CIA Director John Brennan today petulantly denied that he lied in March when he publicly insisted that the CIA had not improperly accessed the computers of Senate staffers investigating the agency’s role in torturing detainees.
Since then, an internal investigation found the CIA had done just that, and Brennan was forced to apologize to Senate intelligence committee members.
In March, Brennan told Andrea Mitchell at a Council on Foreign Relations event: “As far as the allegations of the CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth… We wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s just beyond the, you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we do.”
But on Thursday, facing questions at an industry trade conference, Brennan carefully parsed his earlier statement, insisting that he had only been denying the parts of Mitchell’s question that involved accusations of hacking with the intent to thwart the investigation.
“Thwart the investigation? Hacking in? We did not,” Brennan said.
Brennan had also publicly called the charges “spurious allegations that are wholly unsupported by facts.”
On Thursday, he pointed out the computers technically belonged to the CIA, even though they had been partitioned to create private work space for the Senate staffers.
There was more hairsplitting when he explained his apology. “I apologized then to them for any improper access that was done, despite the fact that we didn’t have a memorandum of understanding.” (See update below.)
And he spoke angrily of the accusations made by senators on the committee, which is chaired by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
“I’m not going to take the allegations about spying and monitoring,” he said.
Back in March, the CIA fired back with an accusation of its own: that Senate staffers had illegally accessed and removed a key document.
Despite the lack of any evidence to support it, Brennan hinted Thursday that he’s sticking to that story.
“I think there are both sides that need to be addressed, and I’ll just leave it at that,” he said.
According to a McClatchy Newspapers report, tempers flared the last time Brennan met with the Senate committee in closed session, after he refused to tell his would-be overseers who authorized the intrusions into the computers.
Brennan was on a panel Thursday along with Letitia Long, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Adm. Michael Rogers, the director of the NSA, and David Shedd, acting director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
The panel was adamant that former NSA analyst Edward Snowden’s revelations about the scope of NSA surveillance had done considerable damage to the intelligence community.
“I am watching groups change their behavior as a result of these revelations,” Rogers said.
UPDATE at 3:45 p.m. ET: In her floor speech blasting the CIA on March 11, Feinstein described the agreement between her committee and the CIA. As Brennan said, there was no memorandum of understanding. Rather, there was an “exchange of letters”:
Per an exchange of letters in 2009, then-Vice Chairman Bond, then-Director Panetta, and I agreed in an exchange of letters that the CIA was to provide a “stand-alone computer system” with a “network drive” “segregated from CIA networks” for the committee that would only be accessed by information technology personnel at the CIA—who would “not be permitted to” “share information from the system with other [CIA] personnel, except as otherwise authorized by the committee.”
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