WASHINGTON, December 9, 2014 — The report by Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence committee on a CIA counter-terror program established after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks could further hamstring already stretched U.S. intelligence operations.
The declassified summary of the report includes disturbing and brutal tactics against terrorist suspects and alleges that the Agency intentionally mislead the White House and Congress about the program. Additionally, the report states that the results of the harsh interrogations, labeled torture by many, failed to bring any results.
The five year investigation cost $40 million dollars. Republican lawmakers did not participate in the investigation, and CIA officials say they were never interviewed by the authors of the report.
Several Republicans have condemned both the information in the report and the release of the information. On Monday, Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla) an Jim Risch (R-Idaho) labeled the release a “partisan effort” by Democrats and said the report is not “serious or constructive.” They also warned that disclosure of the information “could endanger the lives of Americans overseas, jeopardize U.S. relations with foreign partners, potentially incite violence, create political problems for our allies, and be used as a recruitment tool for our enemies.”
The CIA has also disputed the information in the report. The Agency, which will release a full rebuttal later today, released a preliminary statement saying the report contains “too many flaws for it to stand as the official record of the program.” The statement goes on to say, “Many of the Study’s charges that CIA misrepresented are based on the authors’ flawed analysis of the value of the intelligence obtained from detainees. But whether Congress accepts their assessment or ours, we still must question a report that impugns the integrity of so many CIA officers when it implies — as it does clearly through the conclusions — that the Agency’s assessments were willfully misrepresented in a calculated effort to manipulate.”
Former CIA officers have come forward to dispute the findings. Fox News interviewed several officers who said that the information gleaned from the program was critical in obtaining information about terrorist activities and networks.
One CIA officer who commented on the condition of anonymity called the report, “A disgrace,” and said it is “inaccurate, full of lies, and all about political games in Washington.” He added, “American lives were saved from this program. It’s hard to prove because we can’t show what might have been, but I’m telling you, American lives were saved.”
The CIA also disputes the allegation that legislators and were mislead. A former officer told Fox that CIA leaders briefed Congress “more than three dozen times” on the activities of the program.
Likewise, a former CIA officer whose responsibilities included liaison to Congress said, “Of course we briefed everyone who needed to know. We didn’t publish it on the front page of the New York Times, but Congress and the White House were fully informed.”
While media and pundits debate the content of the report and inquiry-leader Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says it is a “a warning for the future” rather than an effort to punish intelligence agencies, CIA officers worry the release of the summary will further hamstring their efforts against terrorists.
Intelligence agencies are currently scrambling to regain sources lost in the Middle East after the White House leaked details of the Bin Laden raid. Agency officers say that disclosure caused sources to go under ground and not to trust their CIA handlers to keep their names out of the press. Wikileaks also dented intelligence capabilities by disclosing information that allowed militants to identify the sources of information. Those militants responded by hunting down and killing sources.
The terrorist threat, which is the hardest to penetrate for intelligence agencies, has become even more critical over the last year with the rise of the Islamic State and the emergence of al-Qaeda offshoots. To obtain credible, actionable intelligence against the threat, the CIA has had to redouble efforts and attempt to regain the trust of sources.
Now, officers worry that politics will again restrict intelligence operations. Officers say they are not talking about interrogation, but about intelligence gathering. Identifying and recruiting sources in the field is critical to obtaining actionable intelligence against terrorists, and any additional constraints could jeopardize efforts against terrorists.
“We’re afraid everything will be tainted by this report, which is not even accurate,” one officer explains.
The Agency has survived other rounds of criticism, but has been damaged in its ability to carry out operations. Many current and former CIA officers blame constraints put in place by the Church Committee in the mid-1970s against political covert action for limiting America’s ability to assist opposition groups friendly to the U.S. They worry that the Feinstein report will lead to even more limitations which ultimately will hurt the United States.
“This is pure politics and retribution by Feinstein,” said one Agency officer, “but people seem to forget American lives are at stake.”