Dianne Feinstein

California Senator Dianne Feinstein

Posted on Friday, August 16, 2013
By Michael Doyle | McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Some secrets don’t faze Sen. Dianne Feinstein. She keeps plenty, after all, as the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

But the 15-member panel that the California Democrat has led since 2009 is scrambling to catch up with the latest public revelations about government spying.

It’s a potentially awkward position for the 80-year-old lawmaker, who has regularly defended secret surveillance programs that others have knocked, and who now must defend the quality of congressional oversight as well.

On Friday Feinstein faced news reports that a National Security Agency audit had found thousands of violations of privacy rules or legal guidelines designed to protect communications by Americans and others that originated in the United States.

“The committee has been notified, and has held briefings and hearings, in cases where there have been significant . . . compliance issues,” Feinstein said in a statement Friday. “In all such cases, the incidents have been addressed by ending or adapting the activity.”

Ensconced in Lake Tahoe in preparation for a high-level Tahoe environmental meeting Monday, Feinstein hadn’t necessarily planned on dealing with intelligence-related queries this week. That changed when The Washington Post disclosed the previously secret NSA audit, which found more than 2,700 violations over the course of a year.

The Post and Feinstein offered different characterizations of the audit, dated May 2012, leading to markedly different conclusions about congressional oversight of surveillance programs.

The Post’s article, by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Barton Gellman, said Feinstein “did not receive a copy of the 2012 audit until the newspaper asked her staff about it.” The paper’s phrasing created a picture of intelligence agency recalcitrance combined with Senate committee cluelessness, and it drove harsh reactions.

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