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Senate, CIA clash over redactions in interrogation report

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has objected to the CIA and White House stripping certain materials from a report on the CIA’s interrogation of terrorism suspects. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The planned release of a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the CIA’s interrogation of terrorism suspects has broken down in a dispute between the committee and the Obama administration over how much of the document can be declassified.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D­Calif.), chairman of the committee, said Tuesday that she had written a letter to President Obama raising objections to material that was stripped from the report by the CIA and the White House.

“I have concluded the redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions,” Feinstein said in a statement. “Until these redactions are addressed to the committee’s satisfaction, the report will not be made public.”

The committee did not release a copy of Feinstein’s letter, and officials declined to discuss details of the dispute. But U.S. officials familiar with the discussions said the disagreement centers on descriptions of CIA officers and detainees throughout the document, as well as material used by the committee to bolster its key conclusions.

Among them was that the CIA exaggerated the significance of intelligence derived from detainees, including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-declared mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, and repeatedly relied on distorted claims to defend and justify the use of harsh interrogation measures.

U.S. officials familiar with the redacted document said the administration stripped out material that showed that pieces of information long attributed to detainees — and that led to the disruption of terrorism plots or the capture of additional suspects — had actually come from other intelligence sources such as intercepted communications.

“The redactions obscure or prevent the report from sharing other forms of information that contributed to counterterrorism successes,” said a U.S. official involved in discussions over the document.

The committee used CIA-provided pseudonyms to protect the identities of agency personnel, but the agency removed references to those false identities. The CIA also objected to other details that it said could enable readers to identify its officers as well as countries that cooperated in the detention program.

An official familiar with the redactions said the amount of detail associated with the pseudonyms could jeopardize CIA officers’ safety. “A pseudonym itself is little protection from exposure when a host of other information about that officer is made available to the public and will likely be seen by adversaries and foreign intelligence services,” the official said.

Although the report was drafted by the Intelligence Committee, much of the material it contains is classified, putting the administration in the position of determining how much should be declassified and released to the public.

The committee plans to release only a 480-page executive summary — as well as dissenting views from some Republicans — of a full report, which tops 6,000 pages.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said the administration redacted only 15 percent of the report’s text. But committee members said the cuts are enough to undermine the report.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said that although the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., “may be technically correct that the document has been 85 percent declassified, it is also true that strategically placed redactions can make a narrative incomprehensible.”

U.S. officials said the dispute over the redactions could take weeks to resolve. The extended battle over the report has frayed nerves on both sides. A former senior CIA official noted that the committee’s investigation, underway since 2009, has dragged on “longer than the CIA held detainees.”

The agency took custody of its first prisoner, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, better known as Abu Zubaida, in 2002, and then closed its secret overseas prisons in 2006, moving 14 detainees to the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Greg Miller covers intelligence agencies and terrorism for The Washington Post.



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