WASHINGTON -- The new GOP chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee intends to give back to the CIA an explosive, secret document that has been at the center of a years-long struggle between Congress and the executive branch.
The chairman, North Carolina’s Richard Burr, is also asking executive branch agencies to return unredacted copies of the 6,600 page torture report, he told The Huffington Post in an interview Tuesday night.
The twin moves mark a sharp turn in a new direction for congressional oversight of the intelligence community. The secret document is known colloquially as the Panetta Review, and Democrats who have read it say it is a broad and detailed admission of wrongdoing by the CIA. The agency argues that the document was incomplete when obtained by Senate investigators and doesn’t represent a consensus view within the CIA.
“The Panetta Review was never intended for the committee to have,” Burr told HuffPost. “At some point, we will probably send it back to where it came from.”
The document is a collection of summaries that, according to lawmakers, backs up the damning conclusions of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s massive torture study, the executive summary of which was released late last year and accuses the agency of abuse, misdirection and obfuscation in operating its post-9/11 torture program. The agency has challenged many of the study’s conclusions. However, lawmakers say the internal Panetta Review aligns with the accusations the CIA publicly refutes.
But the drama doesn’t stop there.
Former Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) sent the 6,600-page report to the White House and several other federal agencies before the December holiday recess -- just prior to turning the committee’s reins over to the new majority. In a letter included in the official Government Printing Office copy of the report’s publicly released executive summary, she explained that she would be sending the entire 6,600 page report to the executive branch for “dissemination to all relevant agencies.”
Burr, upon taking charge in January, wrote to the executive branch and the federal agencies in receipt of the document, and asked that it be returned to the committee, as he did not feel it was a valid disclosure.
“It gets pretty technical,” Burr said, confirming he sent the letter. The full document, he explained, had been voted complete in the 112th Congress, and the release of the executive summary was voted on by the 113th Congress.
But what wasn’t ever agreed upon, said Burr, was the disclosure of the full report to several arms of the federal government, which prompted his letter demanding all copies be returned.
Feinstein, however, challenged that notion, saying the 112th Congress' panel vote to complete the study allowed her to send the full version to the executive branch.
"In December, when the Senate Intelligence Committee publicly released portions of its report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, I sent the full, 6,900-page classified report to the executive branch for use by appropriately cleared officials at the White House, CIA and other parts of the government," Feinstein said in a statement Tuesday. "This was consistent with the committee’s vote to approve the report in December 2012 and declassify portions of it in April 2014."
"I strongly disagree that the administration should relinquish copies of the full committee study, which contains far more detailed records than the public executive summary," the statement continued. "Doing so would limit the ability to learn lessons from this sad chapter in America’s history and omit from the record two years of work, including changes made to the committee’s 2012 report following extensive discussion with the CIA."
Burr’s move indicates a clear departure from the days of Feinstein’s rule of the intelligence panel, which for more than a year has been tangled in disputes with the agency and the executive branch over both the contested Panetta Review and information in the torture study that both the White House and the spies wished to keep secret.
The Panetta Review document -- which Democratic Intelligence Committee staff came to possess unbeknownst to the CIA sometime in 2010 -- was removed from a secure CIA facility and brought back to the intelligence panel’s secure headquarters. The move was an effort to keep it safe from the agency, which had previously snatched back electronic documents it didn’t want the committee to have. The CIA, in a desperate scramble to find out how the committee had obtained the document, combed through a walled-off Senate computer network, setting off an extraordinary feud that culminated in then-chair Feinstein accusing the CIA of spying on Congress.
Republicans have blasted the panel’s Democrats and their staff for the handling of the matter, saying the contested Panetta Review should have never been in committee hands and furthermore, should have never been slipped from the secure agency facility used by panel staff to construct the study.
The agency’s Inspector General determined in July that five CIA employees had improperly accessed Intelligence Committee work product, including certain emails and files retained on the Senate investigators’ walled-off computer drive. The Inspector General report prompted Brennan to personally apologize to Feinstein.
That apology, however, was severely diluted last week, when an agency accountability board headed by former Sen. Evan Bayh, which was tasked with weighing the Inspector General’s findings, determined that agency personnel had acted reasonably, and the accessing of staff emails was an unfortunate, but understandable trespass.
But despite uproar from Democratic lawmakers that no agency personnel would be held accountable, Burr said he considers the issue closed.
“I think that, from what I know about Evan [Bayh], I trust him, I know it was a thorough review. I’m sure Dianne -- or, Democrats may have some concerns about it, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a chapter that’s closed,” Burr said.
“My intent right now is not to rehash things that might have been disagreements in the committee. The report’s done, what happened happened. Everybody’s got their own interpretation.”
This story has been updated.