- The US Central Investigation Agency last week disclosed that it has fired four employees and disciplined 18 others for taking part in a secret chat room set up inside the intelligence agency's classified computer systems.
According to the CIA, the "willful misuse" of its network began in the mid-1980s as an "unofficial users' group" on the mainframe system the agency was using at the time. As it migrated to new systems, the hidden databases also were moved to those machines, the CIA says. It adds that about 160 individuals -- some of whom have retired or otherwise left the agency -- were involved in the unauthorised usage at one time or another.
"A group of computer-savvy people concealed these databases and created them outside our normal management and security systems," the agency says in a separate bulletin that was issued to its employees. "The group leaders took extreme steps to [hide these activities]."
In its public statement, the CIA says an investigation into the matter that began last year "uncovered no [evidence] involving the unauthorised disclosure of classified information" through the secret chat room. But, it adds, the activities "were a clear and serious violation of the trust expected of all agency employees."
The CIA says it has revoked the security clearances of four employees, including one senior intelligence service (SIS) officer -- a step that makes them ineligible to work at the agency. Letters of reprimand were issued to another 18 workers, most of whom will also be suspended without pay for periods ranging from five to 45 days. Two SIS officers among the group that received the reprimands were also demoted to a lower rank, the agency says.
In addition, the CIA says it's revoking the security clearances of nine contractors. Meanwhile, 79 employees who were described as having "minimal involvement" with the secret activities received letters of warning or security briefings. The agency says eight other employees were exonerated from taking part in the secret chat room.