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March 28, 2015

Posts in "Intelligence"

January 27, 2015

Feinstein Disputes CIA Report on Spying on Senate

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

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

The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee is disputing findings of a CIA Accountability Board review that determined no one should be punished for accessing Senate computer files.

“The bottom line is that the CIA accessed a Senate Intelligence Committee computer network without authorization, in clear violation of a signed agreement between the committee and former Director Leon Panetta,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein said in a statement. “That access, and the subsequent review of committee staff emails, breaches the constitutional separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch.”

Feinstein was the panel’s chairwoman last year, when she revealed that files used by committee staff as part of the landmark investigation into the use of torture techniques by the agency had been improperly accessed. In effect, the CIA had spied on the Senate. Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 11:05 a.m.
Intelligence

January 14, 2015

Review Finds No Grounds for Discipline in Senate ‘Spying’ Matter

A review commissioned by the CIA has determined that agency personnel should not face discipline for improperly accessing Senate computer files.

Former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., was tasked with chairing the Agency Accountability Board by CIA Director John O. Brennan.

“The Board found that no discipline was warranted for the five CIA personnel under review because they acted reasonably under the complex and unprecedented circumstances involved in investigating a potential security breach in the highly classified shared computer network, while also striving to maintain the sanctity of SSCI work product,” Bayh said in a statement. “Because there was no formal agreement — or even clear common understanding — governing the procedures to be followed in investigating a potential security incident in these circumstances, no course of action was free of potential complication or conflict.”

Full story

December 22, 2014

Senator Calls on White House to Host Showing of Pulled Sony Film

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Vitter wants the White House to hold a screening of the Sony film “The Interview.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

One senator wants President Barack Obama to invite members of Congress to the White House for a screening of “The Interview.”

That’s the James Franco and Seth Rogen comedy from Sony Pictures Entertainment that the studio pulled after a hacking which the FBI says North Korea is responsible for. The movie plot centers on an effort to kill North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

In a Dec. 19 letter to Obama, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., said the president should host an event to show the movie when the 114th Congress convenes in January.

Full story

December 9, 2014

McCain and a ‘Unique Moral Perspective’ on Torture (Video)

CIA Torture Report

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report roiled Capitol Hill Tuesday, Sen. John McCain framed the argument as one of moral clarity, all the while bumping up against his party leaders.

“I rise in support of the release, the long-delayed release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summarized, unclassified review of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that were employed by the previous administration to extract information from captured terrorists,” the Arizona Republican said on the Senate floor. “I believe the American people have a right, indeed responsibility, to know what was done in their name, how these practices did or did not serve our interests, and how they comported with our most important values.” Full story

Feinstein Unveils CIA Torture Report (Updated) (Video)

CIA torture report

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

Updated 12:28 p.m. | Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein unveiled the executive summary of her committee’s much-anticipated report on acts of torture used by the CIA Tuesday.

“This document examines the CIA’s secret overseas detention of at least 119 individuals and the use of coercive interrogation techniques — in some cases amounting to torture,” the California Democrat said in a statement announcing the release.

Feinstein said on the Senate floor there might never be a good time to release the report, but it is important to do so. The release of the report, Feinstein said, must change how the CIA works and prevent any future use of torture.

The release of the report, Feinstein said, must change how the CIA works and prevent any future use of torture.

“Never again,” she said.

Full story

By Niels Lesniewski Posted at 11:19 a.m.
Intelligence

December 5, 2014

Kerry Warns Feinstein of CIA Torture Report’s Possible Impact on Hostages

(Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

In happier times. (Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Secretary of State John Kerry warned Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein Friday about the possible impact of her committee’s imminent CIA torture report on American hostages and the war on ISIS.

“He called his former colleague to discuss the broader implications of the timing of the report’s release because a lot is going on in the world, and he wanted to make sure that foreign policy implications were being appropriately factored into timing. These include our ongoing efforts against ISIL and the safety of Americans being held hostage around the world,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement. “That anyone would mischaracterize this call or question reasonable, proper, private discussions raises questions about what they’re trying to accomplish.”

Feinstein, a California Democrat, said Thursday that she had reached agreement with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on remaining redaction issues and that the report for public release was being printed.
Full story

December 4, 2014

Deal Reached, CIA Torture Report to Be Released Next Week

CIA Torture Report

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

A long-awaited summary of a Senate investigation into torture is coming next week.

Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., confirmed to CQ Roll Call that an agreement has been reached with the Obama administration on releasing the summary of her panel’s investigation into the use of torture by the CIA during the George W. Bush presidency.

“We’re in the process of printing it,” she said. The report is expected to be released next week.

Full story

December 3, 2014

Amid CIA Torture Dispute, McDonough Meets Again With Feinstein

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein late Wednesday amid a simmering dispute with the Intelligence Committee chairwoman over redactions the administration wants to make to her panel’s report on torture by the CIA. Full story

December 1, 2014

Leahy, Cornyn Oppose CIA-Proposed Email Retention Regime

Cornyn and Leahy (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Cornyn and Leahy (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Two senior senators came out strongly Monday against a CIA plan to purge most of its email.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, called on the nation’s archivist to deny the Central Intelligence Agency permission to adopt a new email retention policy they said would make the agency less transparent.

“We are concerned that this policy would undermine the ability of citizens to understand how their government works and hold it accountable,” the two said in a letter. “In an era when critically important government activities and decisions are conducted via email, a plan to delete the majority of emails at any agency should raise great concern.”

Leahy is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Cornyn is a veteran member of the panel. Full story

November 20, 2014

Senate Democrats Press McDonough on CIA Torture Report

McDonough, right, drew fire from Senate Democrats during a private meeting Thursday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

(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)

(Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

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.

Roll Call Results Map: Results and District Profiles for Every Seat

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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

immigration reform ted cruz jeff sessions border attorney general

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)

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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

Chambliss Bowe Bergdahl Taliban Five

(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.

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