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Guest Host: Susan Page
In 2009, President Barack Obama ended the Central Intelligence Agency’s controversial program of interrogation and detention of 9/11 terror suspects. In that same year, the Senate voted to begin a lengthy investigation of the program with the goal of issuing a report to the American public. On Tuesday, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee took to the floor of the Senate and accused the CIA of secretly removing documents and searching Senate staff computers in an effort to undermine the investigation. The CIA director denied the allegations, insisting the agency had done nothing wrong. New debate over congressional oversight of clandestine operations.
- Siobhan Gorman Intelligence correspondent, The Wall Street Journal.
- John Rizzo Senior counsel, Steptoe & Johnson's National and Homeland Security practice and former Chief Legal Officer, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
- David Corn Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, recipient of the 2012 George Polk Award for Political Reporting and author of "47 Percent: Uncovering the Romney Video That Rocked the 2012 Election."
- Martin Heinrich Democratic Senator from New Mexico and member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on vacation. On Tuesday, Senate Intelligence Committee chair, Diane Feinstein took the floor of the Senate. She accused the CIA of undermining the committee's investigation of the agency's 9/11 interrogation and detention program. CIA director John Brennan denied those charges and said the agency was fully cooperating with the committee.
MS. SUSAN PAGENow, the Justice Department is investigating allegations of criminal activity by both sides. Joining me to discuss the controversy and what it means for a future oversight of top secret operations, former CIA official John Rizzo of Steptoe & Johnson, Siobahn Gorman of The Wall Street Journal and David Jones of Mother Jones magazine. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. JOHN RIZZOGood morning.
PAGEWe'll invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll free number. It's 1-800-433-8850. Send us a email at email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. But first, joining us from his office on Capitol Hill, Senator Martin Heinrich, democratic senator from New Mexico and a member of the Senate select committee intelligence. Senator, welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
SEN. MARTIN HEINRICHThank you so much for having me and thank you for covering this issue.
PAGEAnd as a member of the Intelligence Committee, what did you think about those remarkable statements that Sen. Feinstein made on the senate floor Tuesday? Do you agree with what she was saying?
HEINRICHWell, I think it was really important for her to do what she did and sort of set the factual record straight so we could have a conversation about some of the constitutional principles involved here, particularly the separation of powers and I very appreciate at the beginning of this show, you reminded listeners that this goes back to not just the recent revelations and the back and forth between the committee and that CIA, but this is really about this detention and interrogation report.
HEINRICHIt has been incredibly difficult to get that report out. It's been slow-walked for years. And I think that is going to be a very important piece of our history and we're going to make sure that that comes out as quickly as possible. And finally, I'd just say, you know, that the Senate Intelligence Committee's job is to oversee the CIA, not the other way around.
HEINRICHAnd, you know, the things that Sen. Feinstein outlined in her statement, which I believe to be factual, have caused some of us, myself included, to really lose confidence in Director Brennan.
PAGENow, you voted to confirm John Brennan in 2013. Do you regret that vote now?
HEINRICHI think it was a mistake.
PAGEDo you think other...
HEINRICHAnd I don't take that statement lightly.
PAGEDo you think other senators who voted for his confirmation would agree with you, that it was a mistake to confirm him for that post?
HEINRICHI don't want to speak for my colleagues, but I think there is real concern over a relationship that Director Brennan stated he understood that there was a great deal of mending that needed to be done to make that relationship work to the best of both the CIA and the Intelligence Committee. And unfortunately, the chasm has done nothing but widen under his leadership.
PAGENow, we heard President Obama yesterday back up John Brennan basically in brief comments that he made about this controversy. Does he bear some of the responsibility as well?
HEINRICHWell, I think the executive is always responsible for their cabinet secretaries and their appointees, but I think, you know, the relationship that I've had with this administration has been incredibly positive with a few very specific exceptions. And the relationship with Director Brennan is the most obvious and difficult exception.
PAGENow, why do you think the CIA's making such an effort to prevent the contents of this document that's in question, the so-called Panetta review document, from being revealed?
HEINRICHWell, I think it's really important that we put a very dark period in our history behind us. And unfortunately, this report will probably open up some old wounds and certainly looks very closely at the agency's role in all of that. But I think it's going to be critical for us to be able to learn from our past mistakes and to be able to put some of those things behind us.
HEINRICHYou know, I'm one that believes that some of these methods equate to torture and we need to understand where they effective, were they not effective. There's been a lot of misinformation in my view out there on some of those issues and this report will help put this, hopefully, put this era in our history behind us.
