CIA Apparently 'Impersonated' Senate Staffers To Gain Access To Documents On Shared Drives

from the because-when-you're-already-in-the-torture-business,-what's-a-little-hac dept

The CIA is still fighting for creative control of its most anticipated 21st century work: the Torture Report. Long before it got involved in the ongoing redaction battle, it was spying on those putting the report together, namely Senators and Senate staffers. Hands were wrung, apologies were made and it was medically determined that Sen. Dianne Feinstein doesn't have an ironic bone in her body.

The Torture Report's final cut now seemingly lies in the hands of White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough -- a rather strange place for it to be considering the administration has no shortage of officials willing to offer their input on national security issues. But McDonough's ill-fitting position as go-between to the Senate and the CIA isn't the most interesting part of the story, although it appears he's trying to keep the "hanging" of CIA director John Brennan from being a foregone conclusion. Neither he nor the White House have suggested a replacement scapegoat, so Brennan may end up paying the price despite having the administration's full support. You can't just drop something as damaging as the Torture Report on the American public and simply walk away from it. A symbolic sacrifice still needs to be made, even if the underlying problems continue to be ignored.

No, the most interesting part of the latest Torture Report details almost falls off the end of the page over at The Huffington Post. It's more hints of CIA spying, ones that go a bit further than previously covered.

According to sources familiar with the CIA inspector general report that details the alleged abuses by agency officials, CIA agents impersonated Senate staffers in order to gain access to Senate communications and drafts of the Intelligence Committee investigation. These sources requested anonymity because the details of the agency's inspector general report remain classified.

"If people knew the details of what they actually did to hack into the Senate computers to go search for the torture document, jaws would drop. It's straight out of a movie," said one Senate source familiar with the document.
Impersonating staff to gain access to Senate Torture Report work material would be straight-up espionage. Before we get to the response that mitigates the severity of this allegation, let's look at what we do know.

The CIA accessed the Senate's private network to (presumably) gain access to works-in-progress. This was denied (badly) by CIA director John Brennan. The CIA also claimed Senate staffers had improperly accessed classified documents and reported them to the DOJ, even though they knew the charges were false. Then, after Brennan told his agency to stop spying on the Senate, agents took it upon themselves to improperly access Senate email accounts. This is all gleaned from a few public statements and a one-page summary of an Inspector General's report -- the same unreleased report EPIC is currently suing the agency over.

Now, there's this: accusations that the CIA impersonated Senate staffers in hopes of accessing Torture Report documents. Certainly a believable accusation, considering the tactics it's deployed in the very recent past. This is being denied -- or, at least, talked around.
A person familiar with the events surrounding the dispute between the CIA and Intelligence Committee said the suggestion that the agency posed as staff to access drafts of the study is untrue.

“CIA simply attempted to determine if its side of the firewall could have been accessed through the Google search tool. CIA did not use administrator access to examine [Intelligence Committee] work product,” the source said.
So, it was a just an innocuous firewall test. And according to this explanation, it wasn't done to examine the Senate's in-progress Torture Report. But this narrative meshes with previous accusations, including those detailed in the Inspector General's report.

Logging on to the shared drives with Senate credentials would allow agents to check the firewall for holes. But it also would allow them to see other Senate documents, presumably only accessible from that "side" of the firewall. While there's been no mention of "impersonation" up to this point, the first violation highlighted by the IG's report seems to be the most likely explanation of what happened here.
Five Agency employees, two attorneys and three information technology (IT) staff members, improperly accessed or caused access to the SSCI Majority staff shared drives on the RDINet
Accessing another part of the shared network/drive by using someone else's credentials is low-level hackery, but not the first thing that springs to mind when someone says "impersonation." A supposed firewall test would be the perfect cover for sniffing around previously off-limits areas. Much of what has come to light about the agency's actions hints at low-level espionage. There's still more buried in the IG report that the agency is actively trying to keep from being made public. Just because these activities didn't specifically "target" Senate work material, it was all there and able to accessed. It doesn't really matter what the CIA says it was looking for. The fact that it was done at all, and done with such carefree audacity, is the problem. There are presumably ways to perform these checks that don't involve Inspector Generals, damning reports and multiple hacking accusations.

Filed Under: cia, senate intelligence committee, spying, torture report


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 12:52pm

    I can understand the CIA being pissed off about the contents of that report.

