April 5, 2014–Predictably the Senate intelligence committee has voted to release its report–or at least the executive summary thereof. But Congress is still doing the administration favors. Rather than simply put out the document, the legislators are referring it to the White House, where President Obama’s minions can delay the report even more and John Brennan’s CIA will have yet another shot at spiking it, making their case to the president that it should not see the light of day. The Senate should simply release the investigative report of its intelligence committee on its own authority.
I want to comment on the executive’s use of secrecy rules in connection with this scandal. In his March 21 message to CIA employees, Director John Brennan wrote, “I expect the Committee will submit at least some portion of the report to the CIA for classification review,” and adverted the agency would conduct that review “expeditiously.”
Where I work that promise would be taken as a joke. The National Security Archive deals with the CIA on the release of secret documents on a regular basis–and we almost never get a decision on a document in less than two years. Most CIA declassification decisions take longer than that. The notorious Family Jewels, the document at the heart of the 1975 controversy that you’ve read a lot about in this space, was released after a seventeen year fight–and then agency PR flaks took credit for the opening as if it had been their idea and not the result of a Freedom of Information Act request.
Moreover, it’s also necessary to ask what the CIA has been doing with the Senate torture report all along. The intelligence committee handed over that report in December 2012, not just for the CIA’s comments but for its declassification review. The CIA’s comments–significantly delayed beyond the sixty days in which they were to be rendered–went to the Senate intelligence committee last June. There followed a process during which the investigators and the CIA reviewed the report and revisions were made, and that process should have proceeded in tandem with the declassification. Instead Mr. Brennan’s message puts that work in the future–“the entire CIA leadership team is committed to addressing any outstanding questions or requests from SSCI members so that the Committee can complete its work and finalize the report.” Thus for the best part of a year the CIA has done nothing about declassifying the Senate report, hiding behind the excuse that the investigators’ work is not yet “final.”
How to account for this immobilisme? In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations on March 11 Director Brennan declared, “We also owe it to the women and men who basically did their duty in executing this program to try and make sure that any historical record of it is a balanced and accurate one.” In other words the CIA is holding hostage the Senate report until the investigators agree with the agency’s spin on the events.
The CIA is welcome to put out whatever study it wants on the black prisons and torture to accommodate its faithful officers. Or it can declassify–and release– its response document to the Senate report. But the Senate investigative report is not CIA paper and the investigators’ narrative and conclusions are not properly subject to CIA control.
As has been said in this space before, this is not about national security. Nowhere in the regulations that govern secrecy and declassification does it say that documents can be kept secret to ensure that an account is “balanced and accurate.” In fact, Section 1.7 of Executive Order 13562–the secrecy regulation that is in force today–explicitly provides that no information can be kept classified to “conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error,” or to “prevent embarrassment to any person, organization, or agency.”
That is precisely what we have here. I have said before, and I repeat here, that the Senate torture report–in its entirety– should be immediately declassified and made available to the public.