Where the SSCI and CIA Agree We Have a Problem—And How Senator Feinstein’s Proposed Reforms Can Fix It, Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about problems in the CIA’s interrogation program on which the Senate Select Intelligence Committee’s (SSCI) report on CIA torture, the CIA’s response, and the SSCI minority report all agree.

Now it’s time to act.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, former chairman and current ranking member of the SSCI, has introduced a set of administrative and legislative reforms that would fortify the United States opposition to torture and help strengthen the integrity of the CIA. Since many of these reforms suggest ways to achieve the CIA’s own recommendations, the CIA can only benefit from supporting them.

Yesterday we categorized five areas where the CIA has acknowledged it needs improvement. Today we focus on how Feinstein’s reforms can help solve these problems and why they should have the CIA’s—and the entire administration’s—support.

1. CIA officers used unauthorized interrogation techniques. Many CIA interrogators were inexperienced or promoted despite troubling records, such as a history of violence or abusive treatment. Given this, it’s hardly shocking that some went well beyond officially sanctioned interrogation techniques. Feinstein’s reforms would ensure adequate screening mechanisms for CIA personnel, and require rigorous background checks before allowing them to participate in interrogations.

2. The CIA did not fully hold its officers, on all levels, accountable for failures. Feinstein’s reforms include specific suggestions for CIA Accountability Boards. For example, Accountability Boards should review management problems and failures in leadership, and, in addition to examining individual cases of wrongdoing, should address structural and systematic problems at the Agency.

Given that CIA personnel were ignoring directives from their superiors, it’s certainly in the CIA’s best interest to strengthen accountability measures and make sure that its internal procedures and guidelines are followed. Early indications here are not encouraging, though, as the CIA established an Accountability Review Board that did not comply with its own recommendations to look into allegations that CIA officers unlawfully spied on Senate staffers.

3. Some procedures related to the use of independent contractors were problematic and caused conflicts of interest that could affect accurate reporting. The CIA’s use of contractors in creating and implementing its program is especially controversial. Feinstein’s reforms would ensure that contractors can’t be hired to perform “inherently government functions,” including “conducting interrogations, directing operations, evaluating programs, and managing intelligence programs.” These reforms would ensure that only experts will be put in a position to design and implement interrogations, and that the internal CIA accountability and reporting processes would govern work.

4. The CIA made inaccurate statements to government officials. Feinstein’s reforms recognize the importance of transparency. Feinstein recommends that restrictions on what information the CIA can share with Congress be significantly reformed, and that congressional committees have expanded access to CIA materials. Feinstein also suggests that the Director of National Security establish a process by which CIA employees are obligated to correct misrepresentations.

5. The CIA failed to comprehensively analyze the effectiveness of its techniques. The CIA routinely exaggerated the effectiveness of its program, and internal reviews to assess the effectiveness were done by agents who were inexperienced, biased, or didn’t have enough information about the program to adequately assess it. Feinstein’s reforms recommend that the NSC improve how it assesses the effectiveness of CIA programs, and include independent assessments that do not depend on CIA self-reporting.

The CIA is right to recommend changes in its internal structure and procedures. Feinstein’s reforms are an excellent step to make these recommendations a reality and move toward a better future for the Agency. The CIA, and Obama Administration more broadly, should support these reforms, and help recreate the intelligence community that the country needs and deserves.


Published on January 30, 2015


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