For four years, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – the legislative body tasked with “oversee[ing] and mak[ing] continuing studies of the intelligence activities and programs of the United States Government” – had been reviewing documents related to the CIA’s torture program. In 2012, the committee voted to approve a 6,000-page report derived from that research, which noted national security hawk and committee chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein called “one of the most significant oversight efforts in the history of the United States Senate.”
According to the ACLU:
[T]he report found that the CIA misled Congress, the Justice Department, and President George W. Bush about the “effectiveness” of torture methods such as waterboarding, shackling in painful positions, and slamming detainees against walls. The report also reportedly found that those abuses did not help locate Osama bin Laden or thwart any terrorist plots, and were in fact counterproductive.
Thus far, the CIA and the White House have resisted declassifying the report, despite calls to do so from many media outlets and human rights groups. However, according to sources familiar with the document, it is “a withering indictment of the program and…the agency’s brutal interrogation methods.”
This would help explain why the intelligence agency was allegedly spying on the congressional staffers investigating that program. According to reporting from McClatchy, the CIA allowed staffers from the intelligence committee to view classified documents “vetted by CIA officials and contractors” on “secure” computers at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, VA.
The senate staffers apparently took some of these documents out of the facility. The CIA knew this because they were monitoring the “secure” computers being used by the staffers. When the agency confronted the senate panel about the removal of the material, the staff used their powers of deductive reasoning to determine they had been spied on.
Short version: Staffers take docs. CIA: Hey! How’d you get those? SSCI: Hey! How’d you know we had them? WH: Play nice, kids.
— Ali Watkins (@AliMarieWatkins) March 6, 2014
This is problematic from a number of standpoints. For one, the CIA has no legal authority to do domestic spying. Moreover, they were surveilling the very people tasked with holding them accountable. Also, the CIA has admitted that it is subject to the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a law that makes hacking into government data networks illegal.
So basically, the CIA pointlessly tortured people and tried to cover it up. Then, congress tried to carry out its oversight duties. The CIA illegally monitored those efforts and pushed back against releasing the panel’s damning findings. To make matters worse, the agency investigating the CIA’s shady conduct is…the CIA. Oh, and they’ve asked the Justice Department to investigate the staffers who took the documents.
The democratically-elected oversight committee was trying to do its legally-mandated job while being illegally spied on by an unelected spy agency trying to thwart its efforts? It’s hard to wrap your mind around the absurdity of this situation.
Thankfully, the Intel Committee does not appear to be prepared to take this lying down. Stay tuned. This should be fun to watch.