Brennan Apologizes for CIA Spying on Senate Intelligence Committee
CIA Director John Brennan apologized to several members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) on Thursday following the release of the findings of an internal inquiry concluding agency operatives improperly searched Senate computers.
The CIA Inspector General’s office issued a summary of its report, which acknowledged that agency employees, including attorneys and information technology (IT) specialists, secretly searched SSCI computers and staff emails meant for congressional investigators. The Intelligence Committee, chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), had been investigating the CIA’s torture of terrorism suspects.
Agency personnel “improperly accessed SSCI staff files and records” on the CIA-operated and maintained Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation network (RDINet), the inquiry found.
The Inspector General concluded that “some employees acted in a manner inconsistent” with an agreement between the Senate and the CIA regulating investigations of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ and other abuses considered torture under US and international law.
Brennan specifically apologized to Feinstein and to Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), the ranking Republican on the SSCI.
Feinstein blasted the CIA in March when news of the spying scandal broke. She said she had “grave concerns” that the agency’s search “may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution… 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.”
At the time, Brennan lied about the CIA’s spying.
“As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth,” he said on March 11. “We wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s just beyond the scope of reason, in terms of what we do.”
Chambliss, usually a staunch supporter of the CIA, reacted angrily to the agency’s admission.
“This is a serious situation and there are serious violations,” the senator said, calling for the CIA operatives responsible to be “dealt with very harshly.”
Feinstein welcomed Brennan’s apology.
“Director Brennan apologized for these actions and submitted the IG report to an accountability board,” Feinstein said on Thursday. “These are positive first steps. This IG report corrects the record and it is my understanding that a declassified report will be made available to the public shortly.”
The CIA director also pledged to establish an internal accountability board to review the issue. The board, which will be chaired by former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), will have the power to recommend “potential disciplinary measures” as well as “steps to address systemic issues.”
Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told NPR that Brennan’s apology is not enough:
“It is hard to imagine a greater threat to the Constitution’s system of checks and balances than having the CIA spy on the computers used by the very Senate staff carrying out the Senate’s constitutional duty of oversight over the executive branch. It was made worse by CIA Director John Brennan’s misleading the American people in denying any wrongdoing. These latest developments are only the most recent manifestations of a CIA that seems to believe that it is above and beyond the law. An uncontrolled – and seemingly uncontrollable – CIA threatens the very foundations of our Constitution.”
Anders said the CIA should refer the matter to the Justice Department. But earlier this month, DOJ officials said there would be no criminal investigation of CIA spying on congressional computers.
“The department carefully reviewed the matters referred to us and did not find sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal investigation,” DOJ spokesman Peter Carr said on July 10.
Leaked details from the classified 6,200-page Senate torture report revealed the CIA lied about the extent and efficacy of its illegal torture program in the War on Terror. The report also reportedly concludes that the interrupted drowning torture known as waterboarding and other illegal abuses yielded no key evidence in the hunt for al-Qaeda chief and 9/11 perpetrator Osama bin Laden.
Feinstein called the use of torture techniques and the establishment of secret CIA ‘black sites’ where suspected terrorists were abused “terrible mistakes.”
Tagged ACLU, Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, CIA Senate computers, CIA torture, CIA torture investigation, CIA torture report, Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, dianne feinstein, fourth amendment, john brennan, RDINet, Saxby Chambliss, SSCI