- By Shane Harris
Shane Harris is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy, covering intelligence and cyber security. He is the author of The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State, which chronicles the creation of a vast national security apparatus and the rise of surveillance in America. The Watchers won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Economist named it one of the best books of 2010. Shane is the winner of the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. He has four times been named a finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, which honor the best journalists in America under the age of 35. Prior to joining Foreign Policy, he was the senior writer for The Washingtonian and a staff correspondent at National Journal., John HudsonJohn Hudson is a senior reporter at Foreign Policy covering diplomacy and national security.
Portions of the Senate’s long-awaited report on Bush-era interrogation practices are poised to be released, according to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
On Thursday night, Feinstein said the CIA and the Obama administration have agreed that portions of her committee’s exhaustive, 6,000-page report should be shared with the public. News of the agreement follows an intense struggle between the CIA and lawmakers that will likely shape how history views one of the most controversial periods in the post-9/11 era, when the CIA used tactics that President Obama and others have condemned as torture in an attempt to elicit information about terrorism.
"I am pleased the CIA and Obama administration have agreed that a portion of the report should be made public," Feinstein said in a statement. "The committee will vote shortly to adopt and release the executive summary, findings and conclusions which will reflect the CIA’s comments as appropriate."
The report is the product of three year’s work and $40 million in preparation costs. Ever since its completion there’s been strong disagreement among intelligence officials and lawmakers over how much information the public should be allowed to read, in large part because there’s no agreement on the findings. Officials familiar with the report tell The Cable it is deeply flawed and inaccurate, but others consider it the most authoritative account of one of the darkest chapters in the CIA’s history. One year ago today, Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats voted unanimously to approve the report’s findings. Nearly all Republicans voted against it. The CIA also believes the report contains significant inaccuracies.
While the outcome of the committee’s vote to release the report remains uncertain, opposing sides appear to agree that the report can’t be concealed forever.
"CIA and Committee staff have had extensive dialogue on this issue and the agency is prepared to work with the Committee to determine the best way forward on potential declassification," said CIA spokesman Dean Boyd.
Democrats on the committee, such as Sen. Ron Wyden, tell The Cable they are making a concerted effort to push the report across the finish line.
"Without the significant facts and analysis provided by this report, the public debate over these interrogation techniques will continue to consist of opponents like myself saying torture doesn’t work, and some former CIA officials claiming that it does," said Wyden. "The public needs to see an infusion of facts so they can make up their minds for themselves and finally put this debate to rest."
A spokesman for Sen. Mark Udall says the Colorado Democrat will raise questions about the report’s declassification on Tuesday during a confirmation hearing for the CIA’s general counsel.
President Barack Obama has repeatedly said "by using torture to interrogate our enemies," the country compromised its core values. However, he has largely avoided weighing in on the usefulness of enhanced interrogation techniques in counterterrorism efforts.
On Friday, the White House applauded cooperation between the CIA and the Senate panel. "We believe that it is important for the Committee and the CIA to continue working together to address issues associated with the report – including factual questions," National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden told The Cable. "The President has made clear that the program that is the subject of the committee’s work is inconsistent with our values as a Nation."
Officials who are familiar with the report’s conclusions say that it offers detailed examples of how subjecting prisoners to harsh interrogations, including what human rights groups and others call torture, may have been counterproductive, and that the techniques didn’t produce any leads that helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden, as some current and former CIA officials claim. Feinstein said in a statement last year that the CIA had made "terrible mistakes" by interrogating suspects in secret prisons, and that the report "will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should every employ coercive interrogation techniques."
Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the intelligence committee’s top Republican, has said the report contains "omissions about the history and utility of the CIA’s detention program." He also said investigators compiled their findings "without interviewing any of the people involved" in the CIA program.
The CIA read the report and sent a written response to the committee in late June. The agency "agreed with a number of the study’s findings, but also detailed significant errors in the study," said Boyd, the CIA spokesman. "The CIA Director has publicly stated that enhanced interrogation techniques are not an appropriate method to obtain intelligence and that their use impairs our ability to play a leadership role in the world."
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, told The Cable that the agency’s willingness to collaborate with the Senate panel is notable. "I support transparency and am glad to see CIA’s willingness to work with Congress on this vital issue," he said. Ruppersberger added that he supports "the potential declassification of portions of the report as long as sources and methods are protected and our personnel in the field are not endangered."