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CIA watchdog reportedly asks DOJ to probe allegations of spying on Senate staffers

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Feb. 7, 2013: CIA Director nominee John Brennan testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.AP

The CIA Inspector General's Office reportedly has asked the Justice Department to review allegations that the spy agency monitored the computers of Senate staffers who were preparing a report on the detention and interrogation of terror suspects. 

The New York Times and McClatchy reported on the details of the mysterious case. Lawmakers have until now said little on the record, other than a vague allegation from a senator that the CIA had taken "unprecedented action." 

But, in response to published reports, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Wednesday that the alleged spying, if true, "would be an extremely serious matter" and could "violate federal law." 

CIA Director John Brennan on Wednesday said he was "deeply dismayed" that some Senate members made the allegations that "are wholly unsupported by the facts."

"I am very confident that the appropriate authorities reviewing this matter will determine where wrongdoing, if any, occurred in either the executive branch or legislative branch," Brennan said in a statement. "Until then, I would encourage others to refrain from outbursts that do a disservice to the important relationship that needs to be maintained between intelligence officials and Congressional overseers.”

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday also flagged the allegations as a potentially serious breach. "If it turns out that the CIA was spying on the Senate committee that oversees the agency, it would be an outrageous violation of separation of powers," Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. 

The Times reported Wednesday that CIA officers gained access to the computer networks used by the Senate Intelligence Committee and that an initial investigation by the agency's inspector general was begun in response to complaints by members of Congress that the staffers were being improperly monitored. 

The Times also reported that CIA officials began the alleged monitoring after suspecting that the Senate staffers had unauthorized access to agency documents during the course of their investigation, which has been ongoing for four years and cost approximately $40 million. 

McClatchy reported Wednesday that the yet-to-be-released Senate report is expected to harshly criticize the detention and interrogation program, with special attention on how the CIA reportedly misled the Bush White House and Congress about the specific interrogation tactics used. The report is also expected to conclude that the techniques did not provide intelligence that led to the Pakistan compound where Usama bin Laden was killed by Navy SEALs in 2011. 

The report has not been declassified, but Brennan challenged several facts in the report as well as the intelligence value conclusion in a rebuttal published last June. This past December, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said that the committee was aware of an internal CIA study that largely agreed with the report and contradicted Brennan's rebuttal. 

The Times reported that Udall's statement set in motion the agency's monitoring and prompted a letter from Udall to President Obama Tuesday. 

"The CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal CIA review," the letter reportedly said, "and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the committee’s oversight responsibilities and for our democracy."

Fox News' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.

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