Tuesday's extraordinary public criticism of the Central Intelligence Agency by one of the CIA's longtime apologists -- Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- is an expression of the terminal crisis of American democracy.
Only the direst of circumstances could have compelled the California Democrat to make a public declaration that the CIA "may well have violated the separation-of-powers principle embodied in the United States Constitution," and also "the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance."
Feinstein was evidently driven to make her protest over CIA spying on the Senate because the CIA made a criminal referral to the Justice Department, seeking to prosecute staff of the Intelligence Committee, and possibly members of the Senate themselves, for unauthorized use of classified documents. This was the culmination of months of wrangling over a massive report on CIA torture prepared by the committee.
There was a stark contrast in demeanor between Feinstein, visibly tense and seemingly frightened as she spoke for nearly an hour on the Senate floor, and CIA Director John Brennan, who arrogantly rebuffed her claims of misconduct in a speech to a foreign policy think tank a few hours later, then smirked through a press interview afterwards.
Feinstein has been an unquestioning defender of countless illegal and unconstitutional operations by the US intelligence apparatus, from CIA assassinations using drone-fired missiles, to FBI abuses under the Patriot Act, to systematic NSA collection of the telephone and Internet communications of the entire world.