Monday’s front-page Washington Post article about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the Bush administration’s enhanced-interrogation program has received a lot of favorable press coverage despite the fact that it is a remarkably biased piece of journalism that omits many crucial facts.
The leak to the Post about the Intelligence Committee’s classified investigation of the enhanced-interrogation program came three weeks after Senator Dianne Feinstein accused the CIA of spying on Congress. According to Feinstein, the CIA may have engaged in an illegal search by auditing computers in a CIA facility that the Agency had made available to Senate staff for the investigation. The CIA claims committee staff members violated the rules for access to these computers by acquiring a document they were not supposed to have, removing it from the CIA facility, and bringing it back to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s secure office. Feinstein is also angry that the CIA made a referral to the Justice Department over the removal of the document.
The CIA made a second Justice Department referral over the way the committee handled this affair. The committee is conducting its own internal review.
According to the Post, the committee report found that the accomplishments of the enhanced-interrogation program were exaggerated, the program was abused, and CIA and Bush officials misled Congress about the program. But nowhere in the article does it state the fact that this is a partisan Democratic report. The committee’s Republican members withdrew their support for this investigation years ago. The committee’s Republican staff had nothing to do with the report.
Congressional Democrats have long opposed the enhanced-interrogation program, asserted that it was abused, claimed that it was ineffective, and accused Bush officials of lying about the program. Why is it news that a Democratic report has condemned this program again?
There are other important issues about the Senate report that the Post ignored.
First, the findings of this classified report clearly were leaked to the Post by persons connected with the Senate Intelligence Committee ahead of the declassification of its key judgments. Based on the detailed and partisan description of the report, it appears that the Post’s reporters got most of their information from committee members and/or staff. The article itself says the leaks came from “current and former U.S. officials.” In my experience, such source identifiers in a piece like this are code for Intelligence Committee members and staff.
The Senate Intelligence Committee undermined the trust that intelligence agencies had accorded it when its staff broke the rules on access to CIA computers made available for their investigation. This leak of the report’s classified findings will further undermine the committee’s trustworthiness and make U.S. intelligence officials more reluctant to share classified information with Congress. It is imperative that Senator Feinstein investigate whether this leak came from her committee to prevent this incident from further undermining the committee’s ability to conduct intelligence oversight.
Second, the Post article did not question why Senate Democrats in 2014 are still investigating the Bush administration. The House Intelligence Committee’s Democratic members completed their investigation of this issue by the end of 2010. Doesn’t the Senate Intelligence Committee have more pressing national-security issues to investigate? Actually it does, but the Post article also fails to mention that committee hearings on Syria and Iran were canceled recently because of partisan infighting over the enhanced-interrogation investigation.
Third, while the Post has reported recent demands by House Democrats to halt investigations of the September 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi because of their high costs, the new Post article failed to mention that the Senate Intelligence Committee’s five-year investigation and 4,200-page report on the enhanced-interrogation program has cost an estimated $50 million.
I therefore believe the Post missed the most newsworthy aspect of this story: that Senate Democrats spent $50 million on a partisan report with predictable conclusions about a Bush-administration program that President Obama shut down in January 2009.
Fourth, the Post article cited some criticisms of this report but failed to mention its major flaw: The report apparently is solely based on an examination of documents — its Democratic staff authors failed to interview any of the CIA players involved. Former CIA general counsel John Rizzo made this point in a USA Today op-ed last week. He noted that the committee failed to interview him despite his deep involvement in the enhanced-interrogation program.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden said that as late as 2006, fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of al-Qaeda came from harsh interrogations. Why did the committee staff not talk with Hayden and other U.S. officials who defended the enhanced-interrogation program? How can anyone take this investigation seriously when the key players were not interviewed?
A subhead in the Post article said: “Senate investigation likely to reignite public debate.” The Washington Post is trying to make sure this happens by publishing such a misleading and one-sided article.
— Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst and House Intelligence Committee staff member, is a senior fellow with the Center for Security Policy and chief analyst with LIGNET.com.