Intel Gatekeeper: the case file on Senator Dianne Feinstein
April 29th, 2012
10:00 AM ET

Intel Gatekeeper: the case file on Senator Dianne Feinstein

by Suzanne Kelly and Pam Benson

Editor's note: In the Security Clearance "Case File" series, CNN national security producers profile key members of the intelligence community. As part of the series, Security Clearance is focusing on the roles women play in the U.S. intelligence community

It's true: one of the most powerful players in the world of U.S. espionage and intelligence wears ruby red nail polish.

In her role as chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California is the gatekeeper for the country’s most sensitive intelligence agencies. She is regularly briefed on evolving national security threats and keeps her ruby red-topped finger on the pulse of the most secret of missions. She’s blunt, direct, stubborn, and not afraid to admit it.

Since taking the gavel of the intelligence committee, Feinstein has added her own touches, among them changing the way some classified briefings are held.

“Typically, the sessions were pretty formal, much like the style of public hearings,” said a committee staffer who asked not to be named. Before Feinstein, members of the committee would sit in a briefing room, the witnesses at a separate table before them, and each member would wait his or her turn to pose questions to the witness. Now, once a month, “they all sit together at a round table, usually a few dozen doughnuts are brought in, and they have a discussion,” says the staffer. “There are no opening statements or written statement for the record, no rounds of questioning. Members just ask questions as they see fit.”

The sessions may be informal, but Feinstein remains on a mission of her own when it comes to her responsibility as chairwoman, a responsibility that she says is a key reason why she remains in the Senate.

“It is congressional oversight of intelligence. It is very important,” said Feinstein, who agreed to a rare interview to discuss the role she plays in the country’s intelligence structure. “We have the ability to stop something if we want to stop it. And we have the ability to watch things very carefully, as closely as we want to watch or can watch.” FULL POST