CIA Director Freaks Out After Senator Wyden Points Out How The CIA Spied On The Senate

from the not-so-cool-under-fire dept

If you’re a CIA Director, one would assume that you know how to be cool under fire, right? Apparently that’s not the case for current CIA Director John Brennan who seemed to completely freak out when Senator Ron Wyden started asking questions about the CIA’s infamous decision to spy on the network and computers of Senate Intelligence Committee staffers who were compiling a report on the CIA’s torture program. The details are a bit complex, but the short version is that the Intelligence Committee, which has oversight powers over the CIA, had been set up in a CIA building, with special access to CIA documents, and a special search tool. Apparently, at some point, that search tool returned a document which the CIA had never intended to share with the intelligence committee staffers. That document, called “the Panetta Review” was a draft document that then-CIA chief Leon Panetta had tasked people internal at the CIA to prepare on what the Senate Intelligence Committee staffers were likely to find as they went through the documents.

Yes, this is fairly meta. You had Senate staffers reviewing CIA documents, and at the same time, the CIA reviewing those same documents to try to get out ahead of any controversy — and to make matters confusing, the Senate staffers then got access to that CIA review document as part of their regular searches. When the CIA was questioned about this Panetta review, they freaked out, wondering how the Senate staffers got their hands on the document, and did what the CIA does: they spied on the Senate staffers’ computers and network to try to determine how they got the document in the first place. This was despite a promise from the CIA that the Senate staffers’ computers and network were considered off-limits (due to an even earlier incident). That resulted in Senator Dianne Feinstein accusing the CIA of illegally spying on the Senate (its overseers). In response, Brennan first denied the spying altogether, and then insisted that it was the Senate staffers who broke the law, saying they illegally mishandled classified CIA documents in how they handled the Panetta Review.

Eventually, the DOJ decided that there wasn’t enough evidence that either side broke the law, and refused to make any criminal charges either way. While both the CIA’s Inspector General and a special review board Brennan himself set up found that the CIA did, in fact, spy on the Senate staffers’ network and computers, and that this was inappropriate, neither seemed to say that it rose to a truly controversial level. Not surprisingly, the review board Brennan set up himself cleared him of wrongdoing.

Mixed in with all of this are remaining questions about how involved Brennan himself actually was in all of this (he refuses to say) and an ongoing request for an apology. While the CIA’s Inspector General claimed that Brennan apologized for the breach, later reporting by Jason Leopold at Vice showed that Brennan had drafted an apology, but never sent it. Instead, he apparently provided a very narrow apology solely to Feinstein and then vice chair Saxby Chambliss, basically of the “I’m sorry if what did upset you” manner.

Given this, during a rare open Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Wyden decided to quiz Brennan about all of this, leading to a rather sarcastic and testy exchange that needs to be watched to be believed:

Immediately, Brennan gets snarky, noting that “This is the annual threat assessment, is it not? Yes?” implying that he doesn’t think it’s appropriate for Wyden to be bringing up this “other” topic in such a hearing. And it only gets worse from there. He immediately jumps to the argument, again, that it was the Senate staffers’ fault for getting access to a document he didn’t want them to see. He then says the CIA therefore had an “obligation” to find out how that happened. And then he, somewhat insultingly, suggests that Senator Wyden had not actually read the IG’s account, or the report of the review panel that Brennan himself set up.

Wyden cuts him off, quoting directly from the report and notes that other agencies have all said it would be inappropriate to review Senate oversight computer systems, and asks Brennan if he disagrees. Brennan is clearly pissed off:

Brennan: Yes, I think you mischaracterize both their comments as well as what’s in those reports. And I apologized to the Chairman and the Vice Chairman about the de minimis access and inappropriate access that CIA officers made to five emails or so of Senate staffers during that investigation. And I apologized to them for that very specific inappropriate action that was taken as part of a very reasonable investigative action. But do not say that we spied on Senate computers or files. We did not do that. We were fulfilling our responsibilities.