    Torture works and I would imagine that there were members of Congress briefed on their tactics and while not given approval, were not told to stop. Now Congress wants to go after them since the public found out about it? Shouldn't work that way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 22 Oct 2014 @ 12:57pm

      Re:

      Torture works

      Not outside of Hollywood.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:13pm

        Re: Re:

        Torture works

        Not outside of Hollywood.

        Now that is just a lie! If you want information that someone somewhere wants to do something you don't like then you find some poor guy, torture him for 24 hours and he will tell you everything you want to hear.
        Making someone tell you what you want to hear, that is the point of torture isnt it? I mean who cares about the truth, it just makes things way to complicated.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:04pm

      Re:

      Torture works as what? As a interrogation 'technique' it does not. As a way to inflict pain and injury under the guise of gathering information it works. As an American I am disgusted when people like you try to justify one country's practice of it while decrying others who practice it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:17pm

      Re:

      Shouldn't work that way.

      I agree. They should have had the intelligence and humanity to know that torture is unethical, inhumane, and against the law, and they shouldn't have started doing so. It's also ineffective as others have mentioned, so there's that too.

      All of this could have been avoided if the CIA/Bush administration/DOJ hadn't chosen to take the most morally corrupt route.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 2:15pm

        Re: Re:

        Oh joy. Another 'blame Bush firster.'. No love for the guy or what he did but this hacking/spying/droning/etc is completely at the feet of the current administration.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          tqk (profile), 22 Oct 2014 @ 4:16pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          No love for the guy or what he did but this hacking/spying/droning/etc is completely at the feet of the current administration.

          I don't see it that way. That the Obama administration carried on with it, business as usual, is the current administration's "bad", yes.

          However, the Bush II administration was fighting tooth and nail trying to ensure those they'd captured in The War On Terror, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, were not "Prisoners of War" as defined by the Geneva Convention (which outlaws torture). They were Extraordinary Rendition-ing them on secret CIA/DHS flights into allied prisons far away from accountability. Their staff lawyers were inventing specious reasons why water-boarding wasn't torture (which has since been !@#$% slapped right out of the park). The prisoners' Gitmo defence lawyers were interfered with big time.

          As much as I disapprove of what's going on today, Obama didn't invent this cluster!@#$. This administration is certainly right in there in the thick of it as apologists and supporters of it, but they're not the only ones to blame here. The War On The Constitution has been going on for a lot longer than the present administration.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 5:38am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The current administration is worse *because* it knows how bad the Bush administration was with regards to torture and continues the same policies to this day. It has all the power to stop it *today*. It doesn't. That's simply immoral. To look at it any other way is to excuse and be complicit with those in power for the evil acts of human degradation and torture they promote. They are to blame. And there are many more to blame. And we should keep blaming them.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              John Fenderson (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 6:41am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              But how is that worse? The Bush administration also knew how bad they were -- they were the ones who started it, after all. From my point of view, the Bush administration was slightly worse because they are the ones who proactively decided to do evil. The one who instigates evil is worse than the one who decides not to stop it. Not by much, but still.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 7:48am

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                The continuation of evil under the guise that there's nothing you can do or that it's not your fault or that you didn't start it when it's very clear that it can be stopped by you is worse. It's not only the acknowledgement that evil exists and is present but it's the admission that it can be stopped but you choose to not stop it. It is a choice that is made to not act and that choice is based on your values. You are choosing to allow evil to continue because you don't want to face the consequences of standing up to it which places you in compliance with it. This is called cowardice. As the quote says, the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • icon
                  John Fenderson (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 10:15am

                  Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                  "It's not only the acknowledgement that evil exists and is present but it's the admission that it can be stopped but you choose to not stop it."

                  But how is that worse than intentionally starting the evil in the first place? After all, the one who started it saw the absence of evil and decided to create it. The made more evil in the world than existed before them. Those who just let it continue aren't increasing the amount of evil, they're maintaining it.

                  So I disagree with you. I think the one who actively makes the world a worse place is worse than the one who fails to improve the world.

                  But we're talking about pretty minor differences here. Both presidents have failed us.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                  • identicon
                    Anonymous Coward, 23 Oct 2014 @ 11:15am

                    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                    They are increasing the amount of evil because they are now adding to it. The have become complicit. They are now a part of the machinery that grinds men's souls because they are no longer ignorant to the fact that evil exists and that they have the power to remove it. So yes, the problem is worse and worsening.

