Last week, in a speech from the chamber floor, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein accused the CIA of hacking into the committee’s network and removing documents pertaining to their investigation of the agency’s infamous torture program.
If true, this audacious act would be in violation of federal law, constitutional separation of powers and — as Sen. Feinstein pointed out — the Senators’ own fourth amendment rights.
We’ll put aside the fact that Feinstein has been one of the most vocal defenders of the NSA’s abuses for now. Despite her obvious flaws, she is right to speak out, and this may be the wake-up call she and other lawmakers need to launch a full-scale investigation into the overreach of the entire U.S. national security state.
In 1975 the US Senate launched a special committee chaired by Idaho’s Frank Church to investigate the intelligence gathering activities of the FBI, NSA and CIA. This probe resulted in some important (albeit imperfect) reforms like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the establishment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts (FISCs).
Ever since Edward Snowden’s very first revelations regarding the NSA spying program, Firedoglake has been pushing for a new ‘Church Committee’ to probe the abuses of the U.S. Intelligence Community over the past few decades. Now that Senator Feinstein has shed light on additional CIA abuses, it’s clear we need to double down on a wider, immediate investigation. In light of this news, sixteen staff members of the original Church Committee, including chief counsel Fritz Schwarz, have sent a letter to congress calling for a new Church Committee.
The alleged actions of the CIA are yet another example of the attitude of brazen law-breaking prevalent in the Intelligence Community. For years the various intelligence agencies have been able to operate with limited oversight and almost zero transparency. They have been able to skirt the constitution and have gone to great lengths to conceal their misdeeds from the public, creating what Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg referred to as an “apparatus of secrecy.”
The limited amount we do know about these abuses are the direct result of courageous whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and John Kiriakou. Perhaps being the target of surveillance by our unruly intelligence community is just the motivation Congress needs to begin taking its oversight duties seriously.