U.S. senators openly castigated the Central Intelligence Agency on Tuesday for delaying the release of a long-awaited report on torture and secret prisons during the Bush era. Despite earlier comments that the committee, which commissioned the report, and the CIA were reaching an agreement on portions the controversial 6,000-page study, progress on its declassification is once again stymied. Meanwhile, long-simmering disagreements about the accuracy of the interrogation report have exploded into public view.
"I’m convinced more than ever that we need to declassify the report so that those with a political agenda can no longer manipulate public opinion," said Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), referring to the CIA.
"He’s mad. I’m mad. We’re all mad," added Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV).
The interrogation report is the product of three year’s work and $40 million in preparation costs. Ever since its completion one year ago last week, 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. Some officials say 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.
Tuesday’s confirmation hearing for the CIA’s top lawyer served as a proxy for Senate Democrats to vent frustrations for what they see as the CIA slow-walking the report’s release.
In a markedly different tone from last week, Senate Intel chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said her staff was now unsatisfied with the CIA’s willingness to work with her committee on disagreements in the report.
"We can’t really complete what we need to complete," she said. "I mentioned it today and again the staff said: ‘Well, we’ve asked for this information from the CIA and we haven’t received it.’"
Before the report is released, the White House has encouraged both the committee and the CIA to flesh out the differences they have with its findings. The problem is, the process is taking exceedingly long and both sides are blaming the other for delays.
Last week, the CIA insisted it was "prepared to work with the Committee." It highlighted the written response it gave to the committee in late June. "Our response agreed with a number of the study’s findings, but also detailed significant errors in the study," said CIA spokesman Dean Boyd.
That public remark concerning factual errors infuriated Senate Democrats despite the fact that it’s been the CIA’s position for months.
"I am outraged that the CIA continues to make misleading statements about the committee’s study of the CIA’s interrogation program," said Heinrich. "There is only one instance in which the CIA pointed out a factual error in the study — a minor error that has been corrected. For the rest, where the committee and the CIA differ, we differ on interpretation and conclusions from an agreed upon factual record."
"You can’t publicly call our differences of opinion significant errors in press releases," he said. "It’s misleading. These are not factual errors."
What exactly the two sides disagree on is a mystery because the report remains classified. And because President Obama’s nominee for general counsel of the CIA, Caroline Krass, was not the target of Senate outrage, she merely nodded along during the hearing, promising to cooperate with the committee if confirmed.
Republicans on the committee such as Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), who have made clear they disagree with much of the committee’s report, neglected to weigh in on the issue during the hearing.
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."
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.
In an interesting disclosure, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) noted that an internal CIA report exists that he says "is consistent with the Intelligence Committee’s report" and differs from the CIA’s official response to the committee. Udall said he and the committee would like to examine that report.
When contacted, the CIA told The Cable, "We’re aware of the Committee’s request and will respond appropriately."
One thing that is clear: Despite the fact that Feinstein said the committee would vote "shorty" to declassify the report, it’s a near-certainty that the vote won’t happen before the Senate breaks for recess given ongoing disputes between the committee and agency. Feinstein appeared visibly frustrated. "Let’s get on with it," she said. "Let’s vote to declassify."
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.| The Cable |