Former CIA official: Employees see report as 'silly, partisan'

CIA employees are on the defense after the release of a Senate report that concluded the agency’s enhanced interrogation program employed techniques that amounted to torture, provided no useful intelligence, and that CIA officials misled policymakers about the program.

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Employees view the report as an unfair attempt to blame the agency for a program that lawmakers and policymakers were aware of and supported in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, according to a former senior CIA official who wished to remain anonymous.

“It's a movie caricature....the hidden government that does as it pleases,” said the former official in a recent phone conversation with The Hill.

The 500-page report released last Tuesday by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinThe Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Feinstein grappling with vote on AG nominee Barr 5 takeaways from Barr’s testimony MORE (D-Calif.) concluded that "the interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others." The report describes techniques, including water-boarding and rectal hydration, in detail.

The former official, who identified himself as a "liberal Democrat," said the report is seen as a “silly, partisan” attempt by Democrats on the committee to give themselves cover.

“That’s the sentiment of 100 percent of the agency that I speak to on a daily basis,” he said. “That leads to the conclusion that we really have to fight this as best we can.”

The CIA held an unprecedented live press briefing at its headquarters last Thursday, and former senior CIA officials have launched a website to argue the program was authorized, deemed legal, and that lawmakers were kept in the loop.

“The agency has never gone public on anything like this,” he said. “We’re not waiting for friends in the media.”

The former senior official said it was “common knowledge” that the Senate Intelligence Committee and the “Gang of Eight” were being briefed of the program, and there was “broad consensus on what needed to be done.”

Those comments echoed others made by former senior CIA officials on Sunday.

"Members of the Senate and the House were briefed. Many of them are lying right now about not having been briefed," Gary Berntsen, a top official and former station chief, said on AM 970 radio show "The Cats Roundtable."

The former senior official agreed.

“The committee members could have said, ‘Look, we did in fact exercise our oversight, and we did in fact know, and the Congress funded the activity, so it’s not coming out of a secret foreign kitty,’ ” he said. “They could have said, ‘It left a terrible taste in our mouths and this is something that we need to understand, and we have profound regrets.’ ”

Instead, the investigation was a “paper chase,” that treated emails and “off-hand comments in emails as though they are a structural, systematic, well-conceived defense,” he said.

“This just to me goes beyond the pale,” the former official said. “Some aspect of the story should come out, but it should have been framed in a different way.”

The former official said the agency feels betrayed by the committee’s Democrats, and predicted “a long dig-out” in rebuilding trust.

The former official also said the release would have an impact on the agency’s ability to do their jobs, by making it harder to recruit foreign sources who fear being exposed in future “witch hunts.”

And, he said, the report’s release is a “blow to morale.”

“Whenever the agency is on the front page above the fold, morale is low,” he said.