Harry Reid slams CIA for "transparent attempt to intimidate" Senate

In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Senate majority leader warns that the CIA may "run amok"


Elias Isquith
March 21, 2014 12:20AM (UTC)

In a blistering Wednesday letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid railed against the CIA, claiming that the spy agency had engaged in a "transparent attempt to intimidate" members of the Senate and their staff who investigated the George W. Bush-era torture program. Reid also sent a similar letter to CIA head John Brennan.

Reid's letters are the Senate leader's most recent public forays into the ongoing confrontation happening between the CIA and Senate Democrats, a fight that intensified when Sen. Dianne Feinstein, usually a friend to the intelligence community, delivered a speech on March 11 accusing the CIA of hacking into a Senate computer and, in the process, interfering with the investigation, violating the agency's ban against domestic spying and imperiling the Constitutional balance of power. The CIA has denied it's guilty of any wrongdoing.

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"In my capacity as the leader of the U.S. Senate, the CIA's actions cause me great concern," reads Reid's letter to Holder. "The CIA has not only interfered with the lawful congressional oversight of its activities, but has also seemingly attempted to intimidate its overseers by subjecting them to criminal investigation."

Reid writes that the CIA's snooping "appears to be a transparent attempt to intimidate the Committee and undermine its oversight of the Agency."

"These developments strike at the heart of the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches," Reid continues. "Left unchallenged, they call into question Congress's ability to carry out its core constitutional duties and risk the possibility of an unaccountable Intelligence Community run amok."

In 2012, after working on it for roughly three years, the Senate Intelligence Committee completed its comprehensive and reportedly damning assessment of the CIA's behavior during the Bush years. Despite the report being completed for more than a year, it's yet to be granted declassification by the CIA and the White House.

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In a separate letter to CIA Director John Brennan, also released Thursday, Reidlabeled as "patently absurd" the suggestion that Senate staffers with no specialized computer knowledge had hacked the internal agency review carried out under then-CIA Director Leon Panetta.

Reid wrote that he had directed the Senate sergeant-at-arms, the chamber's law enforcement body, to conduct its own forensic computer investigation, and he asked Holder for his support of that inquiry. The Senate leader also hinted that some Senate staffers may have been working with the CIA behind closed doors to undermine the release of the committee's torture report.

In his letter to Brennan, Reid requested that the CIA chief "take whatever steps necessary to ensure that CIA personnel refrain from further interaction relating to this issue with Senate staff other than the Sergeant-at-Arms staff conducting the examination."


Elias Isquith

Elias Isquith is a former Salon staff writer.

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