PAGEIs the Senate Intelligence Committee determined to release this report publically, including references to the Panetta report?
HEINRICHI can't say what's in or out of the report. I am absolutely committed to seeing this report declassified and shared with the public so that the public can make their own determinations based on the facts. And I think that you saw from Senator -- Chairman Feinstein's statement on the floor that she is also very committed to that.
HEINRICHThat makes me optimistic that it will happen. Certainly, the current back and forth has, once again, slowed that process down. But I think I don't see any putting the genie back in the bottle on this one. I certainly hope not.
PAGEAnd Senator, just one last question. The CIA says it didn't do anything wrong. It's asked the Justice Department to investigate your committee. We hear Sen. Feinstein says she thought that was an effort at intimidation. Is that how you view it?
HEINRICHI think it's, once again, sort of an effort to muddy the waters here. There's certainly no moral equivalency between, you know, potentially breaking a rule or an agreement and on the other side violations of executive orders, statute and ignoring the Constitution. I think what's most important, once again, and I'm comfortable with a very thorough review of all the facts, I think that's critical if we're going to get to the bottom of this.
HEINRICHBut once again, I think we need to return to fact that at the end of the day, we're going to fight to make sure that this report comes out because that's what all of this relates back to.
PAGESenator, thanks so much for joining us on "The Diane Rehm Show."
HEINRICHThank you for having me.
PAGEThat was Sen. Martin Heinrich, Democratic senator from New Mexico, a member of the Senate select committee on intelligence speaking to us from his office on Capitol Hill. Siobhan Gorman, I was surprised to hear the senator say that he regretted his vote to confirm John Brennan. It was a mistake. Did that strike you?
MS. SIOBHAN GORMANThat certainly struck me. That was a very jarring statement to hear and it was -- it served as a reminder of how contentious, actually, Mr. Brennan's confirmation process really was. In that process, actually, the interrogation report had just been approved by the Senate committee, I think it was a month or two prior, and it did certainly factor into a lot of the discussions around the hearing.
MS. SIOBHAN GORMANBut actually at that time, people were more interested in the legal opinions authorizing the drone program. So this was sort of a secondary issue in that whole confirmation process, but it was an issue that came up during the hearing.
PAGEAnd as a reporter who covers this area, are there implications for John Brennan if senators on this oversight committee say it was a mistake, that he shouldn't be in the job?
GORMANCertainly if you have Democratic senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee saying that they've lost confidence in the appointee of a democratic president, that is a problem. I mean, I don't know if other senators on the committee feel the same way, but that would obviously have major implications, at the very least for the oversight process and certainly it could be more complicated than that.
PAGEJohn Rizzo, you're the former chief legal officer at the CIA. What did you make of the senator's comments?
RIZZOWell, I spent over 34 years as a CIA lawyer and, frankly, it is not unusual in my long experience for individual senators, depending on what the controversy is, to call for the resignation of a sitting CIA director or saying they regretted a vote for a CIA director. You know, ultimately, the CIA director's major patron, above all others, is the president.
RIZZOAs long as the president retains his confidence in John Brennan, I think he'll be safe.
PAGEWell, do you think this is just a run-of-the-mill controversy between the Hill and the CIA or is this something more serious?
RIZZOWell, I think honestly -- I think both sides have sort of blown this out of proportion, throwing around words like criminal acts and referrals to justice. You know, I don't think it's useful and is feckless, really. What this has boiled down to is a dispute between the committee of Congress and the CIA about access to documents.
RIZZODuring my career, there must have been the middle of hundreds of such disputes. This one, for whatever reason, has sort of gotten out of control.
PAGEDavid Corn, you've written about this in Mother Jones. You see this as a much more serious dispute.
MR. DAVID CORNYeah, I think there's, you know, I think in some ways, not to be overdramatic, it's a constitutional crisis in the sense that if you take a step back, we live in an open democratic society. Our constitutional bedrock principle is checks and balances. The only reason we allow people like John's former colleagues to do secret activity for national security reasons is because they're held accountable by members of the legislative branch.
MR. DAVID CORNIf you can't have effective oversight, then you lose the justification for behaving or conducting secret operations in an open democratic system. So I think what we've seen now is a close to near breakdown of oversight. And even Diane Feinstein, at the end of her 40 minute, said that she didn't know if they could have effective oversight if you this is what it boils down to, each side accusing the other of stealing documents or breaking the law.
MR. DAVID CORNSo I think it's really a fundamental matter here, which we need some presidential leaderships and we can talk about this later, perhaps. It all really began because the committee felt it had been lied to by the CIA about the interrogation program. So if they're being lied to, that's not effective oversight either.
