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For about 40 years Dianne Feinstein, aka DiFi, has been either my mayor or my senator. We have not had a happy relationship. I have always figured that if she lived anywhere other then San Francisco she would have been a Republican and much more at home in that political environment. However, she just launched an assault on the American intelligence establishment that I never thought I'd live to see.

Feinstein accuses CIA of 'intimidating' Senate staff over torture report  

The chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee, Dianne Feinstein, on Tuesday accused the Central Intelligence Agency of a catalogue of cover-ups, intimidation and smears aimed at investigators probing its role in an “un-American and brutal” programme of post-9/11 detention and interrogation.

In a bombshell statement on the floor of the US Senate, Feinstein, normally an administration loyalist, accused the CIA of potentially violating the US constitution and of criminal activity in its attempts to obstruct her committee’s investigations into the agency’s use of torture. She described the crisis as a “defining moment” for political oversight of the US intelligence service.

Her unprecedented public assault on the CIA represented an intensification of the row between the committee and the agency over a still-secret report on the torture of terrorist suspects after 9/11. Resolution of the crisis, Feinstein suggested, may come this week at the White House.

This is of course in its immediate dimensions a Washington turf war. Feinstein is defending the congressional prerogatives of her committee and protecting the members of the committee staff. However it does have very important constitutional implications for the balance of powers. Conceptually it is connected to Watergate and Iran Contra in terms of the powers of the executive branch vs the powers of congress. It is quite possible that some resolution may be found to diffuse this particular crisis. The matter is pretty much in Obama's lap at the moment. He has since he first took office attempted to avoid passing judgement on the activities of the CIA in the previous administration. This may be the point at which he can no longer do that.

This comes in the context of the controversies about the NSA which have been brewing for the past nine months. The country seems to be forced to confront realities about the security state and its apparatus. Feinstein has historically been one of its leading apologists and protectors. Could it be possible that she is now going to become a born again civil libertarian? I'm not holding my breath.  

Originally posted to Richard Lyon on Tue Mar 11, 2014 at 12:03 PM PDT.

Also republished by California politics.

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