Wyden: I read the exact words of the Inspector General and the Review Board. You appointed the Review Board! They said nobody ought to be punished, but they said there was improper access. And my point is, in our system of government, we have responsibilities to do vigorous oversight. And we can’t do vigorous oversight if there are improper procedures used to access our files.

Wyden then admits his time is up… but Brennan’s so angry that he won’t give up. He breaks all proper Senate hearing protocol and jumps back in, asking Wyden to say, again, that it was the Senate staffers’ fault for accessing the Panetta Review:

Do you not agree there was improper access that senate staffers had to CIA internal deliberative documents? Was that not inappropriate or unauthorized?

Wyden angrily points out that everything the Senate staffers did was appropriate, and anyway, he’s now asking about the CIA’s activities, and points to the Inspector General review and the other review board… all the while with Brennan angrily shaking his head at Wyden. When Wyden finishes, Brennan goes back to being snarky, saying:

And I’m still awaiting the review that was done by the Senate to take a look at what the staffers actions were.

And then there’s this:

Separation of powers between the executive, legislative branches, Senator, goes both ways.

In short: even if you have oversight over us, don’t mess with the CIA, Senator. That’s quite a statement.

He then goes on to again claim that Wyden is mischaracterizing everything, and that what the CIA did was entirely appropriate. Wyden concludes:

It’s pretty hard to mischaracterize word for word quotes that use the words “improper access.”


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Comments on “CIA Director Freaks Out After Senator Wyden Points Out How The CIA Spied On The Senate”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Oversight vs Secrecy

That resulted in Senator Dianne Feinstein accusing the CIA of illegally spying on the Senate (its overseers).

‘Do you not agree there was improper access that senate staffers had to CIA internal deliberative documents? Was that not inappropriate or unauthorized?

For oversight to be in any way effective, there can be no such thing as ‘improper access’, because if the ones providing oversight can be told ‘No, you don’t get to see that’, or ‘No, you’re not allowed to ask for that’ then there can be no oversight, as the ones theoretically being overseen can simply refuse to provide anything they think will make them look bad or expose actions that they don’t want known.

And I’m still awaiting the review that was done by the Senate to take a look at what the staffers actions were.

Though I’m sure it would never happen, I’d love it if Wyden and the others called his bluff here. Call together a few of his colleagues, go into a room, wait five minutes, come out to declare that after a thorough investigation into the events the staffers did nothing wrong, and then dare Brennan to object. I imagine the point would be impossible for anyone to miss at that point.

Anonymous Coward says:

Not surprisingly, the review board Brennan set up himself cleared him of wrongdoing

We have a lot of this these days. The DOJ, whose leader is appointed by the POTUS, never seems to indict anyone doing the bidding of the POTUS.

What this case in particular says is that the CIA is now an autonomous agency that exists on its own and outside anybody’s control or oversight. That my friends, is one dangerous agency.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

So what news story is going to make the cycle about Senator Wyden? Or do you think they will just go right for the traffic accident? Though he did piss him off alot so I’m guessing found with a deal male hooker.

This is what happens when those charged with oversight fail to do their job. Those they are supposed to oversee no longer fear them because they have been given free reign because terrorism for far to long. They no longer can be reigned in because of the political spin machine to protect the narratives. To dare question the CIA is unAmerican and disloyal, even if what they are doing violates the letter & intent of the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I wish I could say you were being excessive in your risk analysis, but sadly…these days…you are probably not far from the truth.

On the other hand (and here, I am speaking more to whatever CIA spooks are tasked with analyzing the public reaction to this exchange) is that I was born and raised in Oregon, and Senator Wyden may not be the flashiest and most photogenic Senator around, be he is beloved by his constituents.

Any fucked up thing ever happens to him, and the CIA would be wise to realize that The Honorable Senator Ron Wyden is protected by the homegrown Native Oregonian ‘100 Heads Life and Casualty Company’.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I have shown a knack for prophecy before.

