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It looks like the NSA is not the only agency to potentially be eyeing a power grab

A fundamental pillar of the Constitution -- the foundation of federal government in the U.S. -- is the separation of powers.  Congress (the legislative branch) is supposed to be free to act without executive interference (e.g. the president and intelligence agencies).  But in the U.S. accusations are mounting that under Presidents Barack Obama (D) and George W. Bush (R) the executive branch illegally interfered with the legislative branch.
I. NSA Isn't the Only One Allegedly Spying on Congress
The latest accusations targets the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which has enjoyed relatively little scrutiny amid concerns of its sister agencies' role in the growing surveillance state.
For months controversy has primarily focused on the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), which has been executing a massive internet and phone record surveillance data collection scheme.

NSA eagle
[Image Source:]
Particularly troublesome is the fact that the NSA essentially admitted that it spies on Congress.  In a letter, the agency told members of Congress that they enjoyed no more protections from data collection than the average American.

The NSA, of course, "tries" not to view Americans' data, employing scripts to avoid looking at it.  The agency claims that it deletes it when it views it on accident.  Those claims, however, stretch the bounds of believability, particularly in light of the thousands of violations that are reportedly occurring every year.
II. Did CIA Hack Senate Computers to Try to Sabotage Torture Report?
The fresh accusations against the CIA are being led by U.S. Senator Dianne Goldman Berman Feinstein (D-Calif.), a member of the U.S. Senate Permanent Committee on Intelligence.  Her leadership is rather ironic, given that she largely defended even the most ambitious/controversial aspects of the NSA's (executive branch) bulk data collection programs, looking to institutionalize them into law.

Dianne Feinstein
Senator Feinstein (left) may finally have had enough of NSA spying. [Image Source: AP]
But what may have finally sent a wakeup call to Sen. Feinstein is the nature of the latest spying accusations.
Between 2001 and 2008, President Bush -- without the permission of Congress -- authorized the CIA and military intelligence officers to use torture on suspected militants in groups such as al Qaeda.  The tactic became relatively commonplace in a series of secret prisons in regions like Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 2009, President Obama ordered an end to the torture campaign.  In the wake of that edict, the Senate began to investigate whether the CIA's torture campaign was legal and whether it positively or negatively impacted national security.

After negotiations, a special site was set up in northern Virginia where Senate Intelligence Committee members and their staff could comb through a trove of 6.2 million pages of unindexed documents.  The seemingly neutral ground was supposed to protect Congress from seeing documents that could endanger national security, while preventing the CIA from interfering with the investigation.

CIA Logo
[Image Source: AFP]
In 2009 and 2010, Senators and their staff began to notice documents they had been using were disappearing.  They alerted the CIA to their concerns, and the CIA in a roundabout way seemed to indicate that its employees had accessed the machines through remote backdoors and deleted some files.  While the CIA never explicitly admitted to doing that, Director Brennan apologized to the Senate for the issues, promising there would be no more disruptions.
III. Promises Are Broken
But in late 2010 the Senators got their hands on a critical document called "internal Panetta review", which according to reports may have been handed off to Senate staffers by a CIA whistleblower.  The CIA tried a two-fold approach to try to destroy the damning document, according to Senator Feinstein.
First it once again accessed the computers at the neutral facility.  And going a step further, it reportedly had agents hack into Senate laptops and delete many of the remaining copies.  These laptops connected to a so-called "stand-alone computer system" -- reportedly a network on site that the CIA claimed was secure to connect Congressional computers to.

George W. Bush
President George Walker Bush (R) [Image Source: AP]
Second, at the same time it looked to press charges against the Senate staff that accepted the document, which it claims was stolen.  The CIA implied that Senate staffers had hacked it (not the other way around) and had violated the CFAA.
In her speech Sen. Feinstein rebukes that theory, stating:
The committee staff did not hack into CIA computers to obtain these documents.
The CIA Inspector General reportedly also sent a report to the Senate, suggesting that a member or multiple members of its staff may have broken laws when they allegedly passed the document to Senate staffers.  Sen. Feinstein also condemned this statement, calling it "a potential effort to intimidate this staff."
The Senate review -- a 6,300-page report -- was eventually finished, but remains classified.  Its conclusion, reportedly, was that torture had not produced substantial results, while creating a substantial national security risk by breeding animosity towards the U.S. and risking reciprocity in hostile states.

