The gloves are off and Senator Diane Feinstein is pissed. Seems the CIA is conducting an illegal search of Senate staffers charged with investigating the CIA’s interrogation program. According to the AP:

The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee accused the CIA Tuesday of criminal activity in improperly searching a computer network set up for lawmakers investigating allegations that the agency used torture in terror investigations during the Bush administration.

Democrat Dianne Feinstein, in an extraordinary speech on the Senate floor, publicly aired an intense but formerly quiet dispute between Congress and the spy agency. She said the matter has been referred to the Justice Department for further investigation.

Both Feinstein and the CIA have accused each other’s staffs of improper behavior. She said she had “grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.”

CIA Director John Brennan, asked about Feinstein’s accusations, said the agency was not trying to stop the committee’s report and that it had not been spying on the panel or the Senate. He said the appropriate authorities would look at the matter further and “I defer to them to determine whether or not there was any violation of law or principle.”

Brennan is the key to this story. He was a senior intelligence officer at the CIA during the George W. Bush administration and he was knowledgeable and supportive of the harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists and the invasion of Iraq back when it was politically expedient. He is the quintessential political Chameleon. Happily changed his stripes to become an Obama supporter in order to claw his way to head the CIA.

Brennan can be counted on to hide the truth and provide political cover. Remains to be seen if the snooping on the Senate staffers was carried out with his knowledge or authority.

CIA traditionally chafes at the thought of accepting Congressional oversight. Only this time, it appears that zealous CIA officials went too far. Another part of the dynamic is the fact that Repubicans on the Senate Intel are not too keen on pealing back the curtain on the abuses carried out under the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld regime. But these are truths that need to see the light of day.

I know from talking with knowledgeable friends that the extreme interrogation methods championed by the likes of Cheney were ineffective and, at times, counterproductive. Retired FBI Special Agent Ali Soufan has spoken and written repeatedly about what he saw on this front. The AP, in a separate story, highlights some key findings of the still unpublished Senate Intel Committee report:

—Feinstein, D-Calif., has said the program’s abuses included “beating a detainee in Afghanistan, who later died in custody, with a heavy flashlight; threatening a detainee with a handgun and a power drill; staging a mock execution; threatening to kill a detainee’s family; choking a detainee to the point of unconsciousness” and using the interrogation technique known as waterboarding in ways the CIA’s legal counsel had not authorized.

The report concluded that the rendition, detention and interrogation produced little intelligence of value, and claimed the CIA exaggerated its worth to the White House and Congress. The CIA has challenged that in a detailed, 100-page-plus rebuttal, according to former senior intelligence officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the report publicly.

Disagreements include whether the interrogation program helped track down Osama bin Laden. Former CIA Director Leon Panetta and others say it did; the Senate investigators say the CIA learned of the existence of the courier that led to bin Laden by other intelligence means.

The Senate staffers are revising their report and updating it to include some of those CIA comments, including correcting some factual errors, before asking the White House

This was not one of the finest hours for the CIA.

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Larry C. Johnson is a former analyst at the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, who moved subsequently in 1989 to the U.S. Department of State, where he served four years as the deputy director for transportation security, antiterrorism assistance training, and special operations in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism. He left government service in October 1993 and set up a consulting business. He currently is the co-owner and CEO of BERG Associates, LLC (Business Exposure Reduction Group) and is an expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, and crisis and risk management, and money laundering investigations. Johnson is the founder and main author of No Quarter, a weblog that addresses issues of terrorism and intelligence and politics. NoQuarterUSA was nominated as Best Political Blog of 2008.