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November 24, 2014

Posts in "Intelligence"

November 20, 2014

Senate Democrats Press McDonough on CIA Torture Report

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McDonough, right, was under pressure from Senate Democrats during a private meeting Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee pressed White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on Thursday to allow pseudonyms to be released in a summary of a panel report on CIA interrogation abuses.

“The report would be a pseudo report if we didn’t allow the pseudonyms,” said Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who is on the panel.

Udall’s comments came after Democrats met for more than three hours with McDonough. But the entire meeting was not spent on the topic of the report, Udall said.

Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and other Democrats on the panel, including Udall, have been negotiating with the White House on a redacted summary of the report, which they hope to release to the public.

“I asked the chief of staff to take another look at this for me with the president,” said Udall, who lost his re-election bid to Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo.

Full story

November 19, 2014

Negotiations Over CIA Torture Report Nearing End

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein expects her panel’s long-delayed report on the CIA’s use of torture to be released before Republicans take over the chamber, signaling to reporters there’s one sticking point left.

“Well, no one wants to move that more quickly than I do,” said the California Democrat. “We are down to essentially one item in the redaction. It happens to be a very sensitive and important item.” She didn’t elaborate.

Feinstein has been negotiating with the White House for months over redactions to the report’s executive summary, with Democrats on the panel routinely ridiculing efforts by the CIA to redact large portions of the report. Full story

November 18, 2014

NSA Overhaul Dies in Senate Vote (Updated)

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Leahy’s NSA reform bill died on the Senate floor. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 8:19 p.m. | An effort backed by the Obama administration to overhaul the NSA’s controversial surveillance activities died in the Senate Tuesday.

Republicans led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., voted to block the bill, which came just two votes shy of the 60 needed to come to the floor for debate.

Just four Republicans joined Democrats to advance the bill: Ted Cruz of Texas, Dean Heller of Nevada, Mike Lee of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Bill Nelson of Florida was the only Democrat to vote against cloture.

The 58-42 vote came as a blow to the measure’s champion, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. It was aimed at ending the bulk collection by the government of phone data and other records of Americans and reforming oversight of the NSA’s programs.

Leahy decried opponents who he said used fear to oppose the bill. He recalled that a lethal anthrax letter was addressed to him — and he would have died if he had touched it — but said the Constitution and civil liberties are more important.

McConnell, however, blasted the measure as one that would aid America’s enemies, including ISIS, also known as ISIL or the Islamic State.

His fellow Kentucky Republican, Sen. Rand Paul, voted against the bill because it didn’t go far enough in his opinion to roll back surveillance under the Patriot Act.

“In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans were eager to catch and punish the terrorists who attacked us,” he said in a statement. “I, like most Americans, demanded justice. But one common misconception is that the Patriot Act applies only to foreigners—when in reality, the Patriot Act was instituted precisely to widen the surveillance laws to include U.S. citizens,” Sen. Paul said. “As Benjamin Franklin put it, ‘those who trade their liberty for security may wind up with neither.’ Today’s vote to oppose further consideration of the Patriot Act extension proves that we are one step closer to restoring civil liberties in America.”

Sarah Chacko contributed to this report.

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By Steven Dennis Posted at 7:55 p.m.
Intelligence

October 21, 2014

10 Questions for Eric Holder’s Replacement as Attorney General

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Cruz, left, and Sessions both sit on the Judiciary Committee and will have a change to grill the nominee for attorney general. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Eric H. Holder Jr.’s replacement as attorney general will face a grilling from the Senate Judiciary Committee after the elections, with the position key to enabling President Barack Obama’s pen-and-phone executive agenda and with numerous hot-button issues under the purview of the Justice Department.

The nominee to replace Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who is also leaving, will also face much the same treatment.

