Outraged senators Wednesday demanded to know more about the CIA’s alleged surveillance of Senate Intelligence Committee aides working on a report about secret CIA prisons and interrogations.
“These are serious allegations that raise very serious questions,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said that if the reports are correct, “These are very, very serious allegations, extremely serious. There are laws against intruding and tampering and hacking into computers.”
McClatchy reported late Tuesday that the Justice Department has been asked to investigate possible CIA malfeasance in its dealings with the Senate committee over the panel’s investigation into the agency’s controversial terrorist detention and interrogation program. At issue may be the agency’s reported monitoring of computers used by Senate staffers to prepare the report.
Intelligence Committee members insisted on learning more.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a committee member, emphasized Wednesday that the CIA is not immune from the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The law makes it a criminal act to intentionally access a computer without authorization or to go beyond allowed access.
Wyden asked CIA Director John Brennan at a January hearing if the agency was covered by the law and released a letter Wednesday from the CIA in which Brennan acknowledged that it is.
Intelligence Committee leaders were generally tight-lipped. Chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would not comment, but she confirmed the CIA’s inspector general is looking into the matter. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., a senior panel member, also would not talk about the allegations.
Other panel committee members were clearly upset. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., said he was furious about the allegations, as well as what he described as the agency’s broader meddling in the Intelligence Committee report on the now defunct CIA detention and interrogation program.
“The CIA has gone to just about any lengths you can imagine to make sure the detention and interrogation report won’t be released,” Heinrich said.
The 6,300-page report has not been declassified and released. But committee members have described it as highly critical of the CIA, including a finding that the CIA misled the Bush administration and Congress about the value of the information produced from its controversial interrogation techniques.
Members of both parties expressed concern over the CIA’s alleged surveillance of Senate staffers.
“I can’t wait to find out what the Justice Department concludes from their investigation,” said Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the Intelligence Committee’s second-ranking Republican, “and I think there is every reason for internal investigations to happen within the committee.”
Senators not on the sensitive intelligence panel were less reserved.
“If they were doing that I’m outraged. If they were doing that it deserves a full investigation,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., “We just can’t have that happen in a democracy. There’s separation of powers between the legislative branch and the executive branch. It’s very disturbing.”
It’s not clear what happens next. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, “I really haven’t focused on that. I’ll take a look at it.”
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., gave a cautious but concerned answer when asked about the allegations.
“I’ve had a number of briefings by everyone concerned, the committee, CIA. And this is an issue I await for the inspector general’s report,” he told reporters. “The briefings have occurred over several months.”
Reid said he would be guided by Feinstein. “I’m going to wait and see what direction she takes,” he said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly named Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.