WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has ordered the Senate's chief law enforcement officer to conduct a forensic examination of top-secret computers used for a study of the CIA's detention and interrogation program, escalating an unprecedented battle over legislative oversight of the spy agency.
In a letter sent Wednesday to CIA director John Brennan, Reid repeated allegations that the CIA conducted three unauthorized searches of the computers on which staffers of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reviewed millions of pages of top-secret documents and began drafting the still-unreleased study.
"You are no doubt aware of the grave and unprecedented concerns with regard to constitutional separation of powers this action raises," wrote Reid, who also labeled as "patently absurd" Brennan's allegation that the staffers had "hacked" into classified CIA computer networks.
In a separate letter also sent Wednesday, Reid, D-Nev., urged Attorney General Eric Holder to have the Justice Department "carefully examine" what Reid called an apparent CIA bid to intimidate the committee by seeking a criminal investigation of the staff's alleged unauthorized penetration of agency computer networks.
Reid's two letters represent the latest shots fired in a power struggle between the Democrat-controlled Senate and the CIA ignited by the sweeping four-year, 6,300-page study of the CIA's use under the Bush administration of water boarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists held in secret "black site" prisons overseas.
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on the dispute between the committee and the CIA other than to say it was "appropriate" that the Justice Department was reviewing the matters.