Washington: Lawmakers slammed the CIA on Thursday after the US intelligence agency admitted its officers had "improperly" spied upon Senate investigators probing allegations of torture.
CIA director John Brennan has apologised to the head of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), Senator Dianne Feinstein, and admitted her staff`s computers had been accessed.
Previously, Brennan had dismissed the allegations, insisting that "nothing could be further from the truth." A new review will now be launched and CIA officers could face disciplinary action.
"The investigation confirmed what I said on the Senate floor in March," Feinstein said, calling the CIA internal probe and Brennan`s apology to her committee "positive first steps."
"CIA personnel inappropriately searched Senate Intelligence Committee computers in violation of an agreement we had reached, and I believe in violation of the constitutional separation of powers."
Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, responded with even tougher language.
"I am appalled that the CIA searched the computers of Senate staffers who were working to shed light on a very dark chapter in our nation`s history," he said.
"The CIA`s misconduct threatens the institution of the Senate and its role in ensuring the proper oversight of our government," he added, demanding that Brennan publicly explain his agency`s fault.
A CIA spokesman said Brennan had informed Feinstein and her deputy of the agency`s internal review "and apologized to them."
The scandal centers around a computer archive, RDINet, set up by the CIA in a secure building in Virginia to make classified documents available to Senate officials investigating allegations that the agency mistreated prisoners between 2002 and 2006.
In March, Feinstein furiously accused the CIA of penetrating this network during the Senate investigation, amid reports that spies had attempted to withdraw incriminating documents from the archive.
She and others described this as an apparent violation of the US Constitution`s separation between the legislative and executive arms of government.
On Thursday, the agency admitted "some CIA employees acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding reached between SSCI and the CIA in 2009 regarding access to the RDINet."
CIA spokesman Dean Boyd said a new inquiry -- an "accountability board" with the power to discipline officers -- would be forced under the chairmanship of former senator Evan Bayh.
The committee`s 2009-2012 investigation produced a secret 6,300-page report into "enhanced interrogation techniques" -- including some normally regarded as torture, such as waterboarding -- used by the CIA in the first years of the so-called "war on terror."
In theory, the report should eventually be declassified and made public, but President Barack Obama`s administration has yet to complete the procedure to do so.
Feinstein, who was seen as a champion of the intelligence services until the hacking scandal broke, said it was her "understanding that a declassified report will be made available to the public shortly."