Six months after the Central Intelligence Agency first captured a suspected high-level al-Qaida figure in early 2002, it opened a potential can of worms by briefing several Senators about new policies for detaining and aggressively interrogating such captives. The Senate Intelligence committee chairman, Bob Graham (D-Fla.), responded by sending the agency multiple requests for additional information.
No problem, CIA officials decided, according to a report about the program finally published by the committee’s Democrats on Tuesday after years of back-and-forth argument over its release. Knowing that Graham was retiring in January 2003, the agency simply deferred additional congressional briefings until after he had left. That decision stemmed from what the CIA’s liaison to Congress depicted in an internal email at the time as a desire to “get off the hook on the cheap.”
Thus began what the Intelligence Committee report portrays as a sustained CIA effort to block potential scrutiny of an exceptionally secretive and unquestionably brutal program using what became known as EIT, or enhanced interrogation techniques, that even some internal CIA documents said encompassed torture.
According to the controversial report, the agency’s effort to shield the initiative from accountability persisted through 2005, when the CIA made a series of claims to the Justice Department about interrogations that were “incongruent” with its actual program, and 2007, when then-CIA director Michael Hayden allegedly made roughly three dozen “inaccurate” statements to the committee. The false claims by the agency produced a series of key legal opinions by the Justice Department that supported the program’s continuation, the report states.
In between, according to the report, the agency repeatedly lied to the media, to the National Security Council, to lawmakers and to the State Department about the program’s scope, its methods and its effectiveness. At the helm of this effort: A group of roughly three to four dozen CIA officials privy to all its workings, who had either wrongfully convinced themselves it was succeeding or willfully decided to exaggerate its accomplishments.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee’s current chairwoman, said in a lengthy Senate floor speech unveiling the 2012 report that the CIA’s actions were “a stain on our values and our history.”
CIA director John Brennan, in a statement also released on Tuesday, acknowledged that the agency made mistakes and said “we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us.” But he disputed that the agency “systematically and intentionally misled” Congress, the executive branch and the public, even though the CIA acknowledged it sometimes made claims that were inaccurate or imprecise.
“Despite some flaws in CIA’s representations of effectiveness, the overall nature and value of the program…were accurately portrayed to CIA’s Executive and Legislative Branch overseers, as well as the Justice Department,” the agency said in a statement posted on its website. It also said the program “did produce valuable and unique intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives.”
Republicans from the Senate committee said in a lengthy minority report that they agreed with the CIA, and accused the Democrats of conducting a flawed and biased review of the program. But the Democrats said their report, based on a review of more than 6 million pages of material, merely reveals that the CIA’s internal records show that using EIT “was not an effective means of acquiring information or gaining cooperation from detainees.”