FBI Hasn't Read Full Torture Report; Says There's Nothing To Learn From It


The FBI is pretty much a rogue agency at this point, at least if the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General’s growing concerns about stonewalled investigations and improperly withheld documents are any indication. But there’s one government agency it considers too ill-behaved to associate with: the CIA.

The FBI and CIA have strained history over the Bush administration’s War on Terror torture program. According to a 2007 LA Times report, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, upon learning of the CIA’s illegal tactics, pulled his agents back from even playing a supporting role to the agency. One senior official at the bureau was quoted as saying, “the CIA determined they were going to torture people, and we made the decision not to be involved.”

Mueller himself, reportedly, wanted to save his agents from “legal jeopardy,” by prohibiting them from participating in the tactics.

The CIA was nonplussed by its rebuffed advances. Its director of public affairs responded with an eloquent “bullshit” to the FBI’s decision to stay uninvolved in the agency’s enhanced interrogation games. That backdrop sets the stage for FBI Director James Comey’s response to Dianne Feinstein, when she interrupted a federal law enforcement budget hearing to ask why the Torture Report she put six years into hadn’t been touched by the agency.

“The fact that it hasn’t been opened, at least that’s what’s been reported to me, is really a great disservice,” she added. “The report contains numerous examples of a learning experience: of cases, of interrogation of where the department could learn, perhaps, some new things from past mistakes.”

Comey didn’t deny that the report is gathering dust in a locker somewhere at the J. Edgar Hoover building.

“I don’t know enough about where the document sits at this point in time,” he told Senators.

Hardly surprising, considering the FBI’s parent agency — the DOJ — can’t seem to recall whether any officials there have read it or not. When speaking to the New York Times about the decision to not bring charges against CIA officials and personnel, the DOJ said it had read the whole thing. When withholding information from a FOIA requester, it told the court the full report hadn’t even been unsealed from its package, much less read.

Comey at least admitted up front that no one at the FBI has looked at the full report. And at least Comey managed to make it through the executive summary — something other CIA defenders hadn’t even done before taking to the airwaves to contend the agency did nothing wrong.

Comey’s excuse, however, is wanting.

“What we have not done is thought about whether there are lessons learned for us,” Comey admitted, noting that there’s a tendency for him to think there’s little the FBI can learn from the report since they don’t engage in those types of interrogation.

Whether or not there are direct lessons is something only Comey can attest to. But there are certainly plenty of cautionary, indirect lessons to be learned. Even if it fails to translate across agencies, there’s no reason for Comey or other FBI officials to be only as informed as the American public. If they have the access, they should use it, if only to confirm the agency made the right decision to steer clear of the CIA’s torture programs.

The agency may also use it as a learning moment and ask why — if it had seen enough disturbing CIA behavior to scare it away — it did nothing about the abuses it witnessed. And then it can ask itself why — when it uncovered civil liberty abuses by the NYPD’s now-defunct Demographics Unit (led by a former CIA official) extensive enough to prompt its refusal to partake in collected evidence — it did not report this to the DOJ, which had the power to step in and stop it.

The FBI takes a dim view of public accountability, judging from its constant thwarting of its internal oversight. Apparently, it feels it’s in no position to demand accountability from others.

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Comments on “FBI Hasn't Read Full Torture Report; Says There's Nothing To Learn From It”

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AnonymousE (user link) says:

Re: Re:

“As I’ve said before, oversight without authority is meaningless.”

This isn’t exactly a new thing. Here’s a poem:

I’m not allowed to run the train
The whistle I can’t blow…
I’m not allowed to say how far
The railroad cars can go.
I’m not allowed to shoot off steam,
Nor even clang the bell…
But let the damn train jump the track
And see who catches Hell!

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve been reading Techdirt from time to time since its beginning, and it is generally a very good source of informations and ideas about subjects related to the adaptation of our societies and legal systems to new technologies. Actually, it’s quite unique.
The Techdirt writers have sometimes strong opinions, usally sound in my opinion, but always worth discussing.

So I’m really wondering why they write all these posts about torture. I understand why they started to talk about the war on terror when technologies are involved (Internet surveillance, etc.), but what does torture have to do with technology?

