Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein is setting off a political fire storm, accusing the CIA of searching Senate computers, even removing documents from them. She says it happened when her committee was investigating the agency’s now-defunct interrogation program, adding that she believes the CIA may have violated the Constitution or broken federal law.
While he said he hates to speculate, Rogers warned if someone did break the law, they would pay for their crimes.
"It's troubling to see this, but I do have just immense respect for Senator Feinstein. So if she's going down to the floor, there’s - she clearly believes that something untoward happened. The IG has referred a criminal referral to the Department of Justice. So there's something there. We need to get to the bottom of this soon to make sure that this thing doesn't spill over and stop the agency from being able to do its work.
At the same time, we also need to make sure that the agency did not break any laws. That would be a pretty horrific situation and it would destroy that legislative-CIA relationship. And here's the other troubling thing, to have the CIA deciding that they were going to openly confront the legislative oversight body is - that in itself was troubling. I think that was a horrible decision. So we need to unwind this, get tensions down, and find out what the facts are so we can get this behind us and move forward."
Nothing gets conspiracy theorists going more than a passenger plane crashing under mysterious circumstances.
In the absence of hard information to explain such disasters, people look for answers, and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 early Saturday could prompt the same response.
TWA Flight 800 fell out of the sky on July 17, 1996, shortly after leaving JFK International Airport, killing all 230 people on board.
Recovery and investigative efforts were hampered because TWA 800 went down in the Atlantic.
Some soon posited that terrorists armed with surface-to-air missiles had brought down the plane.
This theory seemed to be bolstered by eyewitness accounts such as that provided by Naneen Levine, who said she saw something streaking up toward the doomed plane. "I thought it was something on the beach going straight up."
Three months after the TWA crash, former ABC News correspondent Pierre Salinger, who had once been President John Kennedy's press secretary, weighed in at a news conference that a U.S. Navy ship had brought down TWA 800 with a missile. Salinger came to this conclusion because of a document on the Internet making this claim.
Bob Francis, the former vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said of Salinger, "He was an idiot. ... He didn't know what he was talking about, and he was totally irresponsible."
After a four-year investigation, the NTSB ruled that the TWA 800 crash was caused by "an explosion of the center wing fuel tank, resulting from ignition of the flammable fuel/air mixture in the tank."
Three years after TWA 800 went down, EgyptAir Flight 990 left JFK International and soon plunged into the Atlantic, killing more than 200 people on board.
Two competing theories about what happened emerged. The NTSB, widely regarded around the world as the most authoritative investigator of plane crashes, concluded after a three-year investigation that one of the Egyptian pilots, Gameel al-Batouti, had intentionally downed the plane.
NTSB pointed to the fact that the downward trajectory of the plane was inconsistent with mechanical failure. Based on the recovered cockpit voice recorder, NTSB also underlined al-Batouti's constant use of the phrase, "I rely on God," and his lack of surprise when the passenger jet suddenly began descending.
In Egypt, this was not a popular view, and Egyptian officials pointed to supposed mechanical failure as the cause of the crash.
The conspiracy theories that developed around TWA 800 were caused by unreliable eyewitness accounts and Internet rumor-mongering. In the case of EgyptAir 900, Egyptian officials would not accept that an Egyptian pilot would commit suicide, killing many others, and came up with an alternative explanation for which there was scant evidence.
In the case of the downing of Pan Am Flight 103, there was a deliberate effort to inject a conspiracy theory into the narrative of the events.
Pan Am 103 blew up over Scotland on December 21, 1988, because of a bomb in the hold, which killed 270 on board and others on the ground.
Juval Aviv, who presented himself as a former Israeli counterterrorism official, was hired by Pan Am to investigate what happened.
In his report, Aviv claimed to have proof that the murder of the passengers on Pan Am 103 was the result of a CIA sting operation that went awry, an assertion for which there was not a shred of evidence.
Yet a piece partly based on Aviv's fairy tale then ended up as acover story in TIME magazine. The U.S. government later concluded that the attack was ordered by the Libyan government, something the Libyans would eventually concede was, in fact, true.
The TWA 800, EgyptAir 990 and Pan Am 103 cases represent the likely range of reasons that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: mechanical failure, pilot actions or terrorism.
Based on these past cases, we should be careful not to allow conspiracy theories about what happened to get too much play. The truth will come out only after a careful and lengthy investigation.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee accused the CIA of secretly removing classified documents from her staff's computers in the middle of an oversight investigation, while another lawmaker said Congress should "declare war" on the spy agency if it's true.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein said CIA Director John Brennan told her in January that agency personnel searched the computers last year because they believed the panel's investigators might have gained access to materials on an internal review they were not authorized to see.
"The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the internal review or how we obtained it," Feinstein said in blistering remarks on the Senate floor. "Instead, the CIA just went and searched the committee's computer."
Feinstein said that she had "grave concerns" the search may have violated federal law regarding domestic spying as well as congressional oversight responsibilities under the Constitution.
"I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee was inappropriate. I have received neither," she said.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina called the allegations "dangerous to a democracy," if it's substantiated that the CIA interfered with a congressional investigation.
"Heads should roll, people should go to jail, if it's true. ... I'm going to get briefed on it. If it is, the legislative branch should declare war on the CIA, if it's true," Graham said.
Feinstein's comments pushed into the public spotlight months of behind-the-scenes wrangling over access to and the review of documents around the post 9/11 Bush administration program for handling terror suspects.
Brennan disputed Feinstein's claims relating to the committee's efforts to produce a comprehensive report on the practice that ultimately was ended by President Barack Obama in 2009.
"As far as the allegations of CIA hacking into Senate computers - nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn't do that. I mean that's, that's, that's just beyond the scope of reason," Brennan told the Council on Foreign Relations.
He also said that the CIA believes in congressional oversight and often has "spirited" conversations about agency techniques.
"We have made mistakes. More than a few. And we have tried mightily to learn from them," Brennan said.
Brennan said in a statement last week that he was "deeply dismayed" that some members of the Senate have made "spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said President Barack Obama has "great confidence" in Brennan and the intelligence community.
Carney would not comment on the specifics under review by the Justice Department but said Obama supported the committee's investigation.
"The President has made clear he seeks the declassification, the findings of that report when it is completed," he said.
The top Republican on the intelligence panel, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, said "we have some disagreements" on the facts and cautioned that improving the relationship with the CIA "is not going to happen if we throw rocks at each other."
However, Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican, called the allegations "disturbing" and added that "a full and complete investigation" is needed.
He also stressed that he's "never had a great deal of confidence with Mr. Brennan" and therefore has "no doubt about the politicization of Mr. Brennan," a former White House official.
The Justice Department is looking at whether to launch an investigation involving the committee's review of millions of documents at a Virginia facility and counterclaims by the CIA about Intelligence Committee staffers gaining access to things they shouldn't have seen.
Feinstein took issue with the CIA IG's referral of the case to the Justice Department as an attempt to intimidate the committee.
She said committee staff "did not hack into CIA computers to obtain these documents, as has been suggested in the press."
She said the documents were identified through a search tool provided by the CIA in order to select specific material, and that the pane would follow through with its report as planned.
The CIA viewed the committee's accessing the internal review ordered by then-Director Leon Panetta as a breach and confronted committee members about it.
The committee launched its full blown investigation after learning in an initial review that the CIA had "withheld and destroyed information about its detention and interrogation program."
This, according to Feinstein, included its decision in 2005 to "destroy interrogation videotapes over the objections of the Bush White House and the director of national intelligence."