CIA Director John Brennan on Thursday acknowledged the nation’s top intelligence agency was in “uncharted territory” and “unprepared” to carry out a detention and interrogation program in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
While he claimed the overwhelming majority of CIA personnel had acted responsibly and within the law, Brennan admitted some agency officers had "used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent and rightly should be repudiated by all. And we fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes."
Brennan's comments at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia came two days after the Senate Intelligence Committee released a damning report exposing brutal interrogation methods used by the agency to root out terror suspects. The committee's chairman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, said the techniques had amounted to torture.
Brennan, for his part, refused to use the word torture in describing the interrogation techniques that had been used against detainees. "I'll leave that to others," he told reporters.
He pledged to implement reforms in the wake of the report, but defended the agency's commitment to protecting the homeland. Intelligence officers "did what we were asked to do in the service of our nation," Brennan said.
Among its conclusions, the Senate report found that the enhanced interrogations produced little or no information that could have been gleaned by others means. Asked if he believed otherwise, Brennan said it was an "unknowable fact," adding that the agency has not concluded that enhanced interrogations led to "useful information from detainees subjected to them." He did say detainees who had been subjected to enhanced interrogations "provided information that was useful" in the operation that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
Colorado Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, delivered a blistering speech against Brennan and the CIA Wednesday, accusing the agency of engaging in a cover-up aimed at preventing the American public from knowing the full extent of abuses against detainees.
“The CIA has lied to its overseers and the public, destroyed and tried to hold back evidence, spied on the Senate, made false charges against our staff, and lied about torture and the results of torture,” Udall said on the Senate floor. “And no one has been held to account.” Udall called on President Obama to “purge” the CIA’s top ranks of officers who were directly involved in the programs to detainee, torture and kidnap detainees around the world.
Brennan said the agency did not purposefully mislead. "To be clear, there were instances where representations ... about the program that were used or approved by agency officers were inaccurate, imprecise or fell short of our tradecraft standards," Brennan said.
Brennan refused to share with reporters his views about the report and the process by which is was produced. After a reporter pressed Brennan to share his thoughts "in the interests of transparency," the CIA head responded, "I think there's more than enough transparency that has happened over the last couple days. I think it's -- it's over the top."