PAGEWe're gonna take a short break. When we get back, we're gonna talk about the origins of this dispute, as David Corn was just referring to. We're also going to take your calls. Our phone lines are now open, 1-800-433-8850 or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're talking in the studio with John Rizzo. He's a former chief legal officer at the CIA. He's the author of a new book. It's titled "Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA." That presumably prepared him for the controversy we find ourselves enmeshed in today.
PAGEAlso with us, Siobhan Gorman, intelligence correspondent at the Wall Street Journal, and David Corn, he's Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones Magazine. He's the author of "Showdown." David, before the break you were referring to some of the historical origins in this dispute we find ourselves in. Remind us just briefly of how we got to this place.
CORNThis is how Diane Feinstein described it the other day in her speech. The interrogation and detention program began in 2002 and went on for about four years before the intelligence committee was fully briefed on it. The chair and the vice-chair knew about it but the other members didn't. And they were briefed on it right before President Bush was about to make it public. After that happened, a year later, something that John was involved in, we learned that videotapes of some of these early interrogations had been destroyed against the White House advice.
CORNAnd at that point the intelligence committee said, okay we're upset about this. And Director Michael Hayden at the CIA said, oh don't worry about the videotapes. We have lots and lots of cables and documents that cover what went on. And, if you want to, you can look at them. Well, the committee sent two staffers to look through these thousands if not more pages of documents. And they came to the conclusion that the program was -- and I'll use her words -- was far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us.
CORNSo in other words, the committee believed it had been misled by the CIA about the nature of these interrogational torture programs, whatever you want to call them. And at that point they launched this bigger investigation which has led to the imbroglio we have today. But I think this particular charge, and Diane Feinstein, has been lost in a lot of the -- you know, the dustup of the last few days. She's saying that the CIA in essence lied to her about a very important matter for the committee to oversight -- oversee.
PAGEJohn Rizzo, do you think the CIA lied to the oversight committee?
RIZZOWell, I mean, your listeners should keep in mind that I was heavily involved in this program from the beginning to the end so, you know, my remarks are made in that content.
PAGESo you have a lot of authority to assess whether the CIA lied to the committee.
RIZZOYeah, look, I -- obviously I've not seen the report. I assume there are going to be things in there critical about my performance and my decisions. But this notion of the CIA purposely lying to the committee or to the Justice Department about the effectiveness of the program, I mean, honestly, CIA doesn't do that kind of thing. For one thing, you'd never -- you always get found out. Secondly, what's in it for CIA to lie about the program? They didn't have any -- we didn't have any particular desire to continue it any longer than it was effective. So, no, I don't put any credence into the notion intentionally misleading congress.
PAGEJohn Rizzo, are you comfortable with the idea that there is this oversight process, that this report may come out? And, as you say, it could very well be critical of decisions you made, actions you took. Does that seem the right way to proceed to you or does that seem unfair to you as a former CIA official?
RIZZOWell, I mean, I'm, you know, speaking for myself now as a civilian. I believe the report should come out. I've said that publically. You know, the committee, for better or worse, spent three or four years on it, spent, what, 30, $40 million. I think it needs to come out. I think the CIA detailed rebuttal needs to come out. I just think everything needs to get out on the record. Let people judge, let people decide and move on.
PAGEBut it doesn't sound as though everyone at the CIA would agree with you.
RIZZOWell, I don't know. I don't know that -- I don't know how -- we -- I was talking with David before this program. First of all, people have to keep in mind, CIA's not a monolithic organization. Most of the people at CIA now I can tell you had nothing to do with the program. They've hired more people since the program was ended. I don't think there's any monolithic CIA view that this report, you know, cannot come out.
PAGESiobhan, tell us what you think.
GORMANWell, I was actually just going to jump off of the comment about CIA not being a monolithic organization. I think that that's actually a central point the Senate Committee sort of zeroed in on. And that's why they have focused so much on this -- what they're calling the Panetta Review, which as far as I can tell sounds like it was an effort to basically summarize and catalog the documents that were already being sent to the Senate.
GORMANSo that doesn't inherently sound interesting but what sounds interesting about it is apparently the officers who were assigned to do these summaries also provided some of their editorial comments and their views about what it was was in these documents. And it sounds like from the Senators' description that those editorial comments tracked far more with the views of the committee than they did the official response of the CIA, which they delivered to the Senate in June of last year. And so that's why they're so focused on this Panetta Review.
PAGEAnd there's -- one of the issues with the Panetta Review is how exactly it was obtained by the Senate Committee. So tell us about that. What is the dispute over how they got the document?
