Majority Leader Harry Reid escalated the Senate's battle with the Obama administration over CIA snooping this week, saying he's ordered a forensic examination to try to get to the bottom of accusations that the spy agency improperly searched congressional computers.
The Nevada Democrat also mocked the CIA's accusations that Senate staffers had pilfered documents as "so comical as to be absurd," saying the agency hasn't offered any proof of the charge, which the CIA's top lawyer filed with the Justice Department.
"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," Mr. Reid said in a letter Wednesday to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. The letter also said major constitutional separation-of-powers issues were at stake. He sent a similarly stern letter to CIA Director John O. Brennan.
Earlier this month intelligence committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, took to the Senate floor to reveal the simmering fight, which she said dated back to a January search the CIA made of a computer Senate staffers were using in an investigation into CIA interrogation techniques.
She said the CIA deleted a key document, known in the agency as the "Panetta review," that criticized the agency's interrogation and detention tactics in the war on terror, tactics critics denounced as torture. Mrs. Feinstein said the Panetta review agreed with her committee's own findings — even though the CIA has publicly disputed some of those conclusions.
Under an arrangement between the CIA and the intelligence committee, congressional staffers were using a computer located at a CIA facility but exclusively for Senate use.
In his letter Wednesday to Mr. Brennan, Mr. Reid demanded the CIA cooperate in letting his forensic investigators access the computer and do their investigation to determine how the Panetta review came into the hands of Senate staffers.
The CIA sounded a conciliatory note in its public reply.
"CIA Director Brennan is committed to resolving all outstanding issues related to [the Panetta review] and to strengthening relations between the agency and Congress," said spokesman Dean Boyd. "The CIA believes in the necessity of effective, strong and bipartisan congressional oversight. We are a far better organization because of congressional oversight, and we will do whatever we can to be responsive to the elected representatives of the American people."
The Senate's investigation is only the latest to spring up. The CIA's inspector general is looking into the dispute, and the Justice Department is also involved after the CIA's criminal accusation referral.
Mr. Reid, in addition to questioning the substance of that criminal accusation, also questioned the motive of the CIA's top lawyer in making it. Mr. Reid said that man, the acting general counsel, is named 1,600 times in the Senate committee's report critical of interrogation techniques.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have said they would be concerned if Mrs. Feinstein's allegations are correct, but they were reserving judgment until more evidence came out.
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