CIA Hacks Its Overseers

In January, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall suggested that CIA was hacking into US computers.

Wyden asked (43;04) John Brennan whether the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act applied to the CIA.

Wyden: Does the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act apply to the CIA?

Brennan: I would have to look into what that act actually calls for and its applicability to CIA’s authorities. I’ll be happy to get back to you, Senator, on that.

Wyden: How long would that take?

Brennan: I’ll be happy to get back to you as soon as possible but certainly no longer than–

Wyden: A week?

Brennan: I think that I could get that back to you, yes.

Minutes later, Mark Udall raised EO 12333′s limits on CIA’s spying domestically (48:30).

Udall: I want to be able to reassure the American people that the CIA and the Director understand the limits of its authorities. We are all aware of Executive Order 12333. That order prohibits the CIA from engaging in domestic spying and searches of US citizens within our borders. Can you assure the Committee that the CIA does not conduct such domestic spying and searches?

Brennan: I can assure the Committee that the CIA follows the letter and spirit of the law in terms of what CIA’s authorities are, in terms of its responsibilities to collect intelligence that will keep this country safe. Yes Senator, I do.

It appears the target of this hacking was the Senate Intelligence Committee itself.

The CIA Inspector General’s Office has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations of malfeasance at the spy agency in connection with a yet-to-be released Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program, McClatchy has learned.

The criminal referral may be related to what several knowledgeable people said was CIA monitoring of computers used by Senate aides to prepare the study. The monitoring may have violated an agreement between the committee and the agency.


The committee determined earlier this year that the CIA monitored computers – in possible violation of an agreement against doing so – that the agency had provided to intelligence committee staff in a secure room at CIA headquarters that the agency insisted they use to review millions of pages of top-secret reports, cables and other documents, according to people with knowledge.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, a panel member, apparently was referring to the monitoring when he asked CIA Director John Brennan at a Jan. 9 hearing if provisions of the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act “apply to the CIA? Seems to me that’s a yes or no answer.”

NYT adds that CIA started spying on SSCI after learning it had accessed documents they didn’t want them to.

The action, which Mr. Udall did not describe, took place after C.I.A. officials came to suspect that congressional staff members had gained unauthorized access to agency documents during the course of the Intelligence Committee’s years-long investigation into the detention and interrogation program.

This is effectively the same treatment the CIA extends to Gitmo lawyers and defendants, where it spies to see what they’re saying about its torture methods.

But I bet it will be treated with more seriousness.

26 replies
  1. orionATL says:

    “… to review millions of pages of top-secret reports…”

    “millions”? i doubt that.

    if an exageration, it does not speak well for the precision of the reporting.

    on another small matter, udall wrote to prez “as you are aware”. i wonder what might that awareness entail – authorizing or rejecting a criminal inquiry to the doj where o’s dinner partner and pal, holder, holds sway.

  2. Pedinska says:

    Anyone have a comment on the last sentence in the last paragraph from the NYT story?

    “The Senate’s investigation into the C.I.A. program took four years to complete and cost more than $40 million, in part because the C.I.A. insisted that committee staff members be allowed to review classified cables only at a secure facility in Northern Virginia. And only after a group of outside contractors had reviewed the documents first.”

    How is it that outside contractors have prioritized access over the Senate Intelligence Committee?

  3. ArizonaBumblebee says:

    The CIA’s actions in this case are a clear attempt by the CIA to intimidate the SSCI in its efforts to oversee their activities. Even worse, it may suggest that the CIA is fishing to find a justification for having the DOJ indict an “uppity” staffer on trumped up charges so he can join John Kirakou in federal prison. We need someone or some group to bring the NSA and CIA under control and end their lawless activities. Senators Udall and Wyden are trying to do this, but the remaining cast of characters, including the President, either aren’t up to the job or are part of the problem.

  4. C says:

    The fact that the CIA has chosen to spy on Congress is horrific and unforgivable. The fact that they spend so much effort to do so but fail to spot an army massing on Crimea’s border speaks volumes. But the fact that all of this is predicated upon the fact that congress had to negotiate with the CIA for permission to do their jobs and had to seek authorization to see pertinent documents at all, that is the most telling point of all.

    In many ways congress has already been neutered so this spying should come as no surprise.

