WASHINGTON — Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee clashed Wednesday with CIA Director John Brennan over his response to a classified committee report on CIA interrogations a decade ago that included water-boarding.
At a hearing to explore global threats to America, Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) accused the CIA of making inaccurate public statements about the still-secret study, saying the agency set out to “intimidate, deflect and thwart legitimate oversight.”
Heinrich personally castigated Brennan, saying he has ignored overtures to “bridge the chasm” with committee Democrats because “it doesn’t appear to be in the director’s nature to accept these overtures.”
“I respectfully but vehemently disagree,” Brennan responded.
The report by committee Democrats is said to amount to a blistering indictment of the harsh interrogations of Al Qaeda detainees. It concludes the CIA program was mismanaged and produced little valuable intelligence.
The CIA response disputes that conclusion and asserts a variety of factual errors. Republicans did not participate in writing the report, but the Democratic-led committee adopted it with one Republican vote, that of Sen. Olympia Snow (R-Maine), who has since retired. Its backers are pressing the Obama administration to declassify the report and make it public.
Heinrich and Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) pressed Brennan about an internal CIA review group that former CIA Director Leon Panetta appointed in 2009 to examine the detention, interrogation and rendition practices.
Udall has said the group’s conclusions were far more critical of CIA conduct than the CIA’s official response to the committee report. Both documents are classified.
The review group’s conclusions were not included in the response, and committee members want to see them.
Brennan said he had not fully read the review group’s material before he approved the CIA response to the Senate report. He declined to go further in the public hearing.
“Senator, I respectfully would like to say that I don’t think this is the proper format for that discussion because our responses to your report were in classified form.”
Udall responded: “Are you saying that the CIA officers who were asked to produce this internal review got it wrong, just like you said the committee got it wrong? We had 6,300 pages, 6 million documents, 35,500 footnotes.”
Brennan replied, “I didn’t say that the committee got it wrong. I said there were things in that report that I disagreed with. There were things in that report that I agreed with. And I look forward to working with the committee on the next steps in that report.”
“I am fully confident in the factual accuracy of the report, and nothing in your response so far has persuaded me otherwise,” Heinrich said to Brennan.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the committee chairman, repeatedly cut off her colleagues as they sought to question Brennan about the report, saying it should be discussed in closed session.
[For the Record, 9:43 a.m. PST Jan. 31: An earlier version of this post referred to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) instead of former Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and as Sen. Mark Udall as representing Utah, not Colorado.]