CIA Admits to Hacking Senate Computers

CIA Admits to Hacking Senate Computers

In a sharp and sudden reversal, the CIA is acknowledging it improperly tapped into the computers of Senate staffers who were reviewing the intelligence agency’s Bush-era torture practices.

BY DUSTIN VOLZ  July 31, 2014

The Senate Intelligence Committee leader accused the CIA of interfering with its investigation into the agency's old interrogation programs.

The Central Intelligence Agency improperly and covertly hacked into computers used by Senate staffers to investigate the spy agency's Bush-era interrogation practices, according to an internal investigation.

CIA Director John Brennan has determined that employees "acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding" brokered between the CIA and its Senate overseers, according to agency spokesman Dean Boyd.

The stunning admission follows a scathing, 40-minute speech by Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein on the Senate floor back in March, in which she accused the CIA of secretly accessing her panel's computers that were used to review documents related to the government's torture, detention, and rendition policies deployed during George W. Bush's presidency. The powerful California Democrat lacerated the CIA for attempting to impede her panel's investigation and charged the agency with possibly violating the Constitution.

At the time, Brennan denied Feinstein's accusations, telling NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell, "As far as the allegations of the CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth.… That's beyond the scope of reason."

But after being briefed on the inspector general's findings, Brennan "apologized" on Tuesday to both Feinstein and the panel's top Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, for the actions of his officers, spokesman Boyd said.

Brennan has submitted the inspector general's findings to an accountability board led by retired Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, according to Boyd. Bayh, an Indiana Democrat, once served on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

In a statement, Feinstein called Brennan's apology and the accountability board submission "positive first steps."

"The investigation confirmed what I said on the Senate floor in March—CIA personnel inappropriately searched Senate Intelligence Committee computers in violation of an agreement we had reached, and I believe in violation of the constitutional separation of powers," Feinstein said. "This [inspector general] report corrects the record and it is my understanding that a declassified report will be made available to the public shortly."

Feinstein's bombshell allegations, as well as the CIA's charge that her staff removed classified documents from a CIA facility in Virginia, were both referred to the Justice Department for further investigation. But earlier this month, the department said it did not have enough findings to launch a criminal probe into either matter.

Last week, the chairwoman issued a statement commending the Justice Department for not opening an investigation into her staff, saying it would "allow the committee to focus on the upcoming release of its report on the CIA detention and interrogation programs."

The Intelligence Committee voted to make a 500-page executive summary of its report public, but that literature is currently undergoing an exhaustive declassification process by the Obama administration.

The Senate report, parts of which have been leaked already, is expected to condemn the CIA's secret interrogation practices under the Bush administration during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Democratic Sen. Ron  Wyden, who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, quickly issued a statement blasting the CIA for its actions.

"The CIA Inspector General has confirmed what senators have been saying all along: The CIA conducted an unauthorized search of Senate files, and attempted to have Senate staff prosecuted for doing their jobs," Wyden said. "Director Brennan's claims to the contrary were simply not true.

"What's needed now is a public apology from Director Brennan to staff and the committee, a full accounting of how this occurred, and a commitment there will be no further attempts to undermine congressional oversight of CIA activities."

Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, also a member of the Intelligence panel, said he had "lost confidence in John Brennan," adding he was "concerned about the director's apparent inability to find any flaws in the agency he leads."

The American Civil Liberties Union dismissed Brennan's apology as "not enough" and called for the Justice Department to refer the CIA inspector general's report to a federal prosecutor for a full investigation.

"These latest developments are only the most recent manifestations of a CIA that seems to believe that it is above and beyond the law," Christopher Anders, ACLU's senior legislative counsel, said in a statement. "An uncontrolled—and seemingly uncontrollable—CIA threatens the very foundations of our Constitution."


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