December 19, 2013
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.
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
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
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