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Editorial: Roll some heads at the CIA

President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference

President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference with chief counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan, left, and former Sen. Chuck Hagel in the East Room at the White House. (Jan. 7, 2013) Credit: Getty Images

Confirmation that the CIA hacked Senate Intelligence Committee computers demands a harsh response to teach the agency that it can never spy on its own government with the vast and secretive powers it uses to protect the nation from foreign threats.

That may require the departure of CIA Director John Brennan, but the more fundamental issue is how best to change the agency's arrogant culture. The firing of those who snooped, and their supervisors, should only be the start. Congress could send a powerful message by tightening the agency's budget and requiring more detailed reporting of its operations.

This shameful episode occurred after the Intelligence Committee began investigating interrogation techniques, including torture, that took place during the administration of President George W. Bush and his spymaster, George Tenet. According to an internal report by the CIA inspector general, some of its staffers rifled through Senate files and emails on a shared network to determine whether the oversight committee had improperly accessed the CIA's own internal review of how al-Qaida suspects were treated.

When Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), committee chairwoman, made a dramatic floor speech in March accusing the CIA of violating a fundamental trust that goes to the heart of our constitutional separation of powers, Brennan denied any wrongdoing. He said any such behavior was "just beyond the scope of reason." He's eating those words now, yet there is no evidence so far that he knew about or authorized the misdeeds.

Meanwhile, the full Senate report that the CIA tried to undermine -- hopefully not redacted to the point of irrelevance -- could be released this week. It's expected to conclude that the CIA misled Congress about black-site detentions and waterboarding. Brennan, if he was betrayed by his own agency, may have the best motivation to get the CIA under control.