Surprise Surprise! CIA clears itself of wrongdoing

The panel investigating the Central Intelligence Agency’s search of a computer network used by the Senate Intelligence Committee found that five agency officers had acted in good faith during an episode marked by confusion and poor communication, and should not be punished.
The accountability board, whose findings were made public on Wednesday, overturned the conclusions of the C.I.A. inspector general, who had determined last year that the five officers acted improperly when they searched files used by the Intelligence Committee during its investigation of C.I.A. torture.
The computer search raised questions about the separation of powers and fractured relations between the C.I.A. and the Senate oversight panel, which last year released its scathing report about the agency’s detention and interrogation program during the George W. Bush administration.
In its decision to clear the five officers of wrongdoing, a finding first reported last month by The New York Times, the accountability board said there had been no concrete understanding about the rules governing the computer network, which was housed at a C.I.A. facility but included a firewall to allow Senate staff members to do their work without agency monitoring.
As a result, the accountability board said that the five officers had acted reasonably in carrying out a search in response to what they considered to be a security breach.
“The board noted the difficulty of identifying the most appropriate, reasonable, proper course of action for this security incident because nearly every such course is open to objection or question,” the panel’s report concluded.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who was the Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman until this month, immediately challenged the report’s conclusions.
“I’m disappointed that no one at the C.I.A. will be held accountable,” she said in a statement Wednesday evening. “The decision was made to search committee computers, and someone should be found responsible for those actions.”
The board was led by Evan Bayh, the former Democratic senator from Indiana. The other members of the panel were Robert F. Bauer, who was White House counsel during President Obama’s first term, and three C.I.A. officials.
The conflict erupted last January when C.I.A. officials sought to determine how the committee had gained access to an internal agency review about the detention program. Senate Democrats believe the review bolstered the committee’s findings that the C.I.A. had repeatedly misled Congress on the value of its detention and interrogation program.
The internal review was ordered in 2009 by Leon E. Panetta, then the C.I.A. director, and has come to be known as the Panetta Review. It was not one of the millions of digital files that the C.I.A. meant the committee to have, and agency officials suspected that Senate staff members had improperly gained access to parts of the agency’s computer network that they had been prohibited from using.
The inspector general’s report, a declassified version of which was also released on Wednesday, included a lengthy memo from one of the C.I.A. officers under investigation, who said that John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, had insisted that agency investigators get to the bottom of the security breach.
The officer, a C.I.A. lawyer, wrote that Mr. Brennan had called him at home and “emphasized that I was to use whatever means necessary” to determine how committee investigators had gotten access to the review.
The accountability board concluded that while agency officials believed they were operating at the director’s behest, Mr. Brennan was unaware that his investigators would use such intrusive tactics to answer his questions. The board labeled this a misunderstanding.
The board said the entire matter had been beset by confusion, fueled partly by
the fact that nobody involved understood the precise rules governing a computer
network used by both the C.I.A. and its Senate overseers.

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