Obama Defends CIA Chief After Senate Computer Hacking Scandal

“I have full confidence in John Brennan,” the president said Friday.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 17: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks about Obamacare and the ongoing tensions in Ukraine in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House April 17, 2014 in Washington, DC. Secretary of State John Kerry and his counterparts from Russia, Ukraine and the EU issued a joint statement today on the crisis in Ukraine calling for all illegal armed groups to be disarmed, all illegally seized buildings to be returned to their owners, and for all occupied public spaces to be vacated. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
National Journal
Dustin Volz
Aug. 1, 2014, 11:26 a.m.

Pres­id­ent Obama said Fri­day he stands by CIA Dir­ect­or John Bren­nan des­pite an ad­mis­sion this week that the spy agency had im­prop­erly ac­cessed com­puters used by Sen­ate staffers to re­view the agency’s Bush-era “en­hanced in­ter­rog­a­tion” tech­niques.

“I have full con­fid­ence in John Bren­nan,” Obama said in re­sponse to a re­port­er’s ques­tion at the end of an af­ter­noon press con­fer­ence. But Obama ac­know­ledged that the agency had demon­strated “very poor judg­ment” in its wrong­ful mon­it­or­ing of the com­puters used by the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee.

The CIA “did not prop­erly handle an in­vest­ig­a­tion as to how cer­tain doc­u­ments that were not au­thor­ized to be re­leased to the Sen­ate staff got some­how in­to the hands of the Sen­ate staff, and it is clear from the [in­spect­or gen­er­al’s] re­port is a very poor judg­ment was shown in terms of how that was handled,” Obama said.

The in­tel­li­gence agency an­nounced earli­er this week that an in­spect­or gen­er­al’s re­port con­cluded a num­ber of em­ploy­ees had cov­ertly peered in­to the files of com­puters used by the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee for a re­view of CIA doc­u­ments re­lated to the gov­ern­ment’s clas­si­fied tor­ture, de­ten­tion, and rendi­tion prac­tices dur­ing George W. Bush’s pres­id­ency.

“Keep in mind that John Bren­nan was the per­son who called for the [in­spect­or gen­er­al’s] re­port, and he has already stood up to en­sure that les­sons are learned and mis­takes are re­solved,” Obama said.

Bren­nan apo­lo­gized to In­tel­li­gence Chair­wo­man Di­anne Fein­stein and Sen. Saxby Cham­b­liss, the pan­el’s top Re­pub­lic­an, on Tues­day after be­ing briefed on the in­tern­al in­vest­ig­a­tion. But the mea culpa marked a strik­ing re­versal of his pre­vi­ous deni­als of such be­ha­vi­or, prompt­ing a num­ber of or­gan­iz­a­tions and at least two sen­at­ors to call for his resig­na­tion.

On Thursday, Demo­crat­ic Sens. Mark Ud­all and Mar­tin Hein­rich both called for Bren­nan to step down. A num­ber of oth­er sen­at­ors have said the CIA needs to be held ac­count­able but have yet to ex­pli­citly clam­or for a resig­na­tion.

Still, oth­ers have come to Bren­nan’s de­fense. Fein­stein said Bren­nan’s apo­logy and cre­ation of an ac­count­ab­il­ity board were “pos­it­ive first steps,” while Cham­b­liss told the Wash­ing­ton Ex­am­iner the dir­ect­or was not re­spons­ible for the com­puter hack­ing.

Obama’s com­ments echoed what press sec­ret­ary Josh Earn­est said on Thursday, telling re­port­ers that Bren­nan had “ab­so­lutely not” dam­aged his stand­ing at the CIA.

Obama also briefly ad­dressed the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence pan­el’s still-clas­si­fied tor­ture re­port, and re­ferred to its find­ings as re­veal­ing in­stances of tor­ture.

“In the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong,” Obama said. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tor­tured some folks. We did some things that were con­trary to our val­ues.”

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