GORMANWell, the dispute is according to Senator Feinstein, in 2010, as they were conducting this investigation, she said that CIA provided a search tool, sort of the equivalent of Google, for these highly sensitive documents. And she said that during the normal course of their document searches they pulled up this thing that they now call the Panetta Review. CIA does not believe that that is technically possible.
GORMANAnd so when the Senate Committee received the CIA's response last year in June and they thought that there was a conflict between the views in the official CIA response and the Panetta Review, they wanted -- they asked the CIA for a full copy of the Panetta Review. This made the CIA suspicious that the Senate had surreptitiously obtained its own copy already of this review and was just asking for -- to have it officially so -- to kind of cover its tracks so to speak, so that it could raise this as part of their investigation.
GORMANSo they wanted -- they then launched their own sort of review into how this document had been obtained. They looked at what's called audit logs of computer use to determine when and how that document was obtained. They felt from looking at the audit logs that it had been obtained inappropriately. And so that is their...
PAGEInappropriately meaning the Senate staffers did something wrong?
GORMANThey -- yes, that they obtained it in some secret sneaky way that they weren't supposed to do. And so, you know, this was a security breach basically, a network security breach. And, you know, I guess in light of Edward Snowden, everyone's kind of sensitive about that. But -- so after they conducted this review of the audit logs in early January of this year, which is how this whole thing now comes up to the present day, then Director Brennan went to Senator Feinstein and I believe Senator Chambliss who's her Republican counterpart on the committee and said, we think we have a problem here.
GORMANWe think that we have found evidence that someone on your staff inappropriately obtained this document. And what has been muddled, at least in my reporting of this, is exactly how Mr. Brennan characterized what -- how they looked for this document or how they looked for the accessing of this document. Because it appears that Senator Feinstein took away from it, as she said in her speech Tuesday that the CIA conducted a rather broad search of these computers that the Senate was using
GORMANWhen you go back and speak with folks on the CIA side they say, no, no, we just reviewed the audit logs. But there seems to be a lot of confusion about what the CIA actually did before it brought it to the attention of the Senate.
CORNNow, this was not the first time though that Senator Feinstein thought she was being spied on by the people she was trying to monitor. Earlier, at least on two occasions, Brennan had come to her and told her about two occasions when this CIA had gone into the computers, where they had given the documents for the committee's review, and had taken documents back without telling the Senate Committee.
CORNAnd then when they found out at one point they said, oh the White House told us to do this. The Senate Committee asked the White House. The White House said, what are you talking about? We didn't tell them to do that. And it turned out that the CIA on itself. So already Senator Feinstein believed that the CIA was interfering in what seems to be a rather improper way.
CORNAnd if I can just very briefly respond to something that my pal John said in that, you know, he doesn't believe that the CIA would ever lie about the effectiveness of a program. I think any government bureaucracy would have a reason to do that. But in history, we do know Richard Helms, the CIA Director lied about Chili. William Casey -- to the committee, to Congress. William Casey lied to Congress about Iran Contra and Nicaragua and got people like Barry Goldwater and Monahan upset.
CORNSo there is unfortunately a history of the CIA not being honest all the time with the committees, which gets to the heart of whether you can have good oversight.
PAGEAnd, John Rizzo, let me just give you a chance to respond to David's point.
RIZZOOkay. Well, I'm old, but I'm not old enough to have been around with Richard Helms.
CORNNot blaming you, John.
PAGEWhat's the point that the CIA -- does the CIA in fact have a history that would lead senators to be suspicious about whether they're telling the truth?
RIZZOWell, you know, look, there have been occasional scandals and controversies going back in history. I mean, all I know is -- about this program, and I was in the middle of it, I can tell you personally I never consciously misled the congress about the effectiveness or the techniques or anything like that. I know the people who were involved in it. I find it extraordinarily hard to believe they would consciously do something at that -- if there were mistakes made, if there were misjudgments made, that's one thing. But consciously lying I think is a serious charge. I don't think it's justified here.
GORMANOh, I was just going to just sort of reiterate that what -- the issue that David pointed out about these other disappearing documents that apparently also occurred in 2010 does provide a little bit more context for why you've seen so much suspicion on the part of the committee of CIA. Because they feel like strange things were already happening and then all of a sudden they end up with this whole controversy over, you know, accusations over accessing this particular Panetta Review document.
GORMANIt does seem like at the very least CIA provided something of an unreliable computer network to the Senate which at the very least has stoked a lot of these suspicions.
