Outrage over probe showing that CIA broke into Senate committee database
Bipartisan fury after probe reveals agency broke into Senate database
An internal CIA investigation has prompted bipartisan outrage and calls for spy chief John Brennan to resign, after it confirmed allegations that agency personnel intruded into a protected database used by Senate committee staff to compile a scathing report on the agency's detention and torture programme.
"This is very, very serious, and I will tell you, as a member of the committee, someone who has great respect for the CIA, I am extremely disappointed in the actions of the agents of the CIA who carried out this breach," said Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss, the Senate Intelligence Committee's vice-chairman.
The rare display of bipartisan fury followed a three-hour private briefing by Inspector General David Buckley. His investigation revealed that five CIA employees, two lawyers and three IT specialists improperly accessed or "caused access" to a database that only committee staff were permitted to use.
Buckley's inquiry also determined that a CIA crimes report to the Justice Department alleging that the panel staff removed classified documents from a top-secret facility without authorisation was based on "inaccurate information", according to a summary of the findings prepared for the Senate and House intelligence committees and released by the CIA.
In other conclusions, Buckley found that CIA security officers conducted keyword searches of the emails of staffers of the committee's Democratic majority - and reviewed some of them - and that the three CIA IT specialists showed "a lack of candour" in interviews with Buckley's office.
The inspector general's summary did not say who may have ordered the intrusion or when senior CIA officials learned of it.
Following the briefing, some senators struggled to maintain their composure over what they saw as a violation of the constitutional separation of powers between an executive branch agency and its congressional overseers.
"We're the only people watching these organisations, and if we can't rely on the information that we're given as being accurate, then it makes a mockery of the entire oversight function," said Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats.
The findings confirmed charges by the committee chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, that the CIA intruded into the database that by agreement was to be used by her staffers, compiling the report on the torture methods used by the agency on suspected terrorists held in secret overseas prisons under ex-president George W.Bush.
The findings also contradicted Brennan's denials of Feinstein's allegations, prompting two panel members, Democrats Mark Udall and Martin Heinrich, to demand the spy chief resign.
Another committee member, Senator Ron Wyden, and some civil-rights groups called for a fuller investigation. The demands clashed with a desire by President Barrack Obama, other lawmakers and the CIA to move beyond the controversy over the "enhanced interrogation programme" after Feinstein releases her committee's report, which could come as soon as next week
Many members demanded that Brennan explain his earlier denial that the CIA had accessed the Senate committee database.
"Director Brennan should make a very public explanation and correction of what he said," said Senator Carl Levin.
He all but accused the Justice Department of a cover-up by deciding not to start a criminal case over the CIA's intrusion.
"I thought there might have been information that was produced after the department reached their conclusion. What I understand, they have all of the information which the IG has.
"I think it's very clear that CIA people knew exactly what they were doing and either knew or should've known," said Levin, adding that he thought that Buckley's findings should be referred to the Justice Department.