New Castle News


March 13, 2014

Our Opinion: Did the CIA keep tabs on the legislative branch?

NEW CASTLE — It’s hard to know what to make of claims the CIA spied on U.S. Senate staffers.

That’s because the specifics of the allegations are hidden from public view. And with top CIA officials denying anything of the sort took place, the facts of the matter are in dispute.

At issue is an investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee into the Central Intelligence Agency’s treatment of detainees believed to have links to terrorism. A key concern in all of this involves allegations that torture may have been used against some detainees.

The committee began its probe in 2009 and it received access to 6.2 million pages of records from the CIA. In December of 2012, the Intelligence Committee approved a 6,300-page report prepared by its staff on the matter. And the CIA submitted a response to it.

The report and other documentation have not been made public.

As part of the process in developing the report, Senate staffers were provided access to CIA computers in order to conduct their research. Allegations made this week by Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Diane Feinstein charged that the CIA gained access to these computers to monitor what the committee was doing.

Meanwhile, some news organizations have reported the CIA was concerned Senate staffers were using secret material inappropriately and this was being assessed.

From the public’s point of view, much of this looks like a squabble between government entities at odds with each other. And that’s probably a big part of it.

But there are also constitutional issues here, because Congress is its own branch of government and the CIA operates under the executive. If the CIA or any agency is inappropriately monitoring the activities of Congress, that is potentially a serious problem.

Interestingly, this dispute arises in the aftermath of complaints the National Security Agency, another office under the executive branch, has been using its spying powers to monitor the communications activities of average Americans.

This involves massive collections of data ranging from telephone calls to emails. Defenders of the practice claim that the privacy of individual Americans is not at risk and the data is not seen by human eyes — unless computer systems identify suspicious communications activities.

But leaks provided by Edward Snowden have revealed a monitoring system far more extensive than anything revealed previously, and even some members of Congress seem to have been taken aback by it all. However, the NSA continues to have strong defenders of its programs in Congress and elsewhere.

Lawmakers now may be getting their own taste of what it’s like to be inappropriately probed.

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