Mark Mazzetti / The New York Times – 2015-01-24 00:52:09
WASHINGTON (January 20, 2015) — Years before the release in December of a Senate Intelligence Committee report detailing the CIA’s use of torture and deceit in its detention program, an internal review by the agency found that the CIA had repeatedly overstated the value of intelligence gained during the brutal interrogations of some of its detainees.
The internal report, more than 1,000 pages in length, came to be known as the Panetta Review after Leon E. Panetta, who, as the CIA’s director, ordered that it be done in 2009. At least one of its authors won an agency award for her work, according to a recent briefing that the agency’s inspector general gave to staff members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The contents of the Panetta Review, which remain classified, are now central to simmering battles over the Intelligence Committee’s conclusions about the efficacy of torture and the CIA’s allegations that committee staffers improperly took the review from an agency facility.
The CIA has publicly distanced itself from the report’s findings, saying that it was an incomplete and cursory review of documents, and has blocked its release under the Freedom of Information Act.
New details of the Panetta Review, presented last month by the CIA inspector general in a briefing to the committee, came as Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the new chairman of the Intelligence Committee, wrote to President Obama with an odd request: He wants the committee’s report back.
Mr. Burr sent a letter last week to the White House saying that his Democratic predecessor, Senator Dianne Feinstein, should never have transmitted the entire 6,700-page report to numerous departments and agencies within the executive branch — and requested that all copies of the report be “returned immediately,” according to people who have seen the letter.
The Intelligence Committee publicly released only the report’s executive summary. But Congress has since changed hands, and the committee is now controlled by Republican lawmakers like Mr. Burr who have long opposed the committee’s detention investigation, which they said was a partisan effort to discredit the CIA and the Bush administration.
The ongoing controversies, more than a month after Intelligence Committee Democrats released their explosive findings about the C.I.A’s detention and interrogation program, signal just how much all sides are still positioning to control the history of one of America’s most polarizing recent episodes. The latest actions show that Republicans and the CIA are still fighting to challenge the conclusions of a report they consider to be a partisan smear.
The internal CIA review ordered by Mr. Panetta was an attempt by the agency to better understand millions of documents that the CIA was handing over to the committee as it began its investigation into the Bush-era detention program.
The result of the internal review, led by Peter Clement, who at the time was the agency’s deputy director of intelligence for analytic programs, was a series of memos on what the documents revealed about the internal workings of the program.
One of the report’s findings, according to people who have seen the document, was that the CIA repeatedly claimed that important intelligence to thwart terror plots and track down Qaeda operatives had come from the interrogation sessions of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed when, in fact, the intelligence had other origins.
The CIA has long maintained that the interrogation of Mr. Mohammed, a chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, was central to disrupting a number of terror plots, including Qaeda plans to attack the West Coast. Mr. Mohammed was one of the CIA detainees subjected to the most brutal interrogation methods, including waterboarding.
According to a briefing that the CIA inspector general, David B. Buckley, gave to the congressional staff members in December, a CIA employee who had worked on the Panetta Review complained in 2010 that the agency had never corrected public statements about what was or was not obtained from torture sessions.
The identity of the CIA employee is not publicly known, and it is unclear whether she protested to other agency officials.
The Panetta Review played a central role in another of Mr. Buckley’s investigations. Last year, he admonished five CIA employees for their role in accessing a computer network used by Senate staff members working on the detention report — an action they carried out to determine how the staff members had gained access to the internal review.
A recent CIA accountability panel essentially overturned his findings, recommending that the five employees not be punished. Mr. Buckley is planning to leave the CIA at the end of the month to “pursue an opportunity in the private sector,” according to an agency news release.
Since the fight over the Panetta Review erupted last year, the CIA has said it was not required to give the document to the Intelligence Committee.
In a court filing last month as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, a CIA officer said that the review had been stopped abruptly in 2010, had not covered all of the documents the agency had given to the committee and “had not been formally reviewed or relied upon by the CIA’s senior leadership.”
“Each document is stamped â€˜DELIBERATIVE PROCESS PRIVILEGED DOCUMENT’ at the top of every page, and most of the documents are marked â€˜DRAFT’ on every page as well,” wrote the CIA officer, Martha M. Lutz.
Ryan Trapani, a CIA spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday that the agency’s June 2013 response to the Intelligence Committee’s report was “the only official, reviewed, confirmed and approved position on these issues by the agency.”
Mr. Burr’s unusual letter to Mr. Obama might have been written with an eye toward future Freedom of Information Act lawsuits. Congress is not subject to such requests, and any success he has in getting the Obama administration to return all copies of the Senate report to the Intelligence Committee could hinder attempts to someday have the report declassified and released publicly.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Burr did not return a request seeking comment on the letter. A White House spokesman declined to comment on how the Obama administration planned to respond.
Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists project on government secrecy, said he could recall no analogous case of the Senate’s trying to get the executive branch to return a document.
He said Mr. Burr was within his rights to ask for the report back. “But if Senator Burr thinks he can erase the report from the historical record, he is likely to be mistaken,” Mr. Aftergood said.
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