Torture Report: Former CIA Directors Say Interrogation Program 'Saved Thousands of Lives'

PHOTO: The CIA symbol is shown on the floor of CIA Headquarters at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, July 9, 2014.Getty Images
The CIA symbol is shown on the floor of CIA Headquarters at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, July 9, 2014.

Six former Directors and Deputy Directors of the CIA fired back at the Senate Intelligence Committee with a vehemence almost never seen in the intelligence world.

The former CIA leaders -- including George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden -- blasted the Senate report as “one-sided and marred with errors” and called it “a poorly done and partisan attack on the agency that has done the most to protect America after the 9/11 attacks.”

Their 2,500-word rebuttal was posted as an op-ed on the Wall Street Journal website once the report was released. The former intel chiefs are also launching their own website to respond to the attacks on CIA’s post-9/11 activities.

'Saved Thousands Of Lives'

The former directors argue that the CIA interrogation program “saved thousands of lives” by helping lead to the capture of top al Qaeda operatives and disrupting their plotting.

"A powerful example of the interrogation program’s importance is the information obtained from Abu Zubaydah, a senior al Qaeda operative, and from Khalid Sheik Muhammed, known as KSM, the 9/11 mastermind,” the former directors write. "We are convinced that both would not have talked absent the interrogation program.”

As for Osama bin Laden, the former directors outline the steps that led the Navy SEALs to the Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

"The CIA never would have focused on the individual who turned out to be bin Laden’s personal courier without the detention and interrogation program,” they write. “So the bottom line is this: The interrogation program formed an essential part of the foundation from which the CIA and the U.S. military mounted the bin Laden operation."

This is the first opportunity for these former intelligence chiefs to respond to the allegations made in the report: None of them — in fact no current or former CIA officials — were interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee for their report.

They argue that the report's release will do long-standing damage to the United States because it will make foreign intelligence agencies less willing to cooperate with the CIA, give terrorists a new reciting tool and make current CIA operatives fearful of future political attacks.

'Aggressive' Tactics 'Responsible' Success

“Many CIA officers will be concerned that being involved in legally approved sensitive actions can open them to politically driven scrutiny and censure from a future administration.”

The CIA, they insist, should instead be praised for protecting the United States.

"The al Qaeda leadership has not managed another attack on the homeland in the 13 years since, despite a strong desire to do so,” they write. "The CIA’s aggressive counter-terrorism policies and programs are responsible for that success."

Brennan: Committee 'Provided An Incomplete' Picture

In a statement, current CIA Director John Brennan agrees with his predecessors that the enhanced interrogation techniques on some of its detainees “did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives. The intelligence gained from the program was critical to our understanding of al-Qa’ida and continues to inform our counter-terrorism efforts to this day.” The Agency also plans to release the approximately 120 page response to the report it provided the committee in June, 2013.

He acknowledges that mistakes were made early on in the program’s existence and says that was because it was ill-prepared to carry out a worldwide detention program. The CIA Director also disagrees with the Committee’s “inference that the Agency systematically and intentionally misled each of these audiences on the effectiveness of the program.”

Brennan argues that the committee’s investigation “provided an incomplete and selective picture of what occurred” because the committee did not interview officers involved in the program who could have provided what it says is the necessary context. In releasing the report on the Senate floor, committee chairperson Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., explained that no interviews were conducted because of a concurrent Justice Department investigation that might have limited potential comments from CIA officers involved.

“In carrying out that program, we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us,” said Brennan. "As an Agency, we have learned from these mistakes, which is why my predecessors and I have implemented various remedial measures over the years to address institutional deficiencies.”

Brennan also agrees with his predecessors that the enhanced interrogation techniques led to the courier who began the trail that located Osama bin Laden. It points out that after undergoing some of the enhanced interrogation techniques, Ammar al-Baluch was the first detainee to reveal that Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti served as a courier for bin Laden.

That information led the CIA to re-question other detainees about the courier’s role. “CIA then combined this information with reporting from other streams to build a profile of Abu Ahmad’s experiences, family, and characteristics that allowed us to eventually determine his true name and location,” said Brennan.

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