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By Sam Sturgis, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — CIA Director John Brennan has acknowledged in a letter that the Computer Crimes and Abuse Act applies to his agency.

Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., made the letter public Wednesday, creating a new twist in the ongoing battle between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA over a 6,300-page, still-secret committee report on the agency’s controversial terrorist detention and interrogation program.

McClatchy reported late Tuesday that the CIA Inspector General’s Office has requested a Justice Department probe into agency malfeasance in connection with the Senate study. The criminal referral may be related to what several knowledgeable people said was CIA monitoring of computers used by Senate aides to prepare the study. The monitoring may have violated an agreement between the committee and the agency.

Wyden asked Brennan at a January 29 hearing whether the Computer Crimes and Abuse Act applied to the CIA, calling it a “yes or no” question. At the time, Brennan deferred, saying he would have to study the act and determine its applicability.

In a letter dated February 3, Brennan acknowledged that the Computer Crimes and Abuse Act “applies to the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Under the act, it’s illegal to “intentionally access a computer without authorization … and thereby obtain information from any department or agency of the United States.” The punishment for a crime under this provision of the law is five years imprisonment and/or a fine.

In the letter, Brennan highlighted that the act “does not prohibit any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity … of an intelligence agency of the United States.”

The battle between the CIA and the committee over the committee’s report on the detention program marks an unprecedented breakdown in relations between the CIA and its congressional overseers. The Senate report is said to be a scathing indictment of the program, questioning both the agency’s use of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists held in secret overseas prisons and the value of the information gleaned from such interrogations.

The CIA has disputed some of the report’s findings. White House officials have closely tracked the bitter struggle but haven’t directly intervened, perhaps because they are embroiled in their own feud with the committee, resisting surrendering top-secret documents that the CIA asserted were covered by executive privilege and sent to the White House.

On Tuesday, another member of the committee, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., asked President Barack Obama to strip the CIA of authority to determine how much of the report should be made public. The Senate panel approved the report 15 months ago.

It’s unclear whether the alleged monitoring of Senate staff members by the CIA as they prepared the report has violated any provisions of law or whether charges will be issued against any CIA personnel.

In a statement accompanying his release of Brennan’s letter, Wyden didn’t explain why he waited nearly a month to make it public.

On Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on reports that the CIA had been spying on Senate aides.

But in wording that was similar to a comment Tuesday from National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, Carney said the White House favored making at least some of the Senate report public.

“For some time, the White House has made clear to the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that the summary and conclusions of the final … report should be declassified with any redactions necessary to protect national security,” he said.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb

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