US Justice Department refuses to investigate CIA illegality

Both the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate Intelligence Committee believe that laws may have been broken in their bitter dispute over top secret documents relating to the C.I.A.’s detention program and who has the right to read them.
The Justice Department could settle the matter. But, according to department officials, it has little enthusiasm for wading into the middle of a politically charged battle that has raised constitutional issues about the separation of powers and the scope of congressional oversight.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. seemed to reflect his department’s ambivalence when he noted on Wednesday that it receives many criminal referrals and often declines to investigate or prosecute.
“At this point I’d say that’s all we’re doing: looking at the referrals,” Mr. Holder said during a news conference.
The dispute between the C.I.A. and its congressional overseers broke into the open last week when Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman, accused the agency of monitoring computers used by committee staff members to complete a 6,300-page report about the detention program, which President Obama closed in 2009.
After the C.I.A.’s inspector general examined that allegation, it referred the case to the Justice Department.
In a lengthy speech on the Senate floor last week, Senator Feinstein, a Democrat, said that the C.I.A.’s computer search might have violated the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prohibits government employees from gaining unauthorized access to government computers.
Separately, lawyers at the C.I.A. made their own referral to the Justice Department, arguing that Intelligence Committee staff gained unauthorized access to parts of the agency’s computer system to obtain an internal C.I.A. report about the interrogation program, and later removed the internal report from the C.I.A. facility where they were working.
Dean Boyd, an agency spokesman, said that John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, was committed to resolving all outstanding issues related to the report, and to “strengthening relations between the agency and Congress.”
“The C.I.A. believes in the necessity of effective, strong and bipartisan congressional oversight,” Mr. Boyd said.
But some senior lawmakers said last week that they would support having an independent investigator examine the allegations because the Justice Department should not be mediating a dispute between the executive and legislative branch.
The flash point in the dispute is a classified report on the intelligence agency’s detention program, which was set up in the months after the Sept. 11 attacks. The panel finished its report in December 2012, and months later the agency delivered a lengthy response to the committee challenging parts of the report.
The dispute is less about the report’s facts than about its conclusions. During a hearing in 2013, Senator Martin Heinrich, Democrat of New Mexico, said the C.I.A. had pointed out only one factual error in the report.
According to several people who have read the report, it concludes that the agency gained little valuable intelligence from its brutal questioning of Qaeda detainees, and that C.I.A. officials repeatedly misled the White House, Congress and the public about the value of the program.
The era after Sept. 11 is already one of the most closely studied periods of C.I.A. history, and it is not expected that the report will reveal previously undisclosed interrogation tactics or clandestine programs.
Rather, according to a former senior intelligence official briefed on the report, the agency’s objections have much to do with its tone, which the official described as prosecutorial.
For years, the intelligence agency has tried to defend the reputation of officers who participated in the detention and interrogation program. A number of books by former agency officials — one by George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, and another by Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., the former head of the agency’s clandestine service — made the case that interrogators were using methods that had been approved by the Justice Department.
During a discussion last week at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr. Brennan, the current director, said that the agency “agrees with many of the findings in the report, and we disagree with others.”

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