RIZZOYeah, again, as I say, just to put this in context. I think it -- frankly both sides have sort of blown this up unnecessarily. There have been many occasions in my career where CIA, in dealings with the committees, has provided documents upon their requests, discovered they have provided some documents that were extraordinarily sensitive, asked the committee to get them back. Sometimes the committees give them back, sometimes they haven't overtime. I don't see this as any different than that. I think it is a document dispute and unfortunately I think both sides have overreacted.
PAGESo there's a dispute over this Panetta Review document and the CIA tried to take it back. Does the Senate Committee still have a copy of it?
PAGEAnd where are they keeping it?
CORNWell, what they did was particularly after those first set of disappearing documents occurred, they -- on some documents they -- let me just step back for a second. This was a classic Washington document dump. They asked for the documents to be turned over and is usually the case, as John can tell you, they give documents to the Senate. And the Senate takes them to the highly secured facilities on Capitol Hill and works with the documents there.
CORNBut in this case they said, no, no, no, no, no, we don't want to do that. We're going to set up these computers for you, and they poured millions of documents in without organizing them, giving them any instructions and said, here's the haystack. Have fun. And so that created, I think, some bad faith from the get go. And so what they did was they would sometimes print out documents, take them back -- because they were having trouble organizing this.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We're going to take your calls, 1-800-433-8850. Let's go to Dwight. He's calling us from Pembroke Pines, Fla. Hi, Dwight, you're on the air.
DWIGHTGreat to be here. You've definitely made my day. I don't know, after hearing all of this and trying to understand it all, I just find myself amused, you know, that the government is now grappling with the monsters they created. You know, I just hope that these people remember this situation when it comes time, you know, to kind of rollback some of these, you know, personal privacy things like the Patriot Act and stuff, at least trim it down just a little bit.
PAGEAll right. Dwight, thanks very much for your call. That's similar to a Tweet or an email that we got from Dell also writing us from Florida. He write, "Isn't it hypocritical for Senator Feinstein to only protest when the CIA targets her and not protest when it was targeting ordinary Americans," Siobhan?
GORMANWell, I think that what both of these listeners point out is that we are -- that there's a much larger context to this current battle that we're seeing. And it really has to do with sort of a waning faith, I think, that the public seems to have in U.S. intelligence, or at least a growing skepticism. And, you know, it strikes me that it's actually a pretty significant shift given that in 2011, you know, the CIA, you know, ended up pulling off this operation that killed bin Laden. And it was really at its highest point.
GORMANAnd just a few years later you had, as we were talking earlier, a rather contentious set of confirmation hearings and discussions with CIA -- then nominee CIA -- for the CIA Director John Brennan over, at that time really, access to documents about the drone program. So there was a lot of concern around the legality of that. Then we had the Edward Snowden leaks, you know, just a few months later. And now we're getting into this with the interrogation program.
GORMANAnd you really start to see a growing skepticism about all of these types of programs and CIA and the other intelligence agencies handling of the...
CORNAnd I think that skepticism includes the ability of congress to monitor and oversee. Because when the NSA revelations came out, it was very confusing. Some senators said we knew, some said we didn't know, some said we knew this, we didn't know that. Some -- you know, it turned out they might have known when they said they didn't know. And so the public, looking from the outside, says okay, all this stuff is going on.
CORNAnd again, I go back to what is supposed to be the basic premise. If you're going to have secret wars and you're going to have snooping, it's all supposed to be highly regulated, monitored by our elected representatives. And I think the Snowden revelations showed the public was right not to have faith in the ability of the congress to oversee some of these massive programs. And now we're seeing the problems that -- between the Senate Committee and the CIA when it comes to just one particular program and one very big report.
PAGEAnd John, what about Siobhan's point? Is there an ebbing of confidence in the CIA? Do you see a change from the post 9/11 era, even the period after bin Laden was killed?
RIZZOYeah, I mean, historically -- you know, my career sort of spanned the modern arc of CIA's history -- CIA is always subject to swing political pendulum, up one year, down four or five years later. I think it's safe to say -- you know, I'm on the outside now -- it's in one of those troughs right now. But if history is any judge, CIA is a resilient organization and it will rebound.
PAGEI'll tell you one thing that struck me when I watched Senator Feinstein speak. She is known as a defender of the CIA. She hasn't been a big critic.
