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Monday, December 09, 2019

CIA Improperly Accessed Senate Computers, Agency Finds

By Jonathan S. Landay and Ali Watkins, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — CIA employees improperly accessed computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to compile a report on the agency’s now defunct detention and interrogation program, an internal CIA investigation has determined.

Findings of the investigation by the CIA Inspector General’s Office “include a judgment that some CIA employees acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding reached between SSCI (Senate Select Committee on Intelligence) and the CIA in 2009,” CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said in a statement.

The statement represented an admission to charges by the panel’s chairwoman, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), that the CIA intruded into the computers her staff used to compile the soon-to-be released report on the agency’s use of harsh interrogation methods on suspected terrorists in secret overseas prisons during the Bush administration.

CIA Director John Brennan briefed Feinstein and the committee’s vice chairman, Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), on the CIA inspector general’s findings and apologized to them during a meeting on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Boyd said.

“The director . . . apologized to them for such actions by CIA officers as described in the OIG (Office of Inspector General Report),” he said.

Brennan has decided to submit the findings for review by an accountability board chaired by retired Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Boyd.

“This board will review the OIG 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,” said Boyd.

The tone of the announcement sharply contrasts with the unprecedented battle that erupted over the issue between the spy agency and its congressional overseers and appears to represent an attempt to ease what have been seriously icy relations.

In a contentious Senate floor speech in March, Feinstein asserted that the CIA may have violated the law and the Constitution by monitoring her staff’s computers and blocking access to documents.

The allegations and a separate CIA charge that the committee staff removed classified documents from a secret CIA facility in northern Virginia without authorization were referred to the Justice Department for investigation.

The department earlier this month announced that it had found insufficient evidence on which to proceed with criminal probes into either matter. The Senate Sergeant at Arms office, the Senate’s chief law enforcement agency, is still looking into the allegation that the committee staff removed classified documents without authorization.

The CIA required the committee staff to use CIA computers in the top-secret agency facility in northern Virginia to review more than 6 million pages of classified documents related to the detention and interrogation program.

An agreement between the agency and the committee prohibited CIA personnel from accessing a data base that was for use only by the panel staff.

In January, Brennan confronted Feinstein behind closed doors over a committee request for top-secret material that the CIA determined the panel staff already had obtained. He contended that her staff may have improperly accessed the material.

In her speech in March, Feinstein asserted that her staff found the material in the database and that the CIA had discovered the staff had it by monitoring their computers in violation of the user agreement.

“Recognizing the importance of this matter and the need to resolve it in a way that preserved the crucial equities of both branches, Director Brennan asked the CIA Office of Inspector General to examine the actions of CIA personnel,” Boyd said.

The committee report, which is being reviewed at the White House following a declassification process at the CIA, found that the use of the harsh interrogation techniques produced little valuable intelligence, according to classified conclusions obtained by McClatchy.

It also determined that the agency misled the Bush administration, the Congress, and the public on its results, according to the conclusions.

Former Bush administration officials, the CIA, and those who oversaw the program, which ran from 2001 until 2006, have vigorously disputed those findings.

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

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Senate Leader Seeks New Inquiry Into CIA’s Monitoring Of Its Computers, Alleges ‘Intimidation’

By Jonathan S. Landay and Ali Watkins, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has ordered the Senate’s chief law enforcement officer to conduct a forensic examination of top-secret computers used for a study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, escalating an unprecedented battle over legislative oversight of the spy agency.

In a letter sent Wednesday to CIA Director John Brennan, Reid repeated allegations that the CIA conducted three unauthorized searches of the computers on which staffers of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reviewed millions of pages of top-secret documents and began drafting the still-unreleased study.

“You are no doubt aware of the grave and unprecedented concerns with regard to constitutional separation of powers this action raises,” wrote Reid, who also labeled as “patently absurd” Brennan’s allegation that the staffers had “hacked” into classified CIA computer networks.

In a separate letter also sent Wednesday, Reid urged Attorney General Eric Holder to have the Justice Department “carefully examine” what Reid called an apparent CIA bid to intimidate the committee by seeking a criminal investigation of the staff’s alleged unauthorized penetration of agency computer networks.

Reid’s two letters represent the latest shots fired in a power struggle between the Democrat-controlled Senate and the CIA ignited by the sweeping four-year, 6,300-page study of the CIA’s use under the Bush administration of water boarding and other harsh interrogation techniques used on suspected terrorists held in secret “black site” prisons overseas.

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to comment on the dispute between the committee and the CIA other than to say it was “appropriate” that the Justice Department was reviewing the matters.
Meanwhile, the CIA issued a statement to McClatchy.

