Members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) are rightfully angry over allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) infiltrated its secret computer network and monkeyed with sensitive documents pertaining to the committee’s investigation of the CIA’s Bush-era interrogation techniques, including torture.
CIA director and Obama administration appointee John Brennan emphatically denied the charges, telling MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell, “Nothing could be further from the truth.” He went on to suggest that SSCI chairwoman Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who is firing angry about the CIA’s actions, is “beyond the scope of reason.”
According to The Washington Post, files have disappeared from the network and CIA agents have evidently intimidated staffers. Feinstein, whose committee is compiling a 6,000 page report on the CIA’s use of waterboarding against detainees, voiced “grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution.” She’s also been repeatedly demanding an explanation from the CIA and Brennan since January without a response, until now.
The battle between SSCI and CIA essentially comes down to a high powered D.C. he-said-she-said.
The CIA claims that Senate staffers illegally accessed, perhaps via hacking, documents which they didn’t have clearance to view. And, likewise, the committee staffers insist that the CIA horked documents it had gathered via the CIA’s special network.
Regarding that special network, a computer room was assembled by the Agency at or near CIA headquarters offering committee staffers direct access to millions of CIA documents during the investigation and authoring of the torture report. Contrary to what you might’ve heard, no, the CIA didn’t hack into Senate computers on the Hill or eavesdrop on senatorial phone calls.
Cue the Barney Fifes from Team Snowden. Not unlike kneejerk police-scanner jockies, along comes Greenwald, Edward Snowden and The Intercept to latch onto the story as a means of furthering their lucrative Demon Obama Wants To Know Your Every Thought (Also Pocket Sensors) agenda. Their hackles are particularly erect this time due to the fact that NSA-defender Feinstein has been one of their favorite whipping-girls since the beginning of the Snowden saga. And now the tables are turned against Feinstein.
The Intercept‘s Dan Froomkin posted an article yesterday calling the fight between the Agency and the committee a “constitutional crisis.”
Meanwhile, Greenwald has been ranting about the story in 140 word bursts via Twitter:
When official Washington & the Obama admin adopt a clear policy that the CIA is above the law, of course they'll keep breaking the law.
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 11, 2014
An all-out, bitter public war between the CIA and their Senate Intelligence Committee-enablers seems too go to be true, and yet…
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) March 11, 2014
See previous “erect hackles” line. Yeah, that about says it all, doesn’t it? This “constitutional crisis” is “too good to be true.” Hooray! Constitutional crisis!
Snowden also weighed in with a statement to NBC News:
“It’s clear the CIA was trying to play ‘keep away’ with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that’s a serious constitutional concern,” said Snowden in a statement to NBC News. “But it’s equally if not more concerning that we’re seeing another ‘Merkel Effect,’ where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”
That right there is a massive false equivalence. I’ll explain. Indeed if Feinstein’s allegations turn out to be true, this would without a doubt be a very serious violation of separation of powers for one, and more specifically, any officials implicated will have materially interfered with a congressional investigation. The operative word here being “wrongdoing.”
Here we have a clear case in which there could be a serious trespass by the intelligence community against the U.S. Senate. This would constitute, as Snowden said, a “scandal.” But to compare it with his NSA leaks is totally incongruous. The Snowden revelations have almost entirely exposed activity that isn’t illegal. And the handful of cases (LOVEINT, for instance) that turned out to show illegal activity were caught by NSA and weeded out before Snowden ever emerged. Not one PowerPoint has showed NSA or any other federal agency stealing documents from public officials. Therefore it’s difficult to see any equivalence between the Snowden documents and the current CIA situation.
Put another way: the government isn’t in your computer stealing your files. At the very worst, your completely anonymous cellphone metadata is being stored in a secure facility at Fort Meade, as well as with your cell carrier. That’s a world away from the intelligence community nabbing your files without telling you.
All of that said, we don’t really know what’s going on between Feinstein and Brennan at this point. Politics is messy and there could be many, many layers of bureaucratic intrigue at work here — details which have yet to come to light and investigatory evidence to which we aren’t privy. If there’s one thing we’ve learning throughout the Snowden story it’s this: it usually takes a little time before all of the information emerges. So we don’t know for sure if the CIA is guilty here, even though if Feinstein is to be taken at face value, there might’ve have been some serious abuses carried out by the CIA — weirdly enough during an investigation of CIA abuses.
But as far as Team Snowden is concerned, we should expect their flailing, hair-on-fire reaction every time something like this comes up. They’ll kneejerk to judgment, smugly tsk-tsking the government while desperately trying to crowbar each item into their agenda, using it as further evidence that what they’ve uncovered via Snowden is exactly the same and all equally worthy of outrage. And anyone who argues against this analysis will continue to be falsely labeled a “drooling shill” or an “apologist” or an “Obama-lover,” regardless of whether it’s actually true. That’s quite a nifty little racket they have there: manipulate the facts to conform to a specific agenda then employ crowd-pleasing fallacies to discredit anyone who questions their manipulations.