The CIA's inspector general office admitted to reporters that the department inadvertently deleted its copy of the U.S. Senate's report detailing the nation's post-9/11 detention and torture of detainees, Yahoo News reported Monday.
The department also deleted a hard disk backup of the report.
"Clearly the CIA would rather we all forgot about torture," Cori Creider, a director at human rights watchdog Reprieve, responded to the news in a statement.
The admission comes only days after a federal court ruled that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) does not apply to the report, blocking its release to the public. Observers noted that the deletion coincides with widespread government efforts to suppress the document.
Yahoo News described the bizarre circumstances that led to the document's erasure from the inspector general's servers:
The deletion of the document has been portrayed by agency officials to Senate investigators as an "inadvertent" foul-up by the inspector general. In what one intelligence community source described as a series of errors straight "out of the Keystone Cops," CIA inspector general officials deleted an uploaded computer file with the report and then accidentally destroyed a disk that also contained the document, filled with thousands of secret files about the CIA’s use of “enhanced” interrogation methods.
"It's breathtaking that this could have happened, especially in the inspector general's office—they’re the ones that are supposed to be providing accountability within the agency itself," said Douglas Cox, a City University of New York School of Law professor who specializes in tracking the preservation of federal records. "It makes you wonder what was going on over there?"
"It's stunning that even the CIA's own watchdog couldn't manage to hang onto its copy of the Senate's landmark report about CIA black sites. One worries that no one is minding the store," Crider commented.
"The incident was privately disclosed to the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department last summer... sources said," Yahoo News reported, "But the destruction of a copy of the sensitive report has never been made public."
The federal judge overseeing the aforementioned case regarding whether FOIA applies to the torture report was not informed that the deletion had occurred.
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the highest-ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch requesting that the court be informed of the event. "Your prompt response will allay my concerns that this was more than an 'accident,'" Feinstein added.
A CIA spokesperson refused to speak directly to the inspector general's destruction of the report, but told Yahoo News that "another unopened computer disk with the full report has been, and still is, locked in a vault at agency headquarters."
"If we are not careful, this report will go the way of the waterboarding tapes," Crider warned. "It's deeply depressing that the CIA still thinks they can shred and spin their way out of this scandal, but that is the consequence of impunity. Not a single person who designed or implemented the Bush-era torture program has been made to explain or apologize."
"With the threat of a new Torturer-in-Chief on the horizon," Crider said, "it is vital that the CIA comes clean and admits that kidnapping and torturing dozens of individuals was an appalling mistake and must not happen again."