CORNOh, no, no. And, you know, that's what some of the Tweets and emails represent, people have been angry at her for being defensive -- defending the NSA. And like, you know, most of the committee chairmen over the years on the House and Senate side, have often been accused of being too close and not fiercely rigorous in oversight. And she has sort of fit that model a bit. It's hard, you know. It's sort of agency captured. It happens throughout congress in a lot of different ways. So that's what made this so stunning.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break. When we come back we'll continue this interesting conversation. We'll go back to the phones, 1-800-433-8850. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page, of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. We're having a fascinating discussion about this dispute between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee. The hour began with an interview with Sen. Martin Heinrich, from New Mexico, who's a member of that Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He told us he regretted his vote in favor of the confirmation of John Brennan to be CIA director. That he now saw that as a mistake.
PAGEWith me in the studio to discuss this issue, David Corn, the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones, Siobhan Gorman, the intelligence correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, John Rizzo, former chief legal officer at the CIA. He is the author of "Company Man: 30 Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA." His book came out in January. John Rizzo, assess for us Senator Feinstein's leadership of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
RIZZOWell, Senator Feinstein has been on the Intelligence Committee, albeit not as chairman, since the 9/11 attacks. And during my time there in the post-9/11 era attended many hearings. She was, I must say, in the early months and years of post-9/11, she was a very strong and aggressive supporter of all the agencies on precedent activities it was undertaking at that point. She became chairman in 2006. As David mentioned, that was a time where the interrogation program was opened up to the entire membership of the Intelligence Committee.
RIZZOAnd frankly, I think it's somewhat significant in telling that the Intelligence Committee didn't begin a full-scale investigation of the interrogation program until 2009, once the Bush administration was (unintelligible).
CORNJohn, but, you know, according to Diane Feinstein's chronology, they got interested in 2007 when they learned the videotapes from the program had been destroyed, late 2007. Then in beginning of 2008 they started a preliminary report, which led them to the conclusion that the CIA has misled them. And then in the beginning of 2009, when Obama's president now, is when they had a larger report -- investigation kicked off. So they were worried that they had been misled prior to the 2008 election.
RIZZOWell, maybe I'm at a disadvantage, David, because I was actually inside at the time. I don't recall that particular set of events, but it's been a while back.
PAGESiobhan, there's a political tinge to almost everything in Washington. Is there usually a political tinge to the oversight of the CIA by the Senate Intelligence Committee?
GORMANThat has also ebbed and flowed. There have been times -- there's a whole stretch where Congress couldn't pass an intelligence authorization bill because both committees were so polarized. So it's not unusual. What's actually unusual about this circumstance is just the tension between Democrats on the -- in this case the Senate Intelligence Committee and a Democratic administration. That's what a little unusual. However, obviously it's worth remembering, the broader topic is over a Bush-era counterterrorism program.
PAGEAlthough, notable, as you say, that her dispute is with the Obama administration of which Senator Feinstein's been an ally. John, here's an email we've gotten from John, in D.C. And he writes, "Why would the Obama CIA care if a critical report came out about Bush's CIA activities?" And I wonder if that is a mistaken view of how the CIA would work. What do you think?
RIZZOYeah, well, I think that that's an interesting point John raises. This is the Obama administration CIA. This is President Obama's CIA. A man that called the -- during the campaign called the interrogation program torture and ended it two days after becoming president. It is interesting, I think telling to me. That is the Obama CIA apparently is pushing back so strongly and vigorously against the Senate report. I think that may say something about the quality and rigor of the Senate Intelligence Committee report. And I think that sometimes has gotten lost here.
PAGENow, tell me -- explain what you mean.
RIZZOThe report was put together exclusively by Democrats on the Committee. No Republican participation. So this is not a bi-partisan effort. It's the Obama administration CIA. His hand-picked director, his close confidant John Brennan, who was in the forefront of this battle back. And so I think it'd be fairly said that this is not a case of the Bush cronies or appointees pushing back against the SSCI. This is the Democratic administration that now basically owns the CIA.
GORMANWell, yeah, but you're also seeing institutional interests play out. And we've seen this before, even during the Obama administration. As John well remembers, there was a huge back and forth right at the outset of the Obama administration in 2009, about whether or not to release the legal memos that described the enhanced interrogation methods that are also the subject of this report. And at that time then director of the CIA, Leon Panetta, pushed back very hard on the release of that because he felt that for his institution that was going to be the wrong thing to do.
GORMANAnd there was a huge back and forth. And Panetta lost that debate. But within the CIA he actually got a lot of support just because he was backing -- he was seen as backing them, in fact, in the face of his own administration.
PAGEJohn? John, did you have something you wanted to say in reply?
RIZZONo. I mean, I lived through that period of time intimately. And what Siobhan says is correct. The point is Panetta lost, President Obama directed the documents be declassified. President Obama could do that today with the Senate Intelligence Committee report. If even CIA were opposed to it. I assume parts of it are. That could still happen if President Obama were to direct that.
