The long awaited reprimand of the US intelligence community by Senator Dianne Feinstein, the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, happened yesterday, but not for the reasons privacy advocates hoped for.
The Senator publicly accused the CIA of unauthorized access – effectively hacking – and rifling through the computers of Senate staffers, in search for documents that the agency claims the committee should have never had access to.
The document in question (“Panetta Review”) apparently details some of the questionable detention conditions and interrogation techniques employed by the agency on a number of occasions.
As you may or may not know, in 2009 the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to initiate a review of the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program, and the then CIA Director Leon Panetta decided to provide “literally millions of pages of operational cables, internal emails, memos, and other documents pursuant to the committee’s document requests at a secure location in Northern Virginia.”
“Per an exchange of letters in 2009, then-Vice Chairman Bond, then-Director Panetta, and I agreed in an exchange of letters that the CIA was to provide a ‘stand-alone computer system’ with a ‘network drive’ ‘segregated from CIA networks’ for the committee that would only be accessed by information technology personnel at the CIA—who would ‘not be permitted to’ ‘share information from the system with other [CIA] personnel, except as otherwise authorized by the committee,” Feinstein explained in her speech.
“It was this computer network that, notwithstanding our agreement with Director Panetta, was searched by the CIA this past January.”
She added that the CIA hired a team of outside contractors to review and clear all the provided documents, and provided an electronic search tool so staffers could locate relevant documents. In addition to this, the staffers had permission to print or make a copy of the files they deemed relevant on their computer.
In May 2010, she claims, certain documents that had been provided for the committee’s review were no longer accessible, and after a few misdirections, the CIA finally acknowledged that they were the ones who removed them.
Later that same year, the staffers stumbled upon the draft version of the aforementioned Panetta Review. “We believe these documents were written by CIA personnel to summarize and analyze the materials that had been provided to the committee for its review. What was unique and interesting about the internal documents was not their classification level, but rather their analysis and acknowledgement of significant CIA wrongdoing.”
She said that they discovered the document in question via the search tool provided by the CIA, and made copies of it.
“We have no way to determine who made the Internal Panetta Review documents available to the committee. Further, we don’t know whether the documents were provided intentionally by the CIA, unintentionally by the CIA, or intentionally by a whistle-blower,” she said. What is certain is that the “Panetta Review had documented at least some of the very same troubling matters already uncovered by the committee staff.”
But when the committee finally published their report in 2012, and the CIA reviewed it, the latter didn’t agree with some important parts of it.
“Some of these important parts that the CIA now disputes in our committee study are clearly acknowledged in the CIA’s own Internal Panetta Review,” Feinstein noted. “To say the least, this is puzzling. How can the CIA’s official response to our study stand factually in conflict with its own Internal Review?”
And now we finally come to the matter at hand: the copies of the Panetta Review were documents were kept in computers at a secure committee office in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.
“When the Internal Panetta Review documents disappeared from the committee’s computer system, this suggested once again that the CIA had removed documents already provided to the committee, in violation of CIA agreements and White House assurances that the CIA would cease such activities,” she shared.
And indeed, they have, as CIA Director John Brennan confirmed to her on January 15, 2014, but hasn’t yet said on whose authority they did it.”
“Besides the constitutional implications, the CIA’s search may also have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance,” she concluded, and asked protection for their staffers who, she insists, did nothing wrong.
“How Congress responds and how this is resolved will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee,” she pointed out. “I believe it is critical that the committee and the Senate reaffirm our oversight role and our independence under the Constitution of the United States.”
CCIA Director John Brennan later responded by saying that the CIA was not spying on the committee of the Senate.
“We weren’t trying to block anything,” he said. “The matter is being dealt with in an appropriate way, being looked at by the right authorities, and the facts will come out.”
The US Justice Department has been tasked with investigating the matter, and there is a possibility that an independent probe will be ultimately needed.