For months, CIA Director John Brennan stood firm in his insistence that the CIA had little to be ashamed of after searching the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee. His defiant posture quickly collapsed after a devastating report by his own inspector general sided against the CIA on each key point of the dispute with the Senate.
According to an unclassified summary of the report released Thursday, five agency employees -- two lawyers and three computer specialists -- improperly accessed Intelligence Committee computers earlier this year during a disagreement over interrogation documents. Then, despite Brennan ordering a halt to that operation, the CIA's office of security began an unauthorized investigation that led it to review the emails of Senate staffers and search them for key words.
After Senate leaders learned about the intrusion in January and protested, the CIA made a criminal referral to the Justice Department, alleging improper behavior by Senate staffers. That referral, CIA inspector general David Buckley found, was based on inaccurate information and was not justified.
When internal investigators interviewed three CIA computer specialists, they exhibited "a lack of candor," the IG report said.
Those devastating internal conclusions prompted Brennan to abandon his defensive posture and apologize to Intelligence Committee leaders.
"The director said that wherever the investigation led, he would accept the findings and own up to them," said his spokesman, Dean Boyd, describing what has become a difficult moment for the nation's most prominent spy agency.
Brennan has convened an internal accountability board chaired by former Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., to examine whether any CIA officers should be disciplined.
Furious Senate Democrats were unmoved, with some demanding further investigation and a public accounting from Brennan. By all accounts, the spying flap and the larger dispute over decade-old CIA interrogation practices have poisoned relations between key Democrats and the CIA.
Two Intelligence Committee Democrats, Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, called on Brennan to resign.
"I just don't have a lot of confidence in his leadership," Heinrich said in an interview after leaving a briefing on the IG report.
"What's needed now is a public apology from Director Brennan to staff and the committee, a full accounting of how this occurred and a commitment there will be no further attempts to undermine congressional oversight of CIA activities," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., an Intelligence Committee member.
"The investigation confirmed what I said on the Senate floor in March -- CIA personnel inappropriately searched Senate Intelligence Committee computers in violation of an agreement we had reached, and I believe in violation of the constitutional separation of powers," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who chairs the committee, said in a statement. (continued...)
© 2014 Associated Press under contract with NewsEdge. All rights reserved.