CIA badly overreaches

Spying on Senate panel inexcusable

By The Mercury

We can think of five CIA employees — two lawyers and three individuals involved with information technology — who ought to be fired and perhaps face criminal charges. Also, President Barack Obama ought to consider whether to replace CIA Director John Brennan. And apart from those personnel decisions, it’s time — past time, actually — to review and possibly overhaul the culture within the CIA.

That’s the upshot of Director Brennan’s stunning apology this week for the fact that contrary to his indignant denial in March, CIA employees did indeed hack the computer network of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senators used the network to review classified CIA documents associated with the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” methods, including waterboarding. Those documents were used to compile a 6,000-plus page study five years in the making that is expected to reveal that the interrogation abuses were more common than had been believed.

As offensive as some of those techniques are, the more pertinent issue is the CIA’s clear violation of the separation of powers under the U.S. Constitution. The agency spied on the panel whose responsibilities include oversight of the agency.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat who chairs the committee, was justifiably furious in March when she learned of the CIA’s hacking. She handled Director Brennan’s subsequent apology appropriately. “Director Brennan apologized for these actions and submitted the IG (inspector general’s) report to an accountability board. These are positive first steps.”

Not surprisingly, the relationship between the CIA and Sen. Feinstein’s committee has been icy in recent months. The Justice Department, which last month decided not to pursue criminal charges, ought to revisit that issue. CIA tech staffers may have done the actual hacking, but agency lawyers would have known that such an action was improper, if not downright illegal.

As for Director Brennan, the White House’s initial response this week was to stand up for him. “Asked whether the hacking incident had undermined the director’s position as CIA director, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said, “Absolutely not.”

Perhaps Director Brennan is the best person for the job. His denial last March to Sen. Feinstein’s allegations certainly sounded sincere. “ “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “We wouldn’t do that. That’s just beyond the scope of reason in terms of what we’d do.”

As it turn out, it wasn’t. If he didn’t know that, it’s fair to argue that he should have known. Certainly he ought to have known whether the culture within the rank and file of the CIA would make such egregious actions possible.

We would like to think that President Obama, who also has been accused of overstepping his constitutional bounds, would be particularly sensitive to this breach in the Executive Branch — and of a mind to show respect for the Constitution he has sworn to uphold.

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