March 13, 2014
Whether to tighten the reins on the sprawling intelligence-gathering community is still an open question in this Congress. It’s one of the few debates that has GOP conservatives and Democratic liberals finding common cause against the establishment mainstream, which has generally succeeded in the post-9/11 era at giving the spymasters broad latitude and billions of dollars to combat terrorism as assertively and secretly as they see fit.
Feinstein has remained at the forefront of that effort as the volume of congressional criticism has increased in recent years. She has publicly defended the CIA’s use of armed drone strikes to kill suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen, supported the FBI’s assertive use of its new investigatory powers under the Patriot Act and praised the expansive telephone and Internet surveillance programs at the National Security Agency, which she credits with stopping terrorist attacks in the United States.
The CIA, in other words, has perhaps picked the worst possible member of Congress to antagonize. Her conversion from ally to combatant could hardly come at a worse time for the agency. That’s because she has the power to cause the biggest rupture between the Hill and the spies since the 1970s, when exposure of their cloak-and-dagger excesses prompted the birth of the current congressional oversight system.