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CIA Won't Punish Employees Who Spied On Senate Intel Committee

"I'm disappointed that no one at the CIA will be held accountable," Sen. Dianne Feinstein says.

Posted on January 14, 2015, at 6:43 p.m. ET

Chip Somodevilla / Getty

CIA Director John Brennan

The Central Intelligence Agency will not discipline any of the five agency employees who accessed Senate Intelligence Committee computer systems last year during the Senate investigation of abusive interrogation tactics by the CIA.

While the CIA's decision was in line with a review that the agency commissioned, it contradicts the agency's own internal watchdog, the CIA Office of the Inspector General, which had concluded that the employees accessed Senate computers "improperly" and didn't respond with candor when questioned.

The CIA announced its decision just weeks after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, lost her position as chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, due to the Democratic loss in the Senate in November's election. That's important because Feinstein had been clashing with the CIA over the torture report for years, and had been the member of Congress most outraged by the CIA's probing of the Intelligence Committee staffers.

In a statement after the CIA's decision was announced, Feinstein said,

"I'm disappointed that no one at the CIA will be held accountable. The decision was made to search committee computers, and someone should be found responsible for those actions."

Republican Sen. Richard Burr, the new chairman of the committee, has been a critic of the so-called torture report, which leveled criticism at the CIA's interrogation practices. So he's unlikely to take on CIA Director John Brennan over his decision not to discipline the five employees. (His press office did not immediately respond to a request for information.)

Those agency employees, said to be two lawyers and three IT officials, had arranged to probe the computers of the Senate without approval, in what critics said was an unprecedented violation of the separation of powers, and interference of the Senate's oversight function.

The decision not to discipline the agency employees comes as part of an "accountability board review." That review was commissioned after the CIA inspector general report that criticized the agency for accessing Senate computers "improperly" and for filing a criminal referral to the Department of Justice.

The new review claims that that the inspector general was wrong, in part because Senate staffers "should have been aware" that the CIA could look at the computer system the Senate employees were using in their investigation of the agency's torture program.

Intriguingly, it was just last week that the CIA's inspector general announced his resignation.

The CIA's announcement that it wouldn't take its employees to task comes as a former agency officer is being prosecuted criminally on charges of providing classified information to New York Times reporter James Risen.

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