The only problem is that the Senate team had agreed to clear anything it took from the building with the CIA first so that any sensitive information could be redacted. Senate investigators skipped this step with the Panetta documents. Feinstein is unrepentant on this point. “Our staff did just what CIA personnel would have done had they reviewed the document,” says Feinstein.
The purloined Panetta review now sits in a Senate safe. Members of the Senate intelligence committee tried to get a full copy from the agency, but in January the CIA refused. By asking for the official version, they spooked CIA personnel, who then secretly searched the computers the Senate committee had been using to prepare the report. The CIA rationalizes that search on the grounds that the committee had somehow obtained the Panetta report by unauthorized means, which Feinstein denies.
Feinstein issued a series of letters to the CIA director asking for some answers and an apology. She’s gotten neither. The CIA inspector general has asked the Justice Department to look into the CIA’s Senate snooping. Weeks later, the CIA general counsel filed a crimes report to look into the actions of the Senate investigators. Feinstein claims the agency is trying to intimidate and stonewall. In fact, according to Feinstein, the general counsel is a star of the Senate report, mentioned 1,600 times. It is not likely that he is mentioned as an awesome guy.
The last time the CIA got into a big public fight like this it was with George W. Bush’s administration over claims that Iraq was trying to buy uranium yellowcake from Niger. Ultimately, CIA Director George Tenet had to take the fall for the faulty information that made it into President Bush’s State of the Union speech. Before Tenet’s resignation, the agency and the White House traded several rounds of damaging accusations. Referring to their fight with the CIA, a White House official at the time said, “We brought a knife to a gun fight.” Feinstein has started a public confrontation with those same forces for which she will have to be well armed.