CIA Watchdog Accidentally Deleted Lengthy Torture Report

CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the House Intelligence Committee. CIA Director John Brennan testifies before the House Intelligence Committee. Andrew Harnik/AP

The controversial 6,700-page CIA “torture report” prepared by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2014 remains a political football with the revelation Monday that the CIA inspector general inadvertently destroyed his office’s only copy.

That story broken by Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News followed a disputed decision last month by the Archivist of the United States against classifying the review of CIA treatment of prisoners in the war on terror as a “permanent record.”

Lawmakers, the CIA and the Justice Department, and transparency groups remain divided over the report’s fairness and whether the unredacted version should be made public, as was a 500-page summary.

The CIA inspector general “has acknowledged it ‘mistakenly’ destroyed its only copy of a mammoth Senate torture report at the same time lawyers for the Justice Department were assuring a federal judge that copies of the document were being preserved,” Yahoo reported.

Staffers handling the report on what the George W. Bush administration called “enhanced interrogation methods” deleted an uploaded computer file and then accidently destroyed a disk on which the report had been stored.

“The incident was privately disclosed to the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department last summer but was never made public,” Isikoff’s sources said. “Nor was it reported to the federal judge who, at the time, was overseeing a lawsuit seeking access to the still classified document under the Freedom of Information Act, according to a review of court files in the case.”

A CIA spokesman would not elaborate on the document’s destruction but emphasized that another unopened computer disk with the full report has been, and still is, locked in a vault at agency headquarters, Yahoo said. “I can assure you that the CIA has retained a copy,” wrote Dean Boyd, the agency’s chief of public affairs, in an email.

The CIA had been feuding with the Senate Intelligence Committee over access to documents related to the final report. On Friday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who parted with her Republican colleagues in backing the report’s conclusions, asked CIA Director John Brennan to forward a new copy to the inspector general so that it may continue effective oversight of the spy agency. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the Intel panel’s chair, disagreed with that plan, calling the report a legislative and not an executive branch document.

The American Civil Liberties Union has gone to court seeking release of the entire three-volume report.

In a related development, the National Archives and Records Administration in late April rejected a petition from Feinstein and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., that the Archivist declare the full report a “federal record” that must be preserved under the Federal Records Act and eventually released.

 “We believe that Congress has made it clear that the National Archives has a responsibility — as the nation’s record keeper — to advise other parts of the United States government of their legal duty to preserve documents like the Senate Report under the Federal Records Act, the Presidential Records Act, and other statutes,” Feinstein and Leahy wrote on April 13, as reported by Steven Aftergood in his secrecy blog for the Federation of American Scientists, which joined dozens of other transparency groups in their own plea to the Archives.

But Archivist David Ferriero declined—a least for the time being. “NARA has refrained from interceding in this matter because the issue is the subject of ongoing litigation,” he wrote in an April 29 letter. “As is routine with respect to any issue that is being litigated, we have coordinated with litigation counsel at DOJ handling the pending court case.”

The mere fact that executive branch agencies are in possession of the Senate report does not necessarily mean that it qualifies as a federal record,” the Archivist continued. There is a “possibility that an agency could accept physical receipt of a document but maintain it in such a manner that the agency does not acquire legal custody for purposes of either the FRA [Federal Records Act] or the FOIA.”

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