Today, US Senator Diane Feinstein backed up reports that the CIA had illegally searched US Senate computers in an effort to figure out what the Senate knew about its torture activities. It turns out that the CIA acted exactly the way we expect the CIA to act — and that’s a problem.
For those of you catching up, McClatchy dropped a bomb of a report last week which revealed that the CIA had been spying on Senate computers and altering their contents. The matter was referred to the Justice Department for a possible criminal investigation.
In a speech on the Senate Floor this morning, Senator Feinstein sought to set the record straight following what she called a series of “inaccuracies” in press reports.
According to Feinstein, the dustup centres around the full CIA internal review document concerning the “enhanced interrogation” tactics used by the CIA on detainees. As part of an agreement during the investigation, the CIA had granted access to Senate staffers to a partial copy of the report at a secure CIA location on CIA computers. Later, though, it turns out the CIA got cold feet about some of what it had allowed the Senate to see, and importantly, to transport off the premises.
…on January 15, 2014, CIA Director Brennan requested an emergency meeting to inform me and Vice Chairman Chambliss that without prior notification or approval, CIA personnel had conducted a “search” — that was John Brennan’s word — of the committee computers at the offsite facility. This search involved not only a search of documents provided to the committee by the CIA, but also a search of the “stand alone” and “walled-off” committee network drive containing the committee’s own internal work product and communications.
According to Brennan, the computer search was conducted in response to indications that some members of the committee staff might already have had access to the Internal Panetta Review. The CIA did not ask the committee or its staff if the committee had access to the Internal Review, or how we obtained it.
The CIA says that it had accidentally provided access to too much information, which may or may not be the case. Senator Feinstain debates this point, saying the Senate should have had more access all along.
What’s troublesome about the whole report is that the CIA feels it’s within its extrajudicial authority to break into and sanitize whatever computers it thinks it needs to, which violates not just standing executive orders but also the constitutional protection against illegal search and seizure. Especially given how unlikely it is to be an isolated incident.[US Senate and McClatchy and Politico]