Last week, Senator Ron Wyden picked apart a Wall Street Journal "op ed" by former CIA directors, attacking the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's torture program. However, with more CIA defenders coming out of the woodwork, he's done so again. He's written the following for Techdirt in response to a misleading op-ed published by former CIA acting director and deputy director John McLaughlin that was published in the Washington Post. As you can see, the Senator finds that if there are distortions being made, it is from these former CIA officials.
With the release of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA's use of torture, many former CIA officials have rushed to defend themselves and their actions. Unfortunately, many of these responses mischaracterize the report's contents and continue to repeat inaccurate information about the results of torture and the CIA’s years of misrepresentations. Hopefully these responses, including specific citations, to former CIA official John McLaughlin will help set the record straight.
The most incredible and false claim in the Senate intelligence committee’s report on the CIA interrogation program is that the program was neither necessary nor effective in the agency’s post-9/11 pursuit of al-Qaeda.
Actually, the Committee's report does not
include conclusions about the effectiveness of "the CIA interrogation
program" -- its conclusions address the CIA's use of torture
. The Committee's report identifies numerous instances in which detainees who had not been tortured (or not yet been tortured) provided useful information.
The report, written by the committee's Democratic majority and disputed by the Republican minority and the CIA, uses information selectively and distorts facts to “prove” its point.
The Committee's report was approved on a bipartisan vote of 9-6, and the Committee elected to release it on a bipartisan vote of 11-3, along with additional and minority views. When the report was publicly released on December 9, 2014, Senators from both parties, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) spoke in favor of it on the Senate floor.
Furthermore, the Committee’s report is comprehensive, not selective. The public version of the Committee’s report is 499 pages and includes 2,725 footnotes. The full, classified version is over 6,700 pages, with approximately 38,000 footnotes, which appears to make it the largest Senate report in history.
Finally, the facts laid out in the Committee's report come almost entirely from the CIA's own internal records. And they show that the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the White House, the Justice Department, Congress and the public. Chairman Feinstein also noted in her March 2014 Senate floor statement that the CIA's own internal "Panetta Review" came to many of the same conclusions as the Committee's investigation. The Panetta Review currently remains classified.
I won’t try to convince you that the program was the right thing to do — reasonable people will differ. Nor will I discuss the management of the program, other than to say that the record clearly shows the agency went to extraordinary lengths to assure it was both legal and approved — and the CIA halted the program when uncertain.
The CIA received legal and policy approvals for coercive interrogations after it provided extensive inaccurate information
to the Justice Department, the White House and Congress about their use and effectiveness.
The Committee's report documents this inaccurate information in detail. For example, on pp. 217-225, the report describes the CIA's inaccurate claim that coercive interrogations led to the discovery of particular terrorist plots, and on pp. 49-50, 59, and 69, the report describes the CIA's inaccurate claims about the training and qualifications of CIA interrogators.
The Democratic staffers who drafted the report assert the program contributed nothing important, apparently to bolster a bogus claim that the CIA lied.
The Committee’s report does not
assert that CIA interrogations
contributed "nothing important." The report evaluates the CIA's repeated claims that its coercive interrogations provided critical "otherwise unavailable" information, and finds that the CIA's own internal records
do not support this claim. In all twenty cases that the Committee examined, the CIA had access to the information from more traditional intelligence sources, and later attributed it to the use of coercive interrogations.
The man who led the United States to bin Laden, a courier known as Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, was mentioned by earlier sources but only as one of many associates bin Laden had years before
This is not accurate. As detailed on pp. 378-400 of the Committee's report, the CIA had substantial intelligence on Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti prior to any CIA detainee reporting about him. In particular, CIA records show that in August 2002 a detainee in foreign custody with known links to al-Kuwaiti reported that al-Kuwaiti was "one of a few close associates of Usama bin Laden."
The most specific information about the courier came from a detainee, Hassan Ghul, who, after interrogation, strengthened the case by telling of a specific message the courier had delivered for bin Laden to operations chief Abu Faraj al-Libi
As detailed on pp. 395-396 of the Committee's report, Hassan Ghul provided the most accurate CIA detainee reporting on bin Laden BEFORE being subjected to the CIA's coercive interrogations. During this period Ghul told CIA debriefers that al-Kuwaiti was bin Laden's "closest assistant" and listed al-Kuwaiti as one of three individuals likely to be living with bin Laden. Ghul also discussed bin Laden's likely living arrangements, and made statements about al-Kuwaiti moving messages to Abu Faraj al-Libi. Some of this information was corroborative of intelligence collected by the CIA in 2002, which was also unrelated to the CIA’s coercive interrogations.
Finally, interrogated senior operatives such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who by that time was enormously cooperative, lied when confronted with what we had learned about the courier
As detailed in the Committee's report, CIA records describe in detail how the CIA assessed KSM was continually uncooperative before, during, and after the use of torture. See pp. 81-96 and 210-216.
The staffers who prepared the Senate draft do not appear to understand the role in analysis of accumulating detail, corroboration and levels of confidence in making momentous decisions like the May 2011 Abbottabad operation that killed bin Laden.
As detailed throughout the Committee's report, the CIA repeatedly told the Justice Department, Congress and the White House that coercive interrogations were necessary to obtain "otherwise unavailable" information. These statements were not supported by CIA records. In all cases cited by the CIA, the CIA had either obtained the information previously from other intelligence sources, or never obtained it from the detainee in question.
If the CIA had said only that tortured detainees provided information that corroborated other sources, or that they repeated information that they had provided before being tortured, this claim would have been accurate.
