CIA officers allegedly hacked into the US Senate Intelligence Committee's computers to find out what the oversight committee had found out about its controversial detention and treatment of terror suspects.
The oversight committee had managed to get its hands on unapproved material, or so the CIA feared, the New York Times reports. In response, the agency allegedly went as far as hacking into the Congressional network to find out what it knew and perhaps where the leaked material came from, an unnamed official told the paper.
It's unclear whether the alleged hacking was limited to part of a CIA document leak/whistleblower hunt or went even further and resulted in electronic snooping against senators and their support staff.
"CIA officers went as far as gaining access to computer networks used by the committee to carry out its investigation," an unnamed official told the NYT.
Whether the CIA allegedly snooped on the Congressional network itself or machines and network used by committee staff to review top secret reports is unclear*.
But in either case, if monitoring did in fact occur, it may have violated an agreement between the committee and the CIA. The purported snooping is rumoured to have soured relations between the agency and its normally supportive legislative watchdog, McClatchydc.com reports.
The CIA Inspector General’s Office has launched an internal investigation into allegations the intelligence agency "improperly" spied on Congress.
The as-yet-unreleased Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation programme is 6,300 pages long, and took four years and $40m dollars to put together. It is rumoured to be highly critical of the use of water-boarding and other harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists in secret overseas prisons.
The report is said to further allege that the CIA officials misled Congress and the White House about the controversial programme, which operated during the early years of the War on Terror under the George W Bush administration. US President Barack Obama canned the programme as one of his first acts after assuming office in 2009.
The report has yet to be declassified but it's known to argue that the CIA's harsh interrogation methods yielded little valuable intelligence, an argument the agency disputes.
A year ago Senator Mark Udall (Democrat, Colorado) said that he was aware of an internal CIA report that supported the committee's criticism and contradicted the agency's official line that harsh interrogation worked. The NYT reckons it was this incident that prompted the agency to start a leak probe.
In a letter to President Obama on Tuesday, Udall made a reference to the dispute with the CIA, the NYT reports.
“As you are aware, the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal CIA review, and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the committee’s oversight responsibilities and for our democracy,” he wrote.
Security experts argued that the Senators were only getting a dose of the medicine they had prescribed to others.
"If the Senate didn't want the CIA hacking their computer network, perhaps they shouldn't have funded the CIA's offensive cyber capabilities," said Christopher Soghoian, principal technologist of the speech, privacy & technology project at the American Civil Liberties Union, in an update to his personal Twitter account. ®
*The CIA allegedly insisted that Senate committee staff and members could only review classified cables at a secure facility in Northern Virginia. "The committee determined earlier this year that the CIA monitored computers – in possible violation of an agreement against doing so – that the agency had provided to intelligence committee staff in a secure room at CIA headquarters that the agency insisted they use to review millions of pages of top-secret reports, cables and other documents," the McClatchyDC news service reports.