Tuesday, May 17, 2016

CIA Torture Report Drama: Watchdog Agency "Accidentally" Destroys Report

News has recently surfaced that the CIA Inspector General "mistakenly" destroyed its only copy of the Senate torture reports last summer (1). According to IG, the report was accidentally destroyed both physically and digitally due to a miscommunication. As of now, the only copy of the over 6700-page report lies with the CIA itself, the very agency that the report heavily scrutinizes.

A destroyed hard-drive.
Source: MTC Recyclers

The torture report concerns the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program, which was enacted as part of the war on terror. The report details the CIA's use of torture on suspected terrorists, and calls into question both its efficacy and legality. 

Though a 500-page summary of the report was released to the public in late 2014, many of its details still remained classified. Whether or not the entirety of the report should be made public is still an ongoing point of contention (2), though federal judges have recently exempted it from disclosure laws (3).

Though both the news media and Congress have questioned the nature of this "accident," the mistake has been made and there is little use in pointing fingers. The underlying concern is that of effectively overseeing the CIA. Since the War on Terror, the capabilities of intelligence agencies have greatly increased, resulting in abuses as documented in the Senate reports. How can Congress effectively oversee these organizations moving towards the future? Keep in mind that oversight and transparency efforts were obviously inadequate during the height of the war on terror. 

In addition, do you think the Senate reports should be made public? Would keeping such information private set a dangerous precedent for the future? Withholding information from the public may result in clueless constituents electing representatives which have different interests in mind.

(2) Salon
(3) Fox


Jong Lim said...

To the future, Congress can never effectively oversee these organizations. This is due to all the precedents that Congress attempts to create, or to be publicized, will be always be shot down by the CIA. With all of its power, Congress can only wait and hope that whatever the CIA is reporting to Congress is legitimate, keeps the technical stuff that would make a regular Congressman shake his head in confusion, and only tells Congress what is important enough for them to divulge and keep everything else out of the public eye. Senate reports should be made public. Releasing senate reports will show the thinking and logic used in the report, while not releasing reports will be seen as a precedent to legally allow agencies to have free reign.

Grant Hillman said...

I think many people, no matter what side of the political discussion they're on, can agree that government transparency is absolutely necessary. Senate reports should absolutely be made public, as I believe that as citizens we have the right to know what is going on within our government and related agencies. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that any major progress will be made towards increasing the amount of oversight Congress has over the CIA anytime soon because they've basically been allowed to have free reign for a long amount of time. This sets a dangerous precedent because it could eventually enable agencies such as the CIA to act completely independent of Congress and withhold massive quantities of information, giving them power that they shouldn't have in the first place.

Jeffrey Song said...

I agree with Grant on the importance of government transparency and accountability to its citizens, especially in matters concerning Congress/federal agencies. There's not too much that we can do right now, but I think in the upcoming presidential election/turnover period, the president's ability to enact change combined with a heightened public awareness and interest in the issue could potentially lead to some changes in the way that federal agencies like the CIA/FBI are held accountable for their actions. It seems kind of ludicrous that these reports were destroyed both physically and digitally(deleting every digital copy?) simultaneously or in such a way that they were unable to salvage one or the other. That's not to say that these reports definitely hold something incriminating or illegal, but there's certainly a possibility that is only made more likely with how oddly these reports were destroyed. Besides, the core issue of government transparency is not an issue of whether or not these reports will incriminate the government/agencies, it's about an elected government's accountability and responsibility to its electorate.

Christopher Griffis said...

I agree with what Grant said above about governmental transparency, however I think there still needs to be limitations on governmental transparency. Obviously, when it comes to national security, transparency should be limited but in cases of investigations into organizations by bureaucracies or congressional committees, transparency is required to be able to investigate.
This argument may sound like I am against governmental transparency but I am just playing devil's advocate and what the CIA did or "accidentally" did is inexcusable as the CIA should not be making any mistakes let alone small, easily preventable, mistakes and no matter how much the CIA claims there are no more copies I sincerely doubt that the CIA would not have at least one extra copy somewhere.

Nicholas Tong1 said...

I feel that disclosing reports to the Senate is a good compromise between being totally transparent (and possibly create security risks), and being totally opaque. I would not be opposed to disclosing such sensitive information to the House either.

Either way, we need SOME type of oversight for all government agencies, and the CIA and other intelligence agencies should not be exceptions. Government agencies should cater to the people's interests, not the other way around. We do not simply shovel tax money over so that intelligence agencies can use it for their own interests. At the end of the day, we need to know that these intelligence agencies are working for the security of our country, and one way we can ensure that is Congressional oversight. Furthermore, Congress should not be afraid of using its budgeting powers to control the intelligence agencies.

There is a certain point where we need to say no to the intelligence agencies' secretiveness in order to ensure that the people are still being served first.

Janet Liu said...

