The CIA's relations with Congress and the American people dropped to the lowest point since the 1970s when Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein last week accused the CIA of spying on classified computers being used by committee staff.
According to Feinstein, this action may have violated the separation of powers and the Fourth Amendment.
Feinstein's charges have led to wild accusations by many members of Congress against U.S. intelligence agencies which were already in hot water with Capitol Hill over alleged privacy violations by NSA surveillance programs. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., this week said the CIA "is drunk with power."
Rep. Darryl Issa, R-Calif., accused the CIA of possible treason for allegedly breaking into Senate computers. There have been calls on the right and left to convene a 1970s-style Church Committee to investigate abuses by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Feinstein's charges are in response to CIA probes of how the Senate Intelligence Committee staff obtained copies of classified documents they were not supposed to have for an investigation which began in 2009 of the Bush-era enhanced interrogation program.
Feinstein and other members of Congress are angry that the CIA allegedly audited computers it made available to the Senate Intelligence Committee staff for the investigation, removed classified documents it had placed on these computers and made a referral to the Justice Department over unauthorized access by committee staff to CIA documents and for removing these documents from a CIA facility without authorization.
The CIA clearly could have handled this better. The Justice Department referral was an overreaction which unnecessarily damaged relations with Congress. CIA officials should have worked out their concerns over unauthorized access and removal of classified documents by committee staffers with the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Despite some missteps by the CIA, I believe the Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats have more to answer for in this affair.
First, why in 2014 is Congress still investigating the Bush administration and preparing a $50 million, 4,200-page report on the enhanced interrogation program?
Waterboarding, the controversial technique of this program that led to numerous calls to end it, was last used in 2003. President Barack Obama shut down the enhanced interrogation program shortly after he was inaugurated. House Intelligence Committee Democrats completed their report on the enhanced interrogation program in 2010.
Shouldn't the Senate Intelligence Committee be using its resources to address the challenges of today and not alleged misdeeds by the Bush administration that took place 10 years ago? To borrow a Democratic phrase from the Clinton era, it's time to move on.
Second, despite predictable praise for the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation by its allies in the mainstream media, most reporters have failed to mention this is a partisan investigation and that its findings were preordained.
The committee's Republican members withdrew their support after they saw the direction of the investigation. The committee's Republican staff has been barred from working in a secure room in a CIA facility where the entire staff had been examining classified documents for the investigation on a bipartisan basis. As a result, the CIA had to provide the committee's Republican staff access to secure computers in a separate GOP-only room.
Third, according to the CIA and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Democrat-drafted report is deeply flawed. CIA says it has dozens of errors and issued a 120-page rebuttal. Chambliss has said the Democratic staff failed to do interviews to write the report.
Fourth, it is the Senate Intelligence Committee's Democratic staff, not the CIA, which is mostly responsible for a breach in trust. The agency gave intelligence committee staff access to classified information on CIA computers subject to an agreement they would not remove any documents from CIA facilities. The breach of trust occurred when the committee's Democratic staff broke these rules.
Two Justice Department referrals have been made concerning this affair. The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting its own internal review and will soon complete a classified version of its report. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has asked the Senate Sergeant at Arms to conduct a "forensic examination" of CIA computers made available to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Obama has agreed to support issuing a declassified version of the Senate Intelligence Committee's enhanced interrogation report, but producing this will lead to a new fight between the committee and CIA on what material needs to be omitted for national security reasons.
It is time for members of Congress to take a deep breath and oppose knee-jerk solutions to the current controversies involving CIA and NSA. While the current high level of distrust in government by congressmen like Sen. Paul is understandable due to the IRS scandal, the Obama administration's investigation of journalists, and false statements about Obamacare, the last thing our nation needs is another political circus like the 1975 Church Committee or the Pike Committee, its House counterpart.
Approved in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, Democrats used the Church and Pike Committees to grandstand against real and imagined abuses by the CIA in an effort to make headlines and promote their political ambitions. This included former Sen. Frank Church, D-Idaho, who was widely criticized for pushing his investigation of intelligence abuses to advance his failed 1976 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
The Church and Pike committees were political farces which severely undermined the capabilities and morale of U.S. intelligence agencies. A new Church Committee would again weaken U.S. intelligence capabilities and is unnecessary since U.S. intelligence agencies are already subject to strong oversight by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
The current squabble between Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and the CIA is extremely unfortunate because Feinstein has been a champion of the CIA and NSA and has fended off irresponsible attacks on intelligence programs by several left-wing senators.
While I believe Senate staffers crossed the line by removing CIA documents from a CIA facility without authorization, the way CIA officials handled this matter sparked an unnecessary and politically dangerous fight with the powerful Feinstein.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., may have put it best when he told Bloomberg News that this dispute is "more complicated than what's being put out there by Sen. Feinstein or others" and added "I don't think anyone has a clean hand."
The fight over the Senate Intelligence Committee's report of the $50 million Bush-era enhanced interrogation report is distracting the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee from their work and recently caused the committee to cancel hearings on Syria and Iran.
It is imperative that Feinstein and the CIA quickly put this unnecessary partisan report behind them so they can focus on the serious security threats facing this country today instead of the problems and misdeeds of the last administration.
Fred Fleitz served for 25 years with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is currently chief analyst with LIGNET.com, Newsmax Media's global intelligence and forecasting service. Read more reports from Fred Fleitz — Click Here Now.
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