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About this blog: The Raucous Caucus shares the southpaw perspectives of this Boomer on the state of the nation, the world, and, sometimes, other stuff. I enjoy crafting it to keep current, and occasionally to rant on some issue I care about deeply...  (More)

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DiFi vs. Spy

Uploaded: Mar 12, 2014

Sometimes, truth is stranger than Mad magazine. And SOMEtimes, circumstances can be weird enough to convert even our own Senator What, Me Worry into a raging civil libertarian.

On Tuesday, California's Dianne Feinstein took the floor of the Senate to express her dismay and indignation at the clandestine tactics of the CIA in resisting her Intelligence Committee's oversight of the spy agency. That Committee, which she chairs, has for years been trying to conduct a proper inquiry into CIA interrogation programs, post-9/11.

In an earlier chapter (circa 2007), the spooks destroyed several videos of detainees under tor ? sorry Mr. former VP ? aggressive, enhanced, inhumane, and abusive questioning. They claimed at the time that they were not destroying evidence because they retained documents describing those cases. And as we all know, a paper is worth a thousand pics.

This time, the controversy involves how the Feinstein staff would get access to some 6.2 million pages of documents that described those operations. Secrecy was paramount, because these are papers whose warts are their best features. They detail many gruesome incidents of rendition and, yes, torture committed in the name of freedom. Apparently, what they don't reveal is much in the way of actual, useful intel.

Now, on one level, you might think that the GOP could just buy popcorn and jostle for ringside seats for this Separation of Powers slugfest, between two Dem-controlled Executive and Legislative bodies. But what adds further spice to this bi-partisan brawl is both that it centers on sordid conduct during the Bush years, and many of the senior Agency players are still in-place and vulnerable. Their interest in retaining their freedom far exceeds any temporizing about Party affiliations or loyalties.

So, private negotiations were conducted, and it was agreed that Senate Committee staff would get access to those reams of reports, mostly in electronic form, at a safe house location in northern Virginia. The data would be transferred to computers provided by the Agency, and firewalled away from its sources at Langley. Cooperation was minimal, at best, as documents arrived in random order and had to be organized by the unlucky staffers. You know those refrigerator magnets of individual letters that can be unscrambled into words? It was a little like that, only a lot less entertaining.

Behind the firewall, Agency representatives (contractors ? hmm. What could possibly go wrong?) madly bustled to read those docs before they were pitched over the wall. Many arrived with various claims of privilege attached, and, given the Agency's track record, it's fair to ask how many didn't survive the review, at all. By accident, of course. Over the course of several years, they have been culled, and analyzed, and assembled into what we're told is a classified, 6300-page scathing review of CIA practices.

But wait ? there's more. One of the docs that the staffers received was the CIA's own review of what those materials portend. It is called the "Panetta review," for future reference. The staffers say they got it inadvertently from the Agency ? or perhaps by CIA whistleblower(!).

The Agency claims it was hacked, through the firewall of its own making. Either way ? oops. The Panetta review document has been spirited-out of the safe house and is kept in an actual safe somewhere in the bowels of the Capitol. Remarkably, it makes reference to materials that were never provided to the Committee. It also reaches similarly serious conclusions about wrongdoing by Agency personnel.

Why, you might reasonably ask, did the staffers feel a need to remove that particular document from its review site? That answer is chilling, even for this frosty tale. Staffers had noted that significant files were disappearing from the hard drives in the safe house ? all traces removed, vanished. With Mr. Snowden otherwise accounted-for, suspicion fell on the CIA in the biggest WTF development of this sordid saga (to-date). It really is the separation-of-powers follies ? the overseers surveilled by the overseen in a huge challenge to our notions of who's allowed to do what, and to whom, within our government (all of whom are working for ? who, again? I've lost track).

In now-typical fashion, the CIA first denied knowledge, citing likely staffer negligence in those disappearances. They then fell back to blaming the IT guys, also contractors with that safe insulation layer 'twixt themselves and anyone who 'matters' within the Agency. Finally, they copped to the deletions of more than 900 documents in 2010. Yes, they had in fact infiltrated to Committee's computers ? but for an excellent reason: Executive Privilege. The President made 'em do it. And they had the temerity to demand that the Committee return the 'purloined' Panetta review document that had escaped their processes.

