Torture Report Epilogue: No Punishment for CIA Staff Who Spied on Senate


John Brennan could probably shoot you dead on the street and go unpunished.

Well, if we're not going to punish CIA officials for torturing people and misleading leaders about it, we're certainly not going to punish CIA officials for snooping on Senate staff and misleading leaders about it, right? Right. After a nasty fight over the Senate Intelligence Committee's torture report led to a group of CIA officials snooping on the computers Senate staff were using to put the report together, it seems that a panel is going to recommend no disciplinary action. From the New York Times:

The panel will make that recommendation after the five C.I.A. officials who were singled out by the agency's inspector general this year for improperly ordering and carrying out the computer searches staunchly defended their actions, saying that they were lawful and in some cases done at the behest of John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director.

While effectively rejecting the most significant conclusions of the inspector general's report, the panel, appointed by Mr. Brennan and composed of three C.I.A. officers and two members from outside the agency, is still expected to criticize agency missteps that contributed to the fight with Congress.

Brennan defended the searches at the time, but then apologized to Senate Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who was furious about the intrusion and went public with the whole mess.

Just as a reminder over what this fight was really about in the wake of the release of the executive summary of the torture report: The Senate staffers working on the report had special computers that gave them access to thousands upon thousands of internal CIA documents they used to put the full report together. At one point they discovered an internal analysis of the enhanced interrogation program known as the "Panetta Review." According to Feinstein and other Democratic senators, this CIA review actually rejects the talking points the CIA has been using to counter the Senate's report and agrees with the Senate's conclusion that enhanced interrogation (torture) didn't provide useful intelligence. The CIA did not want the Senate to have access this report and inappropriately accessed the special Senate computers to investigate how the Senate got access. The whole, nasty fight is laid out here.

We have no idea what is actually in the Panetta Review and whether what Feinstein is saying is true. Conor Friedersdorf over at The Atlantic points out how Brennan pretty much flat-out lied about his knowledge of all of this and will not face any consequences either.

Actually, knowing how political power works, it's a little bit surprising that nobody will punished over this. I mean, it's one thing to torture innocent people and let them die in freezing jail cells overseas. From the perspective of power players in Washington, that's just a thing that happens (note the lack of outrage in the murder of innocents in drone strikes in Yemen and elsewhere). But screwing with the staff of a powerful senator? That's playing with fire.