Constitutional Law

Feinstein: CIA may have violated Constitution by searching committee computers

Updated and Corrected: U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said today that the Central Intelligence Agency may have violated the Fourth Amendment when it searched computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate harsh interrogation techniques.

Feinstein, who chairs the committee, said the CIA may have undermined Congress’ oversight function and violated federal laws, report the New York Times, Politico and the Washington Post. “I am not taking it lightly,” Feinstein said. Here is a transcript.

Feinstein, D-Calif., said the CIA had revoked access to previously available documents in the CIA-provided computer system used by her staff investigating the interrogation program. She said the Justice Department has received the results of a CIA internal investigation into the matter and is looking at allegations of criminal violations by the CIA and Senate staffers. She said there was no reason to believe her staffers had committed a crime and she viewed the referral as “a potential effort to intimidate this staff.”

“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause,” Feinstein said. “It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function. … The CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act as well as Executive Order 120003, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”

The CIA has said it searched the computers to learn how the committee accessed an internal review of the interrogation program, according to the Times account. Feinstein says the document was among millions of pages of documents given to the committee by the CIA.

But CIA director John Brennan said on Tuesday that his agency did not hack into computers used by the committee, Reuters and the Hill report. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said at an event sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations. “We wouldn’t do that. That’s just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we’d do.”

Updated at 11:20 a.m. to include statement by Brennan. Name of CIA director corrected on July 31.

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