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Feinstein Publicly Accuses C.I.A. of Spying on Congress

The chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday accused the Central Intelligence Agency of improperly removing documents from computers that committee staff members had been using to complete a report on the agency's detention program, saying the move was part of an effort to intimidate the committee.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and the chairwoman of the committee, suggested on the Senate floor that the agency had violated federal law and said the C.I.A. had undermined Congress's constitutional right to oversee the actions of the executive branch.

"I am not taking it lightly," she said.

John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, denied Ms. Feinstein's assertions on Tuesday. "We wouldn't do that," Mr. Brennan said in response to questions from NBC's Andrea Mitchell in an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.

"We weren't trying to block anything," Mr. Brennan said. "The matter is being dealt with in an appropriate way." He added that the C.I.A. was in no way spying on the committee or the Senate.

He referred to inquiries now underway by the C.I.A.'s inspector general and the Justice Department, and urged Senate critics to wait for the results of those reviews.

Ms. Feinstein leveled the new charge as part of a lengthy public recounting of the years of jousting between her committee and the C.I.A. over the legacy of the detention program, which President Obama officially ended in January 2009.

The disclosure comes a week after the first reports that the C.I.A. late last year had carried out a separate search of computers used by her staff. The C.I.A. said it carried out the search to uncover how the committee gained access to an internal review of the detention program cited by Democratic lawmakers critical of the program.

Calling the present conflict a "defining moment" for the oversight of American spy agencies," Ms. Feinstein forcefully denied that committee staff members had obtained the internal review improperly, saying that the internal document had been made available as part of the millions of pages of documents that the agency had given the committee to conduct its investigation.

The C.I.A. has referred the matter to the Justice Department to investigate possible wrongdoing, a move that Ms. Feinstein called "a potential effort to intimidate this staff."

Mr. Brennan challenged the committee to issue its report -- parts of which he said he disagreed with -- but he also said, "I will protect sources and methods."

In her speech, Ms. Feinstein for the first time revealed that in 2010 the C.I.A. had removed documents from the computer system used by her staff at an agency facility in Northern Virginia, where the intelligence committee was working on its investigation.

Ms. Feinstein said she had sought an apology and an acknowledgment that the C.I.A.'s conduct was improper. "I have received neither," she said.

It was unclear Tuesday what specific documents were removed in 2010.

Ms. Feinstein said she also wanted to use the speech to address charges in the news media that her staff had inappropriately removed a copy of the internal C.I.A. review from the Northern Virginia facility and brought it to the committee's offices on Capitol Hill.

The California Democrat confirmed that copies of portions of the review -- which in recent weeks has been referred to as the "Panetta Review" because it was ordered by Leon E. Panetta, the former C.I.A. director -- is now inside a safe at the Hart Office Building.

She said that it was necessary to keep a copy of the review, which she said "corroborates critical information" of the committee's own investigation, because of the C.I.A.'s history of destroying records about the detention program.

Specifically, she mentioned the November 2005 decision by C.I.A. officials to destroy videos depicting brutal interrogation methods being used on two Qaeda detainees.

"There was a need to preserve and protect the internal Panetta review," she said Tuesday.

Ms. Feinstein was particularly animated when discussing the criminal referral made by the C.I.A.'s acting general counsel to the Justice Department, a move she said seemed intended as an intimidation tactic.

She said that the acting general counsel was previously a lawyer in the C.I.A.'s Counterterrorism Center, the section of the spy agency that was running the detention and interrogation program.

She said the man's name is mentioned more than 1,600 times in the Senate Intelligence Committee's report.

Separately, the C.I.A.'s inspector general opened a parallel investigation into whether C.I.A. officers improperly monitored the work of the intelligence committee, a case that also has been referred to the Justice Department.

[Source: By Mark Mazzetti, The New York Times, 11Mar14]

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