CIA Director John Brennan is trapped — caught between the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is accusing his agency of lying about the effectiveness of its terrorist interrogation program, and his boss, President Obama, who has told Brennan directly that he does not want him to defend the program.
He must do so anyway.
Brennan knows that the Senate Intelligence Committee report is a partisan sham. As head of the National Counterterrorism Center from 2004 to 2005, Brennan was one of the top consumers of the intelligence obtained from CIA detainees. If their interrogations had produced nothing of value, as committee chairman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., claims, Brennan would know it.
Asked the purpose of her report, Feinstein declared it was to “ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.” Well, that tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the objectivity she brought to the effort. Feinstein started with her conclusion, and then spent six years and more than $40 million cherry-picking evidence to back up her claims.
It is clear that Feinstein and the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee don’t understand the value of interrogation, because they failed to question one single CIA official involved with the program as part of their investigation. How you do issue a 6,300-page report on a CIA program without even speaking to the people who actually ran the program? It would be as if the 9/11 Commission (which, by the way, relied on CIA interrogations for one-quarter of all its footnotes) had failed to question one single senior government official in determining what went wrong on Sept. 11, 2001. Why on Earth would Feinstein fail to interview the CIA officials she presumes to sit in judgment of and fail to hear their side of the story — unless, of course, she was not interested in their side of the story?
This past week, Obama’s former deputy CIA director, Michael Morell, gave an interview to Charlie Rose in which he vigorously defended the effectiveness of the interrogation program. “I’ve really studied this, and I believe the techniques were effective,” Morell declared. “I’ve looked at the information provided by detainees prior to the techniques and the information provided after the use of the techniques. … The information prior to the techniques was limited, vague, not specific. After the techniques? Volumes of information, specific, actionable. There is a big difference.”
Morell explained how Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s questioning was critical to the successful effort to find Osama bin Laden. “When we questioned (KSM) about Abu Ahmed, the courier who eventually took us to bin Laden, he denied knowing Abu Ahmed. When he went back to his cell, we were monitoring him, and we heard him tell other detainees ‘don’t say anything about the courier.’ ” KSM’s efforts to protect the courier are what alerted the agency to his importance — and eventually led the agency to bin Laden’s lair in Abbottabad.
Former CIA director Mike Hayden has been even more blunt, comparing “interrogation deniers” like Feinstein to “birthers” who deny that Obama is an American citizen and to 9/11 “truthers” who claim that 9/11 was a Bush administration plot.
Republicans on the Intelligence Committee reportedly eviscerate the Feinstein report in their “minority view,” taking 20 case studies and exposing the shoddy analytic work done by committee Democrats. The CIA similarly has prepared a detailed, classified rebuttal. Knowing this, Feinstein’s staff has been furiously leaking the report’s conclusions to news organizations. Democrats are clearly hoping to get their narrative out before the agency and its defenders can point out the holes and weaknesses in their report, and expose it for what it is: an agenda-driven, one-sided rewriting of history.
The CIA should release not only its classified rebuttal, but also the detailed intelligence information behind the rebuttal. The agency is understandably hesitant about declassifying information that could compromise national security, but the men and women of our intelligence community are being falsely accused of lying to the American people. The CIA should lean forward and release more information than it might normally be comfortable with — including detailed information showing precisely how intelligence from detainees led to the disruption of plots and the effort to track down bin Laden. The facts are on the CIA’s side, and it is time the agency stood up and defended its honor.
And it’s time for John Brennan to do the same. Brennan is a 30-year veteran of the CIA. Hundreds of people involved in this program still work under his command. Their honesty, integrity, decency and patriotism have all been challenged. They are now counting on him to stand up and defend them.
So the question is: Will he do so?
Marc Thiessen is a fellow with the American Enterprise Institute. He writes a weekly column for The Washington Post.
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