CIA switcheroo!

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Aug. 28 2009 7:27 PM

CIA Switcheroo!

One of the "Cheney documents" released this week isn't the one he asked for.

Er, whoops. Those two reports the CIA released this week, saying they were the documents Cheney requested last April? The ones Cheney said would show that "enhanced interrogation" (his euphemism for torture) saved American lives?

They were the wrong documents! Or, rather, one of them was.

When the Weekly Standard's Stephen Hayes first raised this prospect in an Aug. 25 blog item, I figured it was sour grapes. As I and others noted, the two CIA reports didn't come close to providing the vindication Cheney had said they would. What's more, the various parties who'd requested release of the documents were all acting like satisfied customers. Cheney said that they "demonstrate that the individuals subjected to Enhanced Interrogation Techniques provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al Qaeda." This dodged the question of whether enhanced interrogation was what made the detainees sing, but that's a matter for another day. What's relevant here is that nowhere did Cheney say, Hey, one of these is the wrong document! Judicial Watch,the conservative nonprofit that had sued for the documents' release, sent out a press release trumpeting that it had acquired the documents Cheney had sought. So did the Center For Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, and the Center For Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University Law School: "CCR, Amnesty, and NYU Receive Docs Cheney Wanted Declassify To Justify Torture."

A close rereading of the Justice Department cover letter sent out with the two CIA reports' release reveals that Justice never said these were the documents Cheney requested; it merely said that the CIA had "completed processing and/or reprocessing certain records in this matter, and has determined that it may release some of those records in whole or part." CIA Director Leon Panetta's public statement announcing the release made reference to "two papers—one from 2004 and the other from 2005—that discuss the value of intelligence acquired from high-level detainees." But Panetta, too, avoided saying these were the documents Cheney had sought. Why, then, did every news outlet state that these were the documents Cheney had requested? Because that's what they were told by CIA spokesman George Little.

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Hayes noticed a discrepancy (perhaps with some help from Cheney or his former staff; Hayes wrote a sympathetic 2007 biography of Cheney and got lots of access). One of the reports, titled "Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War Against al-Qaida," was datedJune 3, 2005, whereas the document Cheney had asked for (in his publicly available request) was dated June 1, 2005. Further comparison revealed that the June 1 document Cheney requested was 13 pages long, whereas the June 3 document he got was 12. (The other CIA report, "Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: Preeminent Source on al-Qaida" matches the date and page-length in Cheney's request.) A mere clerical error on Cheney's part? Or was this indeed a different document?

I spent two days trying to get an answer out of the Justice Department, expecting at any moment to be told that of course this was a clerical error and of course the Obama administration wouldn't try to pull a fast one, especially given the near-certainty that it would be found out. But nobody was willing to discuss the matter at all. Finally, I got referred to the CIA, where Little finally said, in an e-mail, the following: "The documents that the former Vice President requested are being processed in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act."

In other words … the CIA hasn't released the documents Cheney requested. Or, rather, it released one but not the other.

Hayes cited an unnamed intelligence official who alleged that the unreleased June 1 CIA report contains more detail than the June 3 report that the CIA made public. A U.S. official familiar with the reports that Cheney requested would say to me only: "There was more than one version of one of the documents he requested. One of those versions went out on Monday."

I'm skeptical of Hayes' source's claim. How can a 13-page version of a CIA report go into significantly greater detail than a 12-page version? And I seriously doubt that if we could see the June 1 CIA report, it would provide the vindication that Cheney seeks. But Hayes is right on the narrow point that the CIA pulled a fast one. One of the two documents it released this week was not the document Cheney asked for, even though the CIA claimed that it was.

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

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