Former CIA bosses have put out an open letter spelling out step-by-step how enhanced interrogations after the 9/11 attacks led to the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The letter expresses great dismay that Democrats and their staff on the Senate Intelligence Committee would write Tuesday’s report based on “cherry picked” information from six million documents, yet never interviewed them or the officers who conducted the program.
More troubling, they said, was the Democratic staff’s contention that the decade-old interrogations led to no useful intelligence. They said that, in fact, the questioning revealed al Qaeda’s force structure, its plots and its leadership, many of whom were captured or killed.
They accuse committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, of politicizing the entire report. Republican staffers did not participate.
The letter was signed by former CIA directors George Tenet, whom President George W. Bush kept in place from the Clinton administration; Porter Goss and Michael V. Hayden, and by three former deputy directors. The letter was posted by The Wall Street Journal.
The top spies past and present battled to define the historical record and deter potential legal action around the world.
The Senate intelligence committee’s report doesn’t urge prosecution for wrongdoing, and the Justice Department has no interest in reopening a criminal probe. But the threat to former interrogators and their superiors was underlined as a U.N. special investigator demanded those responsible for “systematic crimes” be brought to justice, and human rights groups pushed for the arrest of key CIA and Bush administration figures if they travel overseas.
Current CIA Director John O. Brennan has also criticized Mrs. Feinstein’s report.
The former directors give this chronology:
Enhanced interrogation of al Qaeda chieftain Abu Zubaydah led to the capture Ramzi Bin al-Shibh. Information from those two ultimately led to the capture of 9-11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
Collectively, they divulged the location of Hambali, al Qaeda’s Asian chief who carried out the Bali massacre in Indonesia. Mohammed then pointed the CIA to Hambali’s successor, who was in the process of carrying out a major airliner attack, akin to 9/11.
The interrogation program produced information on a courier that put him at the top of the list for leads on bin Laden’s whereabouts.
When confronted, Mohammed lied about the courier’s role, a signal to the CIA that this was the man it needed to track.
The courier turned out to be Abu Ahmed Kuwaiti, whom U.S. intelligence tracked in 2010 to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan — the terror leader’s hideout.
As to committee Democrats asserting the interrogations had nothing to do with bin Laden’s 2011 killing by U.S. Navy SEALs, the ex-directors write, “They are wrong. There is no doubt that information provided by the totality of detainees in CIA custody, those who were subjected to interrogation and those who were not, was essential to bringing bin Laden to justice.”
They added, “The staff members then ‘cherry picked’ their way through six million pages of documents, ignoring some data and highlighting others, to construct their argument against the program’s effectiveness. In the intelligence profession, that is called politicization.”
Mrs. Feinstein said on the Senate floor the report, “shows that the CIA’s actions a decade ago are a stain on our values and on our history.”
Mr. Hayden was singled out by Senate investigators for what they said was a string of misleading or outright false statements he gave in 2007 about the importance of the CIA’s brutal treatment of detainees in thwarting terrorist attacks. He described the focus on him as “ironic on so many levels” as any wrongdoing predated his arrival at the CIA. “They were far too interested in yelling at me,” Mr. Hayden said in an email to The Associated Press.
Vice President Dick Cheney also pushed back. And former top CIA officials published a website — CIASavedLives.com — pointing out decade-old statements from Mrs. Feinstein and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia Democrat, in apparent support of agency efforts. The two Democrats spearheaded the Senate investigation.
The intelligence committee’s Republicans issued their own 167-page “minority” report and said the Democratic analysis was flawed, dishonest and, at $40 million, a waste of taxpayer money. Feinstein’s office said Wednesday most of the cost was incurred by the CIA in trying to hide its record.
If the sides agreed on one thing, it was the CIA suffered from significant mismanagement problems early on. The agency and its Republican supporters said those failings were corrected.
“We have learned from these mistakes,” current Mr. Brennan said.
• This story is based in part on wire service dispatches.