CORNAnd the White House position is they want to declassify at least the conclusions and findings and executive summary. And right now I'm told from White House officials that they're waiting for the Committee to send them the updated version of the report that incorporates some of the criticism they got from the CIA. But there's long been a tradition of CIA directors trying to juggle institutional priorities with partisan interests as well.
CORNAnd we've often seen in the last decades that we, again and again, that we're told that the CIA has to be preserved and the director has to keep the support of the building in order to manage it well. Which is not what you hear often about the Ag Department or HHS or Labor. And so it seems that there's something particular about the CIA in which the director often is put in a position that's not always similar to what happens in other agencies.
PAGEWell, it is more a sensitive post, then being secretary of agriculture, as difficult as that could be. And no offense to Tom Vilsack. I mean it's a different kind of role.
CORNRight. But at the same time, I -- John said this earlier, it's a resilient organization. I don't believe that the CIA would fall apart if some of its excesses, which could be blamed on past administrations as well, were brought to public light.
RIZZOYeah, CIA is not going to fall apart regardless of what's in this report. That's why I think the report should come out because it's going to come out anyway or be leaked.
PAGEYou know, John Rizzo, you have such an interesting perspective on this, as someone who was at the agency during the time in question. You said earlier in this hour you expect to be mentioned in this report, perhaps in a critical way. So what is that like for you, now, waiting for this report to come out? Do you know what it says about you at this point?
RIZZONo. I have no idea, but I mean I'm just on the outside now, Susan. So I'm just reading about what it supposedly says. And I was in the middle of the program and became a controversial figure because of it. So I assume it's going to be harsh on me. But that's the life of a CIA official, frankly. Richard Helms, years ago, had an aphorism about CIA people commenting in public, he said, "You never complain and you never explain." So I'm not going to complain.
PAGEI thought was Ford who said that, but…
RIZZONo, it was…
PAGE…perhaps a useful phrase for all of us to remember. But do you prepare for the -- in some personal way? Do you have to hire a lawyer? Do you think about what you'll do when the report comes out?
RIZZOYeah, well, I'm -- look, I've already been out there as a subject of intense criticism. So I'm used to this now and I'm prepared for it. And I wrote a book, so I'm a public figure now. So I expect it. But there's still hundreds of people, it's career people, CIA, who participated in that program in good faith. I think it's unfortunate. I think it'll be hurtful to them personally to be accused of wrongdoing when they were only trying to do their jobs.
GORMANWell, I think that one of the more striking things that appears to be in this report is the degree to which it apparently names names. Senator Feinstein was fairly explicit about that on Tuesday. And I am curious whether or not they will actually have findings about the actual CIA activities that are that much more shocking than what we already know.
GORMANI mean we've already seen the results of CIA's inspector general investigation of the program, which had a number of shocking activities in it. My guess is that one of the more important elements of this will actually be the degree to which they're pointing fingers at individuals. And I do wonder how much of that will actually be declassified.
CORNAnd I think the big question is, too, the issue of effectiveness. You know, when "Zero Dark Thirty" came out we went through this whole debate again, whether these programs -- which some people consider torture -- actually work. I mean if they don't work then whether you call them torture or not is almost irrelevant. We all agree that they're harsh and raise issues about conflicts with our values. So particularly, if they're not that effective, I think that really sort of is tragic in a way.
CORNBecause I do believe the people who did this, those officers that John referenced a few moments ago, thought they were doing the right thing. But that doesn't mean that you get protection and that you're free of scrutiny. If it turns out it was not the right thing and it didn't work, the public has a right to know, particularly if we ever have to go through this again.
GORMANJust briefly on the effectiveness question. And I think even Director Panetta pointed this out when he was at CIA. The effectiveness question is particularly difficult because it requires you to answer the question, could information have been obtained some other way. And that's just an inherently unknowable thing. And so I would be very surprised if the committee can actually render a final verdict on the effectiveness question.
RIZZOYeah, no, I agree with that. I've been asked that frequently since I retired. Yeah, the question was were these techniques -- could the information have been derived by other means? Perhaps it can be, is always my answer. But how long would that have taken? We were in the throes of 9/11 aftermath. So I think, as Siobhan says, that's unknowable. One quick note on effectiveness.
RIZZOFrom someone who was inside the program, inside the agency at the time, your listeners should ask yourself, why would the agency -- why would I and that included --have pursued a program for six years? This program went for six years -- that was increasingly the subject of political opprobrium and controversy, and costing some of us professionally -- why would the agency persevere and continue a program if it didn't think it was doing any good? I mean I just think it beggars the imagination.
