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Internal CIA Investigation Confirms CIA Hacked into Senate Computers Being Used for Torture Report

CIA Director John Brennan in March claiming allegations of CIA hacking were “beyond the scope of reason.” (From CSPAN broadcast of Council on Foreign Relations event)

(update below)

An investigation by the CIA inspector general has confirmed CIA employees hacked into computers being used by the Senate intelligence committee to produce a 6,300-page torture report, according to McClatchy Newspapers.

Journalists Jonathan Landay and Ali Watkins obtained a statement from CIA spokesman Dean Boyd, who indicated, “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.”

Landay and Watkins also report that CIA director John Brennan apologized to Senator Dianne Feinstein, who alleged the CIA had improperly accessed computers in March in a statement read on the Senate floor. Brennan also apologized to committee vice chairman Saxby Chambliss and the wider intelligence committee.

An accountability board chaired by former Indiana Democratic Senator Evan Bayh will now review the findings of the CIA inspector general and determine whether to discipline employees or take any steps to further address what happened.

Feinstein had claimed CIA employees had conducted searches of committee computers and the network in which they were operating. The searches “involved not only a search of documents provided to the committee but also a search of the standalone and walled off committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications,” she stated.

Immediately after Feinstein alleged misconduct, Brennan reacted at a Council on Foreign Relations event, “As far as the allegations of CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s just beyond the scope of reason.”

He added, “When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this sort of tremendous spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.” He said much of this with a kind of vexed smile on his face.

The inspector general’s findings show he did not know what he was talking about, he was deliberately misleading the public or he was just plain lying to coverup what had happened. Maybe, he was uninformed, misled the public and was lying all at the same time.

Feinstein said “what the CIA has done very much appears to be in violation of the separation of powers principles in the US Constitution, the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Executive Order 12333, which prohibits domestic spying by the CIA.”

Nevertheless, the Justice Department decided not to open a criminal investigation into the CIA’s hacking into Senate computers.

The broader context is that the intrusion into Senate computers occurred as staffers had obtained access to a copy of an internal review prepared by former CIA director Leon Panetta that summarized documents provided to the committee for the study. The review was considered significant because it acknowledged parts of the Senate’s report, which the CIA now disputes.

According to Feinstein, CIA personnel electronically removed documents, which staffers were supposed to be able to access, at least twice in 2010. One of those documents was the internal Panetta review.

When Brennan found out that Senate staffers had obtained a copy of this review, he ordered “further forensic investigation of the committee network to learn more about activities of the oversight staff.”

Anonymous officials later leaked to the press allegations that Senate staffers themselves were engaged in hacking to obtain access to documents and that Senate staffers took classified documents without proper authorization from a secured facility. But Feinstein maintained, “The committee staff securely transported a printed portion of the draft internal Panetta review from the committee’s secure room at the CIA-leased facility to the secure committee spaces in the Hart Senate Office Building,” to preserve access. They did nothing they were not allowed, according to a 2009 agreement with Panetta, to do while reviewing information.

It is, perhaps, remarkable that a spokesperson is even speaking to reporters and sharing details of an apology. One probably did not expect Brennan to apologize. Such a development indicates how corrupt this act by the CIA must have been.

The effort was part of policy at the CIA to conceal evidence related to torture, rendition and detention, to publicly mislead or even lie about the efficacy of torture, rendition and detention in fighting terrorism and to ensure no former or current CIA officials were ever prosecuted for what they did.

The Justice Department decriminalized the CIA’s role in torture and decided not to prosecute anyone. The investigation into the destruction of CIA torture tapes ended with no charges. In fact, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation through drugs that do not cause “permanent derangement” can still be used against detainees.

Yet, Brennan does not have to worry at all about being prosecuted or fired from his job as CIA director. It is entirely up to him whether he should step down or not. Obama will not be asking for his resignation over this misconduct.

What has played out in the past months is a battle over what history will be told about torture after the September 11th attacks. The CIA, in some ways, has won. Notice the US news media still refuses to use the word torture when covering this story. McClatchy Newspapers’s story used “harsh interrogation techniques.” The use of euphemisms not only effectively increases support for torture when they are used but it tamps down disgust with the CIA among Americans.

The CIA has managed to enlist the White House in stalling the release for months. The vast majority of the report is not going to be made public. Only the executive summary with redactions recommended by President Barack Obama’s administrations will be released. The summary will come out and Brennan and former and current CIA officials will immediately have a media campaign prepared to discredit the report because they’ve been allowed to read the report ahead of time. They probably will selectively leak parts of the report that the CIA refused to release in order to further their agendas.

The declassification process may end by August 29. That is the Friday before Labor Day weekend, a great time to put out parts of a report that the CIA does not want the media or wider American society to be too concerned about.

There simply is no accountability for the CIA in this country. They have wide latitude to craft whatever public relations campaigns they want to defend their criminal conduct and rewrite history. They manage to get large sections of the US media to use their language to describe their programs. They operate with a culture of impunity and that is why they believed it was okay to hack into Senate computers. And they did not imagine they would be publicly condemned and forced to take responsibility for employees’ brazen misconduct intended to ensure the CIA doesn’t have to answer for torture.


Both Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and Colorado Democratic Senator Mark Udall have put out strong statements condemning Brennan.


The CIA Inspector General has confirmed what Senators have been saying all along: The CIA conducted an unauthorized search of Senate files, and attempted to have Senate staff prosecuted for doing their jobs. Director Brennan’s claims to the contrary were simply not true.

What’s needed now is a public apology from Director Brennan to staff and the committee, a full accounting of how this occurred and a commitment there will be no further attempts to undermine Congressional oversight of CIA activities.


…During CIA Director John Brennan’s confirmation hearings, he promised to fundamentally change the culture at the CIA and to respect vigorous and independent congressional oversight. His actions and those of CIA officials whom he oversees have proven otherwise. From the unprecedented hacking of congressional staff computers and continued leaks undermining the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program to his abject failure to acknowledge any wrongdoing by the agency, I have lost confidence in John Brennan.

I will be briefed on the Inspector General report soon, but assuming the findings confirm what John Brennan himself admitted to the committee — that the CIA conducted this unauthorized search — I am concerned about the director’s apparent inability to find any flaws in the agency he leads. Earlier this year he referred to the chairman’s and my publicly stated concerns about the CIA search as ‘spurious allegations that are wholly unsupported by facts’ and urged us to ‘refrain from outbursts.’ Brennan needs to account for these statements. I also believe the administration should appoint an independent counsel to look into what I believe could be the violation of multiple provisions of the Constitution as well as federal criminal statutes and Executive Order 12333… [emphasis added]

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."