CIA Hacked Senate Computers

Dianne Feinstein 2
Senator Dianne Feinstein is accusing the CIA of illegally hacking into the panel’s files and “intimidating” her staffers with Justice Department referrals Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The Central Intelligence Agency improperly accessed computers used by the Senate committee investigating the agency's use of torture following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, according to the CIA Inspector General Office.

The internal report confirms accusations made by Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-California, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, that CIA employees accessed computers used by her committee's staff as they poured over documents pertaining to the CIA's detention and interrogation program.

This is the latest development in an ongoing struggle between Feinstein's committee and the CIA. The Intelligence committee began work on a comprehensive torture report in May 2009 after learning that the agency's interrogation techniques were harsher than they had previously believed. Rather than turn over documents to the committee, the CIA asked that Senate committee staff review the documents at a CIA site in Virginia, where they were promised a "stand-alone computer system" that would be "segregated from CIA networks."

This past January, the CIA informed Feinstein and the committee's ranking Republican, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, that the CIA had conducted a "search" of the computers the staff were using. According to Feinstein, they gave no further information about the search. Years of behind the scenes conflict between the committee and the CIA exploded into public view in March, when Feinstein took to the Senate floor to publicly air her grievances against the CIA. She accused them of spying on the stand-alone computers in violation of the agreement between the committee and the CIA, as well as interfering with the research and even intimidating staff.

The report this week is an admission from the CIA that it's employees acted improperly. A CIA spokesperson confirmed that CIA Director John Brennan apologized to Feinstein and Chambliss on Tuesday. "The director . . . apologized to them for such actions by CIA officers as described in the OIG (Office of Inspector General Report)," Dean Boyd said in a statement.

The result of the committee's research is a massive report that is highly critical of the agency's use of torture, claiming that torture was not very helpful and that the agency lied to the Bush White House and Congress about the program. The report is currently under review for declassification by the White House as Feinstein and a number of her colleagues push to make it public.

Director Brennan has referred the report's findings to an independent board that will "review the OIG report, conduct interviews as needed, and provide the director with recommendations that, depending on its findings, could include potential disciplinary measures and/or steps to address systemic issues," Boyd said.

The Justice Department looked into Feinstein's accusations from March, that the CIA monitored her staff's computers in violation of the Constitution and the law, and that they withheld documents, but declined to proceed with a criminal investigation. The Senate Sergeant at Arms is currently reviewing a counter claim by the CIA that Feinstein's staff improperly removed classified documents.