CIA Director John O. Brennan speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington on March 11. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

In March, at the Council on Foreign Relations, CIA Director John Brennan was asked by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell whether the CIA had illegally accessed Senate Intelligence Committee staff computers “to thwart an investigation by the committee into” the agency’s past interrogation techniques. The accusation had been made earlier that day by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who said the CIA had “violated the separation-of-powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution.” Brennan answered:

As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s — that’s just beyond the — you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do. {…}

And, you know, when the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.

(You can see the video of Brennan’s answer here.)

Now we know that the truth was far different. The Post’s Greg Miller reports:

CIA Director John O. Brennan has apologized to leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee after an agency investigation determined that its employees improperly searched computers used by committee staff to review classified files on interrogations of prisoners. {…}

A statement released by the CIA on Tuesday acknowledged that agency employees had searched areas of that computer network that were supposed to be accessible only to committee investigators. Agency employees were attempting to discover how congressional aides had obtained a secret CIA internal report on the interrogation program.

“Some employees acted in a manner inconsistent with the common understanding reached” between the CIA and lawmakers in 2009, when the committee investigation was launched, according to the agency statement, which cited a review by the CIA’s inspector general. The CIA statement was first reported by McClatchy.

That committee’s investigation is said to be sharply critical of the CIA, finding that it exaggerated the effectiveness of harsh interrogation measures and repeatedly misled members of Congress and the executive branch. The findings are expected to be released publicly within weeks.

After briefing committee leaders, Brennan “apologized to them for such actions by CIA officers as described in the [inspector general] report,” the agency statement said. Brennan also ordered the creation of an internal personnel board, led by former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), to review the agency employees’ conduct and determine “potential disciplinary measures.”

An apology and an internal review board might suffice if this were Brennan or intelligence leaders’ first offense, but the track record is far from spotless. In 2011, Brennan claimed that dozens of U.S. drone strikes on overseas targets had not killed a single civilian. This remarkable success rate was not only disputed at the time by news reports — even supporters of the drone program called it “absurd” — but as the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and the New York Times both reported later, President Obama received reports from the very beginning of his presidency about drone strikes killing numerous civilians. As Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser at the time, Brennan would have received these reports as well, so either Brennan knew that his claim was a lie, or he is secretly deaf. Similarly, Brennan denied snooping on Senate computers six weeks after Feinstein first made the accusation to the CIA in private, which means either that he was lying, or he had ignored a serious charge against his agency for six weeks, then spouted off about it without any real knowledge — hardly the behavior expected of an agency director.

And last year, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied under oath to Congress when he told Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and the Senate Intelligence Committee that the National Security Agency did not collect any kind of data on millions of Americans, a claim later disproved by documents leaked by former NSA employee Edward Snowden. Despite Clapper receiving criticism from both sides of the aisle, the damage to Clapper’s and the White House’s credibility on intelligence and civil liberties issues and, well, the fact that lying to Congress is a crime (though one that’s difficult to prosecute), Obama has not disciplined Clapper in any way.

Sadly, it’s unlikely that this latest incident will encourage Obama to finally induce some accountability in the intelligence community: White House press secretary Josh Earnest called the CIA’s illegal activities mere “misunderstandings.” But as Brennan said when he denied the allegations, “if I did something wrong…he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.” It’s time for Obama to take that responsibility head-on and start to restore in U.S. intelligence agencies some semblance of responsibility to the Constitution and the public.

James Downie is The Washington Post’s Digital Opinions Editor. He previously wrote for The New Republic and Foreign Policy magazine.