California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s accusations in March seemed prescient when CIA Director John Brennan apologized Thursday for agency officers spying on legislators and their staff. Feinstein leads the Senate Intelligence Committee. In March, she made an unusually long speech on the Senate floor in which she said the agency had tampered with Senate staff investigations and tried to intimidate them.
An internal CIA investigation has found that agency officers improperly accessed Senate computers earlier this year in a dispute over interrogation documents, prompting CIA Director John Brennan to abandon his defiant posture in the matter and apologize.
Brennan has convened an internal accountability board chaired by former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) that will examine whether the CIA officers should be disciplined, said his spokesman, Dean Boyd.
Feinstein’s public criticism of the agency in March was unprecedented. She accused the agency of interfering with staff efforts to review documents related to interrogations during the Bush administration.
After Brennan’s Thursday apology, she stated, “I was briefed Tuesday by CIA Inspector General David Buckley on the results of an IG investigation. 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.”
The CIA is part of the executive branch, and should not interfere with Congress, part of the legislative branch.
Feinstein called Brennan’s apology, and his action of giving the report to an accountability board, “positive first steps.” She said a declassified report will be made public soon.
Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado, a member of the committee, went further than Feinstein. On Thursday, he called for Brennan to resign. “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. The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers.”
Udall called the CIA’s actions “grave misconduct,” and said there must be consequences.
“These offenses, along with other errors in judgment by some at the CIA, demonstrate a tremendous failure of leadership,” said Udall in a statement.
He wants the CIA to promptly admit its failings and to correct misinformation about its detention and interrogation program. That is the subject of the classified report Senate staffers were examining when the CIA intruded on their computers.
The summary of that classified report on post 9/11 detentions and interrogations that accuses the CIA of misconduct is expected to be made public soon.
The CIA inspector general shared his findings with the Justice Department, which has so far declined to pursue criminal charges against the CIA employees, officials said.
The inspector general concluded “that some CIA employees acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding reached between” the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA in 2009 regarding access to a shared classified computer network, Boyd said.
The shared network had been used by Senate aides to access classified files on CIA interrogations. The CIA penetration occurred after the aides got a hold of documents that the CIA claimed were internal, but which showed that some CIA officials shared misgivings about the treatment of al-Qaeda detainees.
Brennan informed Senate intelligence committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the senior Republican on the committee, “and apologized to them for such actions by CIA officers as described in the (inspector general’s) report,” Boyd said.
The apology was a turnabout for the CIA director, who until this week had dismissed the notion that the CIA did anything wrong.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.