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.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 26: Committee chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) (C), ranking member Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) (R) and Sen. John Rockefeller (D-WV) (L) listen during a hearing before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee September 26,2 103 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The hearing was focused on the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Legislation.
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Dustin Volz
July 31, 2014, 7:35 a.m.

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 an 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 “en­hanced in­ter­rog­a­tion” prac­tices un­der the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion dur­ing the wars in Ir­aq and Afgh­anistan.

Sen. Mark Ud­all, a mem­ber of the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, called for Bren­nan’s resig­na­tion Thursday.

“The CIA un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally spied on Con­gress by hack­ing in­to Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee com­puters,” the Col­or­ado Demo­crat said in a state­ment. “These of­fenses, along with oth­er er­rors in judg­ment by some at the CIA, demon­strate a tre­mend­ous fail­ure of lead­er­ship, and there must be con­sequences.”

Demo­crat­ic Sen. Ron  Wyden, who also sits on the In­tel­li­gence pan­el, also blas­ted Bren­nan and asked for a pub­lic apo­logy, “a full ac­count­ing of how this oc­curred, and a com­mit­ment there will be no fur­ther at­tempts to un­der­mine con­gres­sion­al over­sight of CIA activ­it­ies.”

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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