John Brennan, Dianne Feinstein, and the Soon-to-be-Released (?) Torture Report
CIA Director John “We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Overseers” Brennan and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (i.e., the aforementioned “Stinkin’ Overseers”) have been having a nasty little spat, revolving around both the CIA’s use of torture as an interrogation technique, and also the CIA’s spying on SSCI staffers who are trying to investigate and report on the CIA’s use of torture as an interrogation technique. The roughly 6800 page report has been completed for quite a while, but the administration and SSCI have been arguing since April over what must be redacted before an unclassified executive summary can be released.
The latest meeting between Brennan and SSCI took place behind closed doors on Tuesday (more on this below), and two days later, on Thursday, SSCI chair Dianne Feinstein came out and said her committee is almost done and the torture report will be out soon:
The head of the Senate Intelligence Committee is confident that her panel’s declassified review of the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” will be out by the end of the month.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told reporters on Thursday that the panel is working with the Obama administration to finalize which of a series of controversial redactions that officials made will stay and what information can be made public. . .
The so-called “torture report” is an unclassified summary of the committee’s 6,800-page analysis of the detention and interrogation methods used by the CIA under President George W. Bush. It is expected to detail harsh and brutal methods that were more widespread and less effective than the public has been led to believe.
Wow — a meeting on Tuesday between Brennan and SSCI, and on Thursday it sounds like everything’s peachy. That must have been quite a meeting, given how hard the two sides have been fighting over the past year.
It certainly was, but not in a good way:
Tensions between the CIA and its congressional overseers erupted anew this week when CIA Director John Brennan refused to tell lawmakers who authorized intrusions into computers used by the Senate Intelligence Committee to compile a damning report on the spy agency’s interrogation program.
The confrontation, which took place during a closed-door meeting on Tuesday, came as the sides continue to spar over the report’s public release, providing further proof of the unprecedented deterioration in relations between the CIA and Capitol Hill.
After the meeting, several senators were so incensed at Brennan that they confirmed the row and all but accused the nation’s top spy of defying Congress.
“I’m concerned there’s disrespect towards the Congress,” Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who also serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told McClatchy. “I think it’s arrogant, I think it’s unacceptable.”
I’m intrigued by the timeline on this. The meeting was on Tuesday, but McClatchy’s report on it didn’t come out until yesterday — the day after DiFi’s confident statement that the torture report would be out shortly. There are two possible ways that you can read this. . .
(A) Feinstein’s comments were a signal that SSCI is tired of waiting, tired of being lied to, tired of being spied on, and tired of being treated like dirt, so they are finally growing a spine and are ready to defy Brennan et al. and put out the report they want to put out, and all the anger at Brennan in yesterday’s report on the Tuesday meeting was put out in public to lay the groundwork for the release. In this scenario, Brennan’s intransigence on Tuesday was partly fueled by realizing that he wasn’t going to win the fight over the redacted version of the summary, and he had nothing more to gain by trying to be seen as cooperating. Feinstein’s Thursday comments then are a bookend to her public comments last April in response to Michael Hayden’s insults. “We’re done trying to negotiate — it’s coming out.”
(B) Feinstein’s comments were yet another edition of her usual “I’m sure we can work this out soon,” signalling that she was ready to cave to the CIA’s demands and redact more of what the SSCI wanted to release, in order to calm John Brennan down, keep the intelligence community happy, and get some watered-down, limited version of the report off her desk and out in public. In horror and disgust, other SSCI members began talking in great detail (and at least some of them on the record) to reporters about the Tuesday meeting, to try to stiffen Feinstein’s spine and get her to hold firm.
So which is it: Option A or Option B?
I’d like to believe this sequence of events points toward Option A, but I’ve watched Feinstein for too long to underestimate her willingness to cave to the people she is supposed to be overseeing. As Marcy Wheeler noted in a “Hate to Tell SSCI I Told Them So” piece on the McClatchy story, Brennan has been lying to SSCI for a long time, and even when his lies were known, they went ahead and confirmed him to head the CIA anyway.
But before we pick between Option A and Option B, there’s one more wrinkle to this discussion. It appeared as a little throwaway line in the account of Feinstein’s comments on Thursday:
“We might be able to get it done in a week or so,” Feinstein said. “It will take time to make all the changes, so it’ll probably take another week” until the document is publicly released.
It would certainly be out before the midterm elections on Nov. 4, she added.
That, my friends, is a threat. While it is the democratic Obama administration that has been fighting with SSCI over executive privilege, the underlying conduct being investigated is that of the republican administration of George W. Bush. Feinstein is bluntly saying “torture *will* be in the public discussion, right before the midterms.” It’s not clear from the story whether the reference to the midterms was in response to a question about the midterms from a reporter, or if Feinstein raised it herself without prompting, but either way, that’s not good news for John Brennan and those he’s trying to protect from public scrutiny.
There’s never a good time to have your agency’s very very dirty laundry brought out in public, but some times are much worse than others. Right before an election is one of those times, as those who are opposed to what your agency has done will be sure to give it the most publicity they can when they are out on the campaign trail, when all the cameras are on them and the microphones are live.
So where are we on this — Option A or Option B?
I feel like Charlie Brown running toward Lucy to kick a football here, but I’ll go ahead and say it: I’m going with Option A.
On the other hand, I’m not so blindly optimistic to think that this will come to pass any time soon.
h/t to Joe Loong for the image of the “Lucy Pulling the Football Away” mural at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA, and used (lightly cropped) under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.o Generic license. The museum is a great place, and well worth visiting.