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The CIA Just Admitted That It Spied on the US Senate

The CIA inspector general found that the agency spied on Senate staffers. Now, one senator is calling for the CIA director's resignation.
Photo by Carolyn Kaster/AP

Back in March, embattled CIA Director John Brennan defended the agency over explosive claims leveled by US senators who said the agency improperly accessed their computers while they were investigating the CIA’s torture program.

“As far as allegations of CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth,” Brennan said during an interview at the Council on Foreign Relations. “We wouldn’t do that. That’s just beyond the scope of reason.”


Earlier this month, the CIA’s own internal watchdog wrapped up a probe into the matter, and it turns out Brennan apparently misjudged the scope of reason — the agency's inspector general, David Buckley, concluded that the CIA breached Senate staffers' computers and spied on them.

“Five Agency employees, two attorneys, and three information technology (IT) staff members, improperly accessed or caused access to the [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] Majority staff shared drives on the RDINet,” states an unclassified summary of Buckley’s report [pdf below] obtained by VICE News.

The report says that the CIA’s Office of Security read Intelligence Committee staffers’ emails and “conducted a limited investigation of [the committee’s] activities on the RDINet."

The inspector general’s report also notes that the CIA’s three IT staffers “demonstrated a lack of candor about their activities during interviews" by the Office of Inspector General.

'After being briefed on the CIA Inspector General report today, I have no choice but to call for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan.'

In a carefully worded statement, CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said Brennan was briefed on the inspector general's findings. Brennan apologized to Senator Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), and the panel’s Republican vice chairman, Senator Saxby Chambliss.

RDINet — it refers to “rendition, detention, interrogation,” a euphemism for the CIA’s torture program that the Senate Intelligence Committee had been investigating — was a classified computer system set up by the CIA in a secure facility in Northern Virginia. There, Senate staffers reviewed millions of pages of highly classified documents about the efficacy of the post-9/11 torture program.


The Intelligence Committee probe began in 2009 after revelations that the CIA had destroyed nearly 100 interrogation videotapes, one of which showed a high-value prisoner being waterboarded, according to court documents.

The Senate committee originally voted to approve its subsequent 6,600-page report in December 2012 — but the CIA claimed it was flawed and demanded substantive changes. The report just went through a declassification review and is expected to be released in a matter of days. VICE News has learned it allegedly accuses “senior CIA officials” of lying during multiple closed-session briefings to members of Congress from 2003 to 2005 about the use of certain “enhanced” interrogation techniques.

Sources also say the report suggests the agency sanctioned leaks to selected journalists about phantom terror plots that were supposedly disrupted as a result of information gained through "enhanced interrogation." The goal was to create a media narrative of success.

Exclusive: CIA sued for info over spying on Senate torture investigation. Read more here.

Behind the scenes, according to Feinstein and other lawmakers, the CIA was attempting to sabotage the committee’s work and undercut the integrity of its investigation.

Last March, in an extraordinary 45-minute statement on the Senate floor, Feinstein accused the CIA of monitoring Senate staffers’ computers and attempting to sabotage the committee’s investigation, which “undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function.”


She said the CIA then tried to have Senate staff prosecuted for gaining access to classified materials the CIA said the committee was not authorized to review. The CIA called upon the Justice Department (DOJ) and FBI to launch a criminal investigation into the case. Neither did; the summary of the inspector general report concluded that the “factual basis for the referral was not supported, as the author of the referral had been provided inaccurate information on which the letter was based. After review, the DOJ declined to open a criminal investigation of the matter alleged in the crimes report.”

Recently, according to the New York Times, Brennan convened a meeting of former directors of the CIA to discuss ways to publicly attack the findings of the report’s executive summary when it was to be released.

That the CIA’s inspector general essentially concluded that Feinstein was right raises an important question: Did the CIA’s search of Senate computers violate the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance?

Senator Mark Udall, a member of the intelligence committee who has butted heads with Brennan over the torture report, called for the CIA director's resignation Thursday.

"After being briefed on the CIA Inspector General report today, I have no choice but to call for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan," Udall said in a statement. "The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers. This grave misconduct not only is illegal, but it violates the US Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers. These offenses, along with other errors in judgment by some at the CIA, demonstrate a tremendous failure of leadership, and there must be consequences."


Meet John Napier Tye, the US government's ideal new whistleblower. Read more here.

Boyd, the CIA spokesman, said Brennan is now commissioning an “Accountability Board at CIA” to further look into the matter. The board will be chaired by former Senator Evan Bayh, who used to be a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Said Boyd: “This Board will review the [inspector general] 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."

Follow Jason Leopold on Twitter: @JasonLeopold