CIA board clears personnel of spying on Senate inquiry

15 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

C.I.A. Officers Are Cleared in Senate Computer Search.

A CIA accountability board has cleared the spy agency of wrongdoing after CIA officials were found to have searched the files of congressional investigators tasked with reviewing the possible use of torture tactics during the Bush presidency.An internal panel set up by the CIA said on Wednesday that agency employees would not be punished for secretly searching the computers of a Senate committee — an incident that set off a furious public feud and led to accusations of breach of constitution.WASHINGTON Five CIA personnel involved in searching computers used by Senate staffers to compile a scathing report on the torture of detainees didn’t break the law, had good reasons to conduct the searches and shouldn’t be penalized, said an agency accountability board report released on Wednesday. The findings contradicted those of the CIA Inspector General’s Office and charges by former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein that the searches possibly violated the law and the Constitution, casting in an awkward light an apology for the intrusions made by CIA Director John Brennan in July.

Buckley also found at the time that the CIA had inaccurately filed criminal referrals against congressional investigators that accused them of mishandling classified information. The new report into the incident contradicts the conclusion of the CIA’s own director-general, which said last year that the employees “improperly” gained access to the computers being used by the Senate staff. The computer search raised questions about the separation of powers and fractured relations between the C.I.A. and the Senate oversight panel, which last year released its scathing report about the agency’s detention and interrogation program during the George W. The search of the Senate computers by CIA employees was “reasonable in light of their responsibilities to manage an unprecedented computer system” the agency had set up at a secret facility in northern Virginia exclusively for the Senate probe. According to the board, Intelligence Committee investigators were presented with a message — “your use of this system may be monitored and you have no expectation of privacy” — every time they logged on.

In its decision to clear the five officers of wrongdoing, a finding first reported last month by The New York Times, the accountability board said there had been no concrete understanding about the rules governing the computer network, which was housed at a C.I.A. facility but included a firewall to allow Senate staff members to do their work without agency monitoring. The document is likely to inflame the dispute with lawmakers by putting new blame on members of the investigative team that combed through millions of classified CIA memos. Wyden said he would “make sure this stonewalling ends.” Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), the ex-chairperson of the SSCI, also voiced her reaction in a statement in which she said she was “disappointed that no one at the CIA will be held accountable.” Feinstein said “the decision was made to search committee computers, and someone should be held accountable for these actions.” Feinstein has been at the center of the scandal since March last year, when reports of the CIA’s attempts to access Senate computers broke. Published in December, the Senate report accused the CIA of using interrogation techniques that were “far more brutal” than it told policy makers, and ineffective. Meanwhile, the Senate Sergeant at Arms office, the chamber’s law enforcement unit, reportedly closed a probe of the alleged unauthorized document removals.

The so-called accountability board led by Bayh also concluded that Senate staffers should have known that their work on the network could and would be monitored by CIA security officials, pointing to a warning that appeared every time Senate aides turned on the computers. The senator had two major complaints: that CIA officials had snooped on the Intelligence Committee to discover what it knew about the agency’s interrogation methods, and that officials then began to quietly remove almost 900 documents from the secure network that could implicate the agency in torture. The determination that no employees should face discipline is also likely to anger lawmakers and critics who have repeatedly chastised the agency for a seeming unwillingness to hold its employees accountable, even in cases of botched counterterrorism operations and egregious abuse.

It asserted that they were summaries of top-secret cables, emails and other materials that the panel already possessed and contained unofficial, personal notes and observations by CIA personnel that hadn’t been officially vetted. It found that 39 prisoners were subjected to the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation,” which included beatings, sleep deprivation, and “near-drownings.” One detainee died of hypothermia in 2002, while “partially nude and chained to a concrete floor.” President Obama banned enhanced interrogation methods in 2009, but was reluctant to investigate the CIA’s past infractions, saying that he had “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.” The latest documents are part of the ongoing fallout from that five-year Senate inquiry, an investigation that was marred by such friction and mistrust that it spawned ancillary probes of the conduct of those involved.

Moreover, there was no formal security agreement with the committee prohibiting such searches, said the board, and the CIA personnel were obligated by law to ensure that the computer system was secure and not compromised. The searches were authorized and routine, and the committee staff had previously asked for CIA assistance on some occasions in searching their data base, the board said. The board did not find any evidence of indifference or contempt.” The board didn’t investigate breaches of the staff computers in May 2010 in which the agency “unilaterally removed 926 documents” because of concerns they were covered by executive privilege.

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