Senate Democrats fire once again on the CIA

A new report by the Senate Intelligence Committee accuses the CIA of all manner of misconduct during the perilous post-9/11 period in which that Agency helped America combat al Qaeda and prevent additional deadly attacks. The Committee’s core conclusion, according to the Washington Post, is that “the CIA misled the government and the public about aspects of its brutal interrogation program for years.”

Specifically, the CIA is said to have concealed details about the severity of its methods, overstated the significance of plots and prisoners, and taken credit for critical pieces of intelligence that detainees had in fact surrendered before they were subjected to harsh techniques. The Post does not say how widespread these alleged abuses were.

I hope to have more to say about the report. At present, however, the document is classified and thus not subject to scrutiny. Our only information about its contents comes from self-serving statements provided to the Post.

It’s clear enough, though, that the report should be viewed mainly as a political document — the latest salvo in a war between the CIA and Senate Democrats. That war stems from the fact that leading congressional Democrats who were briefed on what the CIA was doing to fight terrorism signed off more or less unquestioningly. But later, when the political climate changed, these politicians tried to claim ignorance. The CIA, understandably, was unwilling to let them off the hook.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report should be viewed secondarily as the product of a clash between the FBI and the CIA. According to the Post, one of the report’s principal authors is a former FBI analyst.

The FBI took a more traditional law enforcement view of how to deal with terrorists. It has a strong institutional interest in defending its approach and in minimizing the extent to which the CIA’s approach produced valuable intelligence. The report is a vehicle through which the FBI, in collaboration with Senate Democrats, can do so.

I don’t mean to say that the report is flawed. Not having seen the document, I have no basis for opining on its merits.

My claim is simply that at this juncture, there is little reason to credit its conclusions or to take it very seriously. The same would be true, for basically the same reasons, if the CIA wrote a report on these matters.

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