The simmering surveillance debate just hit a flash point.

On Tuesday morning, Senator Dianne Feinsten, Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the CIA of spying on Senate computers used by committee staff investigating CIA interrogation techniques. The search was supposedly focused on whether the Intelligence Committee had obtained a particular CIA report on interrogation procedures. Senator Feinstein called the search illegal, implying that it violated the Fourth Amendment, and also labeled the agency’s actions a violation of separation of powers and an encroachment on Congressional power. She also accused the CIA of attempting to intimidate committee staff by filing a frivolous DoJ complaint about the committee’s handling of classified information.

Senator Feinstein has referred the matter to the Department of Justice (DoJ)  for possible criminal prosecution.

While Senator Feinstein’s attitude toward NSA data collection has been seen by some as too relaxed, her view of the CIA’s activities is much less forgiving. The spy agency’s information collection allegedly extended beyond the reports and evidence the committee had obtained — and even included committee work product, raising questions about whether the monitoring was designed to develop political leverage over the Congressional agency’s oversight body.

How the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Department of Justice, the President, and the CIA will respond remains to be seen.

–Brad Edmondson


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