Analysis & Opinions - Politico

Inaccurate Senate Report Endangers U.S. Security

| December 9, 2014

Today the Senate Intelligence Committee released reports from the majority and minority concerning CIA detention and interrogation activities following the 9/11 attacks. Americans and their friends should not welcome the report of the majority members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It is inaccurate, it endangers U.S. security, and it is unfair to administration officials, members of Congress and intelligence officers.

Several findings of the…report claim incorrectly that interrogation procedures were ineffective. Intelligence officers and CIA leaders have provided many examples of the value of these methods in apprehending al Qaeda leaders, avoiding attacks on the United States and its allies, and locating bin Laden. Thoughtful individuals can differ on whether such intelligence value outweighs the country’s strongly held tradition against coercive interrogation, but denying facts cannot avoid this tension.

The Majority Committee report has several startling findings that the CIA impeded or provided inaccurate information to Congress, the White House, the Department of Justice, other national security agencies and the CIA’s office of inspector general. These findings mischaracterizes what my reading of the record tells me was a careful process the CIA followed under three different directors to keep the White House, Congress, and the Justice Department informed about this program. These three CIA directors are tough, experienced public servants with extensive experience in Congress, the military and the executive branch. There is no reason to believe any of these individuals did not have access to information about the interrogation program or a motive to suppress any information that came to their attention.

Taken together the implication of these findings is that the CIA was a poorly led rogue agency intent on torture, rather than an agency devoted to protecting to the best of their ability, the national security of every American. This is a false and unjustified indictment.

President Obama’s attorney general in 2009 directed a special prosecutor to determine whether the CIA employed unauthorized techniques; the special prosecutor concluded that no prosecution was warranted. President Obama accepted this finding, appropriately, noting that it was time to allow the Intelligence Community to continue its mission to protect the country from terrorist threats.

It is understandable that some members of the public and Congress would seek an objective report on the interrogation program to document lessons learned and offer recommendations for the future conduct of complex and demanding intelligence operations.

The Senate majority document is not that report, however, and instead the one they have released will have harmful consequences for national security. Intelligence officers operate in difficult circumstances and expect the support of their agency and country. They will now avoid suggesting or participating in operations that may leave them vulnerable to repeated investigations by multiple bodies—the CIA Inspector General, Congressional Oversight Committees and the Department of Justice. Oversight is valuable; CIA officers in headquarters and the field expect it, but excessive investigation undermines the morale of those who serve their country in harm’s way.

Furthermore, nations that cooperate with the United States in dangerous operations will be appalled to see the U.S. Congress publicizing arrangements that they believed were absolutely confidential. As a former director of central intelligence, I know that this well-intentioned openness for the domestic audience will mean less cooperation from partners abroad. With this report, we also open the U.S. playbook to capable and well-financed terrorist groups that threaten our citizens, our interests and our allies.

Finally, this Majority Committee report does not meet the American sense of fair play. Intelligence officers and leaders of the intelligence community should be held accountable for following the rules. But it is not just to continue investigations for years, while keeping the reputation of these individuals under a cloud. Moreover, I find it incomprehensible why the Committee did not interview those responsible for the interrogation program, like the former CIA directors and deputy directors. It is also unreasonable for Congress not to provide a balanced account that gives weight to the considerable continuing efforts of the CIA to keep it informed.

Intelligence does not rest easily in a democratic society. Intelligence collection and operations are vital to protecting our national interests. Difficult decisions that balance conflicting values are unavoidable. In the United States, a constructive relationship between the Intelligence Community and the political leadership is possible only if there is mutual communication and trust. Conflicting reports from the majority, from the minority and from the CIA are not consistent with the overarching objective of securing our nation.

John Deutch, Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was a member of President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board for President George H.W. Bush and Director of Central Intelligence in the Clinton administration.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Deutch, John M..“Inaccurate Senate Report Endangers U.S. Security.” Politico, December 9, 2014.

The Author