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Senate investigation of CIA dogged by controversy

WASHINGTON (AP) — A marathon Senate investigation into allegations of CIA torture during the Bush-era war on terror is veering toward partisan political territory and possibly the federal courts after unusually pointed accusations against the spy agency CIA, including potential criminal wrongdoing.

As a result of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's remarks on Tuesday, yet another investigation may be in the offing to sort out what the CIA did — or didn't do — to help or hamper Senate investigators.

Already, the episode has the markings of a classic Washington controversy as interpretations of facts diverge, some lawmakers choose sides, others suggest the new probe and the White House seeks a middle ground.

At its core, the controversy involved Feinstein's allegation that a CIA search of a computer network it set up for Senate investigators may have violated the Constitution and federal law.

"As far as allegations of the CIA hacking Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth," the agency's director, John Brennan, said on Tuesday, denying an allegation that Feinstein did not make in her extensive remarks on the Senate floor.

Brennan also said the agency had not sought to thwart Senate investigators put to work investigating the issue, an accusation that Feinstein did level. He added that the agency was eager to put to rest the controversy stemming from the interrogation of detainees in the war on terror, and said agency personnel "believe strongly in the necessity of effective, strong and bipartisan congressional oversight."

But bipartisanship seemed to erode in the wake of Feinstein's speech, in which she said the CIA's search of the dedicated computer system possibly violated the Constitution as well as federal law and an executive order that prohibits the agency from conducting domestic searches.

Several Democrats praised her, while some Republicans pointedly did not.

"I support Sen. Feinstein unequivocally, and I am disappointed that the CIA is apparently unrepentant for what I understand they did," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, told reporters in the Capitol.

Another Democrat, Sen. Patrick Leahy, said Feinstein had learned the lesson established by an investigative committee that looked into FBI and CIA activities more than three decades ago.

"She's speaking the truth," he said. "The Church Committee taught us you've got to be willing to do that or you're not going to get the truth," he added, referring to the long-ago investigation headed by the late Sen. Frank Church.

One Republican also had a warning for the CIA. "Heads should roll, people should go to jail if it's true," Sen. Lindsey Graham said.

But he appeared to be in a minority within his party.

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Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. leaves the Senate chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 11, after saying that the CIA's improper search of a stand-alone computer network established for Congress has been referred to the Justice Department.

(AP)

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