Torture is Illegal
The Senate eventually produced its report, despite the setbacks. [Image Source: AP]
The CIA parried with a 122-page report criticizing some of the Congressional claims.
IV. The Boiling Point
It is unclear what led to Senator Feinstein's outburst this week, but clearly the animosity between the CIA and Congress over the CIA's actions had been growing for some time.
On Tuesday she took the Senate floor announcing for the first time to the public that the CIA had spied on the Senate.  Her speech can be viewed in the video below.

She went on to suggest that the search may have been not only illegal under the Constitution, but eligible for felony punishments under the rather ambiguous Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986 (18 USC § 1030).
Sen. Ronald Lee "Ron" Wyden (D-Oreg.) -- another member of the Intelligence Committee on Jan. 29 wrote CIA Director John Owen Brennan asking: “Does the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act apply to the CIA?"

John Brennan
CIA Director John Owen Brennan

Mr. Brennan's response is seen below.

Brennan Letter to Wyden on CFAA by Senator Ron Wyden

In it, he indicates that CIA employees are indeed bound by that law, while arguing that the agency sometimes needs to hack people, quoting the law:
[This act] does not prohibit any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity.
To President Bush or Mr. Brennan, spying on Congress, might seem a "protective" act.  But the issue is the "lawfully authorized" bit.  While part of the executive branch, the CIA is bound by the laws passed by Congress, and it seems that Congress feels it never authorized the CIA to hack into Congressional computers (an authorization which would lead to obvious and troubling repercussions).
V. Protecting the Nation, or Seizing Power?
In a comment to NBC News, Mr. Brennan dropped the defiant tone of his letter, looking to distance himself from the growing hacking scandal.  In that interview he states:

We weren't trying to block anything.  The matter is being dealt with in an appropriate way, being look at by the right authorities, and the facts will come out.  But let me assure you the CIA was in no way spying on [the committee] or the Senate.  We greatly respect the separation of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch.
I will be the first one to say we need to get to the bottom of it. And if I did something wrong, I will go to the president and I will explain to him exactly what I did and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.

It is unclear what President Obama's relationship to the CIA sabotage/hacking effort against the Senate was.

What was the President's role in the hack on the Senate?

Few are asking this bigger question, despite the fact that it is an obvious question to ask.  After all, during the CIA's actions spying on Congress, Mr. Brennan's boss was none other than President Obama.  While President Obama has been publicly opposed to torture of foreign combatants and was undeniably integral in ending that tactic's use, he also appeared to support the bulk collection of Congressional records by the NSA.

It's difficult to believe that the President knew nothing of Mr. Brennan's efforts to cover up executive branch and military wrongdoings, particularly given how closely they mirror the President's surveillance state philosophy that was inadvertently articulated by NSA leaks.

VI. Pressure on Brennan Mounts as White House Watches

The President has often expressed a degree of contempt for Congress.  For example at his State of the Union speech this year, he remarked:

I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.

The message seemed relatively clear -- the President believed that at times it was necessary for the executive branch to seize -- or in his words "try (to seize)" -- absolute power, striking down opposing views from the legislative and judicial branches.

Obama and Bush
The CIA takes orders from the DNI and the President of the U.S. [Image Source: AP]

Again, if the allegations prove true, they were performed by the deputies of President Obama's hand-picked employee (Brennan).

At a press briefing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney's at least feigned ignorance of the activity.  However, it is also apparent that silencing an "uncooperative" Congress would not be an unfamiliar goal of the President.