  5. edge says:

    These agencies have no respect for the committee. These committees need to take greater advantage of their ability to find people in Contempt of Congress. You wouldn’t get away with doing this to a judge. A couple of weeks in Jail might make a director of an agency more cooperative.

  6. emptywheel says:

    @C: Remember, most of the troops were already in Crimea. They’re there under Russia’s SOFA with Ukraine.

  7. What Constitution? says:

    Just waiting or some CIA flunky to go public with a response to the “concern” over CIA hacking Congress’ computers to spy, essentially saying “that’s what the CIA does” and, of course, “if Congress doesn’t have anything to hide, Congress shouldn’t have anything to fear.”

  8. Nell says:

    My old eyes are going; I can’t find link to NYT story. Who wrote it? (asking because obv has CIA source, as well as source on Intel staff).

    @Pedinska: Wondering if the outside contractors referred to are a redacting shop.

  9. Nell says:

    @JohnT: Thanks, John, but that’s the McClatchy story, which I’d seen. I was wondering who wrote the NY Times story that Marcy excerpts and Pedinska quotes the last paragraph of. [Thanks to a couple of articles in the food section, I’ve used up my March NYT free views already.]

  10. ArizonaBumblebee says:

    After reading today’s story in The Guardian, I am even more outraged. If they are correct in asserting that the President knew the CIA was monitoring the SSCI, President Obama should be impeached because that suggests he tacitly or knowingly approved of what the CIA was doing. This is an outrage and a violation of his oath of office. Monitoring members of Congress engaging in an oversight function is probably illegal and certainly violates the separation of powers. Furthermore, it was clearly designed to intimidate them in the performance of their duties.

  11. GKJames says:

    And what does it say about the state of things when only one or two members of the Committee object? One would think that, regardless of political persuasion, every single member of Congress would take serious issue with what the executive branch, through the national security apparatus, is doing.

  12. Nell says:

    Thanks, LeMoyne.

    @orionatl: The factoid about millions of pages of documents comes up in almost every news report ever on the Senate Intel investigation. I assume it’s been put out by both the committee and CIA PR; if it’s sloppy reporting, then they’re all in on it.

    I haven’t been a frequent commenter here for a good long time, so I need to preface the point I’m about to make for those who don’t know me online or off by saying that I’m not often found defending Obama. But it’s not clear to me that Pres. Obama knew about the CIA’s spying on the Senate staff before it happened or while it was going on (the investigation was primarily conducted in 2009-2011; 2012 was mostly report-writing). I don’t read that in the Landay article, or in Spencer Ackerman’s related Guardian piece.

    The “as you know” in Udall’s letter seems to say that Obama was informed about it when members of the committee first learned it had happened — guessing, within the last six months. But I haven’t seen everything, and my eyes *are* going ; if there’s a passage asserting or implying that Obama knew in advance or during, please cite it. Obama ducking a question about the whole issue is the only real addition in this: WaPo rehash

  13. Pedinska says:

    @Jim White: Hi Jim!

    I’m sure that whomever they were they had the appropriate clearances (as TJ Evans noted Booz Allen). Mypoint was directed more toward the fact that CIA put these docs before the contractors prior to permitting SSCI – their supposed overseers – to review.

    It seems like a gross inversion of process to me. If there is something there that contractors would object to, it should still be subject to SSCI oversight, just as the Panetta Report should have been…but wasn’t.

    Is SSCI really an oversight body if material can be removed from their purview not only by the CIA, but also by the CIA’s contractors?

    Anywhoo, I wasn’t very clear in my initial comment.

    Nice to see you again! :-)

  14. Jim White says:

    @Pedinska: Good to see you, too.

    My comment was a not very clear joke suggesting that among the contractors, there might have been another Edward Snowden type who “helped” the committee to find the report that has the CIA in a snit.

  15. dustbunny44 says:

    @Nell: Redacting shop: precisely what I assumed. Regardless, what kind of oversight committee puts up with auditees demanding to “review” any information before they can see it? These guys, they’re so obviously out of control.

  16. orionATL says:


    thanks. i rember you appreciatively and am glad you’re participating again.

    neither am i sure that the prez knew before the committee. could have happened either way.

    obama gets beat up on a lot, not least from me, but that doen’t mean we critics really know what has transpired in any conflict.

    still, the buck stops and the expectations and criticism start at the top and that’s where the guy fought to be in 2008.

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