Yesterday's confirmation hearing for Caroline Krass, President Obama's nominee to serve as the CIA's general counsel, quickly turned into an argument over the declassification of documents detailing the agency's controversial post-9/11 interrogation techniques.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, which presided over the closed hearing, last year finalized a draft of a 6,300 page report on the CIA's problematic counterterrorism program, but the spy agency has prevented it from going public. According to the CIA, the report — which took three years to complete and cost $40 million — contains factual inaccuracies. So many, in fact, that the CIA wrote a 122-page rebuttal outlining the errors.
Foreign Policy reports that sources who had access to the document can shed some light on what, exactly, the two sides are fighting over:
Officials who are familiar with the report's conclusions say that it offers detailed examples of how subjecting prisoners to harsh interrogations, including what human rights groups and others call torture, may have been counterproductive, and that the techniques didn't produce any leads that helped the CIA find Osama bin Laden, as some current and former CIA officials claim. [Committee chairwoman Senator Dianne] Feinstein said in a statement last year that the CIA had made "terrible mistakes" by interrogating suspects in secret prisons, and that the report "will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should every employ coercive interrogation techniques." Chambliss, the intelligence committee's top Republican, has said the report contains "omissions about the history and utility of the CIA's detention program."
Senator Mark Udall further complicated the debate when he revealed during the hearing that the CIA has conducted its own, secret internal analysis. The previously undisclosed report's conclusions, he says, align with the Senate Committee's and contradict the agency's rebuttal:
It appears that this review ... is consistent with the Intelligence Committee's report, but, amazingly, it conflicts with the official CIA response to the committee's report... If this is true, it raises fundamental questions about why a review the CIA conducted internally years ago and never provided to the committee is so different from the CIA's formal written response to the committee's study.
Udall demanded that the report's findings be made public, and threatened to hold Krass's nomination until they are. Krass, for her part, appeared to uphold the CIA's commitment to secrecy. According to Politico, she deflected Feinstein's requests for more Office of Legal Council transparency moving forward, with the familiar argument that lawyers need full confidentiality when talking to their clients.
Krass responded initially by saying she was committed to making sure senators on the panel understood the legal framework CIA is working in, but she stopped short of committing to share the written opinions... "The OLC opinions represent predecisional, confidential legal advice that’s been provided. Protecting confidentiality of that legal advice preserves space for their to be a full and frank discussion among clients, policymakers and their lawyers within the executive branch and really furthers the rule of law and allows for effective functioning of the executive branch," Krass said.
The hearing comes at a time when the government's clandestine post-9/11 behaviors are the subject of national discussion, thanks to former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden's leak of millions of documents exposing the agency's dragnet surveillance program. A D.C. district court recently found the project, justified as a counterterrorism effort, to be likely unconstitutional and all three branches of government are now clamoring for stricter NSA oversight. Additionally, pre-trial 9/11 hearings have been underway for months behind closed doors, giving some defendants a sliver of opportunity to discuss their treatment at Guantanamo Bay, possibly delivering another blow to the CIA over torture allegations.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.