CIA admits spying on Senate intelligence panel

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WASHINGTON — A CIA internal investigation has found that its officers improperly penetrated a computer network the Senate Intelligence Committee used to prepare its damning report on the agency’s detention and interrogation program.

The report by the CIA inspector general found that its officers created a fake online identity to gain access on more than one occasion to computers used by committee staff members and tried to cover their movements as they rooted around the system, according to an official with knowledge of the investigation findings.

A CIA spokesman issued a statement Thursday that said CIA director John O. Brennan had apologized to the intelligence committee’s two senior members and would set up an internal accountability board to review the issue. The statement said the board, to be led by former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., could recommend “potential disciplinary measures” and “steps to address systemic issues.”

The Justice Department has already declined to investigate the matter, so the inspector general report brings a degree of closure to the issue — and vindication for Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who excoriated the CIA in March when the matter became public.

The CIA statement gave almost no specifics about findings of the report, written by Inspector General David Buckley.

Officials said there was a tense meeting earlier this week when Mr. Brennan briefed the two members — Ms. Feinstein and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. The officials said Ms. Feinstein had confronted Mr. Brennan about past public statements on the issue, in which he defended the agency’s actions.

When the CIA’s monitoring of the committee became public in March, Mr. Brennan said, “When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.” Days earlier, he said lawmakers were making “spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts.”

On Thursday, Ms. Feinstein called Mr. Brennan’s apology and decision to set up an accountability board “positive first steps,” and said the IG report “corrects the record.” She said she expected that a version of the report would be declassified, but gave no further details.

Committee Democrats have spent more than five years working on a report about the CIA’s detention and interrogation program during the George W. Bush administration, which employed brutal interrogation methods such as waterboarding. Parts of that report, expected to conclude that the techniques yielded little valuable information, and that CIA officials consistently misled the White House and Congress about the techniques’ efficacy, are expected to be released in August.

The current crisis erupted late last year, when CIA officials came to suspect that the committee’s staff — sifting through millions of documents at an agency facility in Northern Virginia — improperly obtained an internal review of the program that the CIA never intended to give to Congress. In response, CIA security officials penetrated a secure computer server set up to allow the Senate investigators to work on their report without being monitored by the spy agency.

The CIA and lawmakers spent months trading accusations in private, until the fight became public in March, and Ms. Feinstein took to the Senate floor to deliver a blistering speech accusing the agency of infringing on the committee’s role as overseer. Calling it a “defining moment” in the committee’s history, Ms. Feinstein said that how the matter is resolved “will show whether the intelligence committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.”

The White House on Thursday publicly defended Mr. Brennan, saying he had taken “responsible steps” to address the situation, including suggesting an investigation, accepting its results and appointing an accountability board. Asked whether the investigation’s results present a credibility issue for Mr. Brennan, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, “Not at all.” Crediting Mr. Brennan with playing an “instrumental role” in helping the U.S. government destroy al-Qaida’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr. Earnest said, “He is somebody who has a very difficult job, who does that job extraordinarily well.”

But Democrats who have been critical of the CIA’s actions said the IG report reinforced how Mr. Brennan’s initial statements about the matter were untruthful. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., another intelligence committee member, said he had “lost confidence” in Mr. Brennan, and was concerned about the CIA director’s “inability to find any flaws in the agency he leads.” Mr. Udall also called for the Obama administration to appoint an independent counsel to explore possible violations of the Constitution’s separation of powers as well as federal criminal statutes.

United States government - United States Congress - George W. Bush - John Brennan - United States Senate - Dianne Feinstein - U.S. Central Intelligence Agency - Josh Earnest - Mark Udall - Saxby Chambliss - Evan Bayh


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