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The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday the CIA improperly searched a stand-alone computer network established for Congress in its investigation of allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program.
She said the CIA's own inspector general has referred the matter to the Justice Department.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she had "grave concerns that the CIA's search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution," as she publicly aired an increasingly explosive dispute between Congress and the spy agency.
Determined to set the record straight amid various published reports and rampant speculation, Feinstein said the CIA searched the computer network in January and she had pressed CIA Director John Brennan about the agency's actions and the legal basis for its search.
She said she has not received any answers despite letters sent on Jan. 17 and Jan. 23. She also has sought an apology but said the CIA has been silent.
Feinstein said the CIA's inspector general, David Buckley, has referred the matter to the Justice Department "given the possibility of a criminal violation by CIA personnel."
At issue is whether the CIA violated an agreement made with the Senate Intelligence Committee about monitoring the committee's use of CIA computers. The CIA provided the computers to congressional staffers in a secure room at its headquarters so panel could review millions of pages of top secret documents in the course of its investigation into the CIA's use of torture during the Bush administration.
Brennan has been strongly critical of the Senate claims.
When asked about Feinstein's accusations, Brennan said the agency was not trying to stop the committee's report and that it had not hacked into Senate computers.
He said the appropriate authorities would look at the matter further and "I defer to them to determine whether or not there was any violation of law or principle."
The CIA provided computers to congressional staffers in a secure room in northern Virginia in 2009 so the panel could review millions of pages of top secret documents in the course of its investigation into the CIA's detentions and interrogations during the Bush administration.
At issue now is whether the CIA violated an agreement made with the Senate Intelligence Committee about monitoring the panel's use of CIA computers.
Feinstein said the Senate staff members had an electronic search tool to deal with 6.2 million pages of documents and the ability to make copies on their computers.
She said the arrangement suffered a blow when CIA personnel electronically removed the committee's access to documents that had already been provided to the panel.
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