Senator Dianne Feinstein has been one of Congress’s most outspoken supporters of government surveillance programs, yet she’s sure not a fan when federal agencies are directing their tracking at her. This week, Feinstein publicly called out the CIA for breaking laws by spying on the Senate.
According to the Democrat from California, the CIA hacked and monitored the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee members. Apparently, these legislators had access to some damning reports on U.S. torture that the CIA didn’t want them to see. Alas, Feinstein explains, some of the Senators had made their own copies of the intelligence before it mysteriously went missing from the servers.
“I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principle embodied in the the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause,” Feinstein said on the Senate floor. “It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function.” She added that the CIA’s method of surveillance also likely disobeyed the Fourth Amendment.
For what it’s worth, the CIA director John Brennan denies any wrongdoing, meaning it’s too early to say definitively whether Feinstein’s allegations are true. Still, it’s hard to ignore the government’s tried-and-true blanket denial of surveillance abuse. It’s similarly hard to ignore that Feinstein’s Fourth Amendment concerns only begin when it impacts her personal computer directly.
Feinstein isn’t alone in expressing hypocritical outrage. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said, “This is Richard Nixon stuff. This is dangerous to the democracy. Heads should roll, people should go to jail if it’s true. If it is, the legislative branch should declare war on the CIA.” Previously, Graham has insisted that he’s “sure” that U.S. surveillance is limited to tracking terrorists, despite ample evidence to the contrary.
Edward Snowden, a man who some members of Congress want to try for treason after he famously leaked NSA documents, addressed the irony to NBC News. “It’s clear the CIA was trying to play ‘keep away’ with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that’s a serious constitutional concern,” Snowden commented. “But it’s equally if not more concerning that we’re seeing another ‘[Angela] Merkel Effect,’ where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it’s a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them.”
Of course, just because the legislators are hypocritical doesn’t make them wrong in this instance. If the CIA misconduct is proven true – which admittedly could be difficult given the government’s propensity for deleting such evidence – this incident is a travesty for democracy.
At the very least, it’s clear that parts of the government are routinely breaking the law; the goal is not just to “fight terrorism,” but to usurp power from other branches. While the United States was founded on the notion of transparency, it’s becoming increasingly obvious just how much goes on behind the scenes and how vulnerable democracy is if these spying programs are left unchecked.
So yes, Feinstein and colleagues should stand up against being illegally monitored by a government agency. Just don’t forget that average citizens are entitled to these same rights, as well.