Some familiar names will likely be missing from the Senate Intelligence Committee's long-awaited report on the CIA's torture program, VICE News has learned.
Notably, two retired Air Force psychologists, Dr. Bruce Jessen and Dr. James Mitchell, who have been credited with being the architects of the CIA's "enhanced interrogation techniques," currently have their names redacted in the 500-page executive summary of the report, according to current and former US officials knowledgeable about the contents of the document.
That's because the CIA has never formally acknowledged their roles — nor has the agency ever declassified any aspect of their involvement with the program. The CIA hired Mitchell and Jessen as contractors in 2002 to train interrogators and to develop an "alternative" set of interrogation methods for Abu Zubaydah, the CIA's first high-value detainee who was captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan in March 2002. Later, Mitchell and Jessen formed a company, Mitchell Jessen and Associates, and were contracted by the CIA to continue working on the torture program. Mitchell and Jessen reportedly personally took part in the waterboarding sessions of CIA detainees.
Those details, however, were uncovered by investigative journalists and human rights researchers — in the decade since the first revelations about the torture program came to light, they have never been confirmed by the CIA. The Senate Intelligence Committee is fighting the CIA to allow it to identify Mitchell and Jessen by name in their report.
Mitchell's and Jessen's work with the agency ceased in mid-2009 when then-CIA Director Leon Panetta ended their contractual arrangement with the agency. Underscoring the ongoing secrecy surrounding Mitchell and Jessen's past work, the CIA recently responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by VICE News for the agency's contracts with the psychologists' now defunct firm by issuing what is known as a Glomar response, which means the CIA would neither confirm nor deny that such records exist.
One version of the Senate Intelligence Committee's executive summary had apparently identified Mitchell and Jessen by name, and a copy of the panel's findings and conclusions obtained by McClatchy Newspapers included a bullet point that said: "Two contract psychologists devised the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques and were central figures in the program's operation."
But, according to current and former intelligence officials and committee staffers knowledgeable about the report, the CIA has insisted that the executive summary exclude any reference to Mitchell and Jessen by name, despite the fact that their roles in the program have been widely reported. The issue is part of a larger battle that has surfaced in recent weeks between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the intelligence community's redactions in the executive summary that the committee's chairwoman, Senator Dianne Feinstein, said were excessive.
If the Intelligence Committee loses the battle to name Mitchell and Jessen and still insists on identifying them by name in its executive summary, the information about their role will not be sourced to any of the 6 million pages of highly classified documents the panel reviewed during its investigation. Instead, the committee will have to rely on open source material, such as news reports that claimed the psychologists were the masterminds behind the so-called "enhanced interrogation" program. That could partially undercut the committee's assertion that their report will be the definitive history of the torture program.
The executive summary went through a months-long declassification review that was led by the CIA and included the State and Justice Departments; Director of National Intelligence James Clapper oversaw the process. The White House returned the executive summary to Feinstein earlier this month, and she and other members of her committee subsequently issued statements objecting to certain portions blacked out by the CIA, which included the use of pseudonyms to identify CIA officers who were read into the program and other operatives who were involved in the torture of CIA captives.
Feinstein declined to publicly release the report and sent it back to the White House for another review in hopes that some of the redactions may be lifted. The review, which the White House has since taken charge of, is not expected to be complete for another two months, US officials told VICE News.
Five years after President Barack Obama supposedly dismantled the CIA's torture program, the issues surrounding it are still extremely volatile.
Tom Mentzer, a spokesman for Feinstein, would not discuss the report, when the summary might be released, or the allegations that Mitchell and Jessen are not identified by name. But earlier this year in an exclusive interview, Mitchell told me he's eager to respond to the explosive claims leveled against him. The problem is, he can't — he's bound by a nondisclosure agreement he signed. And despite his repeated requests, he said, the government won't free him it.
"I would be happy to tell my entire story," Mitchell said. "But I have been told numerous times that if I violate the non-disclosure agreement there would be criminal and civil penalties. I am interested in having an active and honest debate, but only if the Justice Department and federal government release me from my agreement."
He could not even confirm his involvement in "the program."
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Feinstein's concerns about the redactions led Senator Carl Levin to issue a statement condemning the blacked-out passages, in which he noted that much of the redacted information had already been disclosed in a previous report about the treatment of detainees in custody of the US military. That report was released in 2009 by the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which he is chairman.
Specifically, Levin is referring to a section that addresses the CIA's interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, whose interrogation and torture also factors prominently in the Senate Intelligence Committee's executive summary, portions of which have been redacted, officials familiar with the document told VICE News.
Levin's report cites Mitchell and Jessen by name, and states that Jessen had been contracted by the Department of Defense to come up with a set of interrogation techniques for US military interrogators in late 2001 before he went on to work for the CIA. The report also claimed that Mitchell had been involved in the torture of Abu Zubaydah. Levin's report concluded that these coercive interrogation methods used against CIA captives and detainees in custody of the US military originated from resistance training techniques that were part of Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training developed by the Air Force. Those techniques, originally intended for US personnel captured by enemy forces, were "reverse engineered" for use against "war on terror" prisoners.
But much of what Levin's narrative laid bare as it related to the CIA's torture program — and Mitchell's role in particular — was cultivated from news reports, books,and DOJ legal documents, not from documents the committee obtained from the CIA. The CIA, however, still considers information about its torture program classified even if certain elements, such as the identities of officers who worked on it, have been leaked and published.
