Several months ago, there was a serious dispute between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate Intelligence Committee, with both accusing the other of impropriety. As Adam Serwer summarized, “Senators said the CIA was attempting to hide evidence that proved the torture program was ineffective, while the CIA countered that the staffers had somehow gotten access to information they weren’t supposed to see.”
As Washington crises go, this one was largely ignored – it lacked partisan stakes – but it was deeply important. If, for example, there was reason to believe the CIA spied on Senate offices as part of their dispute, which Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) alleged, it would be scandalous. After all, Congress has oversight authority over intelligence agencies, not the other way around.
Earlier this month, the Justice Department decided to close its inquiry into the matter, concluding not to file charges against anyone, but the matter was hardly resolved. Indeed, today we’re learning that the key allegations against the CIA were, in fact, accurate. Meredith Clark reports:
Central Intelligence Agency officials spied on computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate whether the CIA used torture in controversial Bush-era detention and interrogation programs, an internal investigation has found.According to CIA spokesperson Dean Boyd, agency director John Brennan apologized to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, the chair and vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, respectively.
Remember, when this story first broke in the spring, Brennan dismissed the allegations out of hand. “[W]e wouldn’t do that,” he said. “I mean, that’s, that’s just beyond the, you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.”
That, we now know, was wrong.
When dealing with a story about the CIA spying on Senate offices, there is no good news. As Rachel told viewers in March, “This is kind of ‘death of the republic’ kind of stuff. The whole ‘separation of powers’ thing almost pales in comparison to the seriousness of the allegation that a nation’s own spy services have been turned against its own government, particularly where that government is supposed to be overseeing the spy services.”
That said, the CIA at least isn’t trying to cover this up – the new findings are the result of an investigation of the CIA from the agency’s own inspector general. Brennan isn’t trying to mount much a defense, instead apologizing and commissioning an “accountability board” to “review the [Office of the Inspector General] report, conduct interviews as needed, and provide the director with recommendations that, depending on its findings, could include potential disciplinary measures and/or steps to address systemic issues.”
Regardless, a breach of this nature will not soon be forgotten, and the CIA director is suddenly finding a dearth of friends on Capitol Hill.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said in a statement this afternoon, “From the unprecedented hacking of congressional staff computers and continued leaks undermining the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program to his abject failure to acknowledge any wrongdoing by the agency, I have lost confidence in John Brennan.”
Udall, of course, is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
For her part, Feinstein described Brennan’s preliminary moves as “positive first steps,” which obviously suggests she expects additional steps in the near future.