March 12, 2014


I don’t have a whole lot of institutional love for CIA, but I do feel the need to defend their honor on at least some point of what being misreported….

The first media reports and screaming headlines made it seem like CIA had sent wet-work teams to break into DiFi’s office to bug her computer, ala Watergate. Slowly the hysteria has been walked back, but some still persists. The Arstechnica headline for instance: “How CIA snooped on Senate Intel Committee’s files: It’s easy to search someone’s network when you hired the IT department.”

First, they weren’t SSCI’s files, they were CIA files in a CIA database that SSCI staffers were allowed access to. Additionally, it wasn’t “someone’s network” (i.e. SSCI’s), it was a CIA network that contained said database and files. So of course they hired the IT department. But if you read most of the press, you would think CIA was hacking Capitol Hill…

I highly recommend Eli Lake’s article from last Friday, for a balanced piece of reporting.

Now whether or not the monitoring/auditing done was normal innocuous IT activity, or the crime that DiFi seems to think it is, I have no idea. But I do know that most reporting has been based on speculation, misinterpretation, and projection, not actual facts. Like the ones Eli Lake was able to report.

On one last note, I am not sure how DiFi can claim that this is some grand 4th Amendment violation, given that the staffers are USG employees, doing USG work, on USG systems. Even if the activity was illegal, it in no way violated their personal expectations of privacy. Every USG computer system (and phone) is required to have disclaimers stating that their use implies a “Consent to be monitored”.

And given that post-Snowden NSA was roasted for not monitoring what files their own people could access, shouldn’t we applaud CIA to for perhaps tracking which files non-agency employees accessed?

Everything should generate an audit trail. It’s not clear that’s what happened here, though to be fair, it’s not clear it isn’t, though I believe DiFi and her staffers were promised that no one would track what they looked at, and that promise was broken. But — and this is my key point — while spying on foreigners is fine, trust in the intelligence community has taken a hit in no small part because so many other parts of the bureaucracy that are supposed to be apolitical have been politicized and weaponized by the Obama Administration. That kind of damage takes a generation to undo.

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