The agency never approved the Armed Services Committee's disclosure of information about Mitchell and Jessen's work with the CIA's torture program, current and former intelligence officials said.
The names of countries where the CIA set up so-called black site prisons have also been redacted.
Mitchell blamed an unnamed staffer on the Senate Armed Services Committee for spreading "lies" about him to the media. In 2009, the committee released a scathing report about the treatment of detainees in custody of the US military at Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
"The whole Guantanamo issue that came up… all of the abuses that they did in Guantanamo they tried to attribute to me and Bruce," Mitchell said. "It wasn't us. We didn't do any of that stuff… We didn't have a damn thing to do with that. I think that what happened was the Senate Armed Services Committee believed that the agency [CIA] was behind it."
The Armed Services Committee interviewed Mitchell. VICE News attempted to obtain a transcript, but committee staffer Kathleen Long said it is classified and would not be disclosed.
Defenders of Mitchell and Jessen have taken issue with the media's portrayal of them. Former CIA psychologist Kirk Hubbard, who headed the CIA's Research and Analysis division and who has also been linked to the development of the interrogation program, claimed in an email to Katherine Hawkins of the Constitution Project that it was the CIA who "approached them."
"Drs. Mitchell and Jessen had no authority to establish policy or procedure, or make independent decisions regarding the interrogation program," Hubbard said in the August 19, 2012 email to Hawkins, whose group at the time was conducting an independent review of the CIA program. "The conditions of their contract prohibited that. Everything they did was specifically approved by the CIA."
If true, Hubbard's contention would seem to suggest that the CIA's unwillingness to release Mitchell and Jessen from their obligation to secrecy may be motivated by the agency's desire to conceal the role it played in devising the program.
According to US officials, before Levin publicly released his report, the DOD asked his staffers to send a copy of it to the CIA so the agency could review its "equities" and determine whether the information could be declassified. Levin's staffers balked, and instead unilaterally released the report without granting the CIA an opportunity to review it, people familiar with the declassification process told VICE News.
An Armed Service Committee staffer, however, said that's not true.
"The [Armed Services Committee] report went through an extensive declassification review at [the Department of Defense], and there were significant redactions in the public report," the staffer said. "I'm not aware of any request from CIA to review, but what we received was declassified. I'm not aware of any CIA documents or materials that were used to prepare the report; it focused on the [military's] interrogation program, and therefore dealt with [the Department of Defense's] involvement with CIA, but that's all. The administration declassified the material in the [Armed Services Committee] report."
A person familiar with the interagency redaction process disputed the staffer's claim that the administration declassified the material in the Armed Services Committee report. Five years after President Barack Obama supposedly dismantled the CIA's torture program, the issues surrounding it are still extremely volatile.
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The CIA has argued that the Intelligence Committee's use of pseudonyms in its executive summary does not provide the officers who were involved in the program with enough cover. People familiar with the document also said it leaves an impression that the agency gave the committee its blessing to partially identify its officers.
Officials say the agency is concerned that journalists and human rights researchers will be able to unmask the officers, whose identities, in some cases, are still classified, based on the way the pseudonyms are used and the fact that some information about the individuals has already appeared in previously published reports.
The report currently says individual CIA officers and contractors, identified by pseudonyms, were present in unnamed European countries with named CIA captives during particular years. In some cases, those officers are identified with the same pseudonyms in other parts of the report as having been promoted to leadership positions in the CIA, which also makes it easier to identify them.
Sources tell VICE News that some pseudonyms appear in the report dozens of times.
"Making public those pseudonyms associated with individual officers, as well as dates, locations, and other identifying information related to those officers, dramatically increases the likelihood that they will be exposed and potentially subject to threats or violence," said a person familiar with the Obama administration's redactions. "A pseudonym itself is little protection from exposure when a host of other information about that officer is made public and will be seen by adversaries and foreign intelligence services."
The names of countries where the CIA set up so-called black site prisons have also been redacted.
"Exposing details of past intelligence cooperation with specific foreign governments could jeopardize current relationships with those governments, cause domestic political upheaval in those countries, and undermine the willingness of foreign intelligence services to work with America in the future," the person familiar with the administration's redactions said.
The Intelligence Committee has proposed rewriting or rephrasing those sections, according to three staffers, but the CIA has insisted on the removal of pseudonyms. It is unclear how the issue will be resolved.
VICE News has learned that the executive summary reached its conclusions and findings by focusing on 20 high-value detainees in custody of the CIA who were kidnapped by the agency, held incommunicado, and tortured. The report, which was primarily written by two Intelligence Committee staffers, says the CIA lied to Congress, the media, and the White House about the value of intelligence gleaned from detainees subjected to torture techniques.
The CIA, which has responded to the Senate's report with a 122-page rebuttal, does not wholly disagree with the Intelligence Committee's findings. But there are vehement disagreements the CIA has with the committee over certain assertions the panel has made involving 18 detainees. The rebuttal includes a list of recommendations the agency intends to implement. The CIA response does not defend the use of torture techniques and it adds that there were instances when the value of intelligence was inflated.
With that said, several committee staffers say that the CIA's response asserts that all of the intelligence obtained from detainees was valuable and saved lives. It also says there is no way to determine whether interrogators would have been able to obtain intelligence if the detainee were not tortured.
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