The new Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded that the Obama administration return copies of the Senate panel’s recently completed report on the CIA’s brutal interrogations of terrorism suspects, a move apparently aimed at keeping the full version of the report from being released to the public, U.S. officials said.
Sen. Richard Burr (N.C.), who became chairman of the committee this month, sent a letter to President Obama last week asking “that all copies of the full and final report in the possession of the executive branch be returned immediately,” according to officials familiar with the text.
The letter marks the latest twist in the committee’s six-year investigation of the CIA’s use of torture after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a probe that was carried out exclusively by Democrats on the panel after GOP members withdrew from the project.
A declassified overview of the committee's findings was released last month, revealing new allegations of abuse in the CIA program and accusing the agency of systematically exaggerating the effectiveness of methods others denounced as torture.
Burr’s letter, however, is focused on the still-classified version the report, a document that spans more than 6,900 pages and contains details about CIA operatives and its secret prison program that were stripped from the publicly released file.
Burr’s request puts the White House in an awkward political position. Obama has called the agency’s interrogation methods torture and ordered the program dismantled shortly after taking office. But since taking office, he has also faced pressure to defend an agency he has relied on heavily in counterterrorism efforts, and the White House sparred repeatedly with the committee over how much of the report should be released.
The full-length version was delivered by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the former chairman of the committee, to the White House, CIA, FBI and other agencies last month.
The transfer not only increased the number of copies in circulation in Washington but also raised the prospect that at least portions of the report might someday be released to the public through Freedom of Information Act requests or other means. Although executive branch agencies are obligated to respond to such requests, Congress is less susceptible to such disclosure requirements.
In his letter to Obama, Burr said that he considered the report "to be highly classified and a committee sensitive document." and insisted that it "should not be entered into any executive branch system of records."
His spokeswoman did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
Burr has been sharply critical of the committee's report, despite voting in favor of its release. He signed on to two dissenting views submitted by Republican members of the panel, including one that described the investigation as full of "problematic claims and conclusions" that "create the false impression that the CIA was actively misleading policy makers."