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Senate report says CIA misled Americans on severity, efficacy of interrogation program

April 1, 2014 at 6:21 PM EST
A classified report by the Senate Intelligence Committee claims that the CIA misled the government and the public over aspects of its interrogation program for years. According to The Washington Post, the agency concealed details about the severity of its methods and took undue credit for some intelligence. Gwen Ifill talks to Washington Post’s Greg Miller for a closer look at the report.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: A classified report by the Senate Intelligence Committee alleges that the CIA misled the government and the public over aspects of its interrogation program for years.

A Washington Post story today based on interviews with those who have seen the document says that the CIA concealed details about the severity of its interrogation methods, overstated the significance of plots and prisoners, and took credit for pieces of intelligence that were already obtained from detainees before they were subjected to harsh techniques.

We examine the details now with Greg Miller of The Washington Post.

Greg Miller, welcome.

First of all, I just want to say that, we, the NewsHour, received a statement from the CIA just a short time ago, saying they are not going to respond to this report in The Washington Post until they get a final copy of the study from the Intelligence Committee.

Having said that, 6,300-page report — why was the Senate Intelligence Committee conducting this kind of study of the CIA?

GREG MILLER, The Washington Post: Well, this all started a number of years ago now, and it was launched largely because there was a debate at the outset of the Obama administration, when Obama was dismantling this program, about whether it worked.

I mean, there were always sort of different categories of debate about this program. Was it moral?  Was it legal? And then this question of, was it effective? A lot of defenders of the program said, look, after 9/11, we didn’t have any choice but to take these kinds of extreme measures, and it worked, it saved lives, it prevented attacks.

And so Senator Feinstein, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, when she took over that committee, made this one of her first jobs was to zero in on that question, is it true?  Did it work? What do the agency’s own records say about that?

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what would you say the main findings are here? I know it’s — there’s a lot to cover, but how would you — what would you single out?

GREG MILLER: Well, I think there are two.

One is that they see very little evidence that these enhanced techniques, as they’re called — we’re referring to water-boarding, sleep deprivation, things like that — delivered any significant intelligence in the aftermath of 9/11. In fact, much of the best intelligence from prisoners who were subjected to these techniques came before that ever happened, in other words, when they were initially questioned, before they were subjected to these harsh measures.

And the other main one, I think, is that the committee concludes that the agency was misleading, agency officials in Washington frequently misled lawmakers and others in government about this program, and would conflate the intelligence that was gathered from other means and other sources with what it got from enhanced interrogation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Kind of stunning, isn’t it, that they would say that what — that the kind of interrogation they were doing didn’t produce significant results?

GREG MILLER: Right. And it’s add at odds with the assertions of senior officials, from former Vice President Cheney and former CIA directors on down.

And there — a big chunk of this report by the committee looks at assertions like that and compares it to the — what’s in the cables, the classified correspondence and communications of lower-level CIA employees who were directly involved in the program.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, we should point out, Greg, your story says, you say current and former CIA officials describe this study as — quote — “marred by factual errors and misguided conclusions.”  You also say that CIA veterans argue that it reflects what they call FBI biases, and you point out one of the principal authors of the study is a former FBI analyst.

So talk about that.

GREG MILLER: Right, and, I mean, this could reignite this longstanding feud between the CIA and the FBI, because FBI officials, some of them, were aghast that the agency and the U.S. government would embrace these kinds of methods, even after the September 11 attacks, and have been very clear about that for a long time.

And, so, the fact that one of the principal authors of this Senate study is a former FBI analyst, and the committee also looked through FBI documents and notes and so forth, has raised that sort of suspicion.

Now, I think the committee would say, look, the bulk of this report is based on CIA documents. They looked at more than six million classified memoranda and records from within the agency. And that accounted for 99-plus percent of the material that they examined for this inquiry.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But do these kinds of concerns expressed by unnamed CIA officials undermine in some way the credibility of the report?

GREG MILLER: Well, I mean, I think that’s — I think we’re going to see a lot of that going forward, because none of this has been released publicly so far. At best, we’re probably going to see an executive summary that’s several hundred pages long released to the public. That could be weeks or months away.

And then there will be — and they’re already is sort of jockeying over how this report is going to be received, so there will be efforts to discredit it and to point out, you know, that maybe there’s an FBI bias here. There’s criticism of the committee because they didn’t interview or speak with any CIA officials. It’s based exclusively on documentary evidence, so you are going to see that sort of line of attack, I’m sure.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Greg, finally, what is going to determine how much of this is released to the public?

GREG MILLER: Well, I think that comes to the White House and the CIA, and that — the ball will be in their court very soon.

The Senate committee is supposed to vote this Thursday to transmit its executive summary to President Obama, who has already indicated that he’s in favor of releasing a portion of this, if not all of that executive summary.

And then it goes to the agency and they have to scrub it for classification issues. So, you know, we will have to watch to see how much of this they let go.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, a lot of folks are bracing themselves, I’m sure.

Greg Miller of The Washington Post, we thank you.

GREG MILLER: Thank you.