CIA leaked false information to the press in an attempt to outshine the FBI, report finds

In 2006, CIA officials were concerned that the FBI was getting too much credit for making progress in the war on terror. So the CIA Office of Public Affairs released false information to boost the agency’s profile and to support CIA claims that “tougher tactics” were necessary to get information from prisoners, the Select Committee on Intelligence Report Executive Summary reveals.

Throughout the report, released today, cited documents show that the FBI and CIA frequently fought turf battles over information and access to prisoners, and CIA officials coveted public recognition for their agency’s efforts.

The report details a September 2006 email communication between public affairs officers in the CIA discussing a possible New York Times story by David Johnston about a successful FBI interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. (The story was published by the Times on Sept. 10, 2006, and headlined, At a Secret Interrogation, Dispute Flared Over Tactics.)

In an email with the subject line, “We Can’t Let This Go Unanswered,” the CIA’s director of public affairs in OPA, Mark Mansfield, described Johnston’s proposed narrative as “bullshit” and biased toward the FBI, adding that “we need to push back.” (Select Committee on Intelligence Report Executive Summary — page 406)

The CIA had a go-to narrative for undercutting any FBI claim of success: FBI agents weren’t able to get useful information during their interrogations and that useful intelligence only began to flow after CIA agents swooped in with their own, “tougher tactics.”

The article included the frequent CIA representation that, after the use of “tougher tactics,” Abu Zubaydah “soon began to provide information on key Al Qaeda operators to help us find and capture those responsible for the 9/11 attacks.” (page 406)

But the claims were not true, the committee found:

This characterization of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation is incongruent with CIA interrogation records. (page 406)

In another instance, the CIA cooperated with author Ronald Kessler on his second book about the war on terror.

According to CIA records, the purpose of the cooperation was to “push back” on Kessler’s proposed accounts of intelligence related to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, which a CIA officer noted “give undue credit to the FBI for CIA accomplishments.” (pages 406-407)

A lawyer on staff advised against sharing CIA information with Kessler, but was less concerned about sharing if the information would help to “undercut” the FBI.

After another CIA officer drafted information for passage to Kessler, [redacted] CTC Legal, [redacted], wrote, “[o]f course being the lawyer, I would recommend not telling Kessler anything.” [redacted] then wrote that if, “for policy reasons,” the CIA decided to cooperate with the author, there was certain information that should not be disclosed. [redacted] then suggested that “if we are going to do this,” the CIA could provide information to Kessler that would “undercut the FBI agents,” who [redacted] stated had “leaked that they would have gotten everything anyway” from Abu Zubaydah. (page 407)

The goal was to avoid letting the CIA get “short shrift” in the overall narrative about the war on terror, Mansfield said.

After Kessler provided a draft of his book to the CIA and met with CIA officers, the CIA’s director of public affairs Mansfield, described what he viewed as the problems in Kessler’s narrative. According to Mansfield, Kessler was “vastly overstating the FBI’s role in thwarting terrorism and, frankly, giving other USG agencies — including CIA — short shrift.” Moreover, “[t]he draft also didn’t reflect the enormously valuable intelligence the USG gleaned from CIA’s interrogation program” and “had unnamed FBI officers questioning our methods and claiming their own way of eliciting information is much more effective.”

According to Mansfield, the CIA “made some headway” in its meeting with Kessler and that, as a result of the CIA’s intervention, his book would be “more balanced than it would have been.” (pages 406-407)

The CIA gave Kessler their standard story: that enhanced interrogation techniques administer by the CIA had gleaned useful information from Abu Zubaydah after he had stopped cooperating with the FBI.

The changes included the statement that Abu Zubaydah was subjected to “coercive interrogation techniques” after he “stopped cooperating.” Kessler’s revised text further stated that “the CIA could point to a string of successes and dozens of plots that were rolled up because of coercive interrogation techniques.” (page 406)

But, the report states, those claims were not backed up by any CIA records of the event.

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