CIA Director John Brennan has apologized after his staff snooped on computers used by the US Senate during a probe into spies' use of torture. Brennan was speaking at a closed meeting with senators on Thursday.
The computers were on a secure network known as RDINet, which was set up by the CIA to store classified documents for Senate staff to scrutinize. The documents relate to the use of torture "enhanced interrogation" of terrorist suspects by the CIA after the September 11 attacks. Those questionable methods were banned by President Obama in 2009, prompting the Senate study.
But in March this year, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) – normally one of the intelligence community's biggest cheerleaders – took to the Senate floor to complain that the CIA had infiltrated RDINet computers that were supposed to be off-limits to the g-men.
Some of the 6.2 million documents stored on the system related to an internal investigation by the CIA, and Feinstein described them as showing "significant CIA wrongdoing." But then those documents mysteriously started disappearing from Senate staffers' view.
The CIA offered a variety of scapegoats for the missing files, including claiming that IT contractors must have lost them and that the White House had asked for them to be removed. Stories were leaked to the press claiming congressional staffers themselves had been meddling with the system.
But Feinstein's allegations triggered a misconduct probe led by CIA Inspector General David Buckley. His report found that spy staff had created false accounts to access the parts of the network, and then monitored the Senate staffers on the computers and read their emails.
"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 in a statement today.
"Director Brennan apologized for these actions and submitted the IG report to an accountability board. These are positive first steps. This IG report corrects the record and it is my understanding that a declassified report will be made available to the public shortly."
Brennan, who at the time denied point blank that his staff had anything to do with it, has apologized to the senators concerned. An internal review of the incident will be conducted and may recommend disciplinary action, but this isn't enough for some members of the Senate.
"After being briefed on the CIA Inspector General report today, I have no choice but to call for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan," said Senator Mark Udall (D-CO).
"The CIA needs to acknowledge its wrongdoing and correct the public record in a timely, forthright manner - and that simply hasn't occurred under John Brennan's leadership. Such an acknowledgment is necessary, whether we're talking about spying on Senate computers or about correcting misleading and inaccurate information about the CIA's detention and interrogation program. An internal CIA accountability board review isn't enough." ®