Rule number one for federal agencies: do not piss off your oversight committee, especially when the chairman is a big supporter  of your agency. Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, spent 40 minutes on the senate floor this morning bashing the CIA for spying on her committee’s computers. 

Feinstein (D-Calif.) said that the situation amounted to an attempted intimidation of congressional investigators, adding: “I am not taking it lightly.” 

She confirmed that an internal agency investigation of the action has been referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. And she accused the CIA of  violating the Fourth Amendment, various federal laws and a presidential executive order that bars the agency from conducting domestic searches and surveillance.

She has sought an apology and recognition that the CIA search of the committee’s computers was inappropriate, but said: “I have received neither.”

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 Not a good move for the CIA

“The CIA just went and searched the committee’s computers,” Feinstein said. She later called the the matter a “defining moment” for the oversight of the Intelligence Committee.

“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied by the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause,” she said. “It may have undermined the Constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activity or any other government function.”

On the other hand, the CIA claims Feinstein took documents illegally, a charge the Senator denies:

Feinstein said contrary to reports that congressional staffers inappropriately removed classified documents from the CIA, that in fact the documents were willingly provided before the CIA attempted to remove them from Senate facilities and inhibit the committee’s ability to investigate a now-defunct interrogation and detention program.

After an agreement with the CIA director in 2009 to provide a way for Senate staffers to review what Feinstein called a “document dump,” Feinstein said staffers noticed in 2010 that access to previously accessible files had been revoked.

“In short, this was the exact sort of CIA interference in our investigation that we sought to avoid at the outset,” Feinstein said, saying she raised the issue with the White House counsel. “He recognized the severity of the situation and the grave implications of executive branch personnel interfering with an official congressional investigation. The matter was resolved with a renewed commitment from the White House counsel and the CIA that there would be no further unauthorized access to the committee’s network or removal of access to CIA documents already provided to the committee.”

In regards to press reports that Senate staffers should not have had access to the documents, Feinstein said, “I reject that claim completely,” and she slammed the CIA’s apparent accessing of the congressional network and what she called attempts to “intimidate” Congress.

Even if the papers were illegally taken, it was a domestic issue and thus it should have been an FBI rather than a CIA investigation.

The sick part is the investigation/documents in question relates to a probe of the Bush CIA, and has nothing to do with Obama. It is an investigation into whether the CIA misled the Bush Administration about interrogation and secret prisons in the early days of the war on terror.

UPDATE: CIA Director John Brennan on Tuesday denied Sen. Feinstein’s allegations that the agency secretly searched a Senate computer system, saying that “nothing could be further from the truth” and “we wouldn’t do that.”

“That’s just beyond the scope of reason,” Brennan said during an event at the Council on Foreign Relations.