Here are 10 questions the nominees will likely hear:

1. What is the limit of the president’s executive authority on immigration? Full story

September 22, 2014

Before Approving ISIS War, Menendez Wants Intelligence Briefing (Video)

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Ranking member Bob Corker, left, and Menendez listen as Kerry testifies about the ISIS threat (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The senator leading a push to authorize the war against ISIS after the elections wants an intelligence briefing first, so lawmakers know the full extent of the covert operations already under way.

Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez aired his frustrations last week when Secretary of State John Kerry came to testify before his old committee about the administration’s plans to fight the terror group known as ISIS or ISIL.

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., asked about published reports of covert efforts to train Syrian rebels.

“I know it’s been written about in the public domain, that there is, quote, ‘a covert operation.’ But … I can’t confirm or deny whatever that’s been written about and I can’t really go into any kind of possible program,” Kerry responded.

That prompted Menendez to chime in shortly afterward, saying the committee’s inability to get access to information about covert operations was an issue with both the Obama administration and the Senate itself. He questioned how the panel could properly draft a new Authorization for Use of Military Force without such details. Full story

August 21, 2014

Chambliss Wants Special Counsel to Investigate Obama on Bergdahl Swap

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

The top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee wants a special counsel to investigate President Barack Obama’s swap of five Taliban members for the release of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

An aide to Sen. Saxby Chambliss told CQ Roll Call in an email Thursday that the Georgia Republican wants the Department of Justice to appoint a special counsel to investigate the prisoner swap, which the Government Accountability Office contended earlier Thursday violated federal law.

The GAO opinion said the administration violated the notice requirement for transfers out of the prison facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and the Antideficiency Act, which is the federal law barring spending without appropriated funds. The Defense Department has contended that the notice requirement is unconstitutional.

The aide’s email came after Chambliss sent out a statement Thursday pointing to the GAO opinion, which came at the request of Republicans.

“This legal decision further validates the argument I have been making with many of my colleagues against the administration’s release of the Taliban Five,” Chambliss said. “By failing to notify Congress 30 days in advance as required by the FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act, the president completely disregarded laws duly passed by Congress and signed by his own hand.

“In addition to simply violating the notification requirement, the administration has violated the Antideficiency Act by obligating funds that were not legally available. While the president has a habit of ignoring laws relating to domestic policy, such as healthcare and immigration, this latest overreach regarding our national security has dangerous implications. The United States has a long-standing policy of not negotiating with terrorists for good reason, and these senior Taliban leaders will soon rejoin the fight, as they have stated publicly multiple times.”

Chambliss’ release notes federal employees who violate the Antideficiency Act can face administrative and criminal sanctions.

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment Thursday on the possibility of a grand jury in either Washington, D.C., or Alexandria, Va., pursuing the matter.

August 8, 2014

Feinstein Warns of Risk of ISIL Attack on America, Says Must Be Confronted

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein warned Friday of the risk that the insurgent group ISIL could be preparing fighters to attack American and European targets.

“It has become clear that ISIL is recruiting fighters in Western countries, training them to fight its battles in the Middle East and possibly returning them to European and American cities to attack us in our backyard,” the California Democrat said in a statement backing military action authorized by President Barack Obama. “We simply cannot allow this to happen.”

Full story

August 5, 2014

Feinstein Withholds Report on CIA Torture, Writes Letter to Obama

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Brennan and Feinstein (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein isn’t happy with the redactions being demanded by the administration to her committee’s report on torture by the CIA, and she wants the president to intervene.

The California Democrat said she will seek a series of changes to mitigate redactions to the report’s summary made by the White House that have made the document essentially unreadable.

“I am sending a letter today to the president laying out a series of changes to the redactions that we believe are necessary prior to public release. The White House and the intelligence community have committed to working through these changes in good faith,” Feinstein said in a statement. “This process will take some time, and the report will not be released until I am satisfied that all redactions are appropriate.” Full story

August 1, 2014

Feinstein Reviewing Redactions in Senate Torture Report

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Brennan and Feinstein. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 10:26 p.m. | The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into torture by the CIA is in the panel’s hands but is still under review, Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said late Friday.