                    Do you think anyone tortured today feels any better knowing that Obama didn't enact the current policy? Do they feel better knowing that he could stop it but doesn't because he doesn't want to face the political backlash? Do you feel better knowing these things? Is this what the pursuit of good looks like?

                    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Ferd, 23 Oct 2014 @ 4:59pm

        Re: Re:

        You forgot "Obama Administration" in your list of bad guys.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:24pm

      Re:

      Torture works

      For what definition of "works"? In that it makes people talk (and scream)? Yes. In that it makes them tell the truth? No.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:31pm

      Re:

      > Torture works



      citation please

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      RichWa (profile), 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:37pm

      Re: Torture Works

      Torture does not work! Do some research before you make claims like this. For example, the CIA, in 1963, published a manual, the KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual exploring everything they'd learned. In this manual, the CIA stated that the best methods for extracting information from detainees come not through the infliction of physical pain or torture, but through psychological torture.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:48pm

        Re: Re: Torture Works

        OK, so the CIA publishes a manual that says the best methods for extracting information is psychological torture and then you say that torture doesn't work?

        That is not my point though. Congress (and the president) was aware of what the CIA was doing and didn't stop it. Now they want to throw the CIA under the bus?

        You ok with that?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Quiet Lurcker, 22 Oct 2014 @ 2:21pm

          Re: Re: Re: Torture Works

          I'm not okay with CIA conducting torture sessions. I'm definitely not okay that Congress did nothing about it. I'm mostly not okay that Congress is now throwing CIA under the bus over it.

          I'm also not even startled that it all happened.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 2:07pm

      Re:

      Torture works...If the objective is to instill fear in a population and ensure obedience through terror.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 22 Oct 2014 @ 3:16pm

      Re:

      As other commenters have pointed out, torture as an intelligence-gathering tool does not, in fact, work. But that's not what it's really used for. What it's used for is to punish people and intimidate and frighten the tortured person's cohorts.

      In other words, using torture is an unambiguous act of terrorism.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 3:22pm

      Re:

      Torture works and I would imagine that there were members of Congress briefed on their tactics and while not given approval, were not told to stop. Now Congress wants to go after them since the public found out about it? Shouldn't work that way.

      Indeed. We should use what "works" to get to the bottom of this. Waterboarding Brennan would be the first step. Waterboarding the "Five Agency employees, two attorneys and three information technology (IT) staff members" who were personally involved would be the next step. If we'd just permit Congress to use appropriate tools to question these people, we'd get to the bottom of it in no time.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 12:58pm

    "...and it was medically determined that Sen. Dianne Feinstein doesn't have an ironic bone in her body."

    Well, we know for certain she does not have any backbone, ironic or not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:05pm

    >Much of what has come to light about the agency's actions hints at low-level espionage.

    Hi Tim, this is a great programmer joke. I laughed and laughed!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:07pm

    Honest!

    Honest officer, I was just breaking into this building in the middle of the night to perform a free safety inspection!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    johnjac (profile), 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:11pm

    At this point I have to think the directive was "Keep doing stuff to make this story as confusing as possible so the public won't be able to follow it"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:11pm

    attorneys?

    Five Agency employees, two attorneys and three information technology (IT) staff members, improperly accessed or caused access to the SSCI Majority staff shared drives on the RDINet

    It's curious that attorneys would be involved in testing firewalls.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:14pm

    Yes, torture works as an interrogation technique. It has been used by pretty much everyone for centuries. But that isn't the point.

    Congress knew and approved of what the CIA was doing, now wants to distance itself from it and throw the CIA under the bus.

    You don't have a problem with that?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:32pm

      Re:

      ...you're not sitting in some underground bunker stroking a white cat, are you?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 22 Oct 2014 @ 3:20pm

      Re:

      "Yes, torture works as an interrogation technique."

      This is simply wrong. That it's been done for centuries doesn't make it any more correct. There's a simple reason why it doesn't work: when you torture people, they will tell you exactly what they think you want to hear in an effort to make it stop, whether or not it's actually true.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 22 Oct 2014 @ 4:28pm

      Re:

      Congress knew and approved of what the CIA was doing, now wants to distance itself from it and throw the CIA under the bus.

      Worse than that, I'm afraid. Yeah, they knew, but then they did it to Feinstein's precious Oversight Committee, and that's stepping over the line!

