The CIA Must Be Purged

by Benjamin Studebaker

With the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s use of torture, many people all over the world are shocked by CIA’s willingness to use techniques that are not only cruel but remarkably ineffective. It’s long been known that torture is an ineffective means of extracting information. As I wrote back in 2012, there is a lot of evidence out there that torture is not a good strategy for obtaining reliable information. And if you think about it, that makes sense–torture can make someone talk, but why should it make a person tell you the truth? It’s not as if you have an answer key or will know the difference. If you did, you wouldn’t need to ask the question in the first place. So in this respect, the senate report confirms what we already should know, though many Americans still have not caught on, according to Pew:

There’s something else in the report that is much more shocking–the extent to which the CIA deceived congress and the Bush administration about the program.

By the time President Bush found out that we were torturing people, it was already 2006:

According to CIA records, no CIA officer, up to and including CIA Directors George Tenet and Peter Gross, briefed the president on the specific CIA enhanced interrogation techniques before 2006.

But Bush wasn’t the only one kept in the dark for a while–Powell and Rumsfeld (secretaries of state and defense, respectively, did not find out until 2003:

…the secretaries of state and defense–both principals on the National Security Council–were not briefed on program specifics until 2003.

The CIA also kept congress out of the loop until 2002 (and it withheld a lot of information until it it talked to the president in 2006):

The CIA did not brief the leadership of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the
CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques until September 2002, after the techniques had been approved and used.

To make matters worse, when the CIA did brief government officials, it gave them false information. The report has much to say about this. Here are a few tidbits:

The Committee reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism successes that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques, and found them to be wrong in fundamental respects. In some cases, there was no relationship between the cited counterterrorism success and any information provided by detainees during or after the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. In the remaining cases, the CIA inaccurately claimed that specific, otherwise unavailable information was acquired from a CIA detainee “as a result” of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, when in fact the information was either: (1) corroborative of information already available to the CIA or other elements of the U.S. Intelligence Community from sources other than the CIA detainee, and was therefore not “otherwise unavailable”; or (2) acquired from the CIA detainee prior to the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. The examples provided by the CIA included numerous factual inaccuracies.

In providing the “effectiveness” examples to policymakers, the Department of Justice, and others, the CIA consistently omitted the significant amount of relevant intelligence obtained from sources other than CIA detainees who had been subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques–leaving the false impression the CIA was acquiring unique information from the use of the techniques.

Some of the plots that the CIA claimed to have “disrupted” as a result of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were assessed by intelligence and law enforcement officials as being infeasible or ideas that were never operationalized.

It goes on and on. Here are all the organizations I could find explicitly named that the CIA lied to about its techniques:

  • The Department of Justice
  • The State Department
  • The FBI
  • The Office of the Director of National Intelligence
  • The Office of Inspector General
  • The New York Times
  • The Washington Post
  • The Media (in general)

This list does not include the aforementioned parts of the government that were merely kept out of the loop with no information or incomplete information. These are just the organizations that straight up received false information from the CIA.

There’s all kinds of additional information about how deeply botched the program was (e.g. the CIA couldn’t keep track of its detainees, it subjected detainees to techniques even the CIA had not approved, and many of the techniques it did approve of were harsher than the CIA led the rest of the government and the public to believe). But what’s really disturbing is that the CIA effectively acted like a rogue institution. It deliberately and purposefully circumvented the organizations tasked with regulating it.

When one part of the state refuses to communicate with the the rest of the state apparatus, there is potential for that part of the state to do utterly horrifying things while the rest of the state remains powerless to check or balance against it. By acting independently of the rest of the government and refusing to submit honestly to oversight, the CIA enabled itself to do things it should not have been able to do without the consent of many other state institutions.

This is how coups happen. One part of the state (typically the military) decides to act against the will of the sitting government, toppling it to install itself as master. Now, what the CIA did was not quite as serious as a coup d’etat (though torture is certainly a very serious matter in its own right), but it acted on the same principle–that the will of other state institutions was inconsequential and could be discarded. That is not acceptable. Putting the torture issue completely to one side, the people in the CIA who knew about and/or orchestrated the withholding of information from other state institutions should be at the very least fired and really ought to be imprisoned. As long as these people to continue to have jobs and to walk around freely, we are normalizing rogue action by state agencies. This opens up a Pandora’s box. It’s the thin end of the wedge. If we go down this road, we have no idea what actions rogue agencies may take in the future and no guarantee that we will find out about those actions in time to decide if we really approve of them. The worst possible outcome is nothing less than a banana republic in which coup attempts and palace intrigues determine where true power really lies. It is for the sake of the integrity of the constitution that congress and the Obama administration must act to at minimum purge the CIA, and possibly to eliminate it altogether.