CIA vs. Senate is a real mess, maybe a crisis

Government spying from Washington has become government spying on Washington and may have escalated into a full constitutional crisis.

That’s how Senate Intelligence Committee head Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., describes it.

Not so, says CIA Director John Brennan. He says his agency did not break into the committee’s computers, as the senator alleged Tuesday. She says this is a defining moment for constitutional respect between branches of government.

The CIA says committee staffers got unauthorized documents and has asked the Justice Department to review their actions. Feinstein says a CIA search into committee computers has also been submitted for Justice Department review.

The high-stakes finger-pointing alone says this is a real mess, if not what Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called “Richard Nixon stuff” that’s “dangerous to the democracy” and means “heads should roll, people should go to jail if it’s true.”

Hang on. It only gets messier.

It all started in 2009 as a committee review of CIA “enhanced interrogations” (what some have described as torture) of terrorism suspects at secret prisons after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The interrogations had ended and the CIA had destroyed videotapes, but the agency said written records told the whole story.

Committee staffers reviewed documents and delivered what Feinstein calls a “chilling” report. The committee voted for a full investigation.

Rather than turn over all its documents, the CIA convinced Feinstein and other committee leaders that it would set up a secure office in northern Virginia where investigators could review everything on computers isolated from the agency’s control.

Someone should have heard a small voice: “ ‘Will you step into my parlor?’ said the spider to the fly.”

The investigative report is almost finished, and it’s apparently very damning for the CIA. The agency has admitted that it secretly removed some of the documents it had provided to the “secure” location, and Brennan acknowledges that committee computers there were searched for unauthorized files.

Some say Washington is dysfunctional. The evidence is stacking up.