What Exactly Does the CIA Want to Redact in the Senate Torture Report?

An epic of moral decay, the Senate Intelligence Committees's 6,700-page investigation into the CIA's use of torture is longer than all but one of the world's great works of literature. It's also classified, probably forever. Right now, the Senate is only contesting CIA redactions to the 510-page executive summary.

What does the CIA want blacked out? Roughly 15 percent of the words in the summary. Here's the best current assessment:

  • The first big-ticket redaction is any-and-all code names and pseudonyms used in the summary that refer either to CIA personnel or to countries that aided the CIA in its "extraordinary rendition" program.

    As an anonymous federal official complained to McClatchy's D.C. bureau, "The story is partly about names and places. All of a sudden you wouldn't be able to tell that story."

    "Essentially it just becomes a bunch of verbs. 'Something was done but nobody did it and it wasn't done anywhere.' It's similar to 'Mistakes were made.' There's no accountability in the narrative. It would make it incomprehensible."
  • According to the Washington Post's sources, the CIA (and, it seems, the Obama administration) would like to redact material illustrating how certain key pieces of intelligence—that were long thought to be derived from the rendition and "enhanced interrogation" programs—were not. Despite many media appearances to the contrary, by Dick Cheney and other members of the Bush administration, it sounds like the committee discovered that there were intercepted communications, unenhanced interrogations, and other forms of non-torture-based intelligence (or NOTORTINT) that led to these national security victories.

    "The redactions obscure or prevent the report from sharing other forms of information that contributed to counterterrorism successes," which included disrupting terrorism plots in progress and capturing certain terrorist suspects, the Post was told by another, presumably different, unnamed U.S. official.
  • The CIA would also like to redact the committee's evidence pertaining to novel and "improvised" torture techniques, employed by the agency, but not listed among the ten techniques authorized by the Justice Department's infamous "torture memo." Two (again unnamed) officials told VICE News that these never-before-released torture methods are vital to the report, as they help convey the overall "cruelty" of the program.
  • Evidence suggesting that the agency intentionally leaked information about "phantom terror plots" allegedly foiled by the torture program's intelligence.
  • Information pertaining to how the program originated.
  • Information that is already publicly available in the Senate Armed Services committee's 2009 report on detention, according to an interview with Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) in the New York Times.
  • Like, one would have to assume, information pertaining to that one time they kidnapped a 12-year-old girl and her family, just because her dad was a political opponent of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

A lot of stuff, in other words.

It is a pretty long executive summary of a pretty long report, after all.

What Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) originally thought would be a six-month review into the CIA's use of torture has metastasized into a protracted five-year-plus battle with the U.S. intelligence community and the executive over ethical and legal breaches that she now calls "chilling," and "far more systematic and widespread than we thought." It's important to note that this is coming from a woman who called Edward Snowden's disclosures last year "an act of treason." Feinstein, like her Republican ally in this investigation, John McCain, is pretty much a defense hawk—which makes some of the CIA's angry baby recalcitrance a little hard to take.

Beyond the broad redaction requests, and the admission that they were illegally spying on the Senate committee's computers, we have a former senior CIA official whining to the Washington Post that the investigation has gone on "longer than the CIA held detainees."

Talk about torture. Goodness gracious.

You will not hear all this wounded, pathetic noise when the intelligence committees finally get around to an investigation of all those creepy extrajudicial tactics conducted by the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command over the past decade. No one at their Rumsfeld-created parallel CIA wing, the Strategic Support Branch, or their personal signals intelligence division, The Activity, are going to go crying anonymously to the Washington Post.

They'll probably just do what they do best: discreetly kill people.

[photo: an unmarked 737, likely a Janet U.S. Air Force plane, parked at Gold Coast Terminal in Las Vegas, and photographed from nearly a mile away by Trevor Paglen via WIRED]

To contact the author, email matthew.phelan@gawker.com, pgp public key.