They are willing to spy on citizens in violation of the letter & spirit of the law. Watching the abuses of power in this country, it isn’t that great of a leap to think that those with access to unlimited data on targets would put it to use for their own ends.

It would explain why sometimes we see laws passed that no rational person would agree to. Sometimes its money, but sometimes one is left to wonder who has what evidence.

hellfire (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

quote”The Honorable Senator Ron Wyden is protected by the homegrown Native Oregonian ‘100 Heads Life and Casualty Company’.”unquote

Indeed. Southern Oregon Coast Chapter member here. And yeah, he’s the only Senator left in Congress who doesn’t pull any punches, and is on the IC’s enemy “list”, as were Senators Pike and Frank Church. Both of whom the CIA tried to destroy after they held hearings that exposed the CIA for the rogue, murderous agency they are. However, Col. Fletcher Prouty went much further in his exposure of what the CIA truly is. Too much to post here. Research his name and you will see. However, you better have a free year of time to go down that rabbit hole. You will NEVER be the same. Especially after reading his exposure of the Secret Team.

Anonymous Coward says:

Brennan makes a Freudian slip at the 2:56 mark in the video when he says, “it’s decided, er…determined that the actions of the CIA were reasonable.”

He was right the first time. Brennan and the “accountability” board he convened decided in advance of any investigation that the actions of the CIA were reasonable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

That is a good question. Also, his claims that he had “personally appologized” to the involved parties shows an inappropriately personal relation: If you can talk to the supposed supervisors directly and get “inappropriate conducts” diffused by greasing the wheels without further ado, why is regulation needed but for show?

Median Wilfred says:

Wyden's re-election in some doubt?

What are the odds that Wyden gets re-elected? It looks to me like his current term is about up, and he’s running for re-election this year. Will he get the same treatment as his colleague Mark Udall? Tarred as an “O Supporter” who “has to go”? Will Wyden run against a Republican Party Hack that masquerades as a Tea Party Ideologue? Will CIA and NSA inside info get slipped to his opponent’s campaign, so as to tip the odds in said Party Hack’s favor?

Watch next week, same median time, same median channel!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Wyden's re-election in some doubt?

Wyden doesn’t have a “district”. He’s a Senator, therefore elected my the whole state. Of course he only shows up in Oregon when there is something he wants to beat his chest about. He’s another politician who became a millionaire in office and then married a New York heiress. Not exactly still an Oregonian.

hellfire (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Says CIA online sockpuppet #74. As for oaths and blatant breaking of laws…hahahahahaha….that’s rich. Spare me. The CIA is the posterchild of war criminals, notwithstanding drug and gun running, assassination, kidnapping and torture and overthrowing sovereign governments etc etc etc. In fact..try this on for size schmuck..

Btw, don’t you get tired of leaving a slime trail?

Anonymous Coward says:

How is this not insanely disturbing to people?

How is it that books, tv shows, movies have all pointed out for decades just how shockingly disgusting a spy agency spying on its own government is?

How are we as a society not crucifying the CIA on the proverbial cross for even daring to spy on a single American citizen let alone the Senators in charge of overseeing it?

Whatever (profile) says:

I don’t see freaking out here. What I do see however is someone asking Wyden to man up and admit that perhaps his staffers have ALSO broken the law, and Wyden avoids the matter entirely. There is no freaking out, rather there is a solid and valid attempt to get a slimy politician to stop throwing rocks in the glass house.

Why doesn’t Wyden answer the questions? Then again, why doesn’t Wyden explain how he got rich in office?

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The question goes to credibility. The line of questioning that Wyden was following wouldn’t even exist without their first having been wrongdoing by people accessing documents and providing them to Wyden.

It’s an important question – it’s quite similar in nature to a 4th amendment issue. If the material is obtained illegally or through less than savory means, shouldn’t that also be part of the discussion?

Wyden wants to ignore wrong doing that he LIKES to go after the wrong doing he doesn’t like. That isn’t playing fair at all.

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