CIA hacked into Senate computers to conceal 'brutal details of torture'
The CIA illegally searched US Senate computers as part of a shadowy campaign to conceal details of its "brutal and un-American" torture programme, a senior senator has claimed.
Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate's intelligence committee, made the accusations in a dramatic speech that shed light on the behind-the-scenes power struggle between the US Congress and the spy agency
Mrs Feinstein said she had "grave concerns" CIA agents had violated the US constitution and were trying to "intimidate" the Senate committee meant to ensure their operations remained within the law.
Demanding an apology from the CIA's director, Mrs Feinstein warned that this was "a defining moment" for the relationship between the democratically-elected Congress and the US's intelligence agencies.
The CIA has denied hacking into the Senate's computers or that it was trying to thwart the investigation into the torture programme.
The confrontation stems from Mrs Feinstein's effort to compile a comprehensive and public account of the CIA torture programme carried out at Guantanamo Bay and "black site" prisons around the world in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
The programme – which included simulated drowning and the sub-contracting out of torture to foreign spy agencies – was ordered by the Bush administration but halted when US President Barack Obama took office in 2009.
Although the CIA has fought to keep details of the programme secret, it agreed to hand over 6.2 million documents to the staff of the Senate intelligence committee and create a secure network for the documents to be searched.
Mrs Feinstein said that among those files was a "significant" internal CIA review document on the torture programme.
The review, never intended to be seen outside the CIA, contradicted claims the agency was making in official submissions to the Senate.
"That's what makes (it) so significant and important to protect," Mrs Feinstein said.
However, the CIA claims it never handed over the internal review and that Senate investigators must have obtained it by illicit means. In an effort to figure out where it had come from they broke into the Senate's secure network and began deleting files, Mrs Feinstein claimed.
In an extraordinary step, the CIA even approached the Department of Justice and accused the Senate staff of breaking the law.
"There is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime," Mrs Feinstein said, calling the move "a potential effort to intimidate staff."
John Brennan, the director of the CIA, denied the allegations yesterday saying: "Nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn't do that."
He added that "appropriate authorities" would investigate whether the law had been broken by either the CIA or staff on the Senate committee.
Mrs Feinstein is now pushing to declassify portions of her committee's 6,200 report into the CIA torture programme.
(© Daily Telegraph, London)