The Feinstein Report was released on Tuesday – its official title is the “Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on Detention and Interrogation,” but it’s not. It’s the “Democrat’s Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on Detention and Interrogation,” but that’s too long, so I’ll just call it the “Feinstein Report”. It achieved its goal – she was able to give CIA a slap on the way out the door, because, as she herself said, “Once the Committee comes under Republican control, the report would not see the light of day.” So the release was admittedly a purely political stunt.
Senator Feinstein says that coercive interrogations didn’t produce any actionable intelligence. That’s debatable. It produced bits and pieces that had to be examined in light of existing knowledge. What she fails to explain – and as chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), she very well knows – intelligence gathering is an incomplete jigsaw puzzle salted with pieces that don’t belong. You take what you get from a detainee and check it against the rest of the pieces you already have. It may fill-in some of the mosaic, or it may not. But you add it to the puzzle pieces you have. In other words, we had a haystack of data collected from all sources, and what coercive interrogations give us was the GPS coordinates for the needle.
Abu Zubaydah (AZ) was the first high value target (HVT) captured in Afghanistan. He was rendered to Egypt for interrogation, but we had become impatient with the unreliability of third-party operations and CIA asked for the authority to conduct their own interrogations outside official DoD guidelines. This was granted with the proviso that the FBI would also be in on the sessions. This led to the establishment of “black sites” in Afghanistan and third-party countries to be used for HVTs. AZ had been severely wounded during his capture, and CIA had a doctor on hand for all sessions. After a while, differences between the FBI and CIA got to the point where the FBI lost interest in the project and left.
During this period, a schedule of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EITs) was drawn up and submitted to the administration for approval. This consisted of four levels: 1) sleep deprivation, diet manipulation and enforced nudity; 2) attention grab, face holding and insult slap; 3) confinement box and wall-standing in stress positions; 4) waterborading. The program was submitted to CIA’s legal department (CIA has more lawyers then agents), and when cleared was submitted to the White House, which submitted it to DoJ for vetting. The program was approved while insisting that every instance of waterboarding needed written approval from the president. Both were given to CIA in writing, and AZ was the first to be subjected to EITs (including waterboarding). The Gang of Eight (leaders of each party from House and Senate Intel Committees) was briefed and were supportive. There were multiple briefings by senior CIA officials of the Gang of Eight, and eventually, whole intel committees, on the use and results of EITs.
Did AZ give us Osama bin Laden? No. He gave us Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the architect of the 9/11 attacks. Did KSM give us Osama bin Laden? No. He admitted to decapitating Wall Street Journal’s Danny Pearle and would up “holding class” for CIA on al Qaeda’s (AQ’s) organizational chart. Very valuable. He led to the capture of an AQ combat commander, who was also given EITs and told us that bin Laden was off-line (thanks to a New York Times article describing how we were tracking him through his cell phone), was using couriers to give and get information, and gave us a pseudonym of that courier. After much midnight oil cross-checking and by process of elimination, we were able to determine that the courier was in Pakistan and was best known as Abu-Zaid al Kuwaiti (AK; born: Khalid Bin Abdul Rehman Al-Hussainan; c.1965), and set CIA assets about finding him and observing his activities. That led us to the compound in Abbottabad, and that led us to SEAL Team Six standing in Osama bin Laden’s bedroom.
The Feinstein Report makes a great deal, as do so many others, over CIA’s use of “torture,” yet nobody, not the Geneva Conventions, not the United Nations, not the American legislature, has bothered to define the term – basically, you can use it for anything you don’t like. Once the author unilaterally “establishes” that torture was used, they then proceed to claim the actions were therefore illegal. CIA had clearance, in writing, at multiple points, by DoJ, that the EITs were approved at the highest levels and were legal. The agency sought and received command authority clearance for every use of waterboarding, and had frequently-issued re-affirmation from DoJ. All in writing. One of the first things Obama did as president was to try and criminalize George W Bush’s CIA, and after a three-year inquisition, found nothing indictable. They could find no crimes involved in CIA’s detention and interrogation of terrorists. Nothing illegal.
For whatever reason, Senator Feinstein’s one-sided report threw CIA behind the bus (there’s no more room under Obama’s bus), and that could only have been done intentionally. Two years earlier, CIA had spied on SSCI computers to make sure none of the classified materials given to staffers was getting into unclassified reports, and that was wrong. Senator Feinstein was rightly outraged, demanded an apology and got it. But that wasn’t enough, so we get her parting shot at CIA as she goes out the door as chair of the committee.
Since President Obama’s de-fanging of CIA and efforts to empty Guantánamo, the intel effort has become a take-no-prisoners operation (since they can’t be effectively interrogated), providing only targets for drone-strikes. We have lost our human intelligence resource in the battlespace. Since Senator Feinstein’s release of the Democrat’s report, we have stripped ourselves of third-party cooperation in the future as foreign intelligence services will be unwilling to share their secrets with us if they think they’ll be named later in public reports. The release also makes CIA risk-averse as officers will be very reluctant to carry out risky operations if they think they will be politically crucified for doing so down the road.
The EIT and black site programs were shut down in 2009, and all told, fewer than 100 detainees were held at black sites, and fewer than 30 were subjected to EITs. Only three were waterboarded. So the one-sided Feinstein Report didn’t reveal anything new – the world already knew about the program – wasn’t needed to stop the program – it hadn’t been active in nearly five years – and yielded only the disabling of CIA from doing its job by making it vastly more difficult to collect intelligence by any means, all during a time of war.
 This practice began under Reagan and reached its zenith under Clinton. It was determined that third-party interrogation was unreliable, and that brought on the Black Site program.