WASHINGTON — The chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee has called for the White House — not the Central Intelligence Agency — to lead the declassification process for the panel’s summary of its massive, scathing report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.
In a letter to President Barack Obama, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., challenged both the White House and CIA, which have suggested in recent days that the agency would spearhead the declassification.
“The CIA, in consultation with other agencies, will conduct the declassification review,” Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said after the Intelligence Committee voted last week to declassify the 481-page executive summary.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the Obama administration wanted a thorough review.
“I agree that as much of the report as possible should be made public, of course allowing for redactions that are necessary to protect national security,” he told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday. “So I was pleased that the committee voted to send portions of the report forward for declassification.”
Holder recalled that Obama “believes that bringing this program into the light will help the American people understand what happened in the past and can help guide us as we move forward so that no administration contemplates such a program in the future.”
In her letter, Feinstein calls for swift action on the summary, findings and conclusions of the report. The summary, she says, should be released quickly and with minimal redactions.
“As this report covers a covert action program under the authority of the president and National Security Council, I respectfully request that the White House take the lead in the declassification process,” the letter reads.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., a member of the Intelligence Committee, said that while only the CIA could declassify, “We’re trying to build up pressure on the White House and the CIA. It’s not just declassify. It’s to do a minimum of redactions.”
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a longtime critic of the CIA’s interrogation methods — widely regarded as torture — said he fully understood Feinstein’s concerns.
“She doesn’t trust the CIA. I think she’s probably right. I don’t trust them either,” he said.
“This is the same outfit that destroyed the videos of the interrogations. That’s one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever seen in my life,” he said.
Jose Rodriguez Jr., former director of the CIA’s secret operations branch, ordered the destruction of 92 videotapes that showed the use of waterboarding and other controversial interrogation techniques. In 2010, a federal prosecutor declined to pursue criminal charges in the case.
Feinstein’s letter says the committee now has a final, official version of the report. The final version, which came after months of revisions, will be sent soon to the White House and other executive branch agencies, the letter says.
Feinstein has said she doesn’t intend to push for declassifying more of the report at this time. The letter also highlights concerns over the CIA’s relationship with Feinstein’s committee and the executive branch.
“The committee’s report contradicts information previously disclosed about the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program, and it raises a number of issues relating to how the CIA interacts with the White House, other parts of the executive branch and Congress,” it says.
Although the letter gives no hard deadline, Feinstein has said she hopes the executive summary, along with the report’s findings and conclusions, can be returned to the committee within a month. The report is 6,600 pages and includes 37,000 footnotes.
“Hopefully the declassification can be done in as little as 30 days. That may be wishful thinking, but I hope not,” she said last week.
That hope was reiterated Tuesday afternoon during an appearance by Feinstein on MSNBC, where the senator said she intended for the declassification to proceed quickly.
“My hope is that it will be a prompt, appropriate and efficient declassification, and that they will lightly redact it,” she said. Because a lot of time has passed, she said, CIA intelligence sources and techniques aren’t at stake.
Feinstein’s television appearance was in response to remarks from former CIA director Michael Hayden, who set off a firestorm Sunday by accusing the senator of being “emotional” about the committee’s report.
“I think that’s an old male fallback position,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that there are a lot of people out there, I suspect one of them is former CIA director Hayden, that does not want the report to come out. So one of the things you do is try to blur the reputation of someone connected with the report.”