CIA Apparently 'Impersonated' Senate Staffers To Gain Access To Documents On Shared Drives

from the because-when-you're-already-in-the-torture-business,-what's-a-little-hac dept

The CIA is still fighting for creative control of its most anticipated 21st century work: the Torture Report. Long before it got involved in the ongoing redaction battle, it was spying on those putting the report together, namely Senators and Senate staffers. Hands were wrung, apologies were made and it was medically determined that Sen. Dianne Feinstein doesn’t have an ironic bone in her body.

The Torture Report’s final cut now seemingly lies in the hands of White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough — a rather strange place for it to be considering the administration has no shortage of officials willing to offer their input on national security issues. But McDonough’s ill-fitting position as go-between to the Senate and the CIA isn’t the most interesting part of the story, although it appears he’s trying to keep the “hanging” of CIA director John Brennan from being a foregone conclusion. Neither he nor the White House have suggested a replacement scapegoat, so Brennan may end up paying the price despite having the administration’s full support. You can’t just drop something as damaging as the Torture Report on the American public and simply walk away from it. A symbolic sacrifice still needs to be made, even if the underlying problems continue to be ignored.

No, the most interesting part of the latest Torture Report details almost falls off the end of the page over at The Huffington Post. It’s more hints of CIA spying, ones that go a bit further than previously covered.

According to sources familiar with the CIA inspector general report that details the alleged abuses by agency officials, CIA agents impersonated Senate staffers in order to gain access to Senate communications and drafts of the Intelligence Committee investigation. These sources requested anonymity because the details of the agency’s inspector general report remain classified.

“If people knew the details of what they actually did to hack into the Senate computers to go search for the torture document, jaws would drop. It’s straight out of a movie,” said one Senate source familiar with the document.

Impersonating staff to gain access to Senate Torture Report work material would be straight-up espionage. Before we get to the response that mitigates the severity of this allegation, let’s look at what we do know.

The CIA accessed the Senate’s private network to (presumably) gain access to works-in-progress. This was denied (badly) by CIA director John Brennan. The CIA also claimed Senate staffers had improperly accessed classified documents and reported them to the DOJ, even though they knew the charges were false. Then, after Brennan told his agency to stop spying on the Senate, agents took it upon themselves to improperly access Senate email accounts. This is all gleaned from a few public statements and a one-page summary of an Inspector General’s report — the same unreleased report EPIC is currently suing the agency over.

Now, there’s this: accusations that the CIA impersonated Senate staffers in hopes of accessing Torture Report documents. Certainly a believable accusation, considering the tactics it’s deployed in the very recent past. This is being denied — or, at least, talked around.

A person familiar with the events surrounding the dispute between the CIA and Intelligence Committee said the suggestion that the agency posed as staff to access drafts of the study is untrue.

“CIA simply attempted to determine if its side of the firewall could have been accessed through the Google search tool. CIA did not use administrator access to examine [Intelligence Committee] work product,” the source said.

So, it was a just an innocuous firewall test. And according to this explanation, it wasn’t done to examine the Senate’s in-progress Torture Report. But this narrative meshes with previous accusations, including those detailed in the Inspector General’s report.

Logging on to the shared drives with Senate credentials would allow agents to check the firewall for holes. But it also would allow them to see other Senate documents, presumably only accessible from that “side” of the firewall. While there’s been no mention of “impersonation” up to this point, the first violation highlighted by the IG’s report seems to be the most likely explanation of what happened here.

Five Agency employees, two attorneys and three information technology (IT) staff members, improperly accessed or caused access to the SSCI Majority staff shared drives on the RDINet

Accessing another part of the shared network/drive by using someone else’s credentials is low-level hackery, but not the first thing that springs to mind when someone says “impersonation.” A supposed firewall test would be the perfect cover for sniffing around previously off-limits areas. Much of what has come to light about the agency’s actions hints at low-level espionage. There’s still more buried in the IG report that the agency is actively trying to keep from being made public. Just because these activities didn’t specifically “target” Senate work material, it was all there and able to accessed. It doesn’t really matter what the CIA says it was looking for. The fact that it was done at all, and done with such carefree audacity, is the problem. There are presumably ways to perform these checks that don’t involve Inspector Generals, damning reports and multiple hacking accusations.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “CIA Apparently 'Impersonated' Senate Staffers To Gain Access To Documents On Shared Drives”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment

I can understand the CIA being pissed off about the contents of that report.

