Thursday, March 13, 2014

Spy Games

The news from the durbar is not pleasant these days (barbarians in the outer reaches are behaving despicably). But deep in the belly of the beast things are not so calm either.

The CIA is spying on Congress (shock horror), the Congress is spying back (fainted, pass the smelling salts), the White House is silent (as befits the leading from behind strategy). What possibly can go wrong?
The digital pile was unwieldy, with no index or structure. Investigators organized their searches around names of CIA prisoners, scanning for any references to Khalid Sheik Mohammed and others who had been held at the secret CIA sites.

Precisely how the committee obtained that document remains unclear. Feinstein said it was found on the shared database using a search tool provided by the agency. “The committee staff did not hack into CIA computers to obtain these documents,” she said.

“The firewall was breached,” said a U.S. official briefed on the matter. “They figured out a work-around.” If true, that would represent an embarrassing lapse in security in the computer system assembled by the agency. But, to agency officials, such a breach and a concern about getting caught would explain why the committee last year began asking for documents it already had. Committee officials flatly deny that the files were obtained through surreptitious means. The dispute has exposed a thicket of potential conflicts. Among them is the fact that the CIA’s acting general counsel, who Feinstein said is named in the report more than 1,600 times, made the criminal referral about committee staff to the Justice Department.

The fallout has also focused attention on Feinstein and Brennan, revealing a deep rupture between two of the most powerful figures in the U.S. intelligence community that has the potential to spill into other areas where spy agencies rely on Feinstein as an ally. Feinstein has been among the most ardent backers of the CIA’s drone campaign, for example, citing a deep confidence in the information that she and her staff have gleaned from frequent and detailed briefings provided by the same agency she has now accused of a pattern of misconduct and deception. Brennan is widely respected for his integrity and deep experience in intelligence work. But some congressional officials this week questioned whether his indignation at the committee’s charges — and a tendency to dig in his heels when challenged — had worsened the conflict.

“How this will be resolved will show whether the intelligence committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities,” Feinstein said, “or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.”


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