CIA chief rips ‘flawed’ Senate report as Feinstein fires back

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CIA Director John Brennan on Thursday made an aggressive rebuttal of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

The landmark Senate report is “flawed” and incomplete, Brennan said in a rare press conference at CIA headquarters that lasted nearly an hour.

In particular, he chided the Intelligence Committee for relying on memos, records of communications and transcripts of previous conversations, rather than new interviews with CIA officials, when conducting their investigation.

“I think it’s lamentable that the committee did not avail itself of the opportunity to interview CIA personnel,” Brennan said.

The public version of the report, which says the use of waterboarding and other techniques during the George W. Bush administration amounted to torture, sent shockwaves through Washington this week and put the CIA under the microscope.

Brennan questioned the report’s conclusion that the CIA tried to mislead the White House, Congress, other policymakers and the media about the value of the program. 

“The record simply does not support the study’s inference that the agency repeatedly, systematically and intentionally misled others on the effectiveness of the program,” he said. 

The release of the report further inflamed tensions between the CIA and its overseers on Capitol Hill.

As one signal of the troubled relationship, Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) offered a running rebuke of Brennan’s remarks on Twitter throughout the course of his press conference.

“100+ interview reports, oral and written testimony, CIA’s response and numerous CIA meetings all contributed to study,” her office tweeted.

She also rebutted Brennan’s claim that detainees who had undergone enhanced interrogation “provided information that was useful” in the search for al Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

“Study definitively proves [enhanced interrogation techniques] did not lead to bin Laden,” she tweeted.

Brennan rejected that assessment on Thursday. 

“It is our considered view that the detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided information that was useful and was used in the ultimate operation to go against bin Laden,” he said. 

Still, Brennan said it was “unknowable” whether or not the techniques were effective in halting terror attacks and keeping the country safe. Some detainees subjected to waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other methods “produced useful intelligence,” he said, though agency officials “have not concluded that it was the use” of those methods that led to the information.  

“The cause and effect relationship between the use of [enhanced interrogation techniques] and useful information subsequently provided by the detainees is, in my view, unknowable,” he said.

Brennan conceded that, “many aspects of [senators’] conclusions are sound and consistent with our own prior findings.”

He repeatedly described the interrogation program as quickly assembled without the due diligence that would have come with additional time. But the haste was only natural, he said, given the country’s fears after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

“We were not prepared,” he said, while drawing allusions to the terror attacks at the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

People developing the interrogations programs, he added, “tried to do their best and I think at times came up short.”

In a statement after Brennan’s press conference, Feinstein disagreed with Brennan’s characterization of the interrogation program but nonetheless sounded relatively appreciative of his commitment to prevent it from happening in the future. 

She is pleased, she said, that Brennan “is attempting to acknowledge past mistakes by the agency in order to focus on current and future missions and make sure that a program like this is never considered again.”

The relationship between the CIA and its congressional critics is unlikely to improve in the near future, given the months of haggling in the run up to the report. At one point during that standoff, a handful of CIA officials broke into Senate staffers’ computers through a portal used to share information with the committee.

Many lawmakers continue to believe that the agency is pulling the wool over their eyes.

“The CIA is lying,” outgoing Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), a vociferous critic of the agency’s actions, in a floor speech Wednesday. “This is not an issue of the past; this is going on today.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), the former chairman of the Intelligence Committee under whose watch the panel first began its review, told The Hill on Thursday that he agreed with Udall’s take.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), another committee member who has criticized the nation’s spy leaders, pointed to multiple statements where top officials appeared to be misleading members of Congress. 

“What they have said has just, again and again, been flagrantly inaccurate,” Wyden said. “What I hope is that they’ll make clear that this pattern of denial, which has dominated their comments in the past, isn’t going to be the future.”

Udall has also called on Brennan on resign, as well as to release an internal CIA review of the program led by former agency director Leon Panetta. 

Brennan said he believed the “so-called Panetta review” was an “internal deliberative document” and not subject to the committee’s oversight. 

Criticism against the spy agency has largely stemmed from Democrats. In general, Republicans have been more supportive of the agency, and many have agreed with the characterization of Brennan and former agency officials that the Intelligence Committee report is one-sided.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), another Intel committee member, declined to endorse his fellow senators’ criticisms.

“Like any other agency, we have a mixed record of oversight,” he said. 

— This story was last updated at 5:09 p.m.

Tags Enhanced interrogation techniques John Brennan torture report
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