CIA Director Apologizes For Meddling In Senate Computers

Months after denying that the CIA could have been snooping on Senate staff, agency director John Brennan has apologized to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

And now we're turning to another story on Capitol Hill involving the CIA and an apology. That apology came today from CIA director John Brennan. An internal CIA probe concluded the agency went too far in its spying by snooping on computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee. To tell us about that story, we're joined by NPR national security correspondent David Welna. Hi, David.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Why would the CIA search the computer of the committee that oversees it in the first place?

WELNA: Well, you know, Ari, this all happened in the context of the Senate intelligence committee putting together a massive report on the CIA's use after the 9/11 attacks of waterboarding and other interrogation techniques widely seen as torture. The CIA had insisted that staffers from the Senate committee travel to a CIA secure room to review millions of internal CIA documents from that era. The committee, for its part, insisted that it be given a computer network completely segregated from the CIA's system. CIA IT specialists could access it, but only to do technical support.

SHAPIRO: OK. So the computers we're talking about were not on Capitol Hill and were not at the CIA, but rather at an off-site third location.

WELNA: Right, at a location in Northern Virginia. Now, one document that the committee had - and it's not clear how it got it - was a review of the interrogation program done for former CIA director Leon Panetta. And it was apparently quite damning.

Diane Fienstien, the Dem. who chairs the committee, went to the Senate floor in early March. And there, she angrily accused the CIA of having broken into her staff's computers in search of that document. She's said, Director Brennan and the agency may well have violated the constitutional separation of powers in doing so.

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee was an appropriate.

SHAPIRO: OK, so...

(SOUNDBITE OF SENATE HEARING)

FEINSTEIN: I have received neither.

SHAPIRO: So today, we've given away the punchline that Brennan apologized. But back then, in March - describe how he responded.

WELNA: Well, he said that the charges were basically baseless. Here's Brennan just a couple of hours after Feinstein's broadside on the Senate floor.

JOHN BRENNAN: As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further than the truth. I mean, we wouldn't do that. I mean, that's just beyond, you know, the scope of reason.

WELNA: Meanwhile, the CIA was pushing the Justice Department to look into whether Senate intelligence committee staffers took the so-called Panetta Review out of the CIA safe room. Feinstein said, this was all being done just to intimidate her committee. And earlier this month, the Justice Department decided not to pursue the matter any further.

SHAPIRO: And that brings us to the present day, when CIA Director Brennan has done an about-face, admitted there was improper activity by the CIA in this case, apologized to Senator Feinstein. So what changed?

WELNA: Well, Brennan promised back in March that he would have the CIA inspector general look into the whole matter and prepare a report on his findings. And today, a CIA spokesman issued a statement saying, the inspector general's probe found that, in fact, some CIA employees had violated the agreement that the agency would not snoop into the committee's computer system. The spokesman added that CIA Director Brennan told Chairman Fienstien and Saxby Chambliss, the panel's top Rep., about that finding and apologized for it. He's also setting up what's being called an accountability board to recommend what disciplinary steps the CIA should take.

SHAPIRO: OK, David. So this whole dispute - the back and forth, the accusation, the denial, the apology - is all about this so-called torture report that the Senate Intelligence Committee did. When will that be made public?

WELNA: Well, you know, it was finished more than a year and half ago and approved by the committee, and only a long executive summary has been approved for release. The CIA's been busy blacking out parts of that summary for months, but any day now, we could be seeing that redacted version get released. It's expected to say those interrogation methods actually yielded very little useful information and that CIA repeatedly misrepresented its actions.

SHAPIRO: NPR national security correspondent David Welna.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.