The Senate Is Sitting On A Devastating Report About How The CIA Avoided Oversight Of Unnecessary Torture Program
from the congressional-oversight! dept
So much attention concerning the intelligence community lately has been focused on the NSA. There has been a bit of looking at the FBI as well, but for the most part the CIA has been left untouched — even though when the Washington Post released details of the US’s black budget (thanks to Ed Snowden), it surprised many people to discover that the CIA still has a significantly larger budget than the NSA.
Late last week, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer had a fantastic article revealing some details of a still-classified report put together by the Senate Intelligence Committee which apparently rips the CIA to shreds over its torture program, both in how ineffective the program was, but also in how the CIA tried to avoid any real oversight from Congress.
At its core is a bitter disagreement over an apparently devastating, and still secret, report by the Senate Intelligence Committee documenting in detail how the C.I.A.’s brutalization of terror suspects during the Bush years was unnecessary, ineffective, and deceptively sold to Congress, the White House, the Justice Department, and the public. The report threatens to definitively refute former C.I.A. personnel who have defended the program’s integrity. But so far, to the consternation of several members of the Intelligence Committee, the Obama Administration, like Bush’s before it, is keeping the damning details from public view.
The CIA, apparently, has been “defiant and defensive” in response to the massive report (over 6,000 pages, and which apparently cost $40 million to produce). CIA boss John Brennan has apparently been especially aggressive in trying to challenge the report and in blocking it from being declassified.
As Mayer notes, many of the new details came out due to Senator Mark Udall (who, for years, has been a leader in trying to stop the NSA’s bad behavior) first blocking the confirmation of Stephen Preston to become General Counsel of the Defense Department (a position formerly held by Jeh Johnson, who was just nominated to run Homeland Security). Preston, prior to this, had been General Counsel for the CIA. Udall used the opportunity to quiz Preston about both the Intelligence Committee’s report and the CIA’s angry rebuttal, noting that if Preston stood by the rebuttal, he would be very uncomfortable about confirming him for the Pentagon job.
Preston, in his response, appears to distance himself from the CIA’s position, agreeing with some of the findings in the Senate report. In particular, he admits that the CIA “fell well short” of keeping Congress informed and allowing Congress to have oversight over the CIA’s torture program.
In fact, Preston admits outright that, contrary to the C.I.A.’s insistence that it did not actively impede congressional oversight of its detention and interrogation program, “briefings to the Committees included inaccurate information related to aspects of the program of express interest to Members.”
The contention that the C.I.A. provided inaccurate information to the congressional oversight committees is apparently extensively documented by the report. Udall notes that the report contains a two-hundred-ninety-eight-page section on “C.I.A. Representations on the C.I.A. Interrogation Program and the Effectiveness of the C.I.A.’s Enhanced Interrogation Techniques to Congress.”
Furthermore, the report apparently notes that rather than actually briefing the entire Intelligence Committee on what it was doing, the CIA only briefed the chairman and vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In other words, beyond providing enough misleading information to fill a large book, the CIA also made sure that the Senate Intelligence Committee members (outside of the two top members) weren’t even informed of the details of what they did.
There’s a lot more in the Mayer piece, going through many of the key revelations that can be parsed out from both Udall’s questions and Preston’s answers, but it’s apparent that (1) the CIA had very little real oversight from Congress concerning its torture program, (2) the Senate Intelligence Committee is pissed off about this, and (3) there’s a massive report detailing all of this that will eventually see the light of day. It does sound like many on the Senate Intelligence Committee — including (much to my surprise) Dianne Feinstein — are fighting to have the report released (I’m sure with many redactions). Udall is pushing strongly for such a declassification:
“My views of the C.I.A.’s response remain unchanged,” Udall wrote. “As I told John Brennan during his confirmation hearing, acknowledging the flaws of the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program is essential for the C.I.A.’s long-term institutional integrity—as well as for the legitimacy of ongoing sensitive programs. At this point, I do not believe the C.I.A. has sufficiently acknowledged the flaws that the committee has meticulously detailed with thirty-five-thousand footnotes in six-thousand-three-hundred pages.”
Udall also reiterated his demand to “declassify as much of the committee’s report as possible.” He added, “Without the right amount of sunshine, some of the problems documented in the study—to include problems that I believe still exist today—will remain uncorrected. The American people have the right to know what the government has done on their behalf.”
Between the lack of any real oversight of the NSA and now, it appears, the CIA as well, once again we’re left wondering how the administration can pretend that these agencies are actually under control and not prone to abuse.