February 19, 2016

The CIA quietly agreed with the Senate Torture Report’s critiques of the CIA


The-Senate-Intelligence-Committe-Report-on-Torture-white-320x410When we last reported on the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, we brought word that the Department of Justice was doing its best to keep the full report away from all interested (or pretending-to-be-interested) parties—including the White House.

Of course, no one has worked harder to keep the report out of the public eye than the Central Intelligence Agency, which made life hell for Senator Dianne Feinstein and members of her staff as they researched and drafted the report. Which makes the news that the CIA agreed with some of the report’s conclusions—but didn’t tell anyone—sublimely ironic.

Last week, BuzzFeed’s Ali Watkins reported that in December 2014, the CIA quietly released a “Note to Readers” of the torture report that included “corrections to errors in our response that surfaced since it was submitted.” Points to the CIA for that use of “surfaced,” which has probably never been deployed in such an evasive way.

As Watkins writes, the Senate Intelligence Committee only found out about the Note last week, which makes sense—it doesn’t seem to have been advertised:

The “Note” was also noticeably absent from the CIA website’s swath of December 2014 releases related to the Intelligence Committee study, and was not mentioned in either of the agency’s archived press releases on the subject.

Dean Boyd, a CIA spokesman, told BuzzFeed that the Note wasn’t a big deal because the “document was posted on CIA’s public website for the public, the press, and Congressional staff to see.” This approach can’t help but recall a memorable scene early in Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“But the plans were on display . . .”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn’t you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.’”

Sneaky bureaucracies all share a common language. But the CIA’s position here is about as tenable as Mr. Prosser’s.

In her article, Watkins offers a thorough explanation of the Note’s full significance. It turns out that what the CIA describes as mere “sequencing errors” are crucially important. As Oregon senator (and Intelligence Committee member) Ron Wyden told BuzzFeed, “The CIA justified this program by claiming that it produced otherwise unobtainable information. CIA officials have now admitted their go-to example was wrong.”


Mark Krotov was a senior editor at Melville House.