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Reid orders probe of computers in Senate-CIA feud

– Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the CIA’s decision to search the Senate Intelligence Committee’s network and computers without approval was “absolutely indefensible” and carried serious implications for the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches.

Adding heat on the CIA, the Senate will investigate the network, which contained a Senate committee’s still-secret review of U.S. terror interrogations. It has been at the center of dueling criminal referrals to the Justice Department and a dramatic collapse in relations between the nation’s spy agencies and the lawmakers entrusted with their oversight.

On the other side, Reid said he had instructed his Senate’s chief cop to examine how Senate staffers obtained an internal CIA review, which the CIA accused them of improperly copying. But Reid described the CIA’s alleged monitoring of Senate computers as more serious.

The parameters of the sergeant-at-arms’ investigation are unclear, and it’s unknown what cooperation he’ll receive from the CIA, which has been locked in a bitter rift with the intelligence committee’s chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

The agency accuses committee staffers of illegally accessing certain documents; Feinstein and other senators say the CIA broke the law by monitoring its computer use and deleting files.

“To my knowledge, the CIA has produced no evidence to support its claims that Senate committee staff who have no technical training somehow hacked into the CIA’s highly secure classified networks, an allegation that appears on its face to be patently absurd,” Reid said in a letter to CIA Director John Brennan. A previous review, he said, appears to corroborate committee findings and contradict CIA claims.

CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said the agency was committed to resolving its differences with senators. The CIA, he said, “believes in the necessity of effective, strong and bipartisan congressional oversight.”

The clash between Congress and the CIA is arcane in its particulars but potentially broad in scope, with the sides battling over who will write the official history of one of the darkest eras in American spying – the waterboarding and brutal interrogations of al-Qaida prisoners in undeclared “black site” prisons overseas.

Feinstein’s claim that the CIA has undermined separation of powers makes it a constitutional fight, too.

The disagreement had been kept under wraps until this month and broke out fully into the open after the California Democrat took the Senate floor to outline her case last week. It was an extraordinary intervention for a senator who has been among the staunchest defenders of U.S. intelligence agencies.

The CIA has dismissed Feinstein’s allegations.

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