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Probe: Did the CIA spy on the U.S. Senate?

  • McClatchy Washington Bureau
  • Published Tuesday, March 4, 2014, at 10:33 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 11, 2014, at 3:02 p.m.

— The CIA Inspector General’s Office has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations of malfeasance at the spy agency in connection with a yet-to-be released Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program, McClatchy has learned.

The criminal referral may be related to what several knowledgeable people said was CIA monitoring of computers used by Senate aides to prepare the study. The monitoring may have violated an agreement between the committee and the agency.

The development marks an unprecedented breakdown in relations between the CIA and its congressional overseers amid an extraordinary closed-door battle over the 6,300-page report on the agency’s use of waterboarding and harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists held in secret overseas prisons. The report is said to be a searing indictment of the program. The CIA has disputed some of the reports findings.

White House officials have closely tracked the bitter struggle, a McClatchy investigation has found. But they haven’t directly intervened, perhaps because they are embroiled in their own feud with the committee, resisting surrendering top-secret documents that the CIA asserted were covered by executive privilege and sent to the White House.

McClatchy’s findings are based on information found in official documents and provided by people with knowledge of the dispute being fought in the seventh-floor executive offices of the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Va., and the committee’s high-security work spaces on Capitol Hill.

The people who spoke to McClatchy asked not to be identified because the feud involves highly classified matters and carries enormous consequences for congressional oversight over the executive branch.

The CIA and the committee declined to comment.

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, declined to discuss the matter and referred questions to the CIA and the Justice Department.

In question now is whether any part of the committee’s report, which took some four years to compose and cost $40 million, will ever see the light of day.

The report details how the CIA misled the Bush administration and Congress about the use of interrogation techniques that many experts consider torture, according to public statements by committee members. It also shows, members have said, how the techniques didn’t provide the intelligence that led the CIA to the hideout in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed in a 2011 raid by Navy SEALs.

The committee determined earlier this year that the CIA monitored computers – in possible violation of an agreement against doing so – that the agency had provided to intelligence committee staff in a secure room at CIA headquarters that the agency insisted they use to review millions of pages of top-secret reports, cables and other documents, according to people with knowledge.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, a panel member, apparently was referring to the monitoring when he asked CIA Director John Brennan at a Jan. 29 hearing if provisions of the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act “apply to the CIA? Seems to me that’s a yes or no answer.”

Brennan replied that he’d have to get back to Wyden after looking into “what the act actually calls for and it’s applicability to CIA’s authorities.”

The law makes it a criminal act for someone to intentionally access a computer without authorization or to go beyond what they’re allowed to access.

People familiar with the issue said it wasn’t clear whether the monitoring violated any law or administrative regulations.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., who has led calls for the CIA to allow the release of the report, also appeared to be referring to the monitoring in a letter he sent Tuesday to President Barack Obama.

“As you are aware, the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal CIA review and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the committee’s oversight responsibilities and for our democracy,” Udall wrote. “It is essential that the committee be able to do its oversight work – consistent with our constitutional principle of the separation of powers – without the CIA posing impediments or obstacles as it is today.”

Udall also called on Obama to strip the CIA of control over how much of the Senate report should be made public. The report remains classified nearly 15 months after the panel approved the document and turned it over to the agency for vetting.

“It is my belief that the declassification of the Committee Study is of paramount importance and that decisions about what should or should not be declassified regarding this issue should not be delegated to the CIA, but directly handled by the White House,” Udall wrote.

Udall has led a handful of lawmakers in pressing for the release of the report’s conclusions, which committee members have publicly said show that the CIA misled the Bush administration and Congress about the intelligence gained from using water-boarding and other interrogation techniques. On Tuesday, Hayden said “For some time, the White House has made clear to the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that a summary of the findings and conclusions of the final … report should be declassified, with any appropriate redactions necessary to protect national security.”

The conflict over the committee’s investigation heightened late last year when the committee discovered that a CIA internal review confirming some of the committee’s findings had been withheld from Senate investigators.

In his letter to Obama, Udall said the internal report not only corroborates aspects of the committee’s investigation, but “acknowledges significant mistakes and errors made during the course of the CIA program.”

“It is vital that we understand how and why the content of the CIA’s internal review contradicts the CIA’s official June 27, 2013, response to the Committee,” he added.

The agency has downplayed the importance of the document, characterizing it as a compilation of summaries of classified documents, rather than an analytical report.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect date for the hearing at which Sen. Wyden asked CIA director Brennan whether federal computer fraud law applied to the CIA.

Email: jlanday@mcclatchydc.com; mtaylor@mcclatchydc.com; awatkins@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @jonathanlanday, @marisaataylor, @alimariewatkins

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