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Intel Official Explains Graham’s Torture Briefing Charges (f/ Leon Panetta)

I keep trying to get confirmation of what former Sen. Bob Graham has been been saying about the CIA keeping erroneous records of what it told Congress in 2002 about "enhanced interrogation" techniques. A U.S. intelligence official familiar with the briefings — and who requested that attribution — explained Graham’s charges like this:

The Agency conducted a thorough and conservative review of its files, and we were in close contact with Senator Graham as we did so. What we told Sen. Graham was that our records show he was briefed once on enhanced interrogation techniques in September 2002. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t briefed on other occasions on detainee interrogations. The briefing chart provided to Congress last week focused solely on briefings during which enhanced interrogation techniques were discussed–not on other briefings related to the interrogation program.

According to this explanation, Graham is confused about what the CIA actually was telling him about what they had briefed him on. Apparently, according to this official, there have briefings for him and others about other aspects of interrogations that didn’t involve discussing "enhanced interrogation" techniques. Graham, though, has said he has no documentation for three briefings that CIA told him it held for him in 2002 — two in April and one of September.

Additionally, Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, sent out the following message to CIA employees earlier this afternoon, the first such message after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused the agency of "misleading" Congress about what it told intelligence overseers on torture in 2002 and 2003. It’s called "Turning Down The Volume." Text after the jump.

There is a long tradition in Washington of making political hay out of our business. It predates my service with this great institution, and it will be around long after I’m gone. But the political debates about interrogation reached a new decibel level yesterday when the CIA was accused of misleading Congress.

Let me be clear: It is not our policy or practice to mislead Congress. That is against our laws and our values. As the Agency indicated previously in response to Congressional inquiries, our contemporaneous records from September 2002 indicate that CIA officers briefed truthfully on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, describing “the enhanced techniques that had been employed.” Ultimately, it is up to Congress to evaluate all the evidence and reach its own conclusions about what happened.

My advice — indeed, my direction — to you is straightforward: ignore the noise and stay focused on your mission. We have too much work to do to be distracted from our job of protecting this country.

We are an Agency of high integrity, professionalism, and dedication. Our task is to tell it like it is—even if that’s not what people always want to hear. Keep it up. Our national security depends on it.

In other words, don’t pay attention to Pelosi; don’t mislead Congress; and get — that — dirt off your shoulder. Notice Panetta is saying that CIA briefed "truthfully" in 2002 on what interrogation techniques "had been employed" on Abu Zubaydah but it’s still "up to Congress" about whether those briefings were, in fact, truthful. If Congress determines such briefings were untruthful, though, will Panetta accept criminal penalties for an act that would violate "our laws and our values"?

Crossposted to The Streak.

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Spencer Ackerman

Spencer Ackerman

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