That was apparently too much even for DiFi, who has been a too-staunch supporter of NSA surveillance of the rest of us. The shoe is on her foot ? and it's a hard pinch. In a harsh, 4000-word rebuke delivered on the Senate floor she expressed her belated outrage with born-again religious fervor. Three uber-serious concerns animated her speech:

One: The Panetta review document, that both refers to documents-not-provided, and admits to numerous misdeeds that the Agency has disputed publicly;

Two: The CIA search of the Senate staff computers, and removal of 900+ previously produced, particularly damaging documents, and

Three: that the CIA has contacted DOJ federal prosecutors to ask for a criminal investigation of how the Senate staffers got the Panetta review. In colloquial parlance, I believe that's called intimidation.

To her considerable credit, DiFi has gone public in a ballistic manner, instead of shrinking back from this pattern of alleged misdeeds and bullying. CIA Chief Brennan, caught in mid pants-drop, has issued a strong, if standard-issue denial.

There is much, Much more to come on this issue, folks. The Senator is right when she says that this strikes at the heart of our system of governance, our checks-and-balances. If proven-out, those violations simply cannot be tolerated. They need to be stomped-on with both feet, the better to deter such misconduct in the future. Even the parts of the saga that are not in serious dispute are Mad mag-worthy.

I'm only sorry that she waited as long as she has to go the mattresses in public view. I also hope that she sees the apparent linkages between these misdeeds and those that are sure to follow, whenever government has too much power to snoop ? and then inevitably oversteps even those lax limits. I hope we have a Convert, and an important ally in the ongoing push-back to retake our privacy.
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Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Mar 12, 2014 at 2:22 pm

in my private opinion Senator F has little to no credibility so I don't care what she thinks or says.

as far as I'm concerned the wicked witch is over...

the old witch can't be t r u s t e d!

i rest my case...

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Mar 12, 2014 at 2:31 pm

Don't forget Sen. F is the same ole hen who stated that all veterans are mentally ill and shouldn't own guns...?

How can anybody shoot back if you can't own a gun?

chee gots sum splaining to do...

Posted by Bill, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows,
on Mar 13, 2014 at 4:23 pm

Kind of funny that Dianne didn't mind the CIA/NSA/FBI looking up the dresses of 330 million Americans, but look up her dress and all hell breaks loose. What isn't funny is that these agencies now have the computer power to assemble a storyline that includes audio and video of everyday of your life and the life of everybody else. For those of you who still think that there is nothing to fear because you haven't done anything wrong...it's time to stop drinking the kool aid.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Mar 14, 2014 at 2:58 pm

I'm a private person and I don't say awful things about innocent folks but I have heard a rumor that I started about anybody that looks her dress is gonna be outdone.

what does she not want the public to know about what's concealed?


Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore,
on Mar 14, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Correction: ...anybody that looks up her dress is gonna be outdone...i rest my case...

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 14, 2014 at 3:32 pm

You know, I really thought this was a good one -- fun to write, and timely. So if 'attendance' continues to lag, I intend to blame you guys in the Comments for directing the imagery north from the Senator's honorable shoes.

Posted by Doug Miller, a resident of Country Fair,
on Mar 14, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Doug Miller is a registered user.

Good one Tom. Blame Bush, blame your readers but do not take any responsibility for a lack of interest in your topic or in how you have framed the issue.

Please tell us what you think are examples of "sordid conduct" by the Bush administration. You just throw this stuff out there without any supporting references. Such comments reveal your strong political bias and discourage legitimate discussion. Only people who agree with you are treated with some respect in your almost immediate responses to every comment.

You seem to be referring to the so-called torture of water boarding. It isn't. We subject our own troops to water boarding during training. No one gets hurt. No one dies. No one loses a hand or arm or private parts before being left to bleed out. If you want to know about torture, read up on what al Qaeda did to its opposition in Iraq.

