A new, disturbing intelligence target

Mar. 15, 2014 @ 10:29 PM

This editorial appeared in The Charlotte Observer

After revelations that the National Security Agency monitored Americans' phone and Internet use, and that the NSA spied on close allies like Germany and France, it probably shouldn't be surprising that our intelligence agencies have found another frontier to violate. But it appears our government is spying on itself.

That's what Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, alleged Tuesday in an explosive speech on the Senate floor. Feinstein is chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, which in 2012 completed a three-year probe into CIA interrogation techniques during the Bush administration. Her committee's 6,300-page report, which is still classified, contains details about interrogations that she says were far more harsh than the CIA has previously revealed to Congress.

Feinstein says the CIA has twice interfered with the probe by hacking into Senate computers. The first came in 2010, when the CIA breached a computer network it had set up for the committee so that it could access the more than 6 million pages of documents the agency provided for the investigation. The CIA tried to remove at least one of those documents, the "Panetta Review," which corroborated what her committee was discovering about CIA interrogations.

As recently as this January, Feinstein says, the CIA was at it again, breaking into a network drive that contained the committee's work and communications. "I have asked for an apology," said Feinstein. Instead, CIA director John Brennan denied the accusations Tuesday, and the agency has gone so far as to accuse the Senate committee of hacking the CIA's computers and illegally obtaining the Panetta Review. Feinstein says the review was part of the trove of documents that came from the CIA, and that the agency is trying to intimidate the committee.

A reminder of who's doing the accusing here: Feinstein is a Democrat and supporter of Barack Obama and intelligence agencies, not an administration opponent fishing for scandal. She's also defended the National Security Agency's surveillance of Americans' phone and Internet metadata, and while we wish she had been similarly troubled with that spying, she's right when she said Tuesday that the CIA's Senate hacking may have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and an executive order forbidding the CIA from domestic surveillance.

All of which now is in the hands of the Justice Department. But the president shouldn't wait idly for that investigation to proceed. He should declassify the Senate committee's report, as well as the Panetta Review, so that Americans can learn what the CIA may have done in its post-9/11 interrogation of terrorist suspects.

Obama also needs to answer another Feinstein charge -- that the CIA has stated that its removal of documents from Senate computers "was ordered by the White House." The White House has denied that, but the president should more fully explain what his administration knew.

Already, Obama has responded too slowly and too tepidly to the NSA surveillance revelations, and his outrage about an overzealous IRS has settled into something closer to indifference. Now the CIA is the latest agency that seems to have problems understanding its constitutional limitations, and this time, an administration ally is pointing the finger. Will the president finally get the message?