POLITICS
12/22/2014 05:24 pm ET Updated Dec 22, 2014

White House Needs To Stop Shielding CIA Director John Brennan, Senator Says

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WASHINGTON -- An internal CIA accountability board weighing penalties for the spies who snooped on Senate Intelligence Committee investigators is reportedly punting on disciplining the five agency employees fingered as the culprits. The five employees apparently defended the snooping as legal, and in some cases, as directed by agency leader John O. Brennan.

Outgoing Senate Intelligence Committee member John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is not hearing any of it.

“Plain and simple, the search was deeply inappropriate and shows a major lapse in judgment. If it was conducted without Director Brennan’s approval, whoever ordered it should be held accountable,” Rockefeller said in a statement Monday. “If Director Brennan called for the search, then the White House needs to hold him accountable. Period.”

The New York Times reported late last Friday that the internal review board -- which was commissioned by Brennan after the agency’s inspector general found wrongdoing on behalf of the five agency employees -- would not recommend disciplining the individuals responsible for the computer searches, which involved access to a walled-off Senate network drive used to compile the Intelligence panel’s torture study and searches of certain staff emails.

By recommending against discipline, the accountability board recognizes the CIA officials’ defense that, in certain cases, Brennan himself signed off on the computer intrusions, a fact that will no doubt incense lawmakers who have pressed the spy chief for months for answers on the computer search, to no avail.

“The CIA’s unauthorized search of computer files and emails belonging to its Congressional oversight committee was a massive breach of the separation of powers and very well may have violated federal laws,” Rockefeller’s statement continued. “Added to this is the CIA’s baseless and retaliatory criminal referral against Committee staff, and the fact that Director Brennan continues to impede oversight by refusing to answer repeated and basic bipartisan questions from the Committee about his role in the search.”

The computer search occurred early this year as staff finished constructing the panel’s study on the agency’s post-9/11 use of torture, the executive summary of which was released earlier this month. The agency, upon realizing in late 2013 that staff had apparently accessed and taken a highly sensitive agency document from a secure CIA facility, conducted a security review of the computer network used to construct the study. That computer network, which was designated in a user agreement to be solely accessed by Senate investigators, was supposed to be off limits to the agency.

Additionally, the agency filed a criminal referral against panel staff for improperly accessing the document, a charge that the CIA inspector general found to be based on inaccurate information.

The incident, which resulted in an unprecedented public feud between the agency and its Senate overseers, has festered for months with a lack of resolution. The agency’s inspector general determined earlier this year that the five agency personnel did violate protocol by accessing the committee’s side of the network, prompting a personal apology to panel chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) from Brennan.

The Accountability Review Board -- which consisted of three agency personnel and two outside members -- was tasked with weighing the inspector general’s findings and determining what, if any, punishment should be doled out.

The White House has consistently backed its spy chief throughout the feud, often to the chagrin of Democratic lawmakers. Rockefeller’s statement pulls no punches in demanding the Oval Office hold Brennan -- who formerly served as an Obama counterterrorism adviser -- accountable for the agency’s actions.

The White House and CIA declined HuffPost requests for comment.

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