Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) stunning accusation that the CIA spied on her panel plunged the president into a controversy over the separation of powers that threatens to become a major headache for his administration. The White House did its best to steer clear of the storm on Tuesday, but Obama could soon be forced to take sides.What the heck is going on? Well, it's complicated.
The Senate has been working on an intel report that will presumably show the CIA took torture to heart during the Bush years but the outcome was mostly fun with no results. It didn't lead to bin Laden or anyone else. Therefore, Bush should be impeached or sent to the Hague or something.
Not surprisingly the Republican Senators on the committee don't agree. That's all standard stuff and really won't get much traction with the American public because 1) it's business as usual in Washington, and 2) everybody that went to see "Zero Dark Thirty" knows we roughed up some jihadies.
The interesting thing here is the setup. CIA DCIA (Director) John Brennan was a Langley overseer of the 'torture' program during the Bush years. He punched out of the CIA around 2006 to became the head of a security firm called "The Analysis Corporation", which was later embroiled in a scandal over passport access during the 2008 elections. One of Brennan's employees was apparently reprimanded for accessing Obama's passport records (something that clown Keith Olbermann compared to Watergate as the story broke, only to find out shortly thereafter that Hillary's and McCain's records were also accessed). The story quickly dropped to the bottom of the ocean floor, where things go to rest.
At the time Brennan was acting as a security adviser to Senator Obama. He had donated the max to the campaign. Then Obama won. He nominated Brennan for DCIA but the nutroots went nuts because of his 'torture' background at CIA. So Brennan removed his name from contention and Obama made him some kind of a security czar. Brennan kept a low profile except for a few notable instances, in particular the Christmas 2009 underwear bomber case (he claimed the case was 'unique'), the UBL takedown (he told the press UBL was killed in a firefight) and the package bomb fiasco (where the identity of a Brit-Saudi asset embedded in AQAP was blown, some blaming Brennan).
This propelled him to be nominated to DCIA again after Obama won in 2012, where he was confirmed. But during his confirmation hearings Democratic Senators asked a lot of questions about the torture program, to which Brennan said he would work with the Senate in their investigation.
To that end, the CIA developed some kind of secure access room at Langley for Senate staffers to visually access the documents compiled on 'the program'. To confuse matters, former DCIA Panetta started an internal report when he was there to allow CIA staffers to keep track of what was being provided to Congress.
Now comes the rub. Senate staffers working in the access room somehow found a way to access some documents that weren't supposed to be there. They claimed they were worried about them disappearing because some other docs had, so they found a way to grab them, print them, and scurry them off to their bosses in the Senate. According to those in the know the documents contained scribblings by CIA personnel that agreed with Senate Democrats on the idea of torture fail (Feinstein yesterday suggested those documents might have been put there by 'whistleblowers').
Over time the CIA came to understand that somebody had something they weren't allowed to have, and sent some IT geeks into the access room to scan the PCs whereupon they found evidence of the theft. So the CIA general counsel (chief lawyer) sent a referral to the Justice Dept (Eric Holder) over the unauthorized access. To make things even more fun, according to the WaPo this lawyer oversaw parts of the program.
Anyway.... that criminal referral over the doc theft lead to Diane Feinstein's outburst on the Senate floor yesterday. Starting to get the gist of this child's play now? But where does Obama come in, you say?
That's even more fun. Brennan is basically "Obama's man". He was the loyal adviser to the campaign who went on to help answer some difficult questions during the first term, and was rewarded with DCIA for the second. Now the president is in the middle of a squabble between high-ranking Democrats in the Senate (his allies) and "his man" at the CIA. What to do? Send out Jay Carney to stonewall, of course!
But that can't last forever because the president himself may be involved in this intrigue, as pointed out in this rather disgusting display of journalist intimidation by Carney to a young female Politico reporter at yesterday's briefing. C-SPANs clipping process isn't working so you'll have to advance to 47:44 to view. Also, you might want to check out Chuck Todd's exchange beginning at 32:19.
So why is this happening? Didn't the president's Justice Department decline to prosecute anyone at CIA for what the president called torture? Didn't the president himself say we need to look forward, not backwards? Yes. Meaning this is all politics. Well, except the part about whether the administration told the Senate to remove the documents, which would seem to pit Brennan against the president and Senate Dems.
If the president takes Brennan's side he'll tick off his allies in the Senate and in effect throw cold water on the highly political torture report that Democrats no doubt want to use as another cudgel against the GOP ahead of the mid-terms, a report that our forward looking president wants to declassify despite hiring an overseer of the torture program as CIA chief.
If he throws Brennan under the bus well, Brennan is a career CIA man. He knows a few things. He might be able to do some "damage" on his way to that figurative spot under the bus. Maybe that's part of why Brennan was chosen as security adviser then DCIA in the first place, as kind of insurance policy to keep the CIA at bay. Maybe in year six that's no longer necessary. Maybe we'll see. Maybe we won't.