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.
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 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.”
Brennan did reply and admitted that, yes, the CFAA does apply to the CIA, which may explain why the DOJ is now involved in this issue.
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.”
Congressional aides involved in preparing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s unreleased study of the CIA’s secret interrogation and detention program walked out of the spy agency’s fortress-like headquarters with classified documents that the CIA contended they weren’t authorized to have, McClatchy has learned.
The CIA discovered the security breach and brought it to the committee’s attention in January, leading to a determination that the agency recorded the staffers’ use of the computers in the high-security research room, and then confirmed the breach by reviewing the usage data, said the knowledgeable person.
The documents removed from the agency included a draft of an internal CIA review that at least one lawmaker has publicly said showed that agency leaders misled the Intelligence Committee in disputing some of the committee report’s findings, according to a knowledgeable person who requested anonymity because of the matter’s extraordinary sensitivity.
The CIA disputed significant portions of the committee’s findings in its official response to the report, which it submitted in June, three months after the deadline set by the committee. The agency also disputes that it conducted an internal review of the detention and interrogation program, asserting that it only compiled summaries of documents provided to the committee and not an analytical report.
Several months after the CIA submitted its official response to the committee report, aides discovered in the database of top-secret documents at CIA headquarters a draft of an internal review ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta of the materials released to the panel, said the knowledgeable person.
They determined that it showed that the CIA leadership disputed report findings that they knew were corroborated by the so-called Panetta review, said the knowledgeable person.
The aides printed the material, walked out of CIA headquarters with it and took it to Capitol Hill, said the knowledgeable person.
Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., a member of the Intelligence Committee who has led calls for the release of the report, disclosed at a hearing in December the existence of the Panetta review without saying how the committee had learned of it. He contended that the review broadly corroborated the committee’s findings and questioned why it was dramatically different from the CIA’s official response.
It remained unclear Wednesday if the monitoring, the unauthorized removal of classified material or another matter were the subject of a recent CIA Inspector General request to the Justice Department for an investigation into alleged malfeasance in connection with the committee’s top-secret study.
Some committee members regard the monitoring as a possible violation of the law and contend that their oversight powers give them the right to the documents that were removed. On the other hand, the CIA considers the removal as a massive security breach because the agency doesn’t believe that the committee had a right to those particular materials.
“Even if the agency is technically correct on the legalities, it’s a real asinine thing to pick a fight with your oversight committee like this,” said a U.S. official who was among those who spoke to McClatchy. “You’ve got to be asking yourself why the agency would be willing to take such a risk. The documents must be so damned loaded.”
White House officials have held at least one closed-door meeting with committee members about the monitoring and the removal of the documents, said the first knowledgeable person.
White House officials were trying to determine how the materials that were taken from CIA headquarters found their way into a database into which millions of pages of top-secret reports, emails and other documents were made available to panel staff after being vetted by CIA officials and contractors, said the knowledgeable person.
While eating lunch during a visit to New Britain, Conn., with four New England governors, Obama was asked by a reporter if he had any reaction to the allegation that the CIA monitored Intelligence Committee computers.
“I’m going to try to make sure I don’t spill anything on my tie,” he responded.
The report remains classified nearly 15 months after the panel approved the document and turned it over to the agency for vetting.
LeakSource Summary: So CIA gave SSCI staffers access to top-secret documents to conduct torture report. Made mistake of including CIA internal review showing chief lied to Congress about torture. CIA realized mistake, threw a fit and reported it to SSCI as unauthorized, thereby revealing it’s secret monitoring of staffers which it agreed not to do. Incompetence at its finest. Props to SSCI staffers for doing the right thing. To the CIA, you are useless. The only things your organization is good at is overthrowing sovereign nations, indiscriminate droning, and making the US less safe. Abolish the CIA!
We can only hope this escalating battle of leaks between Senate and CIA will end w/ the whole torture report leaking. http://t.co/xRHNRC4mc1
— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) March 6, 2014
The CIA is investigating whether its officers improperly monitored members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which oversees the intelligence agency, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The CIA inspector general is looking into the circumstances surrounding the committee’s investigation into allegations of CIA abuse in a Bush-era detention and interrogation program, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told reporters. The allegations include whether CIA officers improperly monitored Senate investigators and possibly accessed the computers they were using, two officials familiar with the investigation said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
The FBI is investigating the alleged unauthorized removal of classified documents from a secret CIA facility by Senate Intelligence Committee staff who prepared a study of the agency’s use of harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists in secret overseas detention centers, McClatchy has learned.
The FBI investigation stemmed from a request to the Justice Department by the CIA general counsel’s office for a criminal investigation into the removal last fall of classified documents by committee staff from a high-security electronic reading room that they were required to use to review top-secret emails and other materials, people familiar with issue told McClatchy. The existence of the referral was first reported online Thursday afternoon by AP.
The matter is now with the FBI, said one federal official. Like all of those who spoke to McClatchy, the federal official requested anonymity because the case is highly sensitive, closely guarded and could potentially involve criminal charges.
The investigation request by the CIA general counsel’s office is one of two criminal referrals sent to the Justice Department in connection with the committee’s 6,300-page report, which remains unreleased nearly 15 months after the panel voted to approve its final draft, according to those familiar with the case.
The second was made by CIA Inspector General David Buckley, they said. It relates to the monitoring by the agency of computers that the committee staff used to review millions of classified documents in the electronic reading room set up inside a secret CIA facility in Northern Virginia, they said.
It was unclear when precisely the referrals were made or when the FBI became involved or whether the bureau investigation also includes the computer monitoring.
The FBI and the CIA declined to comment. The committee referred calls to the Justice Department, which also declined to comment.
The Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee threw down the gauntlet Tuesday morning in a feud unfolding between the CIA and its oversight panel, asserting that the agency may have broken the law in an effort to derail the panel’s report on the agency’s harsh detention and interrogation program.
In a stunning speech on the Senate floor, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein accused the agency of possibly violating the Constitution when it monitored her committee’s computers and sought a criminal investigation of committee staffers.
‘The CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate clause,” she said. “It may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities”
Feinstein fiercely defended the staff’s actions throughout the course of the report’s creation, saying that the staff removed a classified internal CIA report from a secure CIA facility because it was necessary to fulfill the panel’s oversight responsibilities. She said when the staffers printed out the documents and took them to the Capitol, they did not break the law as the CIA contends.