CIA at loggerheads with oversight group on hacking allegations

US Senate intelligence committee chairwoman accuses agency of illegally searching computers of committee staff


The Central Intelligence Agency and a powerful Senate committee overseeing the activities of the US spying agency have locked horns publicly in a dispute over allegations of hacking into a congressional investigation on the agency's controversial detention and interrogation methods.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused the CIA of illegally searching computers of the committee's staff as they scrutinised the agency's internal review of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, which simulated drowning, during the George W Bush administration.

In a highly critical statement from the floor of the Senate, the California Democrat said CIA director John Brennan told her in January the agency searched the computers because it believed committee investigators might have accessed materials they were not authorised to examine.

"I have grave concerns that the CIA's search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States constitution," said Ms Feinstein, traditionally a strong supporter of the US intelligence community. "I have asked for an apology and a recognition that this CIA search of computers used by its oversight committee was inappropriate. I have received neither."

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Ms Feinstein has asked the US justice department to examine the CIA's search of the committee's review of millions of documents in Virginia.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr Brennan denied the CIA had hacked the intelligence committee’s computers or sought to thwart the inquiry: “Nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that.”


Handling of suspects
The public dispute confirms months of disagreements between the CIA and the congressional oversight panel that monitors its activities over the review of documents around the Bush administration's handling of terrorist suspects.

Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont and the longest-serving US senator, called Ms Feinstein's speech "one of the most important" he has heard in his nearly 40 years.

Mr Brennan has denied the agency was seeking to block the release of a report, but said he believes it contains “factual errors, or errors in judgment or assessments”. At his Senate confirmation hearing in February 2013, the CIA director, the son of Irish immigrants, described the Senate report as “very concerning and disturbing” in its evidence the agency misrepresented and lied about the value of the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent