The FBI is understood to be investigating claims and counter claims exchanged between the CIA and the US Senate Intelligence Committee that both parties unlawfully intruded on the other's computer systems, according to officials familiar with the matter.
The CIA and one of its two main congressional overseers, the Senate Intelligence Committee, have traded accusations that each inappropriately accessed computer systems containing highly classified data about Bush-era intelligence gathering practices, which human rights activists have described as torture.
The CIA's inspector general sent the Justice Department a "crimes report" about allegations that the agency had intruded into a computer network that was supposed to be exclusively reserved for Senate investigators. The allegations suggested that the CIA did this in an apparent attempt to learn how the congressional investigators got access to documents that the agency deemed to be covered by legal privilege.
Meanwhile, the agency's acting general counsel sent a second "crimes report" to the Justice Department asking it to look into whether Senate investigators somehow obtained inappropriate access, via CIA networks, to the same documents.
The officials familiar with the matter said the FBI is now examining the referrals to see if full-scale investigations are merited. The Justice Department had no comment and the FBI did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Two officials familiar with the matter said that the FBI has found itself in an uncomfortable position. It would be politically awkward, if not highly contentious, for the agency to open a full-scale criminal investigation in one case but not the other. One of the officials said that most likely the FBI would prefer that both cases quietly go away.
In a fierce speech on the Senate floor, Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein last week accused the CIA of spying on Congress and possibly breaking the law by searching computers used by her investigators.
A person sympathetic to the CIA suggested Feinstein's investigators somehow hacked into parts of a CIA network they were not supposed to have access to and found and downloaded a copy of documents that included the agency's own internal account of how it carried out Bush-era programs.
The committee has produced a 6000 page draft report on the programs that sources say strongly condemns now-abandoned agency interrogation techniques such as "waterboarding" or simulated drowning, and concludes that such techniques did not produce significant counter-terrorism breakthroughs. Although it was completed more than a year ago, the still-secret document has not yet gone through the formal process of declassification.