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."
Indeed.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    JonC (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 9:54am

    Brennan: You want answers?
    Wyden: I think I'm entitled to.
    Brennan: You want answers?
    Wyden: I want the truth!
    Brennan: You can't handle the truth!

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

  2. identicon
    Jason, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 10:08am

    Time's up.

    Wyden then admits his time is up...
    Well at least we can be assured that all of this Congressional oversight won't take too much time away from all of their other vital activities.

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

  3. icon
    That One Guy (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 10:12am

    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.

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

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 10:15am

    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.

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

  5. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 10:17am

    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.

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

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 10:19am

    Exposure does have a tendency to tarnish the top brass.

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

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 10:24am

    Making the Impossible Work

    It's simply not possible that the CIA spied on the US Senate simply because the CIA is not allowed to operate within the continental US. See, we just proved the allegation to be a scurrilous fit of jealousy by power hungry self promoters who want to rain on our parade. So there!

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

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 10:28am

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

    That comment was indeed out of line and very worrying.

    How does it go both ways? The Intelligence Committee is in charge with overseeing the CIA, there's no "other way".

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

  9. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 10:32am

    In other words

    The CIA just admitted that it no longer feels it needs to follow the law. Rogue agency has outed itself.

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

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 10:49am

    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.

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

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 11:07am

    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'.

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

  12. identicon
    David, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 11:15am

    Re:

    When were they allowed to substitute "reasonable" actions for "legal" ones anyway? Who died and made them king of the land? Why are they governed by "reason" instead of "law"?

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

  13. identicon
    Median Wilfred, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 11:45am

    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!

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

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 12:24pm

    in a non corrupt government he would have been lined up against a wall and shot for grievous breach of trust, foreswearing his oaths and blatant breaking of laws he is charged with upholding

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

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 12:26pm

    Re:

    with access to drone strikes against "enemies" of America or whoever they say are enemies.

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

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 12:37pm

    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?

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

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 12:38pm

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

    The frustrating thing for the CIA is that Wyden holds an Oregon seat. The only way for him not to win is if he doesn't run.

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

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 12:38pm

    So if the CIA set up the computers and the network then how can Brennan (a worthless POS lair) state that the senate had improper access?

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

  19. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 12:49pm

    Re:

    i pretty sure they messed up a google search install

    makes me warm and fuzzy to think about it,, google search at cia headquarters buahaha luzl #notafraidanymore boo@hoo!

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

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 12:55pm

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

    Speaking as an Oregonian, and as a member of Senator Wyden's district, there's strong support for him here. He's had challengers, but they've been pretty pro forma: Wyden's republican competition got 39% of the vote in 2010, 31% in 2004.

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

  21. icon
    OldMugwump (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 1:01pm

    Sigh.

    Where o where is the "most transparent administration in history" when we need it?

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

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 1:32pm

    Re: Sigh.

    Being transparent, just not in the sense we thought they meant.

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

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 2:04pm

    Senate Intelligence Committee, oxymoron.
    Good to see the other shoe drop also.

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

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 2:17pm

    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.

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

  25. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 2:58pm

    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.

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

  26. icon
    Mark Harris (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 3:03pm

    Re:

    Exactly my thought while watching that debacle.

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

  27. icon
    Pronounce (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 4:47pm

    Typical...

    Brennan is acting like every other megalomaniac that I've worked with in government. On the whole this group of public "servants" view themselves as above the law and jurisdiction of the society in which they live in.

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

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 5:12pm

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

    Wyden will get re-elected by us progressive liberals in the Willamette Valley until he decides to retire. He's the first politician who I'm actually proud to vote for and who I feel represents my interests quite well.

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

  29. icon
    nasch (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 6:56pm

    Re:

    So if the CIA set up the computers and the network then how can Brennan (a worthless POS lair) state that the senate had improper access?

    True, the CIA investigation should have been strictly internal.

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

  30. icon
    nasch (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 6:57pm

    Re:

    Senate Intelligence Committee, oxymoron.

    You're saying Wyden is being stupid?

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

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 8:24pm

    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?

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

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 8:41pm

    You might want to look up what "freak out" means. You seem to use this term anytime someone does something other than passively sit there and accept whatever is being said/asked.

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

  33. icon
    Whatever (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 9:06pm

    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?

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

  34. identicon
    actualhuman, Feb 10th, 2016 @ 9:36pm

    central idiot agency

    No wonder JFK wanted to dismantle cia. Its corrupt beyond
    words. Is there a moral politician willing to stop this game of charades?

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

  35. icon
    nasch (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 9:42pm

    Re:

    Yeah, that really doesn't qualify as freaking out. These are what freaking out looks like:

    https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=freaks+out

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

  36. icon
    nasch (profile), Feb 10th, 2016 @ 9:43pm

    Re:

    Why doesn't Wyden answer the questions?

    Is there some reason a Senator overseeing a federal agency is required to answer questions from that agency in a Senate hearing?

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

  37. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 12:18am

    Is it time?

    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the impeachment of out-of-control bureaucrats.

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

  38. icon
    hellfire (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 1:09am

    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.

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

  39. icon
    hellfire (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 1:22am

    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..
    http://www.globalresearch.ca/a-timeline-of-cia-atrocities/5348804


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

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

  40. icon
    hellfire (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 1:33am

    Re: Re:

    Wait..on second reading of your post...who were you referring to? I was under the impression you were referring to Wyden. If so..I maintain my position. If Brennen...well then, I owe you an apology. In fact, I'd second your opinion.

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

  41. identicon
    Glenn, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 2:34am

    Yes, it's always rough when your boss thinks he has the right to know what you've been working on. Tsk, tsk.

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

  42. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 6:00am

    Re:

    Because people who talk like that are routinely dismissed as loons by the complacent mainstream. If they don't perceive it as being their problem they won't act.

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

  43. identicon
    Wendy Cockcroft, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 6:01am

    Re: Is it time?

    Amen. How do we make that happen?

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

  44. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 8:39am

    Re: Re:

    Lol, can't believe wafflepwn is still at it!

    I would classify Brennan as "unsettled". Bad enough, I guess.

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

  45. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 8:42am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I'm pretty sure he's talking about Brennan.

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

  46. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 1:56pm

    Re: Re:

    Whatever just takes whatever position is apparently the opposite of the majority of Techdirt writers and commenters and runs with it.

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

  47. icon
    Whatever (profile), Feb 11th, 2016 @ 5:39pm

    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.

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

  48. identicon
    athe, Feb 11th, 2016 @ 6:03pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    When you go and put a bunch of drinks on a table and say to people, here's the drinks we've got for you, then realise after the fact that you put a drink out you didn't want them to have, you are the one responsible, not the people who drank it...

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


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