The Case for Reform: The CIA Hacking Scandal

Remember when Senator Dianne Feinstein, former Chairwoman and current ranking member of the Senate intelligence committee, accused the CIA of hacking into her staffers’ computers while they were working on the now-infamous “torture report” on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program? Last Thursday the CIA Office of Inspector General (OIG) released a report on its investigation into those allegations of improperly accessing Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) files.

The report outlines how CIA personnel, suspecting that SSCI staff had accessed privileged documents during their investigation, infiltrated SSCI shared drives, files, and emails. The OIG found that not only were their actions improper, but CIA staff displayed a “lack of candor” when reporting on their actions. These revelations are just the latest in several recent reports of CIA misconduct and internal failures.

But the CIA’s Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Network Accountability Board tells a slightly different story. They concluded that the CIA personnels’ methods were “arguably unorthodox,” but were reasonable given the circumstances.

Despite these contradictory conclusions from two internal CIA panels, the CIA seems eager to avoid a similar episode in the future. CIA Director John Brennan has apologized to SSCI leaders, and the Accountability Board issued a set of recommendations to avoid more missteps. These include keeping better records and ensuring that there is better documentation outlining the relationship between the CIA and any Congressional committees, avoiding assigning both operational control and oversight to one individual, and addressing security issues in a more timely fashion.

The CIA’s apology and recommendations illustrate a broader pattern of failures in oversight, accountability, and internal operations in the Agency. Many of these were highlighted in the SSCI’s report on the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program, which described situations where interrogators used unauthorized interrogation techniques, the Agency made false statements to government officials, and there was little or no accountability for violations of CIA policies. In its response, the CIA agreed that it had problems in officer selection for sensitive assignments, recordkeeping, assessing operational success, and periodically reviewing legal guidance. Clearly, the CIA is facing much larger problems than “unorthodox” digital monitoring.

Senator Dianne Feinstein has proposed administrative and legislative reforms that would strengthen the United States’ commitment to never torture again and improve internal CIA problems. The reforms require that the CIA Accountability Boards address “systematic and structural problems” at the CIA and that the Director of National Intelligence establish processes to better screen CIA personnel, encourage individuals to correct inaccuracies in CIA representations, and be more involved in accountability procedures.

At some point, the CIA’s backtracking, apologies, and promises to do better will have to prompt actual change. Senator Feinstein’s reforms are an excellent place to start, and the CIA and the Obama administration should endorse them.


Published on January 20, 2015


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