Amid CIA’s battle with Senate Intelligence Committee, Brennan strikes conciliatory note

Seeking to defuse an escalating battle with the Senate Intelligence Committee, CIA Director John Brennan sent a note to the agency’s workforce Friday praising the panel and pledging to cooperate on the release of a report that is harshly critical of the CIA.

A week after the agency and the committee traded allegations of illegal conduct, Brennan said in the note that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other members of the panel “carry out their oversight responsibilities with great dedication and patriotism” and that the agency “has benefited over the years from their leadership.”

The conciliatory tone of the letter was in stark contrast to the stream of recriminations that erupted in public last week, when Feinstein delivered a speech on the Senate floor accusing the agency of spying on her staff in possible breach of the Constitution.

The dispute expanded this week as Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) asked the Senate’s top law enforcement official to examine the computers supplied by the agency to the committee’s staff for reviewing documents during an investigation of the CIA’s controversial interrogation program.

In previous remarks, Brennan had struck a defiant pose, signaling that the agency would be vindicated and warning that lawmakers should avoid unsubstantiated allegations.

The battle centers on a 6,000-page report the committee completed last year on the interrogation program that the CIA operated for years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The report delivers a scathing verdict on that program, accusing the CIA of abusing prisoners and exaggerating the effectiveness of brutal methods, including a form of simulated drowning known as water-boarding.

While poring over millions of CIA documents as part of its investigation, the Senate committee discovered what lawmakers have said is an internal review apparently ordered by former CIA Director Leon E. Panetta that is consistent with some of the committee’s own findings.

The agency has maintained that the document was part of an effort to keep track of materials being turned over to the committee and not an evaluation of the interrogation program.

But the fight over how the committee obtained that document, and whether it is entitled to have it, triggered a series of hostile exchanges between Brennan and Feinstein, as well as requests to have the Justice Department determine whether either side committed a crime.

In his note, Brennan noted that “appropriate officials are reviewing the facts” of that dispute and did not acknowledge any wrongdoing by CIA.

Still, he seemed to be extending an olive branch, saying that the agency had already taken measures to address shortcomings identified in the committee’s report and pledging to work “expeditiously” if asked to declassify portions of it for public release.

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