By Kathleen Hennessey
July 31, 2014
The CIA acknowledged Thursday that its employees had secretly searched Senate computer files related to an investigation of the agency’s Bush-era harsh interrogation program, apologized to key senators and abandoned its previous insistence that it had done nothing wrong.
An investigation by the CIA’s inspector general found that 10 employees — including two attorneys and three technology staff members — were involved in the search, according to a declassified summary of his report, released Thursday. The inspector general said three employees had demonstrated “a lack of candor” in interviews.
CIA Director John Brennan apologized to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and other committee leaders and said he was “committed to correcting any shortcomings” related to the incident, a spokesman for the spy agency said.
Brennan has created an “accountability board,” to be chaired by former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), to review the inspector general’s findings and recommend disciplinary action, if necessary, spokesman Dean Boyd said.
Feinstein, in a statement, called the apology and creation of the accountability board “positive first steps.” Her restrained endorsement suggested that the conflict between the agency and its congressional overseers may continue.
Brennan’s admission was a remarkable reversal after a months-long, highly unusual, public standoff with the intelligence panel. The move came after efforts by the White House to heal the breach between its CIA director and leading senators of the president’s party.
But whether the apology will calm the fight or inflame it remained unclear. At least two senators raised questions Thursday about Brennan’s continued tenure as the CIA’s chief, with one calling for his resignation. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the CIA’s actions “appalling,” saying in a statement that “the CIA’s leadership must take action to address these misdeeds, restore its trust with Congress and ensure that this episode will never, ever be repeated.”
The fight became public in March when Feinstein, in a speech on the Senate floor, charged that CIA employees had improperly hacked into a computer being used by Senate investigators. She accused the agency of violating “the constitutional separation of powers.”
Brennan, at the time, denied any improper action.
“When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong,” he said. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that.”
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