CIA Accidentally Releases Apology Letter It Wrote, But Never Sent To The Senate For Illegally Spying On It

from the sorry-not-sorry dept

Jason Leopold — terrorizer of FOIA staffers throughout the US government — has again obtained documents many would have expected to remain out of reach for years to come. Certainly, the CIA thought one of the documents would remain its little secret for the rest of whatever.

On July 28, 2014, the CIA director wrote a letter to senators Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss — the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI) and the panel’s ranking Republican, respectively. In it, he admitted that the CIA’s penetration of the computer network used by committee staffers reviewing the agency’s torture program — a breach for which Feinstein and Chambliss had long demanded accountability — was improper and violated agreements the Intelligence Committee had made with the CIA.

The letter was never sent. Instead of an apology, the Senate received accusations of impropriety after the CIA threw out its Inspector General’s report on the breach and performed an in-house “investigation” clearing the CIA of wrongdoing.

The letter was never signed by Brennan or sent. It was filed away somewhere in the CIA’s archives, hopefully never to be seen again. But it was mistakenly handed over to Jason Leopold much to the CIA’s chagrin. Additional chagrinment ensued.

After VICE News received the documents, the CIA contacted us and said Brennan’s draft letter had been released by mistake. The agency asked that we refrain from posting it.

We declined the CIA’s request.

So, the CIA has yet to officially admit any wrongdoing (as in a document — such as the one it didn’t want released — entered into the public record), and yet, there’s an admission of guilt in the public’s hands. Makes it a bit harder to defend actions Senator Feinstein claimed violated pretty much everything that could be violated in a single act.

Feinstein wrote to Brennan on January 23, 2014 and told him she consulted with the Senate’s legal counsel, who informed her that the CIA’s search of the Senate’s computer network “may have been inconsistent with the separation of powers principles embodied in the Constitution and essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities.”

“Second,” her letter continued, “the search may have violated the Fourth Amendment, the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution, various statutes (including federal criminal statutes, such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and Executive Order 12333,” which says it’s unlawful for the CIA to conduct domestic spying.

In short, it appears that while some in the CIA knew what it did was clearly wrong (and potentially illegal), top management so insisted on denying it, that it wouldn’t even send an apology letter — and that would have stayed completely secret if someone hadn’t slipped up and handed over the unsigned letter accidentally in a FOIA response dump.

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Comments on “CIA Accidentally Releases Apology Letter It Wrote, But Never Sent To The Senate For Illegally Spying On It”

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withheld says:

I'm doubting this scenario

What if the letter was purposefully released to Jason Leopold but the follow up call that it was accidentally released was bogus to generate additional interest in publishing it? I can’t fully wrap my brain around the motive here, but this is seemingly more likely than a FOIA slip up at the CIA. The CIA has a history of manipulating the media and the “oh PLEASE don’t publish it” line doesn’t exactly pass the sniff test.

FOIAfactor (profile) says:

Re: I'm doubting this scenario

This is an accurate read. Another essential omitted from the story was that these documents were not obtained by the reporter but were actually secured by attorney Jeffrey Light following protracted litigation. Sometimes government attorneys handling release at the litigation level are not as mired in political drama as the agency’s bureaucrats.

So, they will sometimes let slip records that embarrass the agency as punishment for being needlessly obstreperous. Other times, the agency lets a document slip to take the heat off some other brewing story, here Hillary or Iran.

While FOIA hacks salivate over who did or did not get an apology in the Senate a million years ago, everyone takes their eye off State Department’s missed deadline for production following the Democratic presidential frontrunner’s destruction and possible dissemination of classifieds records trafficked through an insecure home-based computer network.

The reporting universe on both stories overlap. Sadly, this natsec/opengov subculture has proven easily and reliably distractable.

Ambrellite says:

Just to add context, we’re talking about a mistakenly-released apology for spying on Senate staff in an attempt to interfere with an investigation of the most secret, incompetently managed, cruel, and criminal program administered and overseen by the Bush administration, and that’s saying a lot.

Yet no one has been held responsible (except for revealing the program). Some of the officials who ran the program were even promoted. All three branches of government have agreed to act like it never even happened.

This constitutional crisis was resolved long ago. The government won.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just in case...

This sounds like one of those ‘just in case’ scenarios. A staff puke prepared this letter ‘just in case’ the Director or other senior officer wanted one. Since nobody wanted it, the letter got filed away ‘just in case’ somebody wanted it later. It was never intended to be released, so there is a concern whereby if that document was accidently released what other documents of a more sensitive nature might accidently be released.

FWIW newspapers do this all the time with obituaries. Many are already written and filed away for the time when the subject actually passes away. Bob Hope was a victim of an accidently released obit; that release was premature by a few years.

GEMont (profile) says:

To err is human, so we need robots.

Internal Five Eyes Memo

For Our Eyes Only:

As the number of hidden public spies (HPS agents) increases among the employees of the Federal Governments of the Five Eyes Coalition (5EC), more “accidental slip-ups” of sensitive information will occur at every opportunity during FOIA releases.

Since it is almost impossible to root out these infiltrators prior to their active dissemination, and our robotic employee program is still in its infancy, it now behooves each of the federal governments of the 5EC to eliminate altogether, the ability of the public to demand/receive access to any/all classified/unclassified documents, permanently.

Sweetheart Director of Kind Public Goodness
Bartholamue P. Shittywhitehead III, Esq.

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