When Senator Dianne Feinstein took to the senate floor last year and accused the Central Intelligence Agency of spying on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), the very committee charged with oversight of the CIA, it marked the beginning of a scandal that could have brought down the CIA like nothing the American public has seen since the Church Committee in the mid-1970s.
Senator Feinstein remarked, “I have grave concerns that the CIA search may well have violated the separation of powers principles.” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was even more explicit, saying, “Heads should roll, people should go to jail if it’s true. If it is, the legislative branch should declare war on the CIA.”
If the CIA was spying on the Senate oversight committee, and in this case removing files on enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT) from review, then the agency should have been shaken to its foundation. But by early 2014, it was clear that the spooks on the 7th floor were walking away clean. After such venom and hyperbole was slung against the CIA, why did the Senate, namely Feinstein, back down from their original accusations?
It starts with the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s review of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, including what is colloquially known as “waterboarding”—used to extract information from captured detainees in the Global War on Terror. Acting in their oversight capacity, the Intelligence Committee conducted a review of the CIA’s interrogation methods for about five years. While many have decried the report as a biased and purely partisan effort to discredit Republicans, when news of the CIA spying on the Senate broke, it drew the ire of both the left and the right.