It seems likely that the scandal may necessitate the resignation of Mr. Brennan.  More unclear is whether CIA employees involved with the hacking/sabotage attempt will face criminal charges under the CFAA or other laws.  Also unclear is whether the scandal will threaten higher up executive branch officials such as the Director of National Intelligence or the President himself.

Congress Buillding wide
Separation of powers is a crucial part of what keeps America free.
[Image Source: U.S. Congress]

Given that Sen. Feinstein is a Democrat she may look to stop short of blaming the President for the spying.  In fact, in reports President Bush was often mentioned, possibly in an effort to confuse the reader into thinking the spying occurred under the last Republican President. 

If politics indeed played a role in why Sen. Feinstein chose to blast the spying related to the torture probe -- an investigation of a Bush era tactic -- it may backfire.  Now that she's played the CFAA card, it seems likely that Senator Randall Howard "Rand" Paul (R-Kent.) and other libertarian-leaning Republicans and Democrats may look to level similar criminal allegations against the NSA for similar spying on Congress.  It's possible the President may even face accusations.

Many questions remaining in this latest spying mess.  But what is clear at this point is that the CIA and NSA have both been spying on Congress, at least in the traditional sense of the word -- although both would take umbrage at that terminology given their knack for creative redefinition.

Sources: Senate (filmed by AP) on YouTube, AP, NBC News

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By Reclaimer77 on 3/12/2014 10:04:41 AM , Rating: 5
That's really all you have to say about this? How petty can you get...

No wonder we're in this mess. The apathy of the average citizen toward what's going on around them is at an all time high.

Sure Congress has their share of crooks and criminals, but at least they are under a microscope. At least they have oversight. And they can at least be voted out of office.

Can the same be said about these shadow organizations like the NSA and CIA? Hell no. They essentially take their directives from the President, despite what we've been told.

But hey, just boil it all down to "LAWL LMAO POT MEET KETTLEZ LAWL" and go back to your Twitter feed and reality TV. Nothing to see here I guess...

By R!TTER on 3/12/14, Rating: -1
By Reclaimer77 on 3/12/2014 11:56:36 AM , Rating: 1

Where in my post do you see me...

Argh whatever, fuck it, I don't have to explain myself. I have years of history here of being a hardcore conservative. I've even been called anti-Government.

My post wasn't some huge defense of Congress or those who populate it, that wasn't the point.

But the OP seems to be saying "hey congress is bad, so it's no big deal what the NSA/CIA is doing"

I STRONGLY disagree.

By Spuke on 3/12/2014 12:04:20 PM , Rating: 2
Personally, I think she's FOS on this one. IMO, another attempt to pull attention away from the NSA scandal whom we KNOW are highly questionable acts.

By Spuke on 3/12/2014 12:05:14 PM , Rating: 2
Geez, committing highly questionable acts...sigh

By Reclaimer77 on 3/12/2014 12:12:02 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah like the day after Snowden's appearance and speech? Hmmm.... makes you wonder.

By retrospooty on 3/12/2014 10:55:14 AM , Rating: 2
"Sure Congress has their share of crooks and criminals"

I don't disagree entirely with what you are saying, but congress has way more than its share of crooks and criminals. The entire lot is corrupt from the ground up. Any congressman or senator that goes to DC that isn't already corrupt, becomes corrupt or get marginalized and made impotent by the internal power structure that exists. It's a horrible mess... Buy yes, the whole spying thing needs to be outed and stopped by any means necessary.

By Reclaimer77 on 3/12/2014 11:52:16 AM , Rating: 2
I don't disagree entirely with what you are saying, but congress has way more than its share of crooks and criminals. The entire lot is corrupt from the ground up.

I agree but that's not the point!! This is way deeper than what branch of the Government is more hypocritical than the other, or whatever nonsense the OP is spewing.

By retrospooty on 3/12/2014 12:01:24 PM , Rating: 2
Yup... It's an endless quagmire for sure. The sad thing is there is no end in sight. How do we as a country even begin to realistically fix it?

