CIA Director John Brennan’s apology last week for monitoring computers being used by Senate Intelligence Committee staff members for an investigation of the Bush-era enhanced interrogation program has fueled new criticism that U.S. intelligence agencies are out of control.
There has been a feeding frenzy over the last few days by the news media and some politicians accusing the CIA of unprecedented constitutional violations and undermining congressional oversight of intelligence by spying on the legislative branch of government.
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This story is more complicated than the American people are being told. While I believe the CIA handled this matter inappropriately, its actions fall far short of affronts to the Constitution and criminal activity.
Moreover, the focus on CIA wrongdoing is distracting attention from the culpability of the Senate Intelligence Committee in this controversy and its politicized investigation of the enhanced interrogation program.
Five untruths are distorting the CIA spying on Congress story:
1. CIA spied on Senate computers, Senate offices, “Hill computers,” or U.S. Senators.
These claims are false. The CIA monitored CIA computers in a CIA facility that were being used by Senate Intelligence Committee staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of the Bush-era enhanced interrogation program.
2. CIA spied on Senate computers because it opposes the Senate Intelligence Committee’s probe of the enhanced interrogation program.
False. The Agency monitored computers it made available to the Senate Intelligence Committee staff after they removed classified documents from a CIA facility in violation of an agreement the committee struck with the CIA on access to these computers. While the CIA opposes the enhanced interrogation probe, there is no evidence the computer monitoring had anything to do with CIA’s view of the probe.
3. CIA Director John Brennan lied last March when he dismissed claims that CIA hacked into Senate computers.
False. CIA did not hack into Senate computers. It monitored CIA computers being used by Senate staff after they removed classified documents from a CIA building without authorization. However, Brennan’s comments were clumsy and angered members of Congress. He should have refrained from commenting on allegations of CIA spying on Congress until the CIA Inspector General completed the investigation he asked it to conduct of this matter.
4. CIA’s actions were illegal and violated the U.S. Constitution.
False. The Justice Department closed an investigation into this matter on July 9 after finding insufficient evidence that either CIA or Senate staff members had committed a crime. While the CIA’s actions may not have been illegal, they were still inappropriate. I believe a recently released summary of a CIA IG investigation indicates the CIA officials handled this affair badly and unnecessarily damaged relations with key allies in Congress. CIA should have dealt with the removal of classified documents by Senate staff from a CIA facility by quietly raising this matter with Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein instead of monitoring computers being used by committee staff. Given the CIA’s reckless response to the Senate staffers’ actions and Brennan’s ill-considered comments, I believe Brennan and CIA officials involved in the computer monitoring should resign to help restore the CIA’s relationship with Congress.
5. The Senate Intelligence Committee has produced an important, groundbreaking report on the enhanced interrogation program.
False. The enhanced interrogation report is a partisan 6,300-page product produced solely by the committee’s Democratic staff that reiterates the Democratic party’s well-known opposition to the enhanced interrogations program. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s Republican members disassociated themselves from this probe years ago. The report has been heavily criticized since its Democratic staff authors refused to interview CIA officials like former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, who managed and monitored this program. The report is based entirely on a document review. Many Americans will question why in 2014 the Senate Intelligence Committee has been distracted from current threats like Syria and the Iranian nuclear program by a partisan $50 million report on a Bush administration program.
There’s plenty of blame to go around here. The CIA and Senate staffers acted inappropriately. The Senate Intelligence Committee is playing politics by forcing through a report that amounts to a partisan rant against the Bush administration. We need to get beyond these petty disputes that are distracting the CIA and other intelligence agencies from their important work to protect the national security of the United States.
Fred Fleitz served for 25 years with the CIA, the State Department, and the House Intelligence Committee staff. He is currently chief analyst with LIGNET.com, Newsmax Media’s global intelligence and forecasting service. Click HERE to read LIGNET’s latest analysis.
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