PAGEThe agency could think it was doing good and be wrong. That might be one reason the program would continue. Right? With the benefit of some hindsight you might look back and say -- how many of us in our lives in various ways have looked back and said, "I thought I understood what I was doing there, but I was wrong."
RIZZOWell, honestly, I don't think that happened over that period of time, that many years. If this thing wasn't yielding results, believe me, the CIA wouldn't have continued.
CORNWell, that's by the, you know, I hope that we get case studies in this report. When you look at what was done to a particular person, what information was produced, and to what degree it was verified and what degree proved to be useful or not useful. Because I think going back, you're right, you can't know what would have happened. You can't run the counterfactual. But you can look at very specific cases. Because we do know of some cases when people were tortured, who after rendition, and they gave false information about WMDs in Iraq.
CORNWe do know that that happened. So a more serious, far-reaching overview of as many case studies as we could get, will be very useful.
PAGEBut, John, you're saying there's no question in your mind that this was a program that was effective, was getting results.
RIZZOYes. It yielded results, was effective, yes.
PAGEI'm Susan Page. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones. We'll talk to Doug. He's calling us from Birmingham, Ala. Doug, thank you for holding on.
DOUGThank you. I'd like to ask David Corn a question. Does he think it's time to appoint a special prosecutor when a government agency withholds documents and doesn't cooperate with an oversight committee?
CORNWell, I don't know if we need a special prosecutor, but I do feel like we need another congressional committee to oversee what's happening between the Intelligence Committee and the CIA. But I mean that's a little glib, but I do think that getting to the bottom of this so that we the public can be guaranteed there's effective oversight is crucial. And I do think the role for that at this point and time is the White House and the guy there who used to teach Constitutional law.
PAGENow, what did you -- you heard him speak yesterday on this issue. He seemed to pretty much be supporting John Brennan.
CORNWell, he's calling for the, you know, he says he wants the report out. They point out that they did end this program. That they didn't think it was effective or met American values. But when it comes to this fight here, yes. He's taking very much a down-the-middle, we're not going to talk about it, there are investigations underway. I'd like to see him come out and say there's nothing more important than effective Congressional oversight. I'm going to make sure it happens. I'm calling everyone in my office. And I'm going to make it so.
PAGEHere's an email from Tom. He writes, "In your panel's back and forth about the Panetta review, I suspect you're missing the main point. How can we have effective oversight when the CIA, the body supposedly being overseen, can decide exactly which documents the overseers can see?" Siobhan, what would you say to that?
GORMANWell, that's partially true, although I believe that in this case there was an agreement that was forged about the particular parameters. And CIA agreed to turn over all documents within those parameters. So if it didn't do that, that would be a huge problem. But I do think that this also points to just another question that I think has come up from time to time. Which is the degree to which the Intelligence Committees do their own research and sort of their own -- cultivating their own sources at these agencies.
GORMANBesides just requiring documents to be turned over, requiring individuals to testify, how much sort of legwork are they doing to learn sort of information on their own, besides through just sort of the standard channels? And in the past there have been staffers who have done that. And I think that that has probably yielded results, in terms of getting alternative views sort of heard in the committees.
RIZZOYeah, I would say this, realistically, this report or draft report, the way it's described, honestly, I don't know that CIA needed to put up this kind of a fight for this. I mean, there have been times where CIA documents contain source and method information. They have to be controlled. They have to be retrieved. Honestly, when I read, this thing doesn't seem like it's worth…
PAGESo why do you think they're doing it?
RIZZOWell, I think they probably -- putting myself in their shoes as when I was there -- they probably viewed this as a security breach, as a violation of the agreement, the protocols they had with the Senate Intelligence Committee. And honestly, they got mad about it. I mean I think it's -- that's basically what this is. And I said, at the bottom line, this is a squabble over documents. It's not a crime on either side, as far as I could tell.
PAGEAnd yet, both sides are accusing the other of a crime. Siobhan, we'll give you the last word.
GORMANOh, well, I was just going to say that with regard to this review, the other reason that they've given is that these are privileged documents or attorney-client privileged documents and things like that. So at the very least they seem to feel that they needed more opportunity to review it.
CORNJohn's shaking his head to that one. At the end of the day, there has to be effective oversight, otherwise the CIA shouldn't be allowed to do what it does.
PAGEI want to thank our panel for being with us this hour. David Corn, Siobhan Gorman and John Rizzo. Thanks so much for being with us on "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm Susan Page, of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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