Lawsuit comes as the administration is close to declassifying a Senate report on the agency’s one-time interrogation techniques.
A pair of open-government advocates are suing the CIA for its continued secrecy regarding its alleged hacking of Senate computers, marking the latest escalation in a covert war raging between Congress and the Obama administration over Bush-era torture practices.
Freelance journalist Jason Leopold and Ryan Shapiro, a doctoral candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, filed a lawsuit Tuesday on grounds the intelligence agency has refused to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests they sent in April. The pair is seeking CIA records that pertain to a classified Senate review of the agency's now-defunct detention, rendition, and interrogation activities.
That review gained new attention this spring after Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein accused the CIA of spying on her panel in an attempt to impede its investigation. The powerful California Democrat, in a blistering 40-minute speech from the Senate floor, attacked the intelligence agency for possibly violating the Constitution by removing key files from computers used by her staff during the probe. She additionally called on the Justice Department to investigate whether the CIA had broken the law.
Feinstein's theatrical gambit paid off, as her committee voted to make a 500-page executive summary of the report public. That summary is currently undergoing an exhaustive redaction process, and the CIA is reportedly nearing completion of its review. The White House is expected to begin its redaction process soon.
But open-government activists have demanded that the agency reveal to what extent it was snooping on its Senate overseers, a tactic that, if true, is seen as fundamentally undermining the separation-of-powers principles of government enshrined in the Constitution.
In April, Leopold and Shapiro filed a sweeping information request with the CIA seeking, among other things, copies of "all written agreements and correspondence" between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA dealing with an agreement made to allow the panel's staffers to access agency documents at its facility in Langley, Va. The pair additionally sought records "documenting any CIA investigation" into the Senate's investigation, and any internal "talking points" circulated advising officials on how to discuss the controversy.
But the CIA has not yet complied, Leopold and Shapiro said in their lawsuit, which is requesting swift compliance.
Leopold and Shapiro are well-known and effective open-government agitators, and have successfully obtained government documents that have shed light on a litany of sensitive issues, ranging from the U.S. involvement in the 1962 arrest of Nelson Mandela to the National Security Agency's internal insistence to use the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a "sound bite" to justify its surveillance programs.
"The U.S. intelligence community is notorious for its profound hostility to transparency," Shapiro said. "In the present case, the CIA appears to have spied upon the very Senate Intelligence Committee tasked with overseeing the CIA's torture program, while at the same time smearing that Senate committee's review with unsupported allegations of criminality."
The Senate report at the center of the saga, parts of which have been leaked already, is expected to cast an unflattering light on the CIA's secret interrogation techniques employed during George W. Bush's presidency, which brought the country into two separate wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The CIA was not immediately available for comment.