Contrary to what some published reports have suggested, it is highly unlikely that the CIA has been spying on Sen. Mark Udall or his staffers, nor did agency spooks sneak into the U.S. Capitol or hack into the senator or his staff’s computers.
The latest uproar in Washington that involves the Colorado senator centers on an investigation conducted by the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which Udall is a member, into the CIA’s contentious interrogation program during the Bush administration.
Speculation ran rampant after the New York Times published a story March 4 reporting that the CIA’s inspector general was investigating whether agency spies “were improperly monitoring the work of staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.”
The Times article also included this nebulous sentence from a letter Udall had sent to President Barack Obama the day prior to the Times’ report: “As you are aware, the C.I.A. has recently taken unprecedented action against the committee in relation to the internal C.I.A. review, and I find these actions to be incredibly troubling for the committee’s oversight responsibilities and for our democracy.”
From there the story grew — as stories in D.C. habitually do — into reports that committee computers were hacked by CIA spooks.
Some political observers opined that Obama was out to get Udall while others suggested it was a red herring for the incumbent senator to separate his upcoming reelection campaign from the increasingly unpopular president.
But consider this nugget buried in a Washington Post report. It turns out that the computers in question were actually CIA computers that were locked up in a secret CIA facility in Northern Virginia for the express purpose of the committee staffers to access top secret CIA documents for their 2009 investigation of the agency, which by the way cost taxpayers $40 million.
The congressional investigation led by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California focused on interrogation techniques used during the war on terror that some critics described as torture. The resulting report was never released, but is said to be highly critical of the Bush administration.
When CIA officials initially transferred the secret documents to the secure system to cooperate with the investigation, it appears they accidently included documents they did not intend for the committee to see.
So how did the CIA find out about the mistake?
Udall spilled the beans.
According to the Washington Post and New York Times reports, Udall revealed in December that the Intelligence Committee knew about the secret documents they weren’t supposed to have.
The revelation reportedly led to a search of the CIA computers by the CIA, and that search prompted demands from the committee and Udall that the CIA be investigated for accessing the CIA computer and presumably monitoring the committee’s work. That request now sits in the lap of the Justice Department to consider whether a criminal investigation is warranted.
While the CIA is clearly forbidden to conduct domestic searches and surveillance, it’s unclear whether this extends to CIA property used by a third party — in this case, congressional committee staffers.
Meanwhile, Udall will continue to play the victim and use the unfolding “scandal” to prop up his civil liberties street cred.
“The CIA tried to intimidate the Intelligence Committee, plain and simple,” Udall told the Capitol Hill publication Roll Call. “I’m going to keep fighting like hell to ensure that the CIA never dodges congressional oversight again.”