Spy on enemies, not Senate

In this Feb. 7, 2013 file photo, CIA Director nominee John Brennan testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Revealing too much about the Central Intelligence Agency's activities would undermine national security. But that doesn't mean the CIA shouldn't have to answer to Congress.

And it certainly doesn't mean the CIA should spy on Congress.

Legislative oversight of the CIA is a legal, logical and necessary way for federal lawmakers to assure that the agency operates within proper limits. That's how the American public, through our elected representatives, keeps track of what the CIA is doing in our name.

And while reasonable people differ on how the CIA treats terror suspects, there should be no disputing that some of its agents went far out of bounds when they conducted surveillance on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

The CIA was predictably wary about the Senate panel's investigation of controversial interrogation methods it has used on terror detainees. Agency officials remain particularly sensitive about the potentially incendiary report the committee has produced - but not yet released - on that topic.

Those tensions were heightened in March when committee chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in an extraordinary speech on the Senate floor, accused CIA agents of searching the committee's computers "in violation of an agreement we had reached, and I believe in violation of the constitutional separation of powers."

CIA Director John Brennan harshly dismissed that charge, insisting: "CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn't do that."

But CIA agents did just that. Mr. Brennan finally acknowledged that misconduct and apologized to senators for it late last month.

Still, Sen. Feinstein is delaying release of the committee's report on CIA interrogation techniques, citing what she considers crucial removal of information from it at the insistence of not just the agency but the White House.

As Sen. Feinstein put it earlier this month: "I have concluded the redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report's findings and conclusions."

And surely most Americans, regardless of their views on waterboarding terror detainees, would conclude that the CIA shouldn't spy on federal lawmakers.