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U.S. Senate Majority Leader Reid backs Feinstein over CIA

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid issued a strong defense on Thursday of Senator Dianne Feinstein, who heads the Senate Intelligence Committee, in a dispute in which the committee and the CIA each allege they were spied upon by the other.

Reid, in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, called the Central Intelligence Agency's search of the Senate panel's computer network a "serious breach" and "indefensible."

In a Senate floor speech last week, Feinstein accused the agency of searching computers used by committee staffers examining CIA documents for information on counterterrorism operations and the use of harsh interrogation methods such as simulated drowning, or waterboarding.

The CIA also sent a "crimes report" to the Justice Department about committee staff members' activities in obtaining classified information. The Senate Intelligence Committee is responsible for oversight of the CIA.

Saying the dispute raised concerns about potential violations of the Constitution, Reid said he would have Senate authorities begin a forensic examination of computers assigned for exclusive use by Senate Intelligence staff.

"The CIA's decision to access the resources and work product of the legislative branch without permission is absolutely indefensible, regardless of the context," Reid wrote.

He said the agency's actions cause him "great concern" as leader of the U.S. Senate.

"The CIA has not only interfered with the lawful congressional oversight of its activities, but has also seemingly attempted to intimidate its overseers by subjecting them to criminal investigation," Reid said.

"These developments strike at the heart of the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches," he added.

[Source: By Richard Cowan and Patricia Zengerle, Reuters, Washington, 20Mar14]

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