Tags: John McCain | NSA/Surveillance | Dianne Feinstein | John McCain | CIA | computer search

McCain Rips Brennan; Suggests Independent Probe Into Senate Computer Search

Image: McCain Rips Brennan; Suggests Independent Probe Into Senate Computer Search

Tuesday, 11 Mar 2014 10:49 AM

Sen. John McCain had strong words for CIA Director John Brennan and said an independent investigation might be needed to determine whether the CIA improperly accessed Senate computers.

"I have never had a great deal of confidence in Mr. Brennan," McCain said, according to NBCNews.com.

McCain's comments come amid a firestorm of outrage from the Senate over allegations the CIA searched a congressional computer network. The search was a possible violation of the separation of powers between the branches of government, said the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein in a dramatic speech on the Senate floor.

"It is very disturbing, and we need a thorough and complete investigation, and I'm trying to figure out who would be doing it, because there's allegations of bias on both sides, so we may need some kind of independent investigation," McCain said Tuesday, according to NBC News.

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The security breach involved the removal in 2010 of hundreds of pages of documents from secure machines provided to the committee by the CIA, Feinstein said.

“On two occasions, CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee,” she said. “This was done without the knowledge or approval of committee members and staff and in violation of our written agreements.

Feinstein angrily denounced the CIA's actions, saying it appeared to be a bid to intimidate lawmakers from holding the spy agency accountable.

"I have grave concerns that the CIA's search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution," Feinstein said.

The Intelligence Committee did not hack into CIA computers to obtain an internal report on the agency's interrogation and detention program, Feinstein said. "The committee clearly did not hack into CIA computers to obtain these documents, as has been suggested in the press," she said.

Feinstein's comments were the latest salvo in a long-running and bitter dispute between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA over documents outlining the agency's handling of the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, a program that dates to 2002 and became public in 2006. McCain has been sharply critical of the CIA and its interrogation methods.

"I know that they concealed information concerning waterboarding. I know that for sure,
because I fought with them for several years in my opposition of waterboarding,” McCain he said.

And he held little back in showing his distrust for Brennan, whom he suggested leaked details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to NBC.

"When he was in the White House and the bin Laden raid, all those details were revealed to the point where Secretary [Bob] Gates in Bob Woodward's book went over and said, 'I've got a new communications strategy for you' to [then-National Security Adviser Tom] Donilon -- and he was talking about Brennan too -- and that was, 'shut the f up,’” McCain said

Feinstein, chairman of the committee, said the CIA's "document dump" of more than 6 million papers provided to her panel contained an internal review of the interrogation and detention program known as the "Panetta Review," after then-CIA Director Leon Panetta.

She said the internal report was obtained by committee staffers using a CIA search tool provided to them.

Feinstein denied reports the panel had gotten the internal review through unauthorized means. "This is not true," she said.

But she did question the CIA's own methods in trying to determine how the panel got the Panetta Review, saying the intelligence agency searched its computers without ever asking how the committee got the documents.

The CIA searched the computer drive used by staffers on the intelligence committee who were preparing an elaborate report examining the agency's controversial and now defunct interrogation program, she said.The search included "the standalone and walled off committee network drive containing the committee's own internal work product and communications," she said.

"I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers... was inappropriate," she said.

"I have received neither."

CIA director John Brennan on Tuesday denied the allegations.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Brennan said at an event organized by the Council on Foreign Relations. "We wouldn't do that."

Feinstein said she had been informed that the CIA’s inspector general "has referred the matter to the Department of Justice, given the possibility of a criminal violation by CIA personnel."

Feinstein said she and the vice chairman of the intelligence committee learned of the search on January 15 in an "emergency meeting" requested by Brennan.

Feinstein's speech was a major break from her usually cordial relations with the intelligence community, which she has often defended against accusations of overstepping its authority.

The senator's comments came after unnamed administration officials alleged to news media that senate staffers took sensitive documents without authority, triggering an investigation.

Analysts say the rift between Congress and the CIA over the case is the worst since the 1970s, when lawmakers uncovered illegal abuses and introduced legal reforms to rein in the spy services.

After the speech, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.,  the senior member of the Senate, said he had never heard a more important speech in the chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Feinstein’s speech a courageous defense of "one of the most important principles that we must maintain and that is the separation of powers."

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Information from Reuters, Bloomberg and The Associated Press were used in this report.

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