The CIA Spying Spree, Chief Admits Employees Hacked Senate Computers

One of the most controversial debates in the recent times took an extraordinary turn when John Brennan, CIA director, offered an unconditional apology against charges of snooping on the US Senate staff. The apology came after a long spell of public denial by the agency.

john brennan

John Brennan, far right. Photo: Chuck Hagel / Flickr

The computer network used by the committee staff was constantly under the watch of CIA officials who performed regular email and keyword searches. The investigation team set up by the Senate committee scrutinized the agency’s documents by overhauling a safety firewall present on the CIA network, admitted Brennan.

The entire episode took off in March when the Senate floor saw unprecedented allegations of snooping against the CIA being made by the Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). According to her, the agency officials had complete access to the computers used by investigators when the Senate staff was working on a report against CIA torture programs. They kept an eye on every single detail of investigators’ findings and blocked their access to many critical documents.

When these allegations were made in March, Brennan opposed all charges against the agency. He stated that such things were beyond the scope of the CIA. He further added that once the truth comes out, all accusers would be forced to take back their words.

Now that the truth has come out, Brennan has agreed that Feinstein was right. In the words of CIA spokesperson Dean Boyd, the agency’s inspector general had finally accepted that there were indeed some employees who grossly violated the 2009 common agreement between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).

From being renowned as one of Barack Obama’s closest and most trusted officers to being tainted by this controversy, Brennan’s last few years as the Director of CIA have seen a bumpy ride. The only silver lining is that despite losing confidence in Brennan, the White House seems to firmly stand beside him.

The inspector general’s report accuses 10 CIA employees of gaining illicit access to the devices on which Senate staffers were working. Right after these findings were revealed, Brennan headed to the Capitol Hill and met Feinstein, the senator who first raised this matter. He offered his apologies during the meeting.

The CIA personnel pried on the committee members’ computer network when they came to know that the committee is reviewing CIA detention programs. The CIA was never willing to share this information with Congress.

The agency also took a legal route and raised the matter to the Justice Department to term the committee’s access to their detention document as ‘illegal’. The Inspector General’s (IG) report refused to take the referral seriously, citing ‘lack of facts’. The Justice Department, on its part, paid no heed to the agency’s charges either. The report also mentions that three IT officers were not open about their role when interviewed by the IG during the course of this report.

The spying incident gave way to a number of related and unrelated accusations being thrown at each other by the two premier bodies. From violation of the constitution to allegations of computer hacking, no charges were spared.

To defuse the tension, Brennan had a meeting with Feinstein, where he briefed her regarding the report. In a stressful meeting, Brennan faced Feinstein after publicly criticizing her in the past for raising this matter.

In March, when the monitoring committee of the CIA came out in the open, Feinstein criticized the agency in the Senate, throwing severe allegations and accusing it of transgressing the committee.

Feinstein termed this as the ‘defining moment’ and said that the resolution of this issue would decide if the Intelligence Committee could work in its purview and oversee the CIA, or whether the CIA would dictate the terms of the committee and allow it to see only what the agency wishes.

Meanwhile, the White House issued a public statement, defending Brennan, and pointed out that he took all the necessary steps in the matter, including ordering an investigation and setting up an accountability board. The White House Press Secretary, Josh Earnest denied that the report would dent the credibility of Brennan.

Additionally, Earnest went on to credit Brennan for his role in dismantling Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan, saying that Brennan has a difficult job and he is performing extraordinarily well.

Earnest saw Brennan’s apology and setting up of an accountability board as extremely positive decisions. Another investigation report to be submitted by the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms is awaited on this issue.