There's always been room for drama when it comes to a governing or organizing body and transparency, and from the perspective of someone who's been on both ends, it's hard not to be frustrated when "mistakes" are made, but sometimes it's equally hard to let a crowd of people with opinions and judgments pour over work that matters to you, just so that they can have fun giving their two cents and condemning your mistakes (such as on a blog post :) ) and then moving on. That's not to say that government should be completely opaque, and that's not to say that government can get away with making "mistakes." But we should foster a culture of critical acceptance rather than critical condemnation when it comes to those real mistakes, one of which may have been torture, and while that's a completely idealistic and nonsensical vision, the current ideal that advocates transparency at all costs may also have more to do than it seems with the CIA's acting another way.

Kristen Tamsil said...

True to our founding fathers' principle of our republic - government for the people by the people - the people need government transparency and the system of governance have been made to ensure there is checks and balances among governing bodies. It's ideal and far from the reality to expect transparency for all. There are many excuses for the government agencies such as the CIA to be opaque to "protect" our security but this is a slippery slope that once crossed, you'll never gain back the freedom that makes this country great. Witness the bruhaha over the iPhone encryption and Apple's refusal to provide a "backdoor" even for just that one device. It's a slippery slope. Give it up and you can never regain your privacy. We the good citizens of the world may say we have nothing to hide, but sometime the difference between good and bad is a very thinly disguised vale. Back to CIA's report regarding the efficacy of torture and so on, speculations abound about the "last evidence" that's destroyed. That report needs to be disclosed to the people for transparency, without endangering the services of people who may be involved in the process. It's the logic, needs, methods, reasons and efficacy/results that need questioning.

Monika Kepa 1 said...

This is a difficult situation no matter how it is looked at, torture shouldn't be happening due to its cruelty to other humans but if it stops another event like 9/11 do the ends justify the means? and if the government is torturing people then the citizens have a right to know, but is that safe or will it just bring fire to the flame and create more anti-american sentiments in other countries leading to more terrorists creating a sort of cycle. Also are there some things that even the Senate does not know about, those terrible tortes happening behind closed doors to those seen as most dangerous, and if so should they know or is it better to remain ignorant and safe from others. These are just the simple questions that come to mind from this article followed by more difficult ones dealing with precedent and privacy and wether or not these government programs meant to protect the citizens from terrorists are actually helping. All these questions make this article loaded as well as interesting to answer yet as Kristen mentions its a slippery slope both in dealing with these topics and answering questions on them. Do you believe the CIA has too much power to do things like destroy these files or torture people? Do the ends justify the means or are they just powerful, "too big to fail"?

TJ Bonbright said...

I would agree with the argument that Senate reports should be made available to the public. As citizens who supposedly give power to the government, we should at least know what is going on, barring any kind of activity that would threaten national security if made public. As previous commenters have pointed out, if we are not made aware of the activities of the government, then we may be electing people to office who may or may not have our best interest in mind. At the same time, I see it being very difficult to reign in the CIA, for they have already been given so much power. The recent torture report serves as an apt indicator of the potential dangers of giving an agency too much power.

Eric Chen 1 said...

The lack of transparency in this case is rather worrying - when the justification for missing reports is "Whoops there was an accident, we destroyed ALL copies of the report!" you know something is wrong. The CIA is an incredibly competent organization, and I have trouble believing that this was just an accident. While I still have faith that the CIA has the country's best interests at heart, our inability to reign them in is unacceptable. Their ability to hide information when scrutinized is too great, and I can only hope that government officials have more access to such reports then we do. Public scrutiny of the CIA is rising, but in the end we're still pretty powerless against their lack of transparency. Either way, while I appreciate the need for confidentiality in the name of national security, it also allows for too much independence on their part. Full transparency is not the answer, but at the very least excuses like "There was an accident" should not be appearing. Perhaps Congress could take more drastic action, and support from the President would also go a long way towards greater transparency.

Virginia Hsiao said...

Something about this situation reminds me of the Nixon tapes -- maybe it's the mentality that Eric described "whoops we accidentally destroyed all of the copies!" but ultimately, like the outcome of the Nixon case indicated, no one, or at least no one should be, exempt from the law. In this case, perhaps it would be better if the records were made public. Given that the records were "accidentally" destroyed, it seems that something more may exist under the surface.

In terms of regulations, it's difficult to truly regulate situations like this given how sensitive the materials are. Because of this, non-partisan and highly attuned individuals, perhaps in bureaucracies, should be in charge of determining whether the materials should be public. Furthermore, a separate body should be formed to review such papers and insure that the actions taken are legal and not an overstep.

Christopher Duan said...

Thanks Tony for this interesting article. Congress needs more control over these organizations and agencies moving forward. The NSA whistleblowing was a perfect example of this gone out of control. I'm not sure if we should just issue a blanket policy of making all senate reports available to the public, there is a degree of national security we have to maintain. the precedent ahs already been set as there is already policy in place now.