Some calming words from Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. may lower the political temperature of a confrontation between Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and the CIA. But Feinstein’s allegation that the agency improperly searched Senate Intelligence Committee computers and tried to trigger a criminal investigation of committee staffers still calls for a thorough investigation by the Obama administration.
Moreover, President Barack Obama needs to intervene personally to ensure that the public finally gets to see the document at the center of the controversy: a voluminous report by the committee on the CIA’s detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists after 9/11, a policy that we already know involved waterboarding and other acts of torture.
On Wednesday, Holder commented on two issues that have been referred to the Justice Department for a possible criminal investigation: the search of Intelligence Committee computers by CIA employees and the allegation that committee staffers improperly accessed an internal CIA report about the detention and interrogation program. Holder said the department hadn’t decided whether to pursue either.
In a speech on the Senate floor last week, Feinstein, the committee chair, criticized the CIA’s former acting general counsel, Robert Eatinger, for referring the conduct of the staffers to the FBI for a possible criminal investigation, noting that Eatinger had been a lawyer in the unit that carried out the interrogation and detention program. She said she viewed the referral as “a potential effort to intimidate this staff.”
In the same remarks, Feinstein accused the CIA of searching Senate computers containing not only agency documents but also the committee’s notes. “I have grave concerns that the CIA search may well have violated the separation-of-powers principles,” she said. Even if Holder decides that a criminal investigation of the CIA isn’t warranted, someone in the executive branch needs to scrutinize the agency’s conduct in this affair. The Intelligence Committee should be monitoring the CIA, not the other way around.
Feinstein’s accusations were especially dramatic given her previously staunch support for the intelligence community, particularly in connection with the National Security Agency’s electronic surveillance activities. But the senator also has been a critic of the detention and interrogation program, and presided over an investigation that resulted in the 6,300-page report approved by the Intelligence Committee on a mostly party-line vote in December 2012.
Those who have read the report describe it as a blistering indictment that concludes the CIA’s notorious “enhanced interrogation techniques” yielded little valuable intelligence. The agency, however, has claimed that the report contains “significant errors,” and it seems content for it to remain under wraps. It’s long past time that the report was declassified and released so the public can draw its own conclusions. Obama, who has said he is committed to declassifying the report, can and must make that happen.