Now that the long-delayed CIA Torture Report has been released, it's time to find someone to blame. Not for the torture, of course. There will apparently be no punishments handed down for the abuse uncovered by the Senate Intelligence Committee. (Also, apparently, there will be no huge international fallout. Remember just a few short weeks ago when we were promised increased terrorist activity if the report was released? Still waiting…) But there will be some noise made about the Senate's alleged impropriety.
One-man transparency army Jason Leopold reports at Vice that the Senate allegedly stole documents from the CIA -- documents they weren't supposed to have access to. But the credulity of this assertion really depends on how much you trust the source.
Contrary to accusations leveled by the Senate, a 38-page report has found that the CIA did not breach the computers of Senate Intelligence Committee staffers and spy on them while they were investigating the CIA's torture program.
The report was released today by the CIA. And is based on a review conducted by a CIA accountability board.
What the accountability board's review did find, however, is that Senate Intelligence Committee staffers stole documents from the CIA and violated an agreement it entered into with the agency over the use of a classified computer network. On several occasions between 2009 and 2013, while the committee was writing its report, committee staffers allegedly gained access to CIA documents they were not authorized to see — such as a spreadsheet that contained a list of videos apparently related to the torture program — and admitted as much when confronted by agency officials.
So, the CIA took it upon itself to perform an investigation no one asked for in order to clear itself of allegations that it had spied
on Senate staffers. Chalk that one up to active disinterest by the administration in pursuing any allegations of wrongdoing associated with the Torture Report. Several months ago, the Senate claimed the CIA had hacked its
computers and accessed Torture Report work-in-progress but the DOJ declined the invitation to investigate further.
Now, the CIA is claiming it was blameless (you know, other than the torture), based on its own internal investigation. The OIG report
alleging CIA abuse of Senate computers was reviewed by the CIA's in-house Accountability Board and determined to be "riddled with errors."
The CIA's accusations against the Senate boil down to a bundle of classified internal CIA documents known as the "Panetta Review."
The Intelligence Committee made a formal request to the CIA for the Panetta Review in November 2013 — but unbeknownst to the CIA, the Senate already had a copy. According to the accountability board's report, the request set off alarm bells at the CIA, leading the agency to believe that the committee may have already accessed the Panetta Review. At that point, the Senate had already completed a draft of its torture report and was battling the CIA over the veracity of the findings and conclusions — that the CIA's program had been ineffective.
According to the CIA accountability board, the agency went back and reviewed the draft copy of the Senate report and the Panetta Review and found the language in both documents to be "remarkably similar," meaning that the Senate probably relied on the Panetta Review to draft its report.
If the CIA didn't want the Senate to access these documents, it's left unexplained as to how it failed to prevent this. The CIA supposedly had "walled off" space for the Senate to work within its network and actively monitored staffers' activity. In fact, it was this active monitoring that led to the Senate's accusations of CIA impropriety in the first place.
[CIA Director John] Brennan later revealed to Feinstein that he authorized the CIA employees to conduct a search of Intelligence Committee computers at the secure facility to determine how they obtained the Panetta Review. A CIA review of computer "audit logs" concluded that no one at the CIA had voluntarily turned over the Panetta Review.
That disclosure led Feinstein to make a dramatic speech on the Senate floor last March in which she accused the CIA of unlawfully monitoring Senate staffers' computers and attempting to sabotage the committee's investigation, which "undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective congressional oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function."
The agency determined that no one on its side had handed over the forbidden Panetta Review, so somehow the Senate had managed to thwart the CIA's secured system and access documents it wasn't supposed to see. Now, the CIA is pressing the DOJ to investigate the Senate. If this push is successful, the only people to be punished for years of unlawful torture will be Senate staffers. This won't do anything to salvage the CIA's reputation, but it may deter further investigations and oversight by the Congress and Senate. There's really only one reason the CIA wanted to keep the Panetta Review out of the Senate's hands, and it has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with self-preservation.
[T]he Intelligence Committee had found the findings of the Panetta Review — which had been conducted internally by the CIA — to be very different from what the CIA was telling the Intelligence Committee in response to the committee's torture report.
The fact that the CIA wants to punish the Senate for the Torture Report has provoked some heated responses from Senate Intelligence Committee members. Dianne Feinstein issued this short statement late Wednesday:
"Let me be clear: I continue to believe CIA's actions constituted a violation of the constitutional separation of powers and unfortunately led to the CIA's referral of unsubstantiated criminal charges to the Justice Department against committee staff," Feinstein said. "I'm disappointed that no one at the CIA will be held accountable. The decision was made to search committee computers, and someone should be found responsible for those actions."
Ron Wyden issued a longer statement in response, one that shows his irritation at the CIA being so willing to let itself off the hook:
"Both the CIA Inspector General and the review board appointed by Director Brennan have now concluded that the CIA's unauthorized search of Senate files was improper. It is incredible that no one at the CIA has been held accountable for this very clear violation of Constitutional principles. Director Brennan either needs to reprimand the individuals involved or take responsibility himself. So far he has done neither.
This episode further illustrates the cumulative corrosive effects of the CIA's torture program. First, agency officers and contractors went far beyond the limits set out even in the Justice Department's torture memos. Then, top officials spent a decade making inaccurate statements about torture's effectiveness to Congress, the White House and the American people. Next, instead of acknowledging these years of misrepresentations, the CIA's current leadership decided to double down on denial. And when CIA officials were worried that the Intelligence Committee had found a document that contradicted their claims, they secretly searched Senate computer files to find out if Senate investigators had obtained it.
At a time when the CIA appears incapable of policing itself, the intelligence community needs more external oversight, not less.
Last June senior officials from the NSA, FBI and ODNI all testified that their agencies did not have the authority to conduct a search of U.S. Senate files without external authorization, but Director Brennan has refused to say what rules apply to the CIA. This is unacceptable in a democracy. It is time for the Director's stonewalling to end."
Now, let's suppose that all of the CIA's allegations are true. If so, should the Senate be held accountable for actions it took that resulted in the exposure of CIA wrongdoing? Obviously, the CIA feels it should. But the documents "improperly accessed" were internal CIA documents that showed the agency was lying to its overseers about its interrogation techniques. Without this "improper" access, it's likely the Torture Report wouldn't have been as devastating. Large amounts of CIA wrongdoing would have remained undisclosed.
What's included in the Panetta Review is information the Senate Intelligence Committee should have had access to in the first place. But the CIA deliberately and wrongfully withheld information that contradicted the narrative
it was feeding to its overseers. If the Senate is to be punished for its wrongful access, then it follows that the CIA should be held accountable for its deliberate misrepresentation of its torture programs. Instead, there's now a chance the investigators will pay for their (mild in comparison) misconduct while the agency walks away clean.