Ronan Farrow Daily   |  March 11, 2014

Did CIA search senate committee’s computers?

The CIA is under fire after Senator Dianne Feinstein accused the agency of secretly removing documents from the computer system the Senate Intelligence Committee were using when they were working on an investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. Andrea Mitchell, Kasie Hunt, Howard Fineman and Mark Halperin discuss with Ronan Farrow.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> breaking news, the cia is under fire today after senator dianne feinstein , accused the agency of secretly removing documents from the computer system used by her staff at an agency facility in northern virginia where the intelligence committee was working on an investigation of the cia detention and interrogation program. take a listen.

>> without prior notification or approval, cia personnel had conducted a search that was john brennan 's word, of the committee computers. i have grave concerns that the cia search may well have violated the separation of powers , principles embodied in the united states constitution .

>> cia a chance to push back today at the council on foreign relations as our own andrea mitchell moderating the event asked brennan about those very accusations.

>> as far as the allegations of cia hacking into senate computers, nothing can be further from the truth. we wouldn't do that. that's -- that's just beyond the scope of reason. when the facts come out on this, i think a lot of people who are claiming there has been this enormous spying and hacking, will be proved wrong.

>> beyond the scope of reason. white house press secretary jay carney is currently briefing the reporters and peppered with questions about this just moments ago.

>> here's what i can tell you. this is a matter involving protocols established in 2009 for the interaction between committee staff and cia staff and officials as part of the investigation the committee was undergoing. there have been periodic disputes about that process. and as you know, this is under investigation, these matters are under two separate investigations an ig review as well as referral to the department of justice . i'm not going to provide an analysis or assessment --

>> joining us now fresh off of her conversation with brennan is andrea mitchell . nbc chief foreign affairs correspondent and host of " andrea mitchell reports." thanks so much and it's so exciting to have you on the show.

>> you bet.

>> we've been hearing conflicting reports in different publications about the exact nature of where the computers were. did you get a sense from brennan about that and do you have a sense from our sources as to whether they were senator cia property computer snz.

>> they were cia property and what dianne feinstein said on the floor today this was a separate facility. they wanted to do an in-house investigation in the safe rooms but at the insistence of the cia , this investigation was launched at the cia facility, stand alone facility with cia computers that they had special access to and they worked every day for months and months with a document dumped from the cia which feinstein said was millions and millions of documents that were not properly cataloged and had to go through this painstaking process themself, the senate staff who have top security clearances. the suggestion is that they were slow walking it and throwing up obstacles all along. then the security breach and that is the breach that both sides are accusing each other of. she went public with the fact that she's outraged frankly, that the cia is accusing the senate staff when they were at the facility they were assigned to and went there every day for months and months, went through this investigation and came up with their own conclusions and also with an early draft of a cia report, which was a damning report , she indicated, about the interrogation and detention practices in the bush years. this was report overseen by leon panetta when he was cia director . the problem arose when john brennan took over the cia because he was involved in that detention policy. he was at the cai in the covert field back under george bush . under brennan 's direction or people under his direction, involved in it, took these -- took this investigative work out of these computers which were under the management. senate intelligence community .

>> you mentioned the report that the committee was in possession of. senator feinstein said earlier when their possession of that report was referred to the department of justice for investigation, that constituted intimidation. did brennan shed any light on that charge?

>> he denied everything. there is a lawyer at the cia who referred it to the justice department and that lawyer was one of the people who was mentioned, she said thousands of times, 1600 times during the investigation itself. so that lawyer was involved as well in the interrogation practiceses, that cia lawyer whose identity is still covert. she said there was illegal and unconstitutional potentially illegal and unconstitutional hacking into those computers and aattempt to stop the senate from overseeing the cia properly.

>> andrea mitchell , thanks so much for that update. we'll bring more of your reporting on this story.

>> thank.

>> and also on "nightly news" tonight, stay tuned for that. we have here more for different perspectives on this, three individuals who are close to this story. first of all, we want them to update us on edward snowden's latest comments just coming in after feinstein 's statements saying, quote, it's equally if not more concerning we're seeing another merkel effect where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of oerds citizens are violated by our spies but suddenly it's a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing is happening to them, quite the allegation. let's dive more into the political ramifications, we have casey hunt, howard fineman and mark halperin , a senior analyst at nbc and "time." what are you hearing from members of congress?

>> they are livid for thesenator john mcca in told me that he thinks that we may need an independent investigation of this because there is indications of by as for both sides and no doubt that john brennan is a political figure. there is take little built-in bias there but lindsay graham said heads should roll if it's true. you have brennan 'denial of this so senator saxby chambliss refused to comment and wouldn't say whether or not he agrees with senator feinstein 's interpretation of the facts.

>> does edward snowden with a point with the comments he made earlier?

>> absolutely, those senate staffers and senator feinstein are standing in the place of citizens generally in the middle of what is now a surveillance state . to me the interesting thing here is that the cia -- and i know from talking to some former cia agents who are around in the bush years and around the time of torture and rendition and so forth, water boarding and rendition, they are circling the wagons and they feel beset and abused and on the defensive. they think the rules were changed on them by the president after the fact, after they were operating under legitimate legal authority during the bush years. from what i sense from them and these are people who work with john brennan , they are going to resist and have resisted every step of the way the kind of accounting that the president promised the voters when he ran in 2008 , that he has tried to implement since becoming president. that's what's really at issue here. it's what really happened during the bush years and who is to blame for it. who has the authority morally and politically to assign blame? that's what's going on.

>> mark, i'll go to you for the next one. do you think the underlying issues about tortures and detentions will get more play in the press? they've been off radar for a while. how do you think that will impact president obama 's legacy?

>> those issues are still important and will get more attention. they are great personalities involved here. when you have dianne feinstein , a huge supporter of the intelligence community making the accusations, that deserves a lot of attention. there's a lot of constitutional issues here. the intelligence agencies need oversight by the legislative branch . any time there's an accusation that there's domestic spying , whether on congress or ordinary citizens deserves a lot of attention. the point senator mccain raised is absolutely important. we've gotten away from having independent councils that are statutory. when is it right in our system, spras of powers to have an independent investigation. this case extremes out for it because it is part of the same executive branch as the cia , if i'm in the legislative branch i'm concern about it, even if senator feinstein is not absolutely right. the concern she raised is really important, that it be looked out independently or hand it over to someone else.

>> this compromise could be a very big deal . i'll go to you for the next question, howard, director brennan scoffed at the notion of stepping down. what should the president do?

>> not to be too glib about it. but the justice department and cia are barely in the same branch of government at this point. that's part of the problem. my sense is pretty close to open bureaucratic warfare between the two and deep suspicion and an tag nix, it's a difficult situation. i agree it's the kind of situation where we have to try to find some legitimate outside force who can really look through the whole thing. you have an investigation colliding with investigation and it's a murky situation that unwillingness or inability to confront some of what happened during the bush years. that's the difficulty here.

>> thank you, all of you, casey hunt, political analyst mark halperin and howard fineman . always a pleasure.