POLITICS
01/27/2015 12:30 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2015

Former Senate Intel Chair Strikes Back At CIA For Spying

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the former chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, struck back at the CIA Tuesday, blasting the spies for failing to hold personnel accountable for sifting through an off-limits Senate computer drive used to compile a damning report on the agency's post-9/11 torture program.

In a lengthy press release, Feinstein engaged in a piece-by-piece dissection of the conclusions of a CIA Accountability Review Board, which announced earlier this month that no agency personnel would be punished for the January 2014 computer trespasses. The review board's report, Feinstein said, was riddled with errors.

“The report released by the CIA Accountability Board, which recommended no accountability for wrongdoing by CIA personnel, contains many mistakes and omissions,” Feinstein, who chaired the intelligence panel at the time of the CIA's controversial search, said in the release. “The bottom line is that the CIA accessed a Senate Intelligence Committee computer network without authorization, in clear violation of a signed agreement between the committee and former Director Leon Panetta."

"That access, and the subsequent review of committee staff emails, breaches the constitutional separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch,” she added.

Feinstein's comments Tuesday were harsher and much more detailed than her initial statement following the release of the review board's findings.

The Accountability Review Board was tasked with determining potential punishment for what the CIA’s Inspector General had already found to be an improper intrusion into Senate computers. But the board ultimately found that, while the agency did indeed comb through emails and an off-limits computer drive designated for Senate investigators, the incursions were limited and motivated by legitimate concern over a potential security breach. Therefore, the board said in a report released earlier this month, the trespasses did not merit punishment.

Additionally, the review board said that no clear boundaries existed between the CIA and Feinstein’s committee when it came to the shared network used to construct the torture study, and that her committee staff should have known that the CIA had access.

But Feinstein isn’t buying it.

The Senate Intelligence Committee and CIA certainly did have an agreement on the computer network, she said -- specifically, that the CIA wouldn’t access it without the permission of the committee. As far as the claim that the agency's computer search had been limited? A keyword search of all majority staff emails isn’t narrow in scope, Feinstein responded.

And she said that while her staff did indeed know the agency could access their side of the walled-off drive, the CIA only did so when staff requested it, with the exception of one 2010 incident in which CIA employees went through the Senate drive and removed documents. That trespass, she noted, resulted in a renewed commitment from the CIA and White House that unauthorized access to the Senate drive wouldn’t happen again.

Except it did, four years later, Feinstein said. In early 2014, the agency, scrambling frantically to track down a controversial document known as the Panetta Review, delved into the walled-off Senate side of the network.

The California Democrat said that the trespass points to a grave violation of the balance of powers between the spy agency and the lawmakers who oversee it.

“The Agency Accountability Board, which was comprised of former Senator Evan Bayh, former White House Counsel Bob Bauer, and three senior career CIA officers, conducted an extensive review of this matter that spanned many months," said CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani in a statement sent to The Huffington Post on Tuesday. "The Board examined the full documentary record, interviewed officials at all levels of CIA, and adopted unanimously the findings and conclusions that are set out in detail in its report."

"The Board’s report stands on its merits and its recommendations have been accepted by CIA," Trapani added.

In late 2013, the CIA became concerned that Feinstein’s investigators had somehow accessed the Panetta Review. The internal document supposedly criticizes the CIA's now-defunct torture program, which was plagued by abuses and mismanagement. Democratic senators on the intelligence panel allege that the Panetta Review aligns with the damning conclusions of their committee's 6,900-page torture report -- conclusions that the CIA refutes, at least in public.

In an effort to determine how the document had wound up in Senate hands, five CIA employees -- two lawyers and 3 IT personnel -- conducted a dayslong review, along with the agency’s Office of Security, of the Senate committee’s walled-off network. The review included keyword searches of emails and incursions into Senate files, to see whether and how the document had been obtained. Portions of this search were explicitly directed by CIA Director John Brennan, who also consulted with the White House before finally letting Feinstein know the computer searches had taken place.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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