Capturing 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. This led to disrupting numerous plots. But the committee says interrogation of detainees did not play a role in getting him because a CIA asset (not a terrorist detainee) helped us. This is astounding to those of us involved in capture operations. In fact, interrogated detainees were essential to connecting the source to Mohammed. The CIA will not permit me to reveal the operational details — a classic problem for intelligence officers seeking to defend against outlandish charges.
The capture of Khalid Shaykh Muhammad (KSM) is detailed on pp. 326-333 of the Committee's report. This section clearly explains how a sensitive CIA asset led the CIA directly to KSM, and how the asset's access to KSM was described in CIA records from 2001.
This section of the report is based on both contemporaneous CIA internal communications as well as after-action interviews conducted by the CIA's Oral History Project. The CIA officer who 'handled' the sensitive asset and who was directly involved in the capture of KSM described it as "a HUMINT op pretty much from start to finish." (The CIA's claims regarding the role of detainee reporting are discussed in the footnotes to this section.)
After interrogation, Khalid Sheik Mohammed told us he transferred money to Hambali via a certain individual to finance attacks in Asia. This triggered a string of captures across two continents that led us to Hambali in Southeast Asia.
The capture of Hambali is described on pp. 301-311 of the Committee's report. CIA officials repeatedly told policymakers and the Justice Department that the information about this money transfer was first provided by KSM as a result of the use of the CIA's coercive interrogation techniques. However, CIA records show that the information about the money transfer was first obtained from a detainee in foreign government custody, who was questioned using non-coercive interrogation methods. (See footnote 1721 on pp. 307-308 for the CIA's description of these methods.)
The committee says a source run by another country mentioned a plot to use airplanes to strike West Coast targets. But that's all we knew — none of the details needed to stop it.
That information came from detainees, starting with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who told us after interrogation that Hambali would replace him in this plot.
The Committee's report discusses this plotting on pp. 246-258. CIA records actually show that this plotting was disrupted in early 2002, and that a CIA detainee in foreign government custody (who was questioned using non-coercive interrogation methods) provided detailed information about the plotting, operatives and proposed method of attack.
Of note, the President's Homeland Security Advisor stated in a February 2006 White House briefing that this plot had been disrupted in February 2002, which was over a year prior to the capture of KSM.
This drove our effort to find Hambali.
As noted on p. 302 of the Committee's report, internal CIA communications described Hambali as the CIA's "number one target" in Southeast Asia a year before the capture of KSM
We located him and found he had recruited 17 Southeast Asians and was apparently trying to arrange flight training for them to attack the West Coast
As detailed on p. 255 of the Committee's report, the information that led to the capture of Hambali's brother came from Hambali himself, who provided his brother’s true name and location while still in foreign government custody. Furthermore, the report describes how Hambali's brother provided information about this group of Southeast Asians while in foreign government custody. A wide body of CIA records indicates that this group was not witting of or involved in the "second wave plotting." See p. 247-248 and pp. 483-484.
The committee says interrogation played no role in heading off attacks on the Pakistani hotels, where U.S. and other Western visitors stayed. But it leaves out the fact that detainee Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, provided information on how to locate al-Qaeda “safe houses” in Karachi. One of these provided us a letter that tipped us to the plots. That is how those famous “dots” really get connected.
As detailed on pp. 239-246 of the Committee's report, the CIA's own records state that the Karachi plotting was disrupted when key captures were made by Pakistani authorities based on "unrelated criminal leads."
To drive home their points, the committee frequently cherry-picks documents. It describes officers expressing concern via e-mail that they will be “ostracized” for saying that certain detainees “did not tell us everything.” But the staff leaves out the critical context: The CIA officers were actually discussing their dismay over the agency’s decision to cease the interrogation program, causing the loss of important intelligence information.
The Committee's report provides additional context about these communications on p. 213. The interrogator who wrote "I'm ostracized whenever I suggest those two [KSM and Abu Zubaydah] did not tell us everything" also wrote
in the same exchange "I think it's a dangerous message to say we could do almost the same without measures. Begs the question -- then why did you use them before?" This interrogator also told the CIA inspector general that KSM had "beat the system" and that KSM responded better to "creature comforts and a sense of importance" than to "confrontational approaches."
Many administration and congressional officials ritualistically say we will never know whether we could have gotten important information another way. This is a dodge wrapped in political correctness
The Committee's report does not
conclude that the answer to this question is unknowable. The report systematically examines the top twenty examples that the CIA used to justify its use of torture. In each of these twenty cases the CIA's claims were verifiably inaccurate
– in every case the information that CIA officials later attributed to coercive interrogations was actually obtained from other sources. (See pp. 172-401 of the Committee’s report.)
The point is we did succeed in getting vital information — during a national emergency when time was limited by the great urgency of a clock ticking on the next plot.
Terrorists had just killed thousands of Americans, and we felt a deep responsibility for ensuring they could not do it again.
The Committee's report includes substantial information about the counterterrorism threats faced by the United States, and the successes that the CIA and other US government agencies had in uncovering and disrupting those plots. The report also details how CIA officials often inaccurately claimed that coercive interrogations had produced "otherwise unavailable" information that was key to disrupting these plots. As detailed on pp. 172-401 of the Committee's report, these statements are not supported by CIA records.
The release of this report finally makes the facts about torture available to the American public, and is an important step toward making sure that the US never repeats these mistakes. Another important step is calling out the defenders of torture any time they distort or deny the facts. Correcting years of misrepresentations from these officials is the only way to ensure the informed public debate that is necessary to keep America safe.