Lead Investigator For CIA 'Torture Report' Explains Why It Was Necessary To Hijack A Copy Of The 'Panetta Review'
from the keeping-the-CIA-(slightly-less-dis)honest dept
The Guardian has published a long report detailing Senate staffer Daniel Jones' experience with the CIA while acting as the Senate Committee's chief investigator during the compilation of the "Torture Report." While much has already been written about the CIA's actions during this time, the Guardian's multi-part piece gives the public an insider's look at the effort the agency went through to disrupt the preparation of the report.
The process started off on the wrong foot. It was the New York Times, not the agency itself, that initiated the Senate's examination of the CIA's counterterrorism efforts.
In November 2005, a senior CIA official named Jose Rodriguez destroyed 92 videotapes depicting the brutal 2002 interrogations of two detainees, Abu Zubaydah and Abdel Rahim Nashiri. Rodriguez’s tapes destruction remained a secret to his congressional overseers for two years, until a 6 December 2007 New York Times article revealed it; they barely even knew the CIA taped interrogations at all.
Daniel Jones spent the next five years digging through any documentation he could pry from the CIA's hands and slowly came to the conclusion the agency had lied to everyone -- including two consecutive presidents -- about its interrogation practices.
One document contained crucial information that proved Jones' conclusion: the Panetta Review. But the CIA didn't want to hand it over. The Senate's agreement with the CIA meant that the agency controlled access to the documents in its possession -- documents it provided extremely limited access to. Jones worked in a single room set up by the CIA for examination of documents and it only dropped files into the shared drive Jones could access if it felt like it. It also removed files periodically without warning or explanation.
In March 2010 Jones and his colleagues started noticing that they had difficulty accessing documents they knew they already had. Simple search terms weren’t retrieving certain records anymore.
“We noticed they were gone right away,” Jones said.
It would have been easy to disappear documents, even in substantial amounts. The agency had provided millions of pages. The only way it could have happened was for the agency to have removed the information from a computer network the CIA set up for the Senate that Jones did not know the agency could access
When asked about this, the CIA first blamed the tech team it had hired to set up the system used by the CIA to provide access to Senate staffers. Then it blamed the White House. Finally, it took a look at itself in a closed, opaque investigation and managed to come to the conclusion that the CIA itself was to blame for the missing documents.
This was still early on in the process and was on top of other pre-existing headaches. The DOJ's decision to open its own investigation of torture allegations should have been good news, but instead, it just created more problems for Jones and the Senate Subcommittee.
Typically, when the justice department and congressional inquiries coincide, the two will communicate in order to deconflict their tasks and their access. In the case of the dual torture investigations, it should have been easy: Durham’s team accessed CIA documents in the exact same building that Jones’s team did.
But every effort Jones made to talk with Durham failed. “Even later, he refused to meet with us,” Jones said.
The lack of communication had serious consequences. Without Durham specifying who at CIA he did and did not need to interview, Jones could interview no one, as the CIA would not make available for congressional interview people potentially subject to criminal penalty. Jones could not even get Durham to confirm which agency officials prosecutors had no interest in interviewing.
The 6,700-page report was finished by the end of 2012. By mid-2013, the CIA was already disputing the content and the conclusions reached by the Senate investigation while still stonewalling on declassification. Jones, who had uncovered a wealth of lies delivered to the Bush administration, was somewhat surprised to see the current head of the CIA (John Brennan) continuing the CIA tradition with President Obama, delivering briefings to him that contradicted the contents of the Senate report, but agreed with the CIA's internal investigation: the so-called "Panetta Review."
Having observed this, Jones decided to break the rules the CIA had set down for Senate staffers.
Inside the small room in Virginia the CIA had set up for the Senate investigators, Jones reached for his canvas messenger bag. He slipped crucial printed-out passages of what he called the Panetta Review into the bag and secured its lock. Sometime after 1am, Jones walked out, carrying his bag as he always did, and neglecting to tell the agency security personnel what it contained. After years of working together, no one asked him to open the bag.
Jones didn't leak the document. Nor did he just hand it over to the Senate Subcommittee. Instead, he placed it in the Subcommittee's safe to ensure the CIA didn't control the only copies of the Panetta Review. It was a move that needed to be made. The CIA had zero interest in releasing the documents and, shortly after the Torture Report's release, it somehow managed to "accidentally" destroy the agency's only copy of it.
Jones' removal of the review led to the CIA and Senate demanding criminal investigations of the other party and the eventual punishment of one person involved in the investigation: staffer Alissa Strazak, the other lead investigator during the compilation of the report. She found her promotion to General Counsel of the US Army blocked by senators critical of the report's findings. The DOJ never filed any charges. The FBI won't even read the report. And the CIA has emerged pretty much unscathed and possibly looking forward to having a new president to lie to in 2017. (Although if it's Trump, it may not have to lie quite as frequently…)