Washington: An independent board has asserted that CIA officers acted reasonably when they secretly searched Senate computers last year after learning that Senate aides had removed certain classified documents related to the torture investigation, Disputing the conclusions of the CIA’s independent watchdog.
The documents, part of what is known as the “Panetta review,” were compiled by CIA officers who were sifting through the millions of pages being turned over to the Senate as part of the Senate investigation into the CIA’s brutal treatment of al-Qaida detainees after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
The board, led by former Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, found fault with some of the findings by the CIA’s inspector general, who said in July that five CIA employees “improperly accessed” a Senate portion of a shared computer network.
The inspector general, David Buckley, resigned in December in what CIA officials insist is an unrelated development. CIA Director John Brennan apologised after the release of the inspector general report and convened the accountability board.
The Bayh-led board said the five CIA employees did not deserve to be punished.
“They acted reasonably under the complex and unprecedented circumstances involved in investigating a potential security breach in the highly classified shared computer network,” the board said in a statement.
The CIA accessed five emails of Senate aides, but the board concluded the access was a mistake and did not reflect malfeasance or bad faith.
The board’s report amounted to a remarkable turnabout in a long running dispute between Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and CIA Director John Brennan about whether Feinstein’s aides acted appropriately when they removed CIA documents they deemed highly incriminating — documents the CIA considered an internal review to which the Senate was not entitled.
The aides took the documents out of a Virginia facility run by the CIA which had been set up to allow Senate investigators to review classified material.
The documents were redacted and taken to the Senate’s secure facility in the Hart building near the Capitol. They were not used in the Senate report on CIA interrogations, which was harshly critical of the agency.
Feinstein said last year that the Panetta review supported the Senate conclusions that CIA torture did not produce unique intelligence. And she said they were not consistent with the later CIA response, which disputed parts of the Senate report