May 18, 2016

CIA inspector general’s office “accidentally” destroys its copy of CIA torture report


Look, mom, I’m on television!

John Oliver, in an episode dedicated to the torture report, with the Melville House edition

Last year, Melville House did something the government didn’t do — made a print version, as well as a readable, searchable digital version, of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture. The idea was to make sure that a historically important and potentially game-changing civic document stood a fighting chance against widespread media indifference and corporate timidity.

But, scary as it was, the Melville House publication was only of the Intelligence Committee’s 500-page summary report; the hope was publishing it would also stir a public clamoring for the release of the Intelligence Committee’s full, 6,000-plus-page report.

But, as a previous MobyLives report documented, its release has been stymied at every turn.

And now, in a hard-to-believe development, Michael Isikoff at Yahoo! News reports that the inspector general’s office claims it has “accidentally” destroyed its only copy of the full report, which was sent to them by Senator Dianne Feinstein in her last days as Intelligence Committee chair. Luckily, the CIA still has its own copy, and Feinstein (who now serves on the Intelligence Committee as vice-chair) has asked that the agency immediately provide the IG with another, saying, “Your prompt response will allay my concern that this was more than an ‘accident.’”

Before Feinstein’s involvement, however, the CIA apparently concealed the loss of the report for almost a full year, while fending off a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

How did this happen? From Isikoff’s report:

Last August, a chagrined Christopher R. Sharpley, the CIA’s acting inspector general, alerted the Senate intelligence panel that his office’s copy of the report had vanished. According to sources familiar with Sharpley’s account, he explained it this way: When it received its disk, the inspector general’s office uploaded the contents onto its internal classified computer system and destroyed the disk in what Sharpley described as “the normal course of business.” Meanwhile someone in the IG office interpreted the Justice Department’s instructions not to open the file to mean it should be deleted from the server — so that both the original and the copy were gone.

At some point, it is not clear when, after being informed by CIA general counsel Caroline Krass that the Justice Department wanted all copies of the document preserved, officials in the inspector general’s office undertook a search to find its copy of the report. They discovered, “S***, we don’t have one,” said one of the sources briefed on Sharpley’s account.

Senator Feinstein, meanwhile, has already solicited Attorney General Loretta Lynch to formally notify the federal courts considering the ACLU’s FOIA case of the IG’s mishandling of the report.

The same day Feinstein made that request, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled against the ACLU, affirming that the report was a congressional record, which places it beyond the ambit of FOIA.  As Feinstein and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy noted last November in a letter to Lynch and FBI Director James Comey, Justice Department officials had earlier cited that ongoing litigation as a reason not to disclose the full contents of the report to officials in the Executive Branch, promising only to “preserve the status quo… until the issue whether the Full Report is a congressional document or an agency record is resolved.”  Now that the question has been resolved, to the effect that the report remains a congressional document unavailable to the public (the possibility of a successful ACLU appeal to the Supreme Court notwithstanding), this apparent failure within the Executive to preserve the status quo — that is, not to delete the damn thing — appears all the more disturbing.



Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.