The CIA is investigating whether its officers improperly monitored members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which oversees the agency, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
CIA Inspector General David Buckley is looking into the circumstances surrounding the allegations of CIA abuse of a Bush-era detention and interrogation program, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told reporters. The investigation will examine whether CIA officers improperly monitored Senate members or accessed their computers, two officials familiar with the case said.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
The allegations come at a time when the Obama administration is trying to regain public trust after classified details about widespread surveillance of Americans were disclosed by former National Security Agency systems analyst Edward Snowden. The most recent allegations do not involve NSA spying on Americans. However, they do raise questions about the fundamental oversight of U.S. spy agencies by Congress and whether there were efforts to thwart it.
The allegations were first reported by McClatchy Newspapers and The New York Times.
At issue is whether the CIA violated an agreement made with the Senate Intelligence Committee about monitoring the committee's use of CIA computers, according to McClatchy's account. The CIA provided the computers to congressional staffers in a secure room at its headquarters so the committee could review millions of pages of top secret documents in the course of its investigation into the CIA's use of torture during the Bush administration, it said.
CIA Director John Brennan was strongly critical of the Senate claims.
"I am deeply dismayed that some members of the Senate have decided to make spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts," he said in a statement issued Wednesday night. "I am very confident that the appropriate authorities reviewing this matter will determine where wrongdoing, if any, occurred in either the executive branch or legislative branch.
"Until then, I would encourage others to refrain from outbursts that do a disservice to the important relationship that needs to be maintained between intelligence officials and congressional overseers," he said.
The subject of the CIA's compliance with a law used to prosecute computer break-ins was raised without any context during a January Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.
"Does the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act apply to the CIA? Seems to me that's a yes-or-no question," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked Brennan.
Brennan did not have an immediate response. But in a Feb. 3 letter to Wyden, he said the agency is indeed bound by that law. He also said the law does not prohibit hacking in the course of a lawful investigation. It would be extraordinary, however, for the CIA to assert that it was itself conducting a lawful investigation of the Senate Intelligence Committee, since the Justice Department traditionally handles investigations of members of Congress.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was concerned that the CIA may have inappropriately accessed computers used by Senate investigators.
"These allegations have serious constitutional implications that go to the heart of the separation of powers," Leahy said Wednesday.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press