Obama has been in office for more than five years. It is an Obama problem. This is a dispute between two Democrat controlled agencies. The real story here is that even prominent Democrats are fed up with the President's efforts to run over every other branch of government. The CIA is an agency that falls under the executive branch. It does what Obama wants them to do. Just like the IRS has been targeting political opponents. Just like the justice department has been targeting unfriendly press outlets. Just like the many executive agencies that now enforce laws selectively based on what the President wants done. As a lawyer you should be disgusted with this administration. Obama is now as unpopular as Bush was.

"I hope we have a Convert, and an important ally in the ongoing push-back to retake our privacy." Really? It won't be anyone in your political party. How about Rand Paul? That is an issue that he is concerned about.

Posted by Tom Cushing, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 15, 2014 at 8:17 am

Oh Doug, really? Blame the readers? Do I have to put emoticons after everything I comment in-jest as a guide to the humorless?

As to the article, it is simply a fact that that the Senate Committee on Intelligence is investigating the use of torture during the Post-9/11 time frame, which were Bush years. I fault Obama for not facilitating the probe -- all he did was order an end to torture practices -- whatever/if they were.

The investigation did not occur in earnest until the Dems attained a Senate majority, and obviously politics played a part there, too. I would assume that you would favor such a probe -- you know, to clear the air of all this innuendo and these spurious claims. [note: if you agree, fine. If not, that was 'sarcasm']

Now, the fact is that we do.not.know. what's in the Committee's report -- perhaps it's 6,300 pages of nuthin'-to-see-here. I doubt it, and I do want to see that information aired, rather than swept under the rug -- only to rear its ugly mug the next time the nation is under the pressure of tragedy. There are some things we shouldn't do, based on principle. We need greater clarity on those, including an understanding of our history.

Of course, from what's been leaked of the report, it's been suggested that the practices we used did not work, anyway -- in terms of revealing secrets, plans or other actionable intel. If that's true, then we have Two reasons not to do it any more. If not, then we need to know that, too -- but spare me the hypotheticals about the ticking bomb in the hands of my captive child -- a suicide bomber has made his/her decision -- s/he won't give up the defuser.

As far as all that imperial presidency nonsense -- I'd suggest that you change the channel occasionally. Those unlinked charges about the imperial presidency are just so much trumped-up indignation -- how'd you manage to leave out the Benghazi cover-up?

As to Rand Paul, there are some points of intersection in our respective philosophical Venn diagrams. I have been complimentary in the past on his privacy views, and am sure there will be a lot more to say about him as time goes on. Contrary to your last para, many others on the liberal end of the political spectrum have been concerned about privacy, as well as a matter of civil liberties -- DiFi was an outlier, which is a small part of why this was news, in a 'man bites dog' sense.

So, other than with almost everything you wrote, I agree with you. [That's a joke.]

Posted by anony, a resident of another community,
on Mar 18, 2014 at 9:27 am

DI-FI anu
DI-FI anu
DI-FI anu
DI-anu DI-anu



Posted by Jake, a resident of Alamo,
on Mar 19, 2014 at 10:09 am

I thought I\'d be reading a lot of comments on this topic, however, may be given the political inclination of most people in the Bay Area perhaps it feels uncomfortable to step in the ring and referee the fight between two who are on the same team. I am not surprised that DiFi supported the "Security Apparatus" till it got too close to home; in away we are all like that. As long as it does not involve us directly we will not be passionate about anything ( the youth may be an exception though most are not well informed) and that is one of the most troubling issue of our time. By the way my experience of "writing to our representatives" has been that the letters get scanned by a computer and the auto-response keys on words that the representative has in the can to support their message! Fogget-abotit. If anything I am surprised our letters to DiFi has not placed on the No-fly list.

The arguments re Bush vs Obama misses the nature of security organizations. Once they get established their first goal becomes self-preservation and they have all the tools persuasion and intimidation to have the friends and foes support them. They outlasts any administration (recall Hoover at FBI). It is the same all over the world; after Iranian revolution the Ayatollahs hired back most of the Shah\'s secret service and KGB is doing fine! They are apparently an evil necessity that become stronger as we trade off safety for loss of freedom.

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