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CIA Chief Apologizes To Sens. Feinstein, Chambliss Over Computer Intrusion

Ending a contentious and very public spat between two branches of government, Central Intelligence Agency chief John Brennan apologized to Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Saxby Chambliss because some CIA officers improperly accessed computers used by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

If you remember, this spat started when Feinstein, a Democrat from California, took to the floor of the Senate to say that the CIA was tampering with the committee's work by searching through computers provided by the agency so the committee could access classified documents on a network called RDINet.

As we reported:

" 'In place of asking any questions, the CIA's unauthorized search of the committee computers was followed by an allegation — which we now have seen repeated anonymously in the press — that the committee staff had somehow obtained the document through unauthorized or criminal means,' she said.

"In a separate appearance in Washington today, CIA Director John Brennan said the agency had not hacked into the committee's computers.

" 'Nothing could be further from the truth,' Brennan said at a Council on Foreign Relations event. 'We wouldn't do that. I mean, that's just beyond the scope of reason.' "

In a statement on Thursday, CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said the CIA launched an internal investigation into the matter, and the CIA's Office of Inspector General found "that some CIA employees acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding reached between SSCI and the CIA in 2009 regarding access to the RDINet."

"The Director subsequently informed the [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] Chairman and Vice Chairman of the findings and apologized to them for such actions by CIA officers as described in the OIG report," Boyd said.

Boyd added that Brennan is commissioning an "accountability board," which will be chaired by former Sen. Evan Bayh.

It's important to note that all of this goes back to the Bush administration's use of controversial interrogation techniques. Feinstein accused the CIA of destroying evidence having to do with the program, and the CIA has accused Feinstein's committee of improperly removing documents from the RDINet system.

According to Feinstein, Brennan told her the CIA searched the committee's computers to find out if staff members had removed an internal report about the harsh interrogation techniques.

Update at 1:44 p.m. ET. In Violation Of Separation Of Powers:

In a statement, Feinstein said the CIA Inspector General investigation confirms what she said on the Senate floor in March. The violation of the agreement, Feinstein said, was also "in violation of the constitutional separation of powers."

"Director Brennan apologized for these actions and submitted the IG report to an accountability board," Feinstein added. "These are positive first steps. This IG report corrects the record and it is my understanding that a declassified report will be made available to the public shortly."

Update at 1:29 p.m. ET. An Apology Not Enough:

In a statement, Christopher Anders, the American Civil Liberties Union's senior legislative counsel, said an apology was not enough and that the CIA should refer this matter to the Justice Department.

Anders said:

"It is hard to imagine a greater threat to the Constitution's system of checks and balances than having the CIA spy on the computers used by the very Senate staff carrying out the Senate's constitutional duty of oversight over the executive branch. It was made worse by CIA Director John Brennan's misleading the American people in denying any wrongdoing. These latest developments are only the most recent manifestations of a CIA that seems to believe that it is above and beyond the law. An uncontrolled – and seemingly uncontrollable – CIA threatens the very foundations of our Constitution."

Sen. Mark Udall, who serves on the Intelligence Committee, went further, saying he has lost confidence in Brennan.

"During CIA Director John Brennan's confirmation hearings, he promised to fundamentally change the culture at the CIA and to respect vigorous and independent congressional oversight. His actions and those of CIA officials whom he oversees have proven otherwise," Udall said in a statement. "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."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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