CIA personnel improperly accessed computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to compile a report on the agency’s use of harsh interrogation methods , according to an internal CIA investigation, contradicting denials of such intrusions by spy chief John Brennan.
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, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., 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 George W. Bush administration.
CIA Director John Brennan briefed Feinstein and the committee’s vice chairman, Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., on Buckley’s findings, and apologized to them during a meeting on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Boyd said.
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“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 to an accountability board chaired by retired Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana, who served on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Boyd said.
“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,” Boyd said.
Feinstein called Brennan’s apology and his decision to submit the CIA IG findings to the accountability board “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,” she said in a statement.
“The investigation confirmed what I said on the Senate floor in March _ CIA personnel inappropriately searched Senate Intelligence Committee computers in violation of an agreement we had reached, and I believe in violation of the constitutional separation of powers,” she said.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest issued effusive praise and a strong defense of Brennan, crediting him for playing an “instrumental role” in the administration’s fight against terrorism, and in launching the CIA IG investigation and looking for ways to prevent such occurrences in the future.
Earnest was asked during a news briefing whether there was a credibility issue for Brennan, given his remarks in March when he said that people who had claimed the CIA was spying would be proven wrong.
“Not at all,” he replied, adding that Brennan had suggested that the inspector general investigate the situation in the first place. And, he added, Brennan had taken the further step of appointing the accountability board to review the situation and the conduct of those accused of acting improperly to “ensure that they are properly held accountable for that conduct.”
The tone of the CIA announcement and Feistein’s statement sharply contrast with the unprecedented battle that erupted over the issue between the spy agency and its congressional overseers and appear to represent attempts to ease what have been seriously icy relations.
In her 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 data base 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.
Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized the CIA announcement, saying that “an apology isn’t enough.”
“The Justice Department must refer the (CIA) inspector general’s report to a federal prosecutor for a full investigation into any crimes by CIA personnel or contractors,” said Anders. “It’s 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.”
Lesley Clark in Washington contributed to this report.