Feinstein said in a statement the White House has returned the executive summary of her committee’s report.

Full story

McCain: ‘What Did the Director of the CIA Know and When Did He Know It?’

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham have joined the chorus expressing outrage at the bombshell confirmation that the CIA was snooping on the Senate.

The two senators indicated they looked forward to having conversations with colleagues over the August recess about a variety of responses, including congressional inquiries or a special prosecutor.

“This is to me [of] the utmost seriousness. What did the director of the CIA know and when did he know it?” McCain said. Full story

July 31, 2014

Reid: CIA Snooping on the Senate ‘Appalling’

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Majority Leader Harry Reid called the CIA’s snooping on computers used by Intelligence Committee staff “appalling and deeply threatening to our system of checks and balances” and is demanding changes.

The Nevada Democrat issued his statement Thursday after public acknowledgement by the CIA that the agency’s inspector general found improper access to computers utilized as part of the Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the use of torture during the George W. Bush administration.

“What is even more disturbing is that the unauthorized CIA actions come in the context of the Senate’s effort to complete a report of the CIA’s interrogation program. The deeply troubling CIA actions show to what lengths some in the CIA are willing to stoop in order to prevent the report’s release and to avoid accountability,” Reid said. Full story

CIA Confirms Staff Inappropriately Accessed Senate Investigators’ Computers; Udall Calls for Brennan’s Resignation (Updated) (Video)

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Feinstein and Chambliss lead the Intelligence panel. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 5:18 p.m. | The inspector general at the CIA has determined agency personnel gained inappropriate access to computers used by Senate investigators probing torture during the George W. Bush administration.

McClatchy first reported on the results of the investigation Thursday morning, which will likely increase tensions between the intelligence community and overseers on Capitol Hill.

Dean Boyd, a CIA spokesperson, confirmed the news in a statement to CQ Roll Call.

“Director [John O.] Brennan was briefed on the CIA OIG’s findings, which include a judgment that some CIA employees acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding reached between SSCI and the CIA in 2009 regarding access to [a secure network],” Boyd said. “The Director subsequently informed the SSCI Chairman and Vice Chairman of the findings and apologized to them for such actions by CIA officers as described in the OIG report.”

Full story

July 25, 2014

Wyden Ponders Release of CIA Torture Report Without White House Consent

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(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A senior Senate Democrat is firing a warning shot at the White House against stalling the release of a report about the past use of torture by the U.S. intelligence community.

Sen. Ron Wyden is talking with his colleagues about the possibility of using a seldom-invoked procedure to declassify an Intelligence Committee report on the use of torture in the event the White House does not move ahead quickly.

Speaking with reporters on a variety of subjects Thursday, the Oregon Democrat referred to the Senate’s “Resolution 400″ — the Abraham A. Ribicoff-sponsored resolution that established the Intelligence Committee back in 1976.

Wyden said he was discussing invoking the resolution “in order to move this along if we have to, through the committee process, to get it declassified.”

Full story

July 10, 2014

Justice Department Declines to Open Probe of CIA ‘Spying’ on Senate (Updated)

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Feinstein (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:37 p.m. | The Justice Department is declining to open a formal investigation into the sparring between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA.

“The Department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation,” Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said in a statement.

Full story

June 30, 2014

Wyden Continues to Blast Obama Administration on ‘Backdoor’ Surveillance (Video)

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(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Sen. Ron Wyden is raising additional concerns about “backdoor” queries of communications by American citizens by federal intelligence and law enforcement authorities.

“I and other reformers in Congress have argued that intelligence agencies should absolutely be permitted to search for communications pertaining to counterterrorism and other foreign threats, but if intelligence officials are deliberately searching for and reading the communications of specific Americans, the Constitution requires a warrant,” Wyden said in a statement. “The bipartisan, bicameral legislation that I and other reformers have supported would permit the government to conduct these searches pursuant to a probable cause warrant or emergency authorization, and it would include an exception for searches for individuals who are believed to be in danger.”

Full story

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