“CIA Director Brennan is committed to resolving all outstanding issues related to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation report and to strengthening relations between the Agency and Congress,” said Dean Boyd, a CIA spokesman. “The CIA believes in the necessity of effective, strong and bipartisan congressional oversight. We are a far better organization because of congressional oversight, and we will do whatever we can to be responsive to the elected representatives of the American people.”

In his letter to Holder, Reid said the CIA request for a criminal probe “appears to be a transparent attempt to intimidate the committee and undermine its oversight of the agency.” Reid noted that the request was made by a top CIA lawyer who was involved in the interrogation program.

“The absurdity of the allegations, when matched with the clear conflict of interest possessed by the (CIA) acting general counsel, calls into question the credibility of CIA Director Brennan’s recent claim that ‘There’s never been an effort by the CIA to thwart the (committee’s) investigation,”’ Reid wrote to Holder.

In his letters to Brennan and Holder, Reid said that he had instructed the Senate sergeant-at-arms to initiate a “forensic examination” of the computers and a computer network that the CIA “assigned for the exclusive use” of the committee staff.

The examination would be aimed at determining how a copy of a highly classified internal CIA review of the interrogation program ended up in the staff’s network, he wrote.

He asked Brennan to “take whatever steps necessary” to ensure there is no further interaction between CIA personnel and Senate staff other than with Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer, a veteran police officer who commands the Senate’s security force of nearly 1,000. Reid announced Thursday that Gainer would step down in the spring after seven years and be replaced by his deputy, Drew Willison. Adam Jentleson, Reid’s communications director, said Gainer’s departure had been long planned and that there was no connection between it and the Senate investigation.

“Furthermore, I ask your cooperation in ensuring that Sergeant at Arms staff have the access, including security clearances, necessary to complete their examination in a timely and effective manner,” Reid wrote to Brennan.

The sergeant-at-arms investigation is the third formal inquiry into the dispute.

The CIA general counsel’s office asked the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into the alleged unauthorized removal of classified materials by the committee staff, a matter that the FBI is now examining. CIA Inspector General David Buckley, meanwhile, asked the department to launch a criminal probe into the alleged unauthorized intrusion by CIA personnel into the committee’s computers.

The battle raged for months behind the scenes until it was disclosed by McClatchy on March 4. A week later, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) took to the Senate floor to denounce what she said were unauthorized CIA searches of her staff’s computers that might have violated the law and the Constitution.

The computers were at a secret CIA facility in Northern Virginia, where the agency required the staff to review 6.2 million pages of classified operational cables, reports and other documents related to the interrogation program.

During the course of their research, the staff obtained in 2010 the internal CIA review, which comprised summaries of the contents of the documents they were provided.

The review also included analyses by CIA personnel that, according to Feinstein, corroborated the study’s major findings and showed that the agency had misled the committee in disputing some of the conclusions in an official response to the study submitted by Brennan in June 2013.

Because of what Feinstein contended were previous instances of the CIA obstructing and destroying materials related to the interrogation program, the staff printed out the Panetta review — so-called because it was ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta — removed it from the CIA facility and locked it up in the committee’s high-security Capital Hill offices.

Feinstein contended that the staff found the review in the database of documents approved for their use by the CIA using a commercial Google search engine provided by the agency.

In a confrontation in January with Feinstein and her Republican vice chairman, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Brennan said the CIA had searched the committee’s computers after determining that a major security breach of the agency’s computer networks had allowed the staff unauthorized access to the review. The review bore markings that Brennan claimed put it beyond the power of the committee to access.

In his letter to Brennan, Reid disputed the CIA’s allegations.

“I understand that you have alleged that Senate committee staff illicitly accessed classified CIA networks to obtain a document … which appears to corroborate the findings and conclusions of the committee’s study and to contradict the CIA’s own official response to the study,” Reid wrote. “To my knowledge, the CIA has produced no evidence to support its claims that Senate committee staff, who have no technical training, somehow hacked into the CIA’s highly secure classified networks, an allegation that appears on its face to be patently absurd.”

The committee narrowly approved a final draft of the study in December 2012, but it hasn’t been released as it has yet to undergo a declassification review by the Obama administration.

But Feinstein and other lawmakers who have read the report said that it determined that the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods produced little intelligence of any value.

They have also asserted that the CIA misled the Bush administration, Congress and the public about the effectiveness of the program, which many experts, current and former U.S. officials and military commanders and other governments have charged employed torture.

AFP Photo/Alex Wong