It's time to release a Senate report on CIA abuses

March 12, 2014 

APTOPIX CIA Investigations

Sen. Dianne Feinstein talks to reporters outside the Senate chamber Tuesday.


Sen. Dianne Feinstein, long a protector of spy agencies as head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, now says her staff has been illegally spied upon by the CIA.

Maybe now the senator and President Obama will stop defending the CIA, the National Security Agency and others and get serious about letting Americans know what was done during the Bush administration – and in some cases is still being done – against the nation’s ideals and perhaps its laws.

In a remarkable speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Feinstein said the CIA had gone into computers being used by Senate Intelligence Committee staff as part of the committee’s investigation. The Senate investigators were working on a report about the CIA’s detention of terror suspects and the methods used to get information from them.

The CIA contends that the Senate committee’s 6,300-page preliminary report is fraught with errors and should not be released. A majority of the Intelligence Committee’s members, including North Carolina’s Richard Burr, have sided with the agency and kept the report classified despite demands for its release.

But now Feinstein has disclosed that committee investigators found a CIA internal review that contradicts the agency’s public claims about inaccuracies. One major point of dispute is that the committee investigators found that the CIA’s use of interrogation techniques that Feinstein described as “far different and far more harsh” than anything the agency had previously disclosed failed to produce useful information. More and more it seems the reason for keeping the preliminary report under wraps isn’t for what it got wrong but for what it gets right: The CIA program illegally tortured suspects and, despite its claims, still didn’t get useful intelligence.

CIA Director John O. Brennan denies that his agency violated the constitutional separation of powers by undermining a congressional investigation. But, legal issues aside, the agency has clearly impeded the investigation with a lack of full cooperation and its efforts to block release of its findings.

Feinstein, a California Democrat and liberal on most issues, has been consistently hawkish in defending the nation’s drone program and NSA’s collecting of data on Americans’ phone calls and emails. Now stung by what she thinks was a CIA effort to undermine her committee’s investigation, maybe the senator will get about providing proper oversight of clandestine activities instead of providing cover for them.

Feinstein’s previous support for intelligence agencies is a piece of President Obama’s reluctance to investigate the misdeeds done in the name of anti-terrorism under President Bush. Obama officially ended the CIA’s detention and interrogation program in January 2009, but he decided against looking into what happened in the lawless anti-terrorism environment created by then-Vice President Dick Cheney and others. Ignoring the actions of that period or wrapping them in top secret status will not make them disappear. The nation, if it is to be confident of its virtues, must confront its sins of zeal and sometimes actual malice committed in the name of stopping terror attacks.

Now feeling targeted by the agency she defended, Feinstein should press for the release of her committee’s report, a document held under review for declassification since December 2012.

The president ought to not only endorse the release but also press for a broader, nonpartisan congressional inquiry into the accountability and effectiveness of the nation’s intelligence-gathering agencies.

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