By Reclaimer77 on 3/12/2014 12:07:14 PM , Rating: 4
How do we as a country even begin to realistically fix it?

I don't know, but allowing a pseudo-shadow Government to exist and say it's okay because "Congress is bad" didn't seem like the answer to me.

By JediJeb on 3/13/2014 3:50:47 PM , Rating: 2
The only way to fix it is for the populace to educate themselves on what their right are, how they are the power of government, and to use their brains and some common sense to elect people to congress while ignoring whatever little letter appears beside their names. If the democrat and republican are both highly questionable, elect an independent, or some other person. If that person doesn't do a proper job of running the country, then at the next election vote for someone else. After four or five cycles of one term elected officials, they will begin to understand that the people will no longer take their BS.

The people have the power, they are just too interested in their sports and reality shows to care.

If you finally get good people in office and they discover the CIA or NSA or IRS or any other agencies are corrupt, they have the power to do away with that agency and start over from scratch. The Constitution does not guarantee that any of these agencies get to exist, only the Congress, President, and Supreme Court and the Military. Those four are the only ones protected by the Constitution, all of the others exist at the whim of those in charge essentially. The first one I would wipe away would be Homeland Security. I hope they never elect me president or that would be my first use of an executive order.

By Argon18 on 3/12/2014 12:00:34 PM , Rating: 2
"yes, the whole spying thing needs to be outed and stopped by any means necessary. "

This isn't a rogue NSA and a rogue CIA acting autonomously. These organizations exist to feed intelligence information to the President and his cabinet. That's their purpose in life. That means they take their orders from the President. This is Obama's NSA and Obama's CIA. The accountability trail for all this domestic spying leads straight to the Oval Office.

By retrospooty on 3/12/2014 12:35:28 PM , Rating: 1
I didn't say it was rogue or anyone acting autonomously, I said it needs to stop. Obviously the "buck" stops at the top. "change" my arse.

By JediJeb on 3/13/2014 3:54:42 PM , Rating: 2
This is Obama's NSA and Obama's CIA. The accountability trail for all this domestic spying leads straight to the Oval Office.

I agree. Also, if he claims ignorance of their activities then he should be considered derelict in his duties as president since he is supposed to be in charge. It is the responsibility of the president to know what those below him are doing, if they are not letting him know then he should get rid of them from the top down, if he refuses to find out what they are doing then it is his mistake to be dealt with.

By Brockway on 3/17/2014 10:47:31 AM , Rating: 2
The whole executive branch (and legislative, judicial may be getting blackmailed by the executive) is either criminal or incompetent. There is no middle here. Holder either authorized fast and furious, or he somehow missed it. Clinton either told Benghazi backup to stand down or she missed that they were being murdered. Lerner knew about IRS targeting, she leaked it for gods sake. Its getting to where this all has to be malice, and not plain ignorance. Its just too unbelievable that these are just mistakes.

By lagomorpha on 3/12/2014 11:44:32 AM , Rating: 3
Sure Congress has their share of crooks and criminals, but at least they are under a microscope. At least they have oversight. And they can at least be voted out of office.

And yet, "Feinstein has been re-elected four times since then and in the 2012 election, she claimed the record for the most popular votes in any U.S. Senate election in history, having received 7.75 million votes.[3]".

Any oversight that comes from the voting public puts elected officials under a kaleidoscope, not a microscope.

By JediJeb on 3/13/2014 3:56:05 PM , Rating: 2
Well you know, pot is somewhat legal out there. Maybe that explains a few things.

By BRB29 on 3/12/2014 12:23:22 PM , Rating: 2
That's really all you have to say about this? How petty can you get...

Says the guy that repeats his rants on the internet forums. Then reference his own quotes and use it as facts thinking he's always right.

FYI, the only microscope Congress has got is actually the NSA, CIA, FBI, etc... The Supreme Court cannot go after them. They can only do something when someone brings it to the Supreme court.

