Reporters Fall For CIA Director Brennan's Non-Denial Denial Over Senate Spying Scandal
from the bad-reporters dept
On Tuesday morning, Senator Dianne Feinstein finally got angry about the intelligence community, revealing much of the back story behind the CIA spying on Senate Intelligence Committee staffers who were investigating the CIA’s torture program from the early 2000s. About an hour after her speech, CIA director John Brennan was set to give an interview to NBC’s Andrea Mitchell at the Council on Foreign Relations, and of course, she asked about Feinstein’s claims, leading Brennan to do what the intelligence community does best: give an answer that appears to say one thing, while really saying something entirely different, and never actually answering the question. Here’s exactly what he said:
Andrea Mitchell: First of all, the topic of the morning, which you have addressed here. You said that you want to get the interrogation and detention past practices behind you. But Senator Feinstein today went to the floor. She said she did this reluctantly, that she has been dealing with you privately trying to resolve this since January and only went public today because of events, because of the referral from the inspector general of the CIA to Justice because a lawyer in CIA had referred a crimes report separately accusing the Senate of going in improperly into CIA computers.
Her claim in this scathing speech, frankly, was that the CIA has hacked into the Senate Intelligence Committee staff computers to thwart an investigation by the committee into those past practices. She also alleges that the Panetta-era report was very similar to the Senate’s conclusions about those past practices, but that you were involved in that era in the program itself and that CIA currently was trying to thwart the full review of the harshness of the detention and interrogation practices. Can you respond to that?
John Brennan: Yes. Well, first of all, we are not in any way, shape or form trying to thwart this report’s progression, release. As I said in my remarks, we want this behind us. We know that the committee has invested a lot of time, money and effort into this report, and I know that they’re determined to put it forward.
We have engaged with them extensively over the last year. We have had officers sit down with them and go over their report and point out where we believe there are factual errors or errors in judgment or assessments. So we are not trying at all to prevent its release.
As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean we wouldn’t do that. I mean that’s just beyond the — you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.
First of all, note that he is the one who is describing it as “hacking into.” But that’s not at all what Feinstein alleged. In fact, she said she gave her speech, in part to dispel the claims in the media that the CIA had “hacked” into their computers. Instead, the issue was that the CIA had simply been looking into what the Senate staffers had access to and what they’d been doing with it — and also that they’d been “deleting” files that those staffers had previously been given access to. The agreement between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee had been that the CIA would not interfere with the investigation, and it seems quite clear that they did that.
But instead of responding to that claim, Brennan just says “well, we didn’t hack their computers.” He then went on, as he did last week, to imply that the Senate staffers themselves were somehow the problem here, and that the Justice Department may find they violated the law.
But, of course, the media isn’t known for its ability to handle nuance, and many interpreted Brennan’s non-denial denial exactly the way he intended them to interpret it: as a denial of what Feinstein claimed, even though he said nothing of the sort. First Look Media’s Dan Froomkin looked at the way different media outlets covered the story, noting that Politico, the NY Times, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal all misleadingly claimed that Brennan denied Feinstein’s allegations. The Associated Press and the LA Times, on the other hand, actually informed their readers of Brennan’s word games. The AP stated: “He denied that the CIA ‘hacked’ into the computer network in remarks on Tuesday but did not address the question of a search” (though I’ve found other versions of the AP report that don’t have that qualification, and instead suggest Brennan denied Feinstein’s claims). The LA Times gave the most accurately worded description of Brennan’s statements, noting that Brennan “offered carefully worded remarks that did not dispute the actions Feinstein said had taken place, but did deny that they constituted ‘spying’ on the Senate.”
In looking at some other sources, I see the International Business Times actually took on the issue, directly asking whether or not Brennan denied Feinstein’s claims and concluding that Brennan’s “statements have been vague enough to avoid addressing specific accusations by Feinstein,” and further pointing out that Feinstein never actually accused the CIA of hacking, so the response was clearly misleading. That article goes so far as to highlight that “Brennan’s language, then, is somewhat troubling, as it doesn’t address exactly what he and the CIA have been accused of….” Furthermore, that report notes that in a later interview, when asked directly about the CIA deleting files, “Brennan didn’t comment on it directly, instead assuring that the matter is being dealt with.” Kudos to the IB Times.
That’s about the best I’ve seen from any of the larger “mainstream” news outlets. Time Magazine quotes Brennan out of context to imply that he’s actually addressing Feinstein’s allegations, rather than dancing around them — and even worse, it did so in two separate articles. ABC News also pretends that Brennan denied Feinstein’s claims even though he did not. The Boston Globe also claims Brennan’s denial was about Feinstein’s allegations, rather than Brennan’s own made up “hacking” standard.
The Voice of America amazingly gets the story wrong on both ends. First, it claims that Feinstein said the CIA “hacked” the staffers’ computers, when she explicitly stated it wasn’t a hack. Second, it claims that Brennan said the CIA “did not improperly search lawmakers’ computers” when he very carefully did not deny that particular claim.
All in all, if you’re not following the story closely (i.e., reading the actual source materials), it appears that the vast majority of the mainstream press absolutely misled its readers in implying that Feinstein said the CIA hacked her staffers’ computers and that Brennan then denied her allegations.