CIA Misled Media To Shape Coverage Of Torture, Senate Report Finds

12/09/2014 07:36 pm ET | Updated Dec 09, 2014
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NEW YORK -- The CIA provided "inaccurate" information to journalists in effort to shape coverage of its detention and interrogation program, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bombshell torture report.

The report, of which a 500-page summary was made public Tuesday, included graphic details of CIA torture techniques and described how the agency misled the White House and Congress about the effectiveness of the methods in extracting useful intelligence. At times, the CIA also misled the media.

The Senate committee found that author Ronald Kessler and former New York Times reporter Douglas Jehl were provided “inaccurate claims about the effectiveness of CIA interrogations, much of it consistent with the inaccurate information being provided by the CIA to policymakers at the time.” The report also found that a 2005 NBC "Dateline" story, which included both on-the-record and off-the-record claims from intelligence officials, featured "inaccurate" information touting gains from use of torture, according to the summary.

The classified disclosures to Kessler and Jehl were authorized, so there were no subsequent leak investigations, according to the report summary. There also is no record of a criminal investigation into the leak to "Dateline," suggesting those classified disclosures were sanctioned as well.

The CIA's public affairs office cooperated with Jehl on a March 2005 article he co-wrote with David Johnston. In the article, an unnamed senior U.S. official claims that “the intelligence obtained by those rendered, detained and interrogated have disrupted terrorist operations" and “saved lives in the United States and abroad.”

The report summary described how the CIA “decided to cooperate again” with Jehl in late 2005 for an article that would have appeared to portray the agency's interrogation program in a flattering light. According to the report summary, Jehl “provided the CIA with a detailed outline of his proposed story, informed the CIA that he would emphasize that the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques worked, that they were approved through an inter-agency process, and that the CIA went to great lengths to ensure that the interrogation program was authorized by the White House and the Department of Justice.”

Jehl, now foreign editor of The Washington Post, did not comment directly on the committee's findings, but broadly defended his work during that period.

“As a national security reporter for The Times in 2005, I worked aggressively to pursue and publish stories about the CIA’s harsh interrogation of terrorist suspects, at a time when those details remained highly classified,” Jehl said. “I am proud of the work that my Times colleagues and I did in bringing these CIA practices to light. I was not interviewed for the Senate report, and would never comment on reporting that was based on confidential conversations with current and former U.S. government officials.’’

The leak to Kessler for his book, The CIA At War, wasn’t investigated either, because it didn’t contain “first time disclosures” and because the CIA’s public affairs office “provided assistance” for it, according to the report summary. The CIA cooperated again with Kessler in 2007 for another book in order to “push back” against the FBI. The CIA believed the FBI was overstating its role in fighting terrorism and the effectiveness of its own interrogation of suspects. After consulting with the CIA, Kessler wrote how the agency “could point to a string of successes and dozens of plots that were rolled up because of coercive interrogation techniques.”

“The statements in the revised text on the ‘successes’ attributable to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were similar to CIA representations to policymakers and were incongruent with CIA records," the report's summary concluded.

Kessler told The Huffington Post that his interaction with the CIA on these books wasn't out of the ordinary. He said he had similarly gone directly to the FBI in the course of his reporting.

“I solicited their cooperation,” Kessler said. “Of course they told the story they wanted to tell. It was standard reporting. Nothing nefarious.”

Kessler said the committee’s report is a “fraud” and waste of taxpayer dollars. “When it comes to its effectiveness, Leon Panetta, to me, has closed the case,” Kessler said, a reference to the former CIA director's past statements on the use of torture techniques.

In his recent book, Panetta wrote that “we got important, even critical intelligence from individuals subjected to these enhanced interrogation techniques." He also wrote that it's unknown “whether those were the only ways to elicit that information.”

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