Torture works and I would imagine that there were members of Congress briefed on their tactics and while not given approval, were not told to stop. Now Congress wants to go after them since the public found out about it? Shouldn’t work that way.


Re: Re:

Torture works

Not outside of Hollywood.

Now that is just a lie! If you want information that someone somewhere wants to do something you don’t like then you find some poor guy, torture him for 24 hours and he will tell you everything you want to hear.
Making someone tell you what you want to hear, that is the point of torture isnt it? I mean who cares about the truth, it just makes things way to complicated.



Shouldn’t work that way.

I agree. They should have had the intelligence and humanity to know that torture is unethical, inhumane, and against the law, and they shouldn’t have started doing so. It’s also ineffective as others have mentioned, so there’s that too.

All of this could have been avoided if the CIA/Bush administration/DOJ hadn’t chosen to take the most morally corrupt route.


Re: Re: Re:

No love for the guy or what he did but this hacking/spying/droning/etc is completely at the feet of the current administration.

I don’t see it that way. That the Obama administration carried on with it, business as usual, is the current administration’s “bad”, yes.

However, the Bush II administration was fighting tooth and nail trying to ensure those they’d captured in The War On Terror, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, were not “Prisoners of War” as defined by the Geneva Convention (which outlaws torture). They were Extraordinary Rendition-ing them on secret CIA/DHS flights into allied prisons far away from accountability. Their staff lawyers were inventing specious reasons why water-boarding wasn’t torture (which has since been !@#$% slapped right out of the park). The prisoners’ Gitmo defence lawyers were interfered with big time.

As much as I disapprove of what’s going on today, Obama didn’t invent this cluster!@#$. This administration is certainly right in there in the thick of it as apologists and supporters of it, but they’re not the only ones to blame here. The War On The Constitution has been going on for a lot longer than the present administration.


Re: Re: Re: Re:

The current administration is worse because it knows how bad the Bush administration was with regards to torture and continues the same policies to this day. It has all the power to stop it today. It doesn’t. That’s simply immoral. To look at it any other way is to excuse and be complicit with those in power for the evil acts of human degradation and torture they promote. They are to blame. And there are many more to blame. And we should keep blaming them.

John Fendersonsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

But how is that worse? The Bush administration also knew how bad they were — they were the ones who started it, after all. From my point of view, the Bush administration was slightly worse because they are the ones who proactively decided to do evil. The one who instigates evil is worse than the one who decides not to stop it. Not by much, but still.


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

The continuation of evil under the guise that there’s nothing you can do or that it’s not your fault or that you didn’t start it when it’s very clear that it can be stopped by you is worse. It’s not only the acknowledgement that evil exists and is present but it’s the admission that it can be stopped but you choose to not stop it. It is a choice that is made to not act and that choice is based on your values. You are choosing to allow evil to continue because you don’t want to face the consequences of standing up to it which places you in compliance with it. This is called cowardice. As the quote says, the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

John Fendersonsays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

“It’s not only the acknowledgement that evil exists and is present but it’s the admission that it can be stopped but you choose to not stop it.”

But how is that worse than intentionally starting the evil in the first place? After all, the one who started it saw the absence of evil and decided to create it. The made more evil in the world than existed before them. Those who just let it continue aren’t increasing the amount of evil, they’re maintaining it.

So I disagree with you. I think the one who actively makes the world a worse place is worse than the one who fails to improve the world.

But we’re talking about pretty minor differences here. Both presidents have failed us.


Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

They are increasing the amount of evil because they are now adding to it. The have become complicit. They are now a part of the machinery that grinds men’s souls because they are no longer ignorant to the fact that evil exists and that they have the power to remove it. So yes, the problem is worse and worsening.

Do you think anyone tortured today feels any better knowing that Obama didn’t enact the current policy? Do they feel better knowing that he could stop it but doesn’t because he doesn’t want to face the political backlash? Do you feel better knowing these things? Is this what the pursuit of good looks like?


