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In response to questions from three Senate Democrats, the head of the CIA is walking back a previous claim that U.S. intelligence agents never work with countries that abuse human rights.

“While we neither condone nor participate in activities that violate human rights standards, we do maintain cooperative liaison relationships with a variety of intelligence and security services around the world, some of whose constituent entities have engaged in human rights abuses,” Director John Brennan wrote in a letter to Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) sent last week.

{mosads}“We strive to identify and, where possible, avoid working with individuals whom we believe to be responsible for such abuses,” Brennan added. “In some cases, we have decided to continue those relationships, despite unacceptable behavior, because of the critical intelligence those services provide, including information that allows us to disrupt terrorist plotting against the United States.”

The letter came in response to a classified May letter from the three Democrats — all of whom sit on the Intelligence Committee — that appeared to object to Brennan’s previous comments denying a relationship with human rights abusers. The classified letter was sent in addition to a public letter demanding Brennan publicly apologize for CIA officials’ search of Senate files on a walled-off computer last year.

“Human rights abuses, whether they take place on the part of ISIL or of militias or individuals who are working as part of formal security services, needs to be exposed, needs to be stopped,” Brennan said in March during remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations, in response to a question about the U.S.’s allies against Islamic extremism. ISIL is an alternate acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

“In an area like Iraq and Syria, there has been some horrific, horrific human rights abuses. … And when we see it, we do bring it to the attention of authorities,” Brennan said at the time. “And we will not work with entities that are engaged in such activities.”

The comments meant to send a message “that we are deeply concerned by human rights abuses, no matter who commits them or for what purpose,” Brennan said in his recent letter.

The CIA has, in the past, ended ties with foreign agencies because of their human rights records, he added. When those ties are not severed, the agency takes “several steps” to notify fellow American agencies and “mitigate the risk of future human rights abuses.”

The March comments, he added, were “brief” and “extemporaneous.”  


— Updated on Aug. 11 to correct the recipient of the senators’ May letter

Tags John Brennan Martin Heinrich Mazie Hirono Ron Wyden
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