Rift between US Congress and CIA biggest in 40 years, say observers
March 11, 2014 2 Comments
By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org
The system of checks and balances that defines the relationship between America’s legislative branch and the Intelligence Community has been strained more than any other time in nearly 40 years, according to insiders. The rift is especially wide between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United States Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, which was formed in the mid-1970s after the Watergate scandal. Led by Senator Frank Church (D-Id) the congressional investigations into unlawful domestic intelligence activities by American spy agencies shaped the current oversight arrangements between the Senate and the CIA. But the two bodies are now engaged in what Foreign Policy magazine calls “a rare public feud” over the Committee’s ongoing investigation into the CIA’s harsh interrogation techniques. Foreign Policy cites interviews with “ten current and former congressional staff member and US government officials”, all of whom painted a “grim picture” of Senate-CIA relations. The Foreign Policy article quotes former Justice Department lawyer Dan Metcalfe, who opines that the current imbroglio “might well be the most acrimonious public moment between the CIA and a Senate committee [in] nearly 40 years”. Both sides accuse each other of violating longstanding agreements during the investigation into CIA’s use of torture in interrogations of terrorism detainees. Committee members have been claiming that the Agency’s interrogation methods have failed to produce useful information in pursuit of America’s national security. The CIA, on the other hand, accuses Committee staffers of illegally removing documents from an Agency facility, which the Committee was not supposed to see because they fell outside the scope of its inquiry. But some Senators on the Committee claim that the CIA did not want to hand over the documents precisely because they prove that no useful intelligence was extracted under torture. They also claim that the CIA effectively spied on Committee staffers by searching through their activity on computers used to access classified information. This is not the first time that tensions have surfaced between the CIA and Congress. But Foreign Policy says these matters are “typically handled internally”, in the absence of public allegations. This time it’s different and, according to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), “these allegations have serious constitutional implications that go to the heart of the separation of powers”. The longtime Senator argues that the CIA’s stance “impedes Congress’s ability to carry out its constitutional oversight responsibilities and could violate federal law”. But the CIA dismisses Leahy’s claims, stating through its spokesman Dean Boyd that it “supports more than 1,000 engagements with Congress each year”. Meanwhile three unnamed “former senior intelligence officials” tell Foreign Policy that the behavior by both the Senate Committee and the CIA is “out of character” and “not in keeping with historic practices”.