Moreover, posts that essentially contain a vehement critique of the US government for having used torture may be justified or not, but frankly, they are not very interesting. They’re not nearly as original as what Techdirt can have to say about copyright issues or things like that. I don’t see anything new here.

Repeating that torture is really very bad indeed is also not very constructive. That’s because although most people agree with that, torture is being used again everytime the security services think they don’t have any other way to do what is asked from them.

Techdirt has generally been good at asking the right question. I think the right question with torture is :”why do we keep using it despite the fact that we don’t want to?”

I think the answer is more or less: “because we keep on pretending that we will never need (that is, “it doesn’t work”) it instead of making sure we effectively don’t need it (that is, by maintaining an efficient intelligence network and planning for trouble).

But that is just me.

In any case, Techdirt seems to be turning into one more anti-war-on-terror website, when it could be something much more valuable.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“I think the right question with torture is :”why do we keep using it despite the fact that we don’t want to?””

I don’t think that’s the right question at all. First of all, the government clearly wants to engage in torture, so the “despite” clause is misleading.

A better question is: “Why do we keep torturing people despite the fact that it is always, unequivocally, the wrong thing to do?”

“Techdirt seems to be turning into one more anti-war-on-terror website”

That’s an interesting take. My take is a little different — I think that Techdirt’s slant is anti-abuse (not just about torture, but abuse of all sorts) more than anti-war-on-terror.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I think that Techdirt’s slant is anti-abuse (not just about torture, but abuse of all sorts) more than anti-war-on-terror.

Good point.

A lot of the readers here do actually care about the moral aspect of this. It’s important, and it’s not getting the attention it should be.

Also, when the government uses the same rationale (“because terrorism”) to attempt to justify torture as it does to justify mass surveillance and collection of private information (using technology), I’d say it is relevant to a tech forum.

(And it’s not like we’re not getting plenty of Techdirt pieces about copyright. AC could always just skip the torture posts.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Terrorists torture people. Who said terrorist don’t torture people. If you have intentionally tortured, you have committed acts of terrorism in the United States. I am experiencing torture through technological means and certain terrorist entities have no intention of giving it up. It’s a very important issue.

How far do we go to combat the enemy?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Techdirt’s coverage of the torture report stuff started with the technological side.

* Took “forever” to find the requested data for review committee
* Hacked the committee’s e-mails
* Etc…

And now I think that because there was such a long running tech-based stream of articles on the subject that it makes sense to follow the topic through.

Pronounce (profile) says:

FBI Will Always Tern a Blind Eye

to legally questionable practices when it knows in doing so will keep it out of trouble politically.

In government the unelected power brokers play a game. They assess each other’s clout in terms of the political climate and either move to draw more power unto themselves or bide their time until the climate is more favorable for a power grab.

As a former government employee I would like every reader to know that the primary job of every government agency is to secure funding. And in politics there is a power game that is played out in cycles as their “team” either has the power or loses the power. Below the appointee level is a very powerful level of unelected officials who really control government. Everyone (from the President to mid level managers) in the game knows who they are and makes sure not to be their enemy. Almost nothing gets done in government without using these power broker’s clout, either one side or the other.

Just so everyone knows how it is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: When did the presidential pardon go through?

I don’t know all of the issues but I know some of them. Some are just fighting terrorism from abroad and a certain class of technologies/weaponry fit all the legal definitions of torture. If a friendly government deploys countermeasures to save your life, they also fit the legal definitions of torture. Seriously, someone invented some horrific shit.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hear no evil, see no evil. Lalalalala. I do the same thing when a police officer asks me questions about a crime I witnessed. I tell him, “I didn’t see or hear anything”.

Apparently, the DOJ and FBI do the exact same thing. At least now I can point to the DOJ and FBI to justify my immoral action of ignoring crimes that happen in front of me. They are my role-models and source of guidance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Hear no evil, see no evil. Lalalalala. I do the same thing when a police officer asks me questions about a crime I witnessed. I tell him, “I didn’t see or hear anything”.”

Be careful there. Your non-cooperation could cause the officer to decide that you’re anti-law enforcement. At that point the officer might become fearful for his/her life and thus become legally authorized to execute you on the spot.

See how that works?

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