      Methinks the lady doth protest too late.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 22 Oct 2014 @ 4:41pm

      Re:

      "Congress knew and approved of what the CIA was doing, now wants to distance itself from it and throw the CIA under the bus.

      You don't have a problem with that?"

      I don't have a problem with that. If the people who work for the CIA are so devoid of ethics and morals that they're willing to engage in horrible crimes simply because congress approved of it, then fuck them. They deserve to be thrown under the bus. Maybe next time, they'll think differently.

      Congress, of course, shouldn't get off the hook either. That's the real problem I have: that nothing is going to happen to those who knew what was happening and did nothing to stop it.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:16pm

    Low-level?

    > Accessing another part of the shared network/drive by using someone else's credentials is low-level hackery.

    > Much of what has come to light about the agency's actions hints at low-level espionage.

    What do you mean by "low-level"? Generally, I use the term to mean "in the trenches"-level of detail and high-level to mean a broad understanding, i.e., something that fits on a powerpoint slide.

    Second if low-level is meant to mean dumb, or sophomoric, then full, unauthorized access to someone else's computer isn't low-level.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Groaker (profile), 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:30pm

      Low level hackery

      Low level hacking, which in this case is known as social engineering, is a term used to describe nontechnical hacks. It is by far the most common type of hack carried out, and requires no more technical capability than does any other type of seduction, and almost always far less effort.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 2:03pm

      Re: Low-level?

      Low level in the sense of complexity in this context as opposed to level of detail. Higher level hacking would be say if they discovered several exploits and used it to break in.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:30pm

    Seems like a pretty clearcut violation of the CFAA.
    Let's charge him under that and then string up a whole list of other charges and offer a guilty plea deal where he goes to jail for the rest of his life.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 4:06pm

      Re:

      Charge them then use all of their data to go on a hunting expedition and charge them with millions of years of additional violations.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 1:34pm

    So let's consider that Mike Rogers believes Snowden is guilty of murder, for no other reason than the information he leaked might have resulted in the death of someone, somewhere, somehow.

    Given that torture incites the Muslim community to violence, which in turn puts US citizens everywhere in harms way, then should we expect Mike Rogers to now want to try to CIA for murder as well?

    I mean, they're the same thing, right?
    At least they should be in that twisted Mike Rogers world, right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Deimal (profile), 22 Oct 2014 @ 2:02pm

    So...

    From a pure irony stand-point, are we now where the Senate needs to complete an investigation and produce a report on unauthorized illegal CIA spying on Senate investigation and report into illegal CIA torturing? Coming up with a suitable acronym for that one might well give someone an aneurism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 2:51pm

    Ahem.

    "CIA simply attempted to determine if its side of the firewall could have been accessed through the Google search tool. CIA did not use administrator access to examine [Intelligence Committee] work product,” the source said.

    I'm calling bullshit. Having designed, built, debugged, and managed firewalls since the days of FWTK, I smell fabricated BS designed to hoodwink a technically ignorant audience. NOBODY with even minimal competence would do this: they'd test before deployment and before handing out accounts. Moreover, they'd configure access in a default deny state: that is, whatever isn't explicitly permitted is blocked by default, be it Google search or anything else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 7:17pm

    None of these lies and excuses makes sense from a technical standpoint. This whole thing reminds me of the IRS email server 'crashing' and all the backups mysteriously disappearing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Oct 2014 @ 11:40pm

    If everything the CIA has done in the last several decades came to light the whole organization would be lined up against a wall and shot for treason.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    stryx, 23 Oct 2014 @ 8:43am

    Access Violation

    Xiafen Chen read about this and said WTF

    If found guilty of all four charges leveled against her, Chen could face a maximum of 25 years in prison and a $1,000,000 fine.

    http://www.fbi.gov/cincinnati/press-releases/2014/noaa-national-weather-service-employee-indict ed-for-allegedly-downloading-restricted-government-files

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 23 Oct 2014 @ 4:09pm

    ...nothing up my sleeve....

    Prediction: Once the "support" operation becomes a full WAR!
    ===========

    But..... ISIS! ISIL!

    We are at WAR!

    We are at WAR with ISIS/ISIL!!!!

    Releasing the Torture Report now would compromise that WAR effort!!

    We must refrain from releasing the report in order to protect our Boys-On-The-Ground from any repercussions that the release of the Report might cause.

    So there. Nya nya!!

    War is the hat from which the rabbit comes. :)

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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