Obama Defends CIA Chief After Senate Computer Hacking Scandal

Defense Department file photo

President Obama said Friday he stands by CIA Director John Brennan despite an admission this week that the spy agency had improperly accessed computers used by Senate staffers to review the agency's Bush-era "enhanced interrogation" techniques.

"I have full confidence in John Brennan," Obama said in response to a reporter's question at the end of an afternoon press conference. But Obama acknowledged that the agency had demonstrated "very poor judgment" in its wrongful monitoring of the computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The CIA "did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff, and it is clear from the [inspector general's] report is a very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled," Obama said.

The intelligence agency announced earlier this week that an inspector general's report concluded a number of employees had covertly peered into the files of computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee for a review of CIA documents related to the government's classified torture, detention, and rendition practices during George W. Bush's presidency.

"Keep in mind that John Brennan was the person who called for the [inspector general's] report, and he has already stood up to ensure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved," Obama said.

Brennan apologized to Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the panel's top Republican, on Tuesday after being briefed on the internal investigation. But the mea culpa marked a striking reversal of his previous denials of such behavior, prompting a number of organizations and at least two senators to call for his resignation.

On Thursday, Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Martin Heinrich both called for Brennan to step down. A number of other senators have said the CIA needs to be held accountable but have yet to explicitly clamor for a resignation.

Still, others have come to Brennan's defense. Feinstein said Brennan's apology and creation of an accountability board were "positive first steps," while Chambliss told the Washington Examiner the director was not responsible for the computer hacking.

Obama's comments echoed what press secretary Josh Earnest said on Thursday, telling reporters that Brennan had "absolutely not" damaged his standing at the CIA.

Obama also briefly addressed the Senate Intelligence panel's still-classified torture report, and referred to its findings as revealing instances of torture.

"In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we did some things that were wrong," Obama said. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values."

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