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May 23, 2017

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US senator claims CIA illegally spied on staffers

WASHINGTON--A top U.S. lawmaker's hotly disputed charge that the CIA illegally spied on Senate staff has roiled the intelligence community, fraying ties between the agency and its overseers in Congress.

Senator Dianne Feinstein brought what had been a behind-the-scenes spat into the public glare Tuesday with her furious broadside against the Central Intelligence Agency, saying its agents searched computers used by staffers investigating its interrogation methods.

"I have grave concerns that the CIA's search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution," Feinstein said on the Senate floor.

She alleged the CIA may have breached federal law as well as the executive order that bars it from domestic spying, but the agency's director John Brennan quickly denied the allegations.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Brennan said at a Washington event.

"The matter is being dealt with in an appropriate way, being looked at by the right authorities, and the facts will come out."

Feinstein said the CIA searched a computer drive used by staffers on the intelligence committee to prepare a major report into a controversial and now defunct agency interrogation program that used "enhanced interrogation techniques" against detainees.

"I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers ... was inappropriate," the California Democrat said. "I have received neither."

The reverberations shuddered across Washington, as lawmakers voiced concern about a steady infringement on their duty to keep the CIA and National Security Agency in check.

"Today the debate goes right to the heart of the question of how Congress can do effective oversight (of) the modern intelligence apparatus," Senator Ron Wyden, an intelligence committee panel who has long argued that the spy agencies abuse their authority, told reporters.

Senator Lindsey Graham went as far as to declare the actions reminiscent of President Richard Nixon's misdeeds.

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