Let me remind you that The House of Reps(part of congress) makes its own HR(house rules). Right before the recent utter failure of a government shut down, your congressman huddled together to pass a HR preventing anyone from bringing a bill up for vote. This is a planned attack to hold the government hostage and only the people suffer. It's funny our beloved Congressman will get paid regardless and vote for their raise every year while they tell us we need sequestration. Isn't it funny how everyone else pays but them?

Tell me where in history has the FBI, CIA or NSA held the country hostage that way? or any agency for that matter that even come close to producing such catastrophe.

Reclaimer, you can stay in your basement or you can go outside and live in reality like the rest of us.

By Reclaimer77 on 3/12/2014 12:30:49 PM , Rating: 2
You sound like an idiot, honestly, you make no sense.

Supreme Court go after Congress? The Supreme Court doesn't "go after" anyone, they aren't law enforcement!

And your entire third paragraph shows how two dimensional you're thinking is. It's pathetic.

Do you think I'm saying Congress is great and wonderful or something? Broaden your mind, I know it hurts, and actually THINK about what I'm really saying.

This is a planned attack to hold the government hostage and only the people suffer.


Nobody "suffered" from the "shutdown" or sequestration. It didn't DO anything, or even effect anyone.

And it was a desperate attempt to hold Obama to his OWN promises of reducing spending and meeting the goals HE agreed to in the first original debt ceiling deal.

They were trying to save the country, you Liberal shithead.

By lagomorpha on 3/12/2014 1:00:26 PM , Rating: 2
It didn't DO anything, or even effect anyone.

Should be "affect anyone" unless you're saying "It did not bring anyone into existence."

But it does make me wonder (IANAL). If a class action suit was brought against the NSA for unconstitutional activities and it made it to the Supreme Court, could the Supreme Court decide that the bill funding the NSA was unconstitutional on the grounds that it inevitably led the government to unconstitutional behavior?

By BRB29 on 3/12/2014 1:46:20 PM , Rating: 2
There's no point in reasoning with a guy that's so blind and loyal to the Republicans that he can't see the shut down affected millions.

Everything from the stock market, financial markets, to the job markets saw high volatility. People were going nuts and even the republicans themselves admitted it was a bad idea and utter failure on national television.

Reclaimer is nothing more than a crazy political fanboy and a troll.

By Reclaimer77 on 3/12/2014 2:05:28 PM , Rating: 3
he can't see the shut down affected millions of Government employees


To that I say, boo hoo.

Oh I especially like how Obama ordered parks and monuments, who weren't even using Federal funds, to be closed because of the "shutdown". So people would think it's all those meanie Republicans fault.

I'm not being "loyal" to Republicans. Hey idiot, I'm not a Republican, I'm a Conservative.

But the simple fact is anyone seeing the "shutdown" through the eyes of the Liberal media, is a moron. It wasn't a big deal, and the principles behind it were righteous and noble.

Everything from the stock market, financial markets

OF COURSE!!! Those markets are in a current boom thanks to billions of taxpayer money being poured down their pie holes. Do you think the current situation is sustainable though or even morally right?

You think when the impending debt crisis hits, and our economy collapses, the "shutdown" will still be a bad idea?

Reclaimer is nothing more than a crazy political fanboy and a troll.

Guess I would rather be that than whatever you are: blind fool.

By Spuke on 3/12/2014 3:13:18 PM , Rating: 3
Actually it didn't affect millions of Government employees, it affected about 400,000 of them mostly DOD. And I think the real number was even less than that. I'm very familiar with the Fed employee stuff and there were a LOT of people still working AND getting paid during the shutdown. Also, gov shutdowns don't necessarily mean people have to go home and not get paid. It depends on how the guidance is written. The DOD actually had the authority to put their people back to work AND pay them (and they did so when they figured out the legalities of it). The President can simply tell people to go to work AND Congress can say they're getting paid anyway. It's all politics, there's nothing honorable about it. Zero points made. The only thing the gov managed to achieve was a public demonstration to the world that we have a wholly incompetent leadership structure. Quite frankly, I'm surprised we haven't been invaded yet.

