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CIA board clears spy agency of illegally searching Senate computers

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Board set up by CIA calls the agency's actions a 'mistake,' not 'malfeasance'

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A CIA accountability board has cleared the spy agency of wrongdoing after CIA officials were found to have searched the files of congressional investigators tasked with reviewing the possible use of torture tactics during the Bush presidency. The board, set up by the CIA itself, published a report today that said that five agency officials made a "mistake" by searching for files used by the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating the CIA, but said that their actions "did not reflect malfeasance, bad faith, or the intention to gain improper access to SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] confidential, deliberative material."

The CIA said there were no clear rules for using the secure network

The accountability board stressed that there were no clear rules for using the "unprecedented" RDINet, the secure network set up to allow congressional investigators to review the CIA's files on rendition, detention, and interrogation techniques, and said that the five individuals had "acted reasonably to investigate a potential security breach." The accountability board report overturns the conclusions of the current inspector general of the CIA, David Buckley, who said in a report last July that the five CIA officials had acted improperly by accessing the network. Buckley also found at the time that the CIA had inaccurately filed criminal referrals against congressional investigators that accused them of mishandling classified information.

According to the board, Intelligence Committee investigators were presented with a message — "your use of this system may be monitored and you have no expectation of privacy" — every time they logged on. While the accountability board rejected that the agency had deliberately attempted to access confidential material, it alleged that Intelligence Committee investigators had accessed restricted CIA documents, violating an agreement about the use of RDINet.

Some Senate members have reacted angrily to the accountability board's findings. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) tweeted his incredulity.

Wyden said he would "make sure this stonewalling ends." Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ex-chairperson of the SSCI, also voiced her reaction in a statement in which she said she was "disappointed that no one at the CIA will be held accountable." Feinstein said "the decision was made to search committee computers, and someone should be held accountable for these actions."

Feinstein has been at the center of the scandal since March last year, when reports of the CIA's attempts to access Senate computers broke. Feinstein accused the CIA of improperly accessing Senate computers in 2010, a year after investigators began looking into whether the CIA's "enhanced interrogation" methods constituted torture. The senator had two major complaints: that CIA officials had snooped on the Intelligence Committee to discover what it knew about the agency's interrogation methods, and that officials then began to quietly remove almost 900 documents from the secure network that could implicate the agency in torture.

Senator Feinstein said the CIA quietly removed almost 900 documents

Almost 900 pages of documents reportedly went missing from Intelligence Committee computers in 2010. CIA director John Brennan first said that it was "beyond the scope of reason" that his agency had accessed the computers and removed the documents, before revising his defense and blaming the CIA's IT department for the breach. In summer of 2014, Brennan issued an apology for inappropriate behavior by CIA staff, after an internal investigation suggested that the agency had indeed accessed Senate computers.

The Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation Network Agency Accountability Board was set up after Brennan's apology, in which he said he was considering disciplinary action for the individuals involved. The new report, published by a five-member board that featured three CIA officers, concludes that "no disciplinary actions for the individuals involved were warranted."

A declassified version of the Intelligence Committee's report was finally published last month, five years after it was commissioned. It found that 39 prisoners were subjected to the CIA's "enhanced interrogation," which included beatings, sleep deprivation, and "near-drownings." One detainee died of hypothermia in 2002, while "partially nude and chained to a concrete floor." President Obama banned enhanced interrogation methods in 2009, but was reluctant to investigate the CIA's past infractions, saying that he had "a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards."