CIA Director John Brennan apologized to Senate Intelligence Committee leaders on Thursday for the CIA improperly accessing a stand-alone computer network established for the committee as part of an investigation into the George W. Bush-era detention and interrogation programs. The extraordinary apology led at least one senator to call for his resignation.
The apology from Brennan came after months of public denials from the intelligence agency and ahead of the public release of an Inspector General’s report that found the CIA conducted improper searches of Senate computers. Brennan was briefed that the report would document the searches prior to his apology.
“Director Brennan was briefed on the CIA OIG’s findings, which include a judgment that some CIA employees acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding reached between SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] and the CIA in 2009 regarding access to [the network],” CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said in a statement. “The Director subsequently informed the SSCI Chairman and Vice Chairman of the findings and apologized to them for such actions by CIA officers as described in the OIG report.”
Boyd said Brennan would commission an “accountability board” to “correct any shortcomings.” The board will be chaired by former Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh.
“This Board will review the OIG report, conduct interviews as needed, and provide the Director with recommendations that, depending on its findings, could include potential disciplinary measures and/or steps to address systemic issues,” Boyd said.
Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said the findings raised “grave concern” about the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado), a committee member, said he had lost confidence in Brennan. Later Thursday afternoon, he called for Brennan’s resignation.
“After being briefed on the CIA Inspector General report today, I have no choice but to call for the resignation of CIA Director John Brennan,” Udall said. The CIA unconstitutionally spied on Congress by hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers. This grave misconduct not only is illegal, but it violates the U.S. Constitution’s requirement of separation of powers. These offenses, along with other errors in judgment by some at the CIA, demonstrate a tremendous failure of leadership, and there must be consequences.”
The fight between the CIA and the committee first exploded out in the open in March, when Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-California) ripped into the agency and said it may have violated the U.S. Constitution during a dramatic speech on the Senate floor. At the time, Brennan denied Feinstein’s claims and said they were “beyond the scope of reason.”
The CIA provided Congress with the computers as part of the investigation into the interrogation program to allow the committee to review classified documents at CIA headquarters. The incident in question arose in December, when committee investigators got ahold of an internal agency review casting a particularly bad light on the interrogation and detention programs, which were ended by President Barack Obama.
CIA officials then searched the computers to try to determine how the committee investigators had gained access to the information, Feinstein said in March. She added that the committee did nothing improper to gain access to the internal reports.
“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,” Feinstein said in a statement Thursday.
This post was originally published at 1:23 p.m. ET. It was updated at 5:27 p.m. ET to reflect new developments.
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