CIA admits its officers hacked into Senate Intelligence Committee systems

A bombshell in our ongoing Surveillance State debate, delivered by the New York Times:

An internal investigation by the Central Intelligence Agency has found that its officers improperly penetrated a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee in preparing its report on the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program.

In a statement issued Thursday morning, a C.I.A. spokesman said that agency???s inspector general had concluded that C.I.A. officers had acted inappropriately by gaining access to the computers.

The statement said that John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, had apologized to the two senior members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and that he would set up an internal accountability board to review the matter. The board will be led by former Senator Evan Bayh, Democrat of Indiana.

The statement gave almost no specifics about the findings of the report, written by David Buckley, the agency???s inspector general.

It seems like only yesterday we were hearing robust denials that anything like this could possibly happen.  A bipartisan group of senators remember those denials, too:

Officials said there was a tense meeting earlier this week when Mr. Brennan briefed the two senators ??? Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California and Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia. The officials said Ms. Feinstein had confronted Mr. Brennan about past public statements on the issue, in which he defended the agency???s actions.

When the C.I.A.’s monitoring of the committee became public in March, Mr. Brennan said, ???When the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.???

Feinstein was not shy about describing this as a potential separation-of-powers Constitutional crisis between the executive and legislative branches.  The New York Times cites reporting by McClatchy News, which notes the CIA has alleged that Senate Intelligence Committee staffers “removed classified documents from a secret CIA facility in northern Virginia without authorization,” while preparing a report on the effectiveness of harsh interrogation techniques.  The Justice Department investigated those allegations, and could not find sufficient evidence to proceed further, although the Senate is still conducting internal reviews.

The CIA’s investigation of those Senate Intelligence staffers is what provoked the current crisis:

The CIA required the committee staff to use CIA computers in the top-secret agency facility in northern Virginia to review more than 6 million pages of classified documents related to the detention and interrogation program.

An agreement between the agency and the committee prohibited CIA personnel from accessing a data base that was for use only by the panel staff.

In January, Brennan confronted Feinstein behind closed doors over a committee request for top-secret material that the CIA determined the panel staff already had obtained. He contended that her staff may have improperly accessed the material.

In her speech in March, Feinstein asserted that her staff found the material in the data base and that the CIA had discovered the staff had it by monitoring their computers in violation of the user agreement.

???Recognizing the importance of this matter and the need to resolve it in a way that preserved the crucial equities of both branches, Director Brennan asked the CIA Office of Inspector General to examine the actions of CIA personnel,??? Boyd said.

The report on interrogation techniques ended up concluding that they “produced little valuable intelligence,” and that the CIA actively misled both the public and elected officials on their effectiveness… a  conclusion still disputed by CIA officers and former Bush Administration officials.

All of that unpleasantness has faded into the background a bit, as the CIA makes the astonishing admission that it was spying on a Senate committee.  Critics of the Surveillance State have grumbled that nothing seems to happen until politicians themselves become the targets of the All-Seeing Eye.  Now that this has indisputably occurred, it will be interesting to see what develops.