CIA response: We made mistakes, but got the job done

Daniel Rivero and Fidel Martinez
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Alex Wong

The CIA today acknowledged that it was caught unprepared for the immediate aftermath of 9/11, which might have led to a few missteps in the early days of the terror war; but the intelligence agency categorically rejects the conclusions of a new Senate report that criticized its enhanced interrogation techniques as worthless.

President George W. Bush was the first to defend the CIA. On Sunday—two days before the report's release, which Bush admittedly didn't read—the former president told CNN that CIA officials who served under his administration are "patriots."

But even the CIA admits the report correctly highlights some of the shortcomings of the program.

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"The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qa’ida and affiliated terrorists," said CIA Director John Brennan in a prepared response.

"[The CIA] was unprepared and lacked core competencies to respond effectively to the decision made in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks that the Agency undertake what would be an unprecedented program of detaining and interrogating suspected Al Qa'ida and affiliated terrorists," reads an official CIA rebuttal to the report, written in June but released to the public today. "This lack of preparation and competencies resulted in significant lapses in the Agency's ability to develop and monitor its initial detention and interrogation activities."

"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," CIA Director John Brennan said in a statement.

The CIA then goes on the offensive, slamming the report's conclusions and criticizing those who put the report together for only showing part of the whole story.

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"Our review [of the program] indicates that interrogations of detainees on whom [enhanced interrogation techniques] were used did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists, and save lives," Brennan said. He rejected the report's conclusion that no attacks were thwarted because of intelligence gathered by the program.

"We also disagree with the Study’s characterization of how CIA briefed the program to the Congress, various entities within the Executive Branch, and the public. While we made mistakes, the record does not support the Study’s inference that the Agency systematically and intentionally misled each of these audiences on the effectiveness of the program," Brennan's continued.

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According to the report, the first time President Bush was briefed on the program was in April of 2006, about four years after the program started. In September of that year, Bush gave a landmark speech about the program. " [T]he speech, which was based on CIA information and vetted by the CIA, contained significant inaccurate statements, especially regarding the significance of information acquired from CIA detainees and the effectiveness of the CIA's interrogation techniques," the report said.

Echoing Director Brennan's claim that the program did in fact produce valuable bits of intelligence are former CIA Directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden, who along with former CIA Deputy Directors John McLaughlin, Albert Calland and Stephen Kappes, penned a rebuttal for the Wall Street Journal. In it, they charge that the report is motivated by partisanship, rather than impartiality:

"The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Central Intelligence Agency detention and interrogation of terrorists, prepared only by the Democratic majority staff, is a missed opportunity to deliver a serious and balanced study of an important public policy question. The committee has given us instead a one-sided study marred by errors of fact and interpretation—essentially a poorly done and partisan attack on the agency that has done the most to protect America after the 9/11 attacks."

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The letter openly challenges various points made by the report, mainly that the enhanced interrogations techniques did not yield vital intelligence, didn't help in the finding Osama Bin Laden, and didn't help save American lives.

The former CIA senior officials also point to CIASavedLives.com, a website aimed at discrediting many of the report's key findings with a slew of PDF documents backing the program's legality and effectiveness.

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The website domain was registered on Nov. 2, 2014, suggesting that the former officials expected that the report would be largely negative.

Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.

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Fidel Martinez is an editor at Fusion.net. He's also a Texas native and a lifelong El Tri fan.

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