A review panel has tossed aside accusations that the US Central Intelligence Agency hacked into computers used by Senate aides investigating the torture of terror suspects, saying the CIA did nothing wrong.
The CIA has been criticized by several lawmakers – in particular, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence – for allegedly infiltrating government computers to erase damning documents involved in a Congressional probe of the agency's torture policies.
An earlier internal CIA review revealed evidence of "significant CIA wrongdoing," Feinstein said in March 2014, and she demanded an apology from CIA Director John Brennan – which she eventually received, albeit only months later.
But when the agency released the results of its latest review on Tuesday, its investigators concluded that the CIA had nothing to apologize for, AFP reports. Although there had been some "inappropriate access" to Senate staffers' "work product," the review found, no laws had been broken and no wrongdoing had taken place.
The CIA found itself in a difficult situation, the report states, because while it was required "to safeguard the prerogatives of the Senate, particularly the protection of work product," it also needed to ensure the security of a computer system "containing substantial sensitive material."
It was this quandary that led agents to access Senate computers in "inappropriate" ways, the review concluded, but any intrusions weren't conducted maliciously and the CIA did not snoop on "deliberative" communications among Senate staffers – meaning they didn't interfere with the torture investigation. According to the report, Brennan consulted the White House before telling his agents to poke around the Senate's network.
The investigative board was composed of members nominated by CIA Director Brennan, including former White House lawyer Evan Bayh and three senior CIA officials.
In a statement, Bayh said that "no discipline was warranted" for the three CIA personnel under investigation because their access to Senate computers "was a mistake that did not reflect malfeasance, bad faith, or the intention to gain improper access to [Senate Intelligence Committee] confidential, deliberative material."
Senator Feinstein didn't seem particularly pleased with the CIA review's conclusions, saying on Tuesday that the Intelligence Committee is still reviewing the report.
"Let me be clear: I continue to believe CIA's actions constituted a violation of the constitutional separation of powers and unfortunately led to the CIA's referral of unsubstantiated criminal charges to the Justice Department against committee staff," Feinstein said in a statement.
"I'm thankful that Director Brennan has apologized for these actions, but I'm disappointed that no one at the CIA will be held accountable. The decision was made to search committee computers, and someone should be found responsible for those actions." ®
Copies of the December 2014 Agency Accountability Board report and the July 2014 CIA OIG report can be found here.