Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon questioned CIA Director John Brennan on Feb. 9 about the CIA hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee staffers' network and computers back in 2014, but Brennan refused to admit that the hacking was improper (video below).
In 2014, the Senate Intelligence Committee was preparing to release the details of the CIA's illegal torture tactics used on suspects under the Bush administration.
However, while the Senate Intelligence Committee's staffers were searching through CIA computer files, CIA employees were spying on the staffers' network and computers, which were off-limits to the CIA.
Leon Panetta was the CIA director at the time of the spying incident, but Brennan denied that the spying ever happened, notes TechDirt.com.
A report by the CIA's Inspector General found that the CIA had spied on the staffers' network and computers. Brennan then set up an accountability board, which cleared the CIA and himself of any wrongdoing.
"Would you agree that the CIA's 2014 search of Senate files was improper?" Wyden asked Brennan.
Brennan told Wyden that the staffers had gained access to an unauthorized document in CIA files, so the CIA employees investigated the access.
Brennan said the CIA Inspector General's and accountability board's reports into the incident said the CIA's actions were "reasonable."
Wyden quoted the board's review as saying, "It resulted in inappropriate access to SSCI work product," and added that the CIA Inspector General's report came to the same conclusion.
Wyden said the CIA's spying on its own oversight committee was "unacceptable in a free society," a belief that other U.S. intelligence agencies agree with.
Brennan told Wyden:
Yes, I think you mischaracterize both their comments as well as what's in those reports. And I apologized to the Chairman and the Vice Chairman about the de minimis access and inappropriate access that CIA officers made to five emails or so of Senate staffers during that investigation.
And I apologized to them for that very specific inappropriate action that was taken as part of a very reasonable investigative action. But do not say that we spied on Senate computers or files. We did not do that. We were fulfilling our responsibilities.
VICE News reported in 2014 that Brennan wrote an apology letter and admitted that the actions of the CIA were improper, but never sent the letter.
Instead, Brennan wrote another letter saying that he was creating an "independent" accountability review board, which would eventually clear the CIA of legal wrongdoing.
Brennan reportedly made a verbal apology to the heads of the committee, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Alabama.
Wyden fired back at Brennan: "I read the exact words of the Inspector General and the exact words of the review board. You appointed the review board. They said nobody ought to be punished, but they said there was improper access. And my point is, in our system of government, we have responsibilities to do vigorous oversight. And we can't do vigorous oversight if there are improper procedures used to access our files."
Brennan then tried to lay blame on the Senate staffers: "And senator, I would say, do you not agree there was improper access that Senate staffers had to CIA internal deliberative documents? Was that not inappropriate or unauthorized?"
Wyden said that everything the staffers did was "appropriate."
Brennan went on to accuse Wyden of mischaracterizing the reports of the CIA Inspector General's and accountability board, and Wyden reminded Brennan that he quoted "word for word" from a report.