CIA watchdog ‘accidentally destroyed’ copy of ‘torture report’

CIA watchdog ‘accidentally destroyed’ copy of ‘torture report’
© Getty Images

The CIA’s inspector general has accidentally deleted its only copy of a controversial Senate report about the agency’s history of brutal interrogation techniques, opening a new front in the long battle over the document.

Like many federal agencies across Washington, the spy agency watchdog was handed a copy of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s full, 6,700-page report about the CIA’s former methods shortly after it was completed. The full version of the report remains classified, however a 500-page executive summary was released to the public in late 2014.

ADVERTISEMENT
But at some point last summer, both the electronic copy and a hard disk were destroyed, the watchdog told Congress.

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton Avalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Blumenthal: ‘Credible case' of obstruction of justice can be made against Trump MORE (D-Calif.), the driving force behind the 2014 report, sent letters to the CIA and Justice Department on Friday confirming that the spy agency’s inspector general “has misplaced and/or accidentally destroyed” its copy of the report.

According to Yahoo News, which first reported the development, the deletion was described as “inadvertent.”

Acting inspector general Christopher Sharpley uploaded the report to the office's internal computer network and then destroyed the hard disk, apparently following standard protocol, the news outlet reported. Then, someone else in the watchdog’s office reportedly misinterpreted instructions from the Justice Department not to open the file and deleted it from the server.

The CIA, in which the inspector general’s office sits, retains a copy of the full report, and is waiting for the conclusion of a legal battle over the document.

Still, the episode is a humiliating one for the CIA inspector general and has inflamed human rights advocates hoping to make the report public.

Cori Crider, a director with the international rights group Reprieve, called it “stunning,” and suggested that it is part of a broader effort to erase the practices from history.

“One worries that no one is minding the store,” Crider said in a statement.

The Senate report on so-called enhanced interrogation techniques, such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation, has been at the center of a years-long battle on the Intelligence Committee.

Committee Chairman Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrSessions argued presidents can obstruct justice in Clinton impeachment trial Trump Jr. to meet with Senate panel amid Russia probe Trump’s Russian winter grows colder with Flynn plea deal MORE (R-N.C.) opposed the publication of the report in 2014, when Republicans were still in the minority. Since taking power, he has made a concerted effort to recover copies of the report that were distributed throughout the Obama administration. The report belongs with Congress, he has said, not the executive branch.

The administration has appeared to agree with the assertions. The Justice Department has told agencies not to open the report’s file, presumably to prevent it from coming under the scope of the Freedom of Information Act, which does not apply to documents of Congress. Last week, a federal appeals court panel blocked an effort to reveal the full 6,700-page report under the open records law, claiming that it “always has been a congressional document."

On Monday, Burr spokeswoman Rebecca Watkins said that the Intelligence chairman “is pleased with” last week’s ruling.

“Consistent with the court’s opinion, Sen. Burr anticipates the return of these full reports to the Senate Intelligence Committee,” Watkins said.

But Feinstein — the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee — is pushing for the CIA inspector general to obtain a new copy of the report to replace the one that disappeared.

“Your prompt response will allay my concern that this was more than an ‘accident,’” Feinstein told CIA Director John Brennan in Friday’s letter. “The CIA IG should have a copy of the full study because the report includes extensive information directly related to the IG’s ongoing oversight of the CIA.”

Giving the watchdog office a copy of the report would also keep the “status quo” in place as the lawsuit over the document works its way through the court, she added.

According to Yahoo News, the appeals court was not notified about that the inspector general’s copy of the report was destroyed.

In a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch on Friday, Feinstein wanted that to change.

“I believe that it is important to notify the courts of this development immediately,” she wrote.  

A spokesperson with the CIA indicated that it will wait for the litigation over the document to play out before deciding how to proceed.

However, the CIA has held onto the classified copy of the full report given to it by the Senate panel, the spokesperson said, and “will continue to do so pending the final result of the litigation.”  

President Obama and others consider the CIA’s former interrogation techniques to be torture. They are now prohibited under the law.

—Last updated at 12:46 p.m.