GOP Senator Seeks to Put CIA 'Smoking Gun' Back in Bottle

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GOP Senator Seeks to Put CIA 'Smoking Gun' Back in Bottle

New Intelligence Committee chairman wants to keep public in the dark about torture

Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, has said "I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly." (Photo: ncsunewsdept/flickr/cc)

With his party back in control of Congress, the new GOP chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to return to the CIA a damning internal review, described by some as a "smoking gun," that exposes the brutality and inefficiency of the spy agency's torture program.

"The Panetta Review was never intended for the committee to have," Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina told Huffington Post. "At some point, we will probably send it back to where it came from."

The so-called Panetta Review is named for former U.S. Secretary of Defense and CIA director Leon Panetta, who ordered the internal review in 2009 as an attempt by the agency to better understand millions of documents that the CIA was handing over to the Intelligence Committee as it began its investigation into the Bush-era detention program.

Former Democratic Sen. Mark Udall of Colorado disclosed the existence of the review during an open hearing in December 2013. According to lawmakers who have seen it, the review found that the CIA had exaggerated the value of intelligence gained during the brutal interrogations of some detainees.

As the New York Times reports: "One of the report’s findings, according to people who have seen the document, was that the C.I.A. repeatedly claimed that important intelligence to thwart terror plots and track down Qaeda operatives had come from the interrogation sessions of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed when, in fact, the intelligence had other origins."

Last month, as he prepared to leave office, Udall revealed more details about the review in a speech on the U.S. Senate floor, highlighting inconsistencies between it and other public CIA statements.

"In my view, the Panetta Review is a smoking gun," Udall said on December 10, 2014. "It raises fundamental questions about why a review the CIA conducted internally years ago and never provided to the committee is so different from the official [John] Brennan response and so different from the public statements of former CIA officials."

"The Panetta Review found that the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Congress, the president, and the public on the efficacy of its coercive techniques," he continued. "The Panetta review further identifies cases in which the CIA used coercive techniques when it had no basis for determining whether a detainee had critical intelligence at all. In other words, CIA tortured detainees to confirm they didn’t have intelligence, not because they thought they did."

It's not only the Panetta Review that Burr is trying to recall.

The senator has also written to President Barack Obama, saying that his Democratic predecessor, Senator Dianne Feinstein, should never have transmitted the entire 6,700-page Senate Intelligence Committee report to numerous departments and agencies within the executive branch—and requested that all copies of the report be "returned immediately," according to people who have seen the letter. 

In response to Burr's statements, Feinstein said: "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. 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."

The new chairman's actions are in keeping with his previous statements.

According to International Business Times:

Burr's efforts to withdraw the report are also seen as an attempt to prevent the document from being released in the public domain through the Freedom of Information Act. Some portions of the report were removed from the declassified file that was released last month.

Burr had previously opposed the investigation into CIA's practices under the committee’s previous chairperson, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), which, he reportedly alleged, was an effort to discredit the agency and the Bush administration. 

"I fear the ramifications for our national security and global partnerships, and I stand by my assertion that this report is flawed, biased, and political in nature," Burr had reportedly said in December.

This tug-of-war speaks more broadly to an ongoing effort by some Republicans to keep details of U.S. torture from the American public.

"The ongoing controversies, more than a month after Intelligence Committee Democrats released their explosive findings about the C.I.A’s detention and interrogation program, signal just how much all sides are still positioning to control the history of one of America’s most polarizing recent episodes," Mark Mazzetti writes for the Times. "The latest actions show that Republicans and the C.I.A. are still fighting to challenge the conclusions of a report they consider to be a partisan smear."

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