The CIA today hotly denied that it is intentionally holding up the release of a Senate report on its role in torturing detainees, charging instead that Senator Dianne Feinstein’s intelligence committee is responsible for dragging out the negotiations.
“The suggestion that CIA is delaying or obstructing the negotiations over redactions is patently false,” agency spokesman Ryan Trapani said in a statement to The Interecept. “CIA has been doing all it can to bring the process to a conclusion as expeditiously as possible, in order that we can fully focus on the many threats facing our nation.”
It is “the Committee’s objections to the redactions” that “have delayed the process,” he said.
The 480-page executive summary of a much longer report was sent to the White House for declassification purposes in April. It is said to offer new details about shockingly brutal conduct by CIA officers during the Bush administration, and about the pattern of deception top officials engaged in to cover it up.
But the redactions made by the CIA left the document in tatters, Senate Democrats said — unintelligible and missing key supporting evidence.
The two sides have been negotiating for three months behind closed doors, as deadlines come and go, with no sign of a breakthrough.
A Senate intelligence committee staffer, who said he was authorized to speak for the committee but not by name, told The Intercept the delays are due to the CIA’s continued refusal to “unredact” crucial elements of the document.
“The CIA, on behalf of the administration, provided us on August 1 with a version of the committee’s executive summary that was redacted to the point that Senator Feinstein determined it was unreleasable in its current form. And in the ensuing weeks and months we have debated the issue and sought further unredactions, if you will. And the CIA/White House/Office of the Director of National Intelligence have collectively agreed to unredact or declassify a fair amount of information that we believe is necessary,” he said.
But, he said: “We continue to seek additional material… that we believe is important both to make sense of the executive summary and also to make sure information is available to support or provide the underpinnings of the report.
“We have moved quickly,” he said. “There is no foot dragging going on.” Then he clarified: “I’m speaking for us. We are not dragging our feet.”
One notable argument is over the use of pseudonyms in the executive summary. It’s not that the CIA wants to use them and the committee does not: the committee does use them and believes they are crucial for readers to keep track of what is going on. The CIA wants to black them out.
“When we wrote the report, it included pseudonyms that, by the way, were provided to us by the CIA, specifically to avoid identifying CIA personnel,” the staff member said. “It was done by agreement.”
But Trapani, the CIA spokesman, said there’s a reason for the redactions. “Making public those pseudonyms associated with individual officers, as well as dates, locations and other identifying information related to those officers dramatically increases the likelihood that they will be exposed and potentially subject to threats or violence. A pseudonym itself is little protection from exposure when a host of other information about that officer is made available to the public and will likely be seen by adversaries and foreign intelligence services. ”
The administration originally blacked out 15 percent of the summary — the equivalent of one word for every seven.
Trapani’s focus was on the words that were left. “The August 1 document was 85 percent unredacted,” he said. Feinstein “requested that additional information be declassified and unredacted. We have been working diligently to resolve differences and address her concerns. That process is ongoing and continues to this day.”
The Intercept’s story, which dealt with concerns that the CIA is trying to hold out until the likely Republican takeover of the Senate, was completely wrong, Trapani said. “CIA worked extensively to assist SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Inteligence] in completing this Study. CIA expects this report to be released, consistent with the SSCI vote. Anyone suggesting that we are trying to stall to January does not understand the basic facts of this matter.”
Either side in a negotiation can technically blame the other for holding up an agreement. But the CIA does have a bad track record here.
J. William Leonard, a former director of the Information Security Oversight Office, wrote recently:
As the official responsible for oversight of the system for classifying national security information during the Bush administration, I frequently did battle with the CIA over declassification. I found its negotiating posture to be consistent: start out with the most ridiculous position and eventually settle for one that is simply outrageous. My 40 years of experience in the world of government secrecy taught me that the CIA rarely if ever acts in good faith when it comes to transparency.
Leonard wrote that in this case, “The CIA even redacted information already made public by a 2009 Armed Services Committee Report on detainee abuse within the military.”
The intelligence committee staff member said the committee’s requests are not out of line. “We’re not trying to seek information to be released just because,” he said. “We want to make sure first of all that you can understand what you’re reading, and that you can have the facts out there that bolster the conclusions.”
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