In July 2014 an internal CIA investigation found that the agency “improperly accessed” computers being used by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, or SSCI, to prepare what’s become known as “the torture report” on post-9/11 interrogation practices. In plain English, you could say that the CIA (which is part of the executive branch) was found to have spied on the Senate (which is part of the legislative branch). At the time, President Obama said such actions “showed very poor judgment.” Politico’s Josh Gerstein reports that the White House now seems to be reversing its position on the issue, endorsing the newly released report of an “accountability board” that defends the CIA’s actions fairly aggressively and recommends no one be disciplined over the incident.
Writes Gerstein: “The White House is giving its backing to a five-person CIA Accountability Board report that takes a far more benign view of the [Senate computer] episode and concludes that the CIA personnel involved ‘acted reasonably under the complex and unprecedented circumstances involved.’ ” The administration “has a lot of confidence in the report that was put forward by this group,” press secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday.
Former Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat, was the chairman of the accountability board. Bayh called the CIA’s actions “inappropriate” but also described the incident as “a mistake that did not reflect malfeasance, bad faith, or the intention to gain improper access to SSCI confidential, deliberative material.” The CIA, according to the accountability board, had a legitimate interest in determining how Senate staff had accessed documents known as the “Panetta Review” that had not been cleared for distribution. (An excellent, thorough Huffington Post piece printed Wednesday observes that the question of how the Senate got the Panetta Review is still up in the air and is involved with the CIA’s broader pushback against the torture report.)
SSCI Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California said that she is “disappointed that no one at the CIA will be held accountable” for the computer searches.