The Obama administration and the CIA may have put behind them the agency’s intrusions into computers used by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers to compile their scathing report on the agency’s torture of suspected terrorists, but some Democrats on the panel haven’t.
Three of the committee’s Democratic members sent a letter on Friday to CIA Director John Brennan, asking that he publicly admit to the impropriety of the computer search.
“We call on you to acknowledge that this search was improper, and commit that these unacceptable actions will not be repeated,” wrote Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.
The search to which they referred occurred in January 2014 after CIA officials learned that Democratic staffers investigating the CIA’s torture of detainees had obtained a top-secret document that assessed the value of other documents to be turned over to the Senate committee. The document was known as the Panetta review for Leon Panetta, the CIA director who requested it.
Democratic lawmakers charged that the review corroborated their probe’s findings that the agency’s use of simulated drowning – known as water-boarding – sleep deprivation and other harsh interrogation methods failed to produce significant intelligence from terror suspects held in secret prisons overseas.
The CIA disputed that assessment and said that the Senate staffers who accessed the review had no right to view it.
The intrusion was the last of three occasions when CIA officials searched the committee’s computers during the five-year torture investigation. The first two times occurred in early 2010 and were the subject of talks among the committee, the CIA and the Obama administration, which apologized and pledged that they wouldn’t happen again.
McClatchy first reported the intrusions on March 4, 2014.
In their letter, the three senators reminded Brennan that he’d denied the intrusions during a public appearance he made a week after the McClatchy story appeared and that a July 2014 CIA Inspector General report found that the agency gained “improper” access to committee staff files.
Moreover, they wrote, senior officials from the FBI, the National Security Agency and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in June 2014 “all testified that it would be inappropriate for their agencies to secretly search Senate files without external authorization.”
“To date, however, there has been no public acknowledgement from you or any other CIA official . . . that this search was improper, nor even a commitment that the CIA will not conduct such searches in the future,” the three said. “This is entirely unacceptable.”
“It is vitally important for the American public to have confidence that senior intelligence officials respect U.S. laws and the Constitution, including our democratic system of checks and balances,” they continued. “In our judgement, your handling of this matter has undermined that confidence.”
The CIA had no immediate comment on the letter. An agency spokesman pointed to the findings released in January by an Accountability Review Board that absolved five CIA officials of any wrongdoing, saying that they’d acted “reasonably under the complex and unprecedented circumstances involved in investigating a potential security breach.”
In the letter, the three senators said they were attaching a separate classified letter asking that Brennan immediately “correct for the public record” inaccurate public statements that they contended he made “on another topic” in March.
They provided no further details of Brennan’s alleged inaccurate statement, and Wyden’s and Heirich’s spokespersons declined to elaborate. It appeared that Brennan’s only public appearance in March was a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.
The senators asked that he respond to both letters by June 1. But it wasn’t apparent that they could take any action if he failed to do so. The Democrats controlled the committee until January, when the Republicans took control of the Senate.