CIA Director John Brennan on Monday rebutted two of the central premises of the just-released Senate report on the agency’s former practice of interrogating suspected terrorists in secret, saying the controversial program produced evidence that helped avert potential strikes against the U.S. and that agency officials did not intentionally mislead Congress about its tactics.
“Our review indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom [enhanced interrogation techniques] were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives,” Brennan said in the statement. “The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qa’ida and continues to inform our counterterrorism efforts to this day.”
As evidence of how the program contributed to the government’s broader effort to fight terrorism, a CIA fact sheet released along with Brennan’s statement cited the case of Ammar al-Baluchi, who was subjected to the severe tactics and was the first detainee to reveal that Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti worked as a courier to convey messages for Osama bin Laden after the late al-Qaeda leader left Afghanistan.
The fact sheet stated that the agency “takes no position” on whether the intelligence information gained through its enhanced interrogation techniques “could have been obtained through other means or from other individuals. The answer to this question is, and will remain, unknowable.”
Six Republican members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released their own minority report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs, condemning Democrats for costing the government $40 million and diverting “countless CIA analytic and support resources” while failing to offer improved intelligence interrogation tactics.
They said that the Democratic majority’s report had “political considerations” and created “the false impression that the CIA was actively misleading policy makers and impeding the counterterrorism efforts of other federal agencies.”
The GOP dissent said that committee Democrats ignored the CIA’s response and had failed to interview some key intelligence officials.
Brennan made a similar critique, challenging how the report characterized the way the CIA briefed Congress, the executive branch and the public on its interrogation activities.
“While we made mistakes, the record does not support the Study’s inference that the Agency systematically and intentionally misled each of these audiences on the effectiveness of the program,” he said. “As noted in the Minority views and in a number of additional views of Members, no interviews were conducted of any CIA officers involved in the program, which would have provided Members with valuable context and perspective surrounding these events.”
Senate Democrats have said they chose not to interview agency officers who worked on the program to ensure that the inquiry did not hamper a separate Justice Department probe.
Brennan did acknowledge in his statement, however, that “the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the Agency made mistakes,” adding that “the most serious problems occurred early on” because the CIA was not fully prepared to carry out such a massive initiative.
“In carrying out that program, we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us,” he said. “As an Agency, we have learned from those mistakes, which is why my predecessors and I have implemented various remedial measures over the years to address institutional deficiencies.”
Steven Mufson contributed to this report.