C.I.A. Admits Spying On Senate, Senate Finally Outraged About Surveillance
After years of denials, the Central Intelligence Agency is now admitting that it did in fact spy on the Senate by accessing a computer network that Senators and staff were using as part of an investigation of the agency’s detention and interrogation programs:
WASHINGTON — An internal investigation by the Central Intelligence Agency has found that its officers improperly penetrated a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee in preparing its report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program.
In a statement issued Thursday morning, a C.I.A. spokesman said that agency’s inspector general had concluded that C.I.A. officers had acted inappropriately by gaining access to the computers.
The statement said that John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, had apologized to the two senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and that he would set up an internal accountability board to review the matter. The board will be led by former Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana.
The statement, which was first reported by McClatchy, gave almost no specifics about the findings of the report, written by David Buckley, the agency’s inspector general.]
Officials said there was a tense meeting earlier this week when Mr. Brennan briefed the two senators — Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia. The officials said Ms. Feinstein had confronted Mr. Brennan about past public statements on the issue, in which he defended the agency’s actions.
When the C.I.A.’s monitoring of the committee became public in March, Mr. Brennan said, “When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.”
Last year, the C.I.A. gained access to a computer network, reserved solely for Senate investigators working at an agency facility in Northern Virginia, after officials suspected the intelligence committee had improperly obtained an internal C.I.A. report about the detention program, which is now defunct.
Shortly after the C.I.A. action was made public, Ms. Feinstein gave a blistering speech on the floor of the Senate accusing the agency of infringing on the committee’s role as overseer.
The White House on Thursday publicly defended Mr. Brennan, saying he had taken “responsible steps” to address the situation, including suggesting an investigation, accepting its results and appointing an accountability board. Asked whether the results of the investigation present a credibility issue for Mr. Brennan, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary said, “Not at all.”
Crediting Mr. Brennan with playing an “instrumental role” in helping the United States government destroy Al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr. Earnest said, “He is somebody who has a very difficult job, who does that job extraordinarily well.”
Kevin Drum reacts:
I find that my reaction remains one of schadenfreude. Dianne Feinstein and the rest of the Intelligence Committee seem to be mostly unconcerned with the omnipresent surveillance apparatus constructed by the US intelligence committee, so it’s hard to feel very sorry for them when they learn that this apparatus is also sometimes directed at Senate staffers. If this affair had persuaded a few senators that maybe our intelligence chiefs are less than totally honest about what they do, it might have done some good. But it doesn’t seem to have done that. With only a few exceptions, they’re outraged when the CIA spies on them, but that’s about it.
On some level, I find myself agreeing with Drum’s schadenfreude. Neither the Senate Intelligence Committee nor its counterpart in the House have seemed to be overly concerned about either the surveillance activities of the NSA and other agencies or the activities that the CIA engaged in overseas as part of the “War On Terror” during the Bush Administration up until this point. Now, when we have word that the apparatus of the National Security State has been turned against them, we see lawmakers getting upset. This isn’t to say that they don’t have legitimate complaints, of course, the idea of one of the nation’s intelligence services monitoring the Legislative Branch is something that raises an whole host of issues that all Americans ought to be concerned about. This includes both the rather obvious Separation Of Powers issues involved in an Executive Branch agency spying on the Legislature and the fact that the intelligence community was spying on the committee that was established for the specific purpose of overseeing its operations. If nothing else, it makes one wonder whether, and how often, something like this has happened in the past.
Like Drum, I suppose that the best that can come out of something like this is that it would cause the people on the Intelligence Committees who are charged with overseeing the CIA and other intelligence agencies to be just a little bit more skeptical when it comes to accepting the representations from the CIA and other agencies. For too long, both of the standing committees have acted far too much like rubber stamps for agency activity and far too little like the overseers that they were intended to be when they were established nearly years ago. If this causes them to become more of what they were intended to be, then perhaps the CIA did all of us a favor here.