By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Leon E. Panetta, President Obama's choice to be CIA director, told Congress yesterday that he would investigate assertions by the current agency leadership that harsh interrogation tactics used on terrorism suspects, such as waterboarding, led to useful information.
Appearing for a second day of questioning by members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Panetta was pressed by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) to carry out an inquiry on "whether those tactics yielded valuable information or misinformation."
Levin also wanted to know whether the damage done by public knowledge of those tactics counterbalanced the intelligence gained. The senator, who chairs the Armed Services Committee, said that some high-ranking U.S. military officers have asserted that what went on at the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay prisons became a "cause of U.S. combat deaths because they helped to recruit people to come to war to attack us."
Panetta said that any review of the interrogation techniques "has to consider the downside, and you have just pointed out part of that downside."
Responding to questions about contracting out interrogations, Panetta reiterated a pledge made earlier that CIA professionals would carry out interrogations of terrorism suspects and that contractors would be used only when "we have to rely on a particular ability," such as a special language. Even then, he said, it would be done under clear supervision of the CIA, adding: "I think we ought to inform this committee if, in fact, we need to do that."
Panetta said that he thinks the Pentagon is undertaking covert actions in gathering information about potential battlefields and that those activities should be coordinated with the CIA and probably reported to congressional intelligence committees. Currently, such actions are occasionally reported to the Armed Services Committee, he said.
"There are clearly covert actions that are being taken that have to be coordinated," Panetta told the committee, adding he has talked to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates about doing so.
When asked whether he was prepared to give Obama intelligence he may not want to hear, Panetta, a White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, conceded that in the Oval Office, "the tendency is not to confront the president" but rather to tell him "what he likes to hear because you don't want to offend him." He said, however, that the role of the CIA is to present the best intelligence, though "it may often conflict with what the president wants to do. . . . But the purpose of the CIA is to present that kind of information."