By Reclaimer77 on 3/12/2014 9:41:32 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah I just love all these Liberals making the so-called "shutdown" out to be some huge issue for Americans.

I woke up the next day, nothing changed.
Drove to work, nothing changed.
Used the Internet, nothing changed.
Went shopping, no change.
Drove home, no change.

Turn on TV, "OH MY GOD people are dying in the streets!!! THE SHUTDOWN IS UPON US!! GODDAMN THOSE REPUBLICANS!!!!!!! "

Political theater, meah. It works on the soft-minded though.

By senecarr on 3/13/2014 12:34:25 PM , Rating: 2
So because nothing happened to YOU, directly, the shutdown was no big deal? That you have that kind of mentality explains a lot of your political opinions.

By retrospooty on 3/12/2014 2:05:55 PM , Rating: 2
"There's no point in reasoning with a guy that's so blind and loyal to the Republicans that he can't see the shut down affected millions...Reclaimer is nothing more than a crazy political fanboy and a troll."

No, that isnt Reclaimer... THIS is reclaimer.

And he may well be right.

By Reclaimer77 on 3/12/2014 2:11:10 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly! Hell if I was being honest, in my heart of hearts, I would be perfectly happy without any Government whatsoever.

I got my guns, I got my land, now leave me the hell alone :P

By retrospooty on 3/12/2014 2:28:51 PM , Rating: 2
You know, when that show first came on, and I saw Ron Swanson, I thought "OK, an eccentric funny character". The more time goes by I think he is right, at least partially... The govt. manages money like a child. If it were my kid, I would de-fund it, period.

The very concept we have going now is flawed. Above all else, you (the govt in general) have proven you cant manage money at all, whatsoever... So the solution is to keep throwing more and more money your way? Insanity.

By atechfan on 3/12/2014 3:24:44 PM , Rating: 2
Exactly. Federal government should handle national defence, border security, and that is pretty much it. It should touch the lives of ordinary citizens as little as possible.

By KFZ on 3/12/2014 3:22:40 PM , Rating: 2
>"Sure Congress has their share of crooks and criminals, but at least they are under a microscope. At least they have oversight. And they can at least be voted out of office."

I disagree. This hag is supposed to be oversight. The only thing that she's overseeing is her own wrinkly behind.

Surveillance against all citizens: What's the problem?
Secretive agencies digging into her business: They did WHAT?!

Congress is not under a microscope. They don't let anyone look at their business. Did not that become clear to you in this story?

Congress does not have adequate oversight. It is overseeing if not orchestrating the meltdown of America for whatever interests.

(Many) Congressional members cannot be voted out of office. Gerrymandering and political machinery employ nearly unbeatable office holders that are married to their seats. That's not even picking on the ilk of Reid or McCain. There are 14 actively serving members with 36 years or more of "service".

If anything our focus should be on them, not these agencies. A quality Congress wouldn't allow them or an administration to get away with the unholy screwing of the nation and every citizen.

You're not touching the likes of the CIA or NSA with a 100 foot pole by "caring" about what they're doing. Politicians matter. They have everything to fear from angry people which is exactly the lesson to be learned from the IRS scandal.

By Spuke on 3/12/2014 3:44:26 PM , Rating: 2
You're not touching the likes of the CIA or NSA with a 100 foot pole by "caring" about what they're doing. Politicians matter. They have everything to fear from angry people which is exactly the lesson to be learned from the IRS scandal.
BAM! People do not understand just how much power they have. The gov is in constant FEAR of ANY kind of collective opposition to what they do. It is a matter of continuous discussion. It really is about what they can barely get away with.

By superstition on 3/12/2014 6:58:08 PM , Rating: 2
They can get away with a lot more. The only thing stopping them is disagreement among the puppet masters due to conflicting interests (families).

The American public is so ignorant and cowed that even the steady paramilitarization of police forces, legislation against protesting, and the like is hardly even necessary.

"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan

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