Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, forged a reputation as a staunch supporter of the NSA even as many of her allies on the left hailed Edward Snowden as a whistleblower. She suddenly and dramatically changed her tune last Tuesday when she accused the CIA on the Senate floor of deleting evidence during an investigation into the nature of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” practiced in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The investigation began in 2009, several years after tapes of the interrogations were destroyed. Then-CIA director Hayden released descriptive cables, stating they contained information similar to what was on the tapes. After an initial investigation concluded that what happened in those interrogation rooms was much more severe than what the CIA led them to believe, the Senate Intelligence committee voted 14-to-1 to conduct its own investigation.
Feinstein claims that in 2010, approximately 920 documents the Senate was reviewing were reported missing, and after initially shifting blame to their own IT contractors, the CIA claimed that the orders to remove the documents came directly from the White House. When staffers discovered the Internal Panetta Report, which was consistent with many of the findings of the independently conducted investigation by the Senate committee of the severity of alleged torture, they printed out a hard copy, placed it in a safe, and redacted information just as the CIA would have done. When the report disappeared, Feinstein brought her concerns to CIA inspector general David Buckley, who passed along his findings to the Department of Justice. The CIA responded by referring Feinstein’s staff to the DOJ for their own criminal investigation. Suddenly the people who had gone the extra mile to protect the report from deletion were now possibly being investigated for theft.
CIA director John Brennan flatly denied Senator Feinstein’s accusations in a briefing at the Council on Foreign Relations, stating “that is beyond the scope of reason of what we would do.” He all but accused Senator Feinstein of lying, and accusations flew the staffers stole the report from the CIA drives. As if on cue, a partisan battle erupted into public, with Sen. Mark Udall taking much of the heat. According to Politico, Republicans are accusing Udall of leaking information to the public about the CIA’s conduct. That he is on the Republicans’ target list for this fall’s midterm elections is mere coincidence.
The Washington Post reported that the Republican-Democratic divide on the torture report long predates this latest public development. Republicans reportedly withdrew from the joint investigation after learning CIA personnel would not cooperate, and conducted their own investigation in a separate secure room. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia was the one Intelligence committee member to vote against opening the investigation in the first place, and he now serves as the committee’s ranking member. While Chambliss has announced his retirement, the next Republican up, Richard Burr of North Carolina, has a history just as hawkish. Should Republicans retake the Senate this fall, Burr would ascend to the chairmanship, raising questions of whether the Senate’s own fight for its institutional independence has a November expiration date.
For the time being, however, there is at least one change has been made at the CIA, by the Senate. Feinstein, among others, complained that the very acting general counsel who referred the committee’s investigators to the Justice Department in the first place, Robert Eatinger, was himself responsible for many of the most controversial legal documents surrounding the use of torture and the destruction of the tapes. Last week, the Senate confirmed President Obama’s own pick for head Agency lawyer, bumping Eatinger out of the top spot.