Oops! CIA watchdog ‘inadvertently’ destroys its only copy of torture report

© Larry Downing
The CIA’s internal watchdog “inadvertently” deleted its only copy of the Senate report on torture techniques employed by the agency in the wake of 9/11 – and