John Brennan Needs to Leave the CIA, One Way or Another

| Fri Aug. 1, 2014 12:43 PM EDT

What's going on with the CIA hacking into Senate computers? Here's a very brief, very telescoped timeline to get you up to speed:

2009: The Senate Intelligence Committee begins working on an investigation of CIA torture during the Bush administration. Then CIA Director Leon Panetta secretly orders a parallel internal review.

December 2012: The Senate finishes a draft of its report and submits it to the CIA for review and declassification.

March 2013: John Brennan takes over from David Petraeus as CIA director.

June 2013: The CIA issues a blistering response to the Senate report, vigorously disputing its conclusions that the CIA routinely engaged in brutal torture of detainees.

December 2013: Sen. Mark Udall reveals the existence of the "Panetta Review"—actually a series of memos—written at the same time Senate staffers were collecting material for their report. He suggests that it "conflicts with the official C.I.A. response to the committee’s report." In plainer English: the CIA lied about what its own review concluded.

The CIA, apparently under the impression that Senate staffers had gotten access to the Panetta Review improperly—and had removed copies from their secure reading room at CIA headquarters—hacks into the computers used by Senate staffers. As part of their secret investigation, they read emails and do a keyword search to find out how the Senate staffers had gotten access to the memos. No one on the Senate is aware of any of this.

January 2014: The CIA presents the results of its investigation to the Senate Intelligence Committee and accuses its staffers of misconduct. They also refer the matter to the FBI for criminal investigation.

March 2014: Sen. Dianne Feinstein launches a blistering attack on the CIA for hacking into the Senate computers in violation of an explicit agreement that they wouldn't do so. Brennan counterattacks vigorously. "As far as the allegations of the CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth," he says.

Yesterday: The CIA inspector general releases a report conceding that the "factual basis" for the FBI referral of the Senate staffers was "not supported" and that five CIA staffers did indeed hack into Senate computers. In other words, Brennan was very badly mistaken in March when he loudly insisted that nothing of the sort had happened.

So then: The CIA lied about the conclusions of its own internal review. The Senate found out about this. The CIA then hacked into Senate computers to find out how they had discovered the incriminating evidence. Then they lied again, denying that they had done this. David Corn lays out two possible explanations for Brennan's misleading statements in March:

Either he knew that his subordinates had spied on the Senate staffers but had claimed otherwise, or he had not been told the truth by underlings and had unwittingly provided a false assertion to the public. Neither scenario reflects well upon the fellow who is supposed to be in-the-know about the CIA's activities—especially its interactions with Congress on a rather sensitive subject.

Nope. Either way, he ought to resign or be fired. This is simply not excusable behavior in a public official.

UPDATE: I've reworded the sentence about the IG report. It did not explicitly find that Senate staffers had done nothing wrong. It said that the CIA filed a crimes report against the staffers, but that "the factual basis for the referral was not supported, as the author of the referral had been provided inaccurate information on which the letter was based.  After review, the DOJ declined to open a criminal investigation of the matter alleged in the crimes report."

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