from the oh-and-back-to-those-questions dept
Also, the McClatchy report ties this spying by the CIA back to some questions that Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall had asked John Brennan back in January. We had written about it at the time, noting that the two were clearly hinting at something having to do with the CIA spying on Americans, but it wasn't entirely clear where the questions were coming from. Reading the questions now, in light of the report of what the CIA was doing, makes the story a hell of a lot clearer. Here was Wyden's exchange with Brennan, concerning whether or not the CFAA -- the federal "anti-hacking" law -- applies to the CIA itself:
Wyden: Does the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act apply to the CIA?We had thought it was a slightly odd question, since the CFAA clearly states that it "does not prohibit any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity of a law enforcement agency of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision of a State, or of an intelligence agency of the United States." But, that's because we figured that Wyden must be talking about how the CIA was running an "authorized investigation." However, if it was illegally examining the Senate Intelligence Committee staffers' computers, that clause almost certainly doesn't apply -- meaning that the CFAA certainly could now apply.
Brennan: I would have to look into what that act actually calls for and its applicability to CIA’s authorities. I’ll be happy to get back to you, Senator, on that.
Wyden: How long would that take?
Brennan: I’ll be happy to get back to you as soon as possible but certainly no longer than–
Wyden: A week?
Brennan: I think that I could get that back to you, yes.
Then there's Senator Mark Udall's question to Brennan, which we assumed was connected to Wyden's. Again, in light of the new revelations, that seems likely to be the case as well:
Udall: I want to be able to reassure the American people that the CIA and the Director understand the limits of its authorities. We are all aware of Executive Order 12333. That order prohibits the CIA from engaging in domestic spying and searches of US citizens within our borders. Can you assure the Committee that the CIA does not conduct such domestic spying and searches?I guess he meant "except and until we're scared shitless that you're going to expose how ridiculous, useless and illegal our torture program was."
Brennan: I can assure the Committee that the CIA follows the letter and spirit of the law in terms of what CIA’s authorities are, in terms of its responsibilities to collect intelligence that will keep this country safe. Yes Senator, I do.
The McClatchy report also details how the CIA accomplished this. Apparently, it had insisted that the Intelligence Committee staffers who were investigating the torture program had to work on computers at the CIA's headquarters, to make sure that classified information didn't leave the building:
The committee determined earlier this year that the CIA monitored computers – in possible violation of an agreement against doing so – that the agency had provided to intelligence committee staff in a secure room at CIA headquarters that the agency insisted they use to review millions of pages of top-secret reports, cables and other documents, according to people with knowledge.I have to imagine that if you're folks at the CIA, knowing that the computers were in the same damn building, it was just too damn tempting not to go spy on them. After all, the situation was that the CIA had this internal study, which is apparently also fairly devastating and (worse) which showed that the CIA lied to the Intelligence Committee. Furthermore, it appears that the CIA had worked hard to make sure the Intelligence Committee never saw that study. Then, suddenly, in December, Senator Udall claims to have that study -- and the CIA has no idea how he got it. Given who they are, it must have been just way too tempting not to then spy on those computers in their own building. Of course, that further highlights a point we've been making for quite some time. Spies are human too -- and the temptations to abuse their power will always be there. The idea that they're immune to abuse, as put forth by some (including Senate Intelligence boss Dianne Feinstein) is just laughable. And this story just further supports that claim.