In a letter, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein appealed to President Barack Obama to reconsider his administration's decision to task the CIA with editing a torture report harshly critical of the spy agency's treatment of terror suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks before it can be made public. (J. Scott Applewhite / AP)
WASHINGTON — The State Department is seeking the declassification of a 10-month-old letter expressing its concerns about a controversial Senate torture review, U.S. officials said Wednesday.
The classified letter came to light after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted 11-3 last week to release parts of its 6,600-page investigation of the CIA’s waterboarding and “enhanced interrogation techniques” on terrorist suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Two of the dissenters, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Jim Risch, said they opposed releasing the summary and findings of the torture report because the State Department and U.S. allies had warned that declassification “could endanger the lives of American diplomats and citizens overseas and jeopardize U.S. relations with other countries.”
Such a position from the State Department would put it at odds with the White House.
President Obama has backed the committee’s work and instructed the CIA and other agencies to expeditiously redact any information compromising U.S. national security so the report can be released. Attorney General Eric Holder echoed that sentiment this week.
Obama administration officials insisted the State Department shared that opinion.
Confirming media reports in the days since the committee vote, the U.S. officials said Rubio and Risch were referring to a classified letter written by the State Department’s former intelligence chief, Philip Goldberg. It was sent to the intelligence committee’s Democratic chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and top Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, on June 10, 2013. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly about a still-classified letter.
A spokeswoman for Rubio said she couldn’t speak about classified correspondence. Risch’s office declined to immediately comment.
Goldberg, according to the U.S. officials, asserted his support for the Senate committee’s investigation.
Goldberg asked for adequate precautions to be taken before information was released and a role for the State Department in the process of censoring classified information, they added.
The officials said both concerns have been satisfied. The CIA has proposed a series of redactions over the last 10 months and the State Department has been assured a place in the interagency determination of which sections of the Senate report to black out, they said.
The officials confirmed the letter contained a reference to potential problems for diplomats or international partnerships posed by the report’s potential release. But they said Goldberg indicated these would be risks if the Senate committee rushed out the report last year without adequate safeguards.
It’s unclear how long it might take to publicly release Goldberg’s letter.
The State Department’s sensitivity about the report concerns the locations of “black site” prisons overseas. The CIA and other parts of the Obama administration share that concern. Senators, too, have spoken of preventing the locations from being made public.
Speaking on the Senate floor last month, Feinstein said the review was always structured so “the true names of nonsupervisory CIA personnel and the names of specific countries in which the CIA operated detention sites” wouldn’t be released. “We had agreed up front that our report didn’t need to include this information and so we agreed to redact it from materials leaving the CIA’s facility,” she said.
The report concludes the CIA tortured suspects and gained little in valuable intelligence, and that the spy agency misled President George W. Bush and Congress about the successes of the program. The CIA disputes the findings.
The committee and the agency also are locked in a related dispute related to the production of the report, with each side accusing the other of illegal activity. The Justice Department is reviewing competing criminal complaints.