It’s hardly news that the intelligence community resists congressional oversight, but it usually appears to be part of the predictable tussle — resistance based on a desire to maintain the secrecy of security techniques that keep everyone safe. Feinstein’s accusations have nothing to do with that. She is claiming that the CIA engaged in a prolonged effort to cover its tracks and that this deception now includes a trumped-up Justice Department criminal report alleging that Senate investigators broke the law.
We are no longer in a predictable fight between two branches of government anticipated by the framers. These are public accusations of criminal activity and a cover-up. It’s a class of warfare that people have been craving since Snowden started leaking secrets about the U.S. surveillance state. Whether you think the intelligence agencies have gone too far or not, it’s important to have the people’s representatives battling for their right to do the job the Constitution puts before them. Otherwise the system gets out of whack. That was one of the lessons of Snowden’s revelations and it’s also the point of the story Feinstein took to the Senate floor to tell.
The saga starts in 2006, when members of the intelligence committee were first briefed about a CIA interrogation program that had been in place since 2002. This briefing initiated an investigation by Senate staffers who by 2009 offered a preliminary report on the program that Feinstein described as “chilling” and far different and harsher than the way the CIA had described it in the past.
The first level of oversight had failed massively. The findings from the first review initiated another one by the committee — a second attempt at oversight — which the CIA fought at every turn, according to Feinstein. They dumped an un-indexed 6.2 million documents on the Senate committee and requested that each document go through a multilevel review process before handing it over, making the investigation tedious and protracted.