. Bush’s White House Counsel and the Director of National Intelligence.
In lieu of the destroyed video evidence, the CIA began by providing its Senate overseers with “CIA operational cables describing the detention conditions and the day-to-day CIA interrogations.”
Here the 11 most jaw dropping disclosures and accusations from Feinstein’s statement:
1. The initial 2009 Intelligence Committee review found that the CIA had misled Congress about its torture program.
[The] 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.
2. When the Intelligence Committee launched a full-fledged investigation into what Senator Feinstein describes as the “the horrible details of a CIA program that never, never, never should have existed,” the CIA unleashed documents as if it were trying to bury needles in a haystack.
The number of pages ran quickly to the thousands, tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands, and then into the millions. The documents that were provided came without any index, without organizational structure. It was a true “document dump” that our committee staff had to go through and make sense of.
3. In violation of written agreements about the handling of documents, the CIA secretly removed documents that had originally been provided to investigators, and then lied when its actions were detected, saying the order to take back the documents had come from the Obama administration.
In May of 2010, the committee staff noticed that [certain] documents that had been provided for the committee’s review were no longer accessible…. The CIA stated that the removal of the documents was ordered by the White House. When the committee approached the White House, the White House denied giving the CIA any such order.
4. Included in the document dump was an something called the “Internal Panetta Review” – evidently an in-agency summary of the torture program for then-CIA chief Leon Panetta, that many in the agency did not want the Senate to see.
What was unique and interesting about the internal documents was not their classification level, but rather their analysis and acknowledgement of significant CIA wrongdoing.… [W]e don’t know whether the documents were provided intentionally by the CIA, unintentionally by the CIA, or intentionally by a whistle-blower.
5. The Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the “Detention and Interrogation Program of the CIA” does not stop with the Bush White House, and delves deeply into the signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama presidency.
[T]he committee study includes significant information on the May 2011 Osama bin Laden operation….
6. The 6,300-page Senate report is complete. The CIA has read it and disputes “important parts of it.” However, many of the disputed claims are, in fact, backed up by the CIA’s own Internal Panetta Review.
Some of these important parts that the CIA now disputes in our committee study are clearly acknowledged in the CIA’s own Internal Panetta Review…. To say the least, this is puzzling. How can the CIA’s official response to our study stand factually in conflict with its own Internal Review?
7. Distrust is so high between the CIA and the committee that the committee removed an appropriately redacted summary of the Panetta Review from a shared off-site location, and now keeps the document in a Senate safe.
The Internal Panetta Review summary now at the secure committee office in the Hart Building is an especially significant document as it corroborates critical information in the committee’s 6,300-page Study that the CIA’s official response either objects to, denies, minimizes, or ignores.
8. The CIA was so angered by the Senate having its hands on the Panetta Review that it spied on the work of its Senate overseers.
[O]n January 15, 2014, CIA Director [John] 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.
9. Director Brennan is stonewalling Senator Feinstein’s inquiry into this spying.
I wrote a letter to Director Brennan objecting to any further CIA investigation due to the separation of powers constitutional issues that the search raised. I followed this with a second letter on January 23 to the director, asking 12 specific questions about the CIA’s actions – questions that the CIA has refused to answer.
10. Feinstein believes the CIA’s actions may not only have broken several laws but violated the Fourth Amendment and the constitution’s separation of powers.
Based on what Director Brennan has informed us, 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…. [T]he CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.
11. Senator Feinstein is battling to have the Intelligence Committee’s findings declassified. She believes she has the backing of the White House and that the details will shock America into never again permitting such a torture program.
I intend to move to have the findings, conclusions and the executive summary of the report sent to the president for declassification and release to the American people. The White House has indicated publicly and to me personally that it supports declassification and release.
If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.