Look out, Capitol Hill – Dianne Feinstein is pissed.
The chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence didn’t mince any words in a speech she gave Tuesday regarding the CIA’s alleged misconduct, which targeted members of Congress (including those in her own committee).
More specifically, the Senator from California said that the CIA had improperly searched the computers being used by Intelligence Committee staff members.
You may recall reading about this same topic last week, when I first reported the growing public rift between the CIA and Congress. Since then, that rift has become a full-blown schoolyard brawl, with both sides slinging mud at each other.
On one side, Feinstein has accused the CIA of sabotaging the oversight efforts of her committee and, consequently, the separation of powers. She said that the CIA has been working on a “potential effort to intimidate this staff” and accused the Agency of “hacking.”
“Besides the Constitutional implications, the CIA 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,” Feinstein said.
But on the other side, the Director of the CIA, John Brennan, is standing his ground. Brennan said, “I will go to the president, and I will explain to him what I did and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.”
Brennan also said, “When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.”
A Test of Wills
Feinstein’s criticisms of the CIA are particularly poignant because she’s been one of Congress’ foremost spy agency supporters, with a long history as a pro-intelligence lawmaker.
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But now, Feinstein admits that she has “grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution. How this will be resolved will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.”
Feinstein is absolutely right.
And regardless of this situation’s outcome, she deserves credit. Congressmen should fight for the right to do their job as it’s described in the Constitution. That includes enforcing the separation of powers and, consequently, overseeing government spy agencies. If Congress isn’t willing to stand up for the system, things will quickly fall apart.
Unfortunately, the president doesn’t seem quite as incensed as Senator Feinstein.
In fact, Obama has been silent, leaving it up to White House Spokesman, Jay Carney, to address the “CIA vs. Congress” cage match. Predictably, Carney said that the White House has “great confidence” in John Brennan, a longtime Obama ally and former Assistant to the President.
To be fair, the fight between the CIA and Senator Feinstein is far from settled. But Feinstein clearly believes the Agency has violated the law, the Constitution, or both. She refused to back down from her position, despite Brennan’s rejections.
And if she turns out to be right, then it’s up to Obama to relieve Brennan of his role as director and to assert the Senate Intelligence Committee’s authority to oversee the CIA. For now, at least one politician in D.C. is willing to fight for the Constitution. Let’s hope the president doesn’t hang her out to dry.
In Pursuit of the Truth,