Re: Torture Works

Torture does not work! Do some research before you make claims like this. For example, the CIA, in 1963, published a manual, the KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual exploring everything they’d learned. In this manual, the CIA stated that the best methods for extracting information from detainees come not through the infliction of physical pain or torture, but through psychological torture.


Re: Re: Torture Works

OK, so the CIA publishes a manual that says the best methods for extracting information is psychological torture and then you say that torture doesn’t work?

That is not my point though. Congress (and the president) was aware of what the CIA was doing and didn’t stop it. Now they want to throw the CIA under the bus?

You ok with that?

John Fendersonsays:


As other commenters have pointed out, torture as an intelligence-gathering tool does not, in fact, work. But that’s not what it’s really used for. What it’s used for is to punish people and intimidate and frighten the tortured person’s cohorts.

In other words, using torture is an unambiguous act of terrorism.



Torture works and I would imagine that there were members of Congress briefed on their tactics and while not given approval, were not told to stop. Now Congress wants to go after them since the public found out about it? Shouldn’t work that way.

Indeed. We should use what “works” to get to the bottom of this. Waterboarding Brennan would be the first step. Waterboarding the “Five Agency employees, two attorneys and three information technology (IT) staff members” who were personally involved would be the next step. If we’d just permit Congress to use appropriate tools to question these people, we’d get to the bottom of it in no time.

John Fendersonsays:


“Yes, torture works as an interrogation technique.”

This is simply wrong. That it’s been done for centuries doesn’t make it any more correct. There’s a simple reason why it doesn’t work: when you torture people, they will tell you exactly what they think you want to hear in an effort to make it stop, whether or not it’s actually true.

John Fendersonsays:


“Congress knew and approved of what the CIA was doing, now wants to distance itself from it and throw the CIA under the bus.

You don’t have a problem with that?”

I don’t have a problem with that. If the people who work for the CIA are so devoid of ethics and morals that they’re willing to engage in horrible crimes simply because congress approved of it, then fuck them. They deserve to be thrown under the bus. Maybe next time, they’ll think differently.

Congress, of course, shouldn’t get off the hook either. That’s the real problem I have: that nothing is going to happen to those who knew what was happening and did nothing to stop it.

Anonymous Herosays:


Accessing another part of the shared network/drive by using someone else’s credentials is low-level hackery.

> Much of what has come to light about the agency’s actions hints at low-level espionage.

What do you mean by “low-level”? Generally, I use the term to mean “in the trenches”-level of detail and high-level to mean a broad understanding, i.e., something that fits on a powerpoint slide.

Second if low-level is meant to mean dumb, or sophomoric, then full, unauthorized access to someone else’s computer isn’t low-level.


So let’s consider that Mike Rogers believes Snowden is guilty of murder, for no other reason than the information he leaked might have resulted in the death of someone, somewhere, somehow.

Given that torture incites the Muslim community to violence, which in turn puts US citizens everywhere in harms way, then should we expect Mike Rogers to now want to try to CIA for murder as well?

I mean, they’re the same thing, right?
At least they should be in that twisted Mike Rogers world, right?



“CIA simply attempted to determine if its side of the firewall could have been accessed through the Google search tool. CIA did not use administrator access to examine [Intelligence Committee] work product,? the source said.

I’m calling bullshit. Having designed, built, debugged, and managed firewalls since the days of FWTK, I smell fabricated BS designed to hoodwink a technically ignorant audience. NOBODY with even minimal competence would do this: they’d test before deployment and before handing out accounts. Moreover, they’d configure access in a default deny state: that is, whatever isn’t explicitly permitted is blocked by default, be it Google search or anything else.


...nothing up my sleeve....

Prediction: Once the “support” operation becomes a full WAR!

But….. ISIS! ISIL!

We are at WAR!

We are at WAR with ISIS/ISIL!!!!

Releasing the Torture Report now would compromise that WAR effort!!

We must refrain from releasing the report in order to protect our Boys-On-The-Ground from any repercussions that the release of the Report might cause.

So there. Nya nya!!

War is the hat from which the rabbit comes. ­čÖé

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop ┬╗

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it