(AA) – The head of the CIA on Thursday struck back at a blistering Senate report, saying that the agency was unprepared for a mission that it was rapidly saddled with after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
“In many respects the program was uncharted territory for the CIA, and we were not prepared,” John Brennan said during a rare press conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. “We had little experience housing detainees, and precious few of our officers were trained interrogators. But the president authorized the effort six days after 9/11, and it was our job to carry it out.”
The Senate report issued Tuesday by the Intelligence Committee offered unprecedented detail into the agency’s detention and interrogation program, prompting outrage from critics who say that some of the enhanced interrogation techniques, or EITs, are torture.
The more than five-year review resulted in a 6,000 page document that remains classified, and a 500-page unclassified executive summary rife with grisly details, including forced rectal rehydration, mock executions, and sleep deprivation.
Brennan said the agency gave the Senate committee an “unprecedented amount of sensitive CIA documents,” and lampooned lawmakers for not interviewing CIA personnel as part of their review.
“Although we view the process undertaken by the committee when investigating the program as flawed, many aspects of their conclusions are sound and consistent with our own prior findings,” he said.
He acknowledged shortcomings in living up to interrogation guidelines, and holding those who violated the rules to account.
“In a limited number of cases agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all,” the agency’s chief said. “And we fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes.”
He said an “overwhelming majority” of agency operatives carried out their duties in accordance with legal and policy guidelines, stressing that their effort should not be tarnished by rogue actions. The Bush administration sanctioned the use of EITs.
“CIA officer’s actions that did comport with the law and policy should neither be criticized nor conflated with the actions of the few who did not follow the guidance issued,” he said.
Still, he said that the overall effectiveness of EITs in obtaining actionable intelligence is not known.
“The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable,” he said.
But detainees who were subjected to harsh interrogation methods yielded information that helped the U.S. to carry out the 2011 mission that killed long-time al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to Brennan.
“It is our considered view that the detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided information that was useful and was used in the ultimate operation to go against bin Laden,” he said.
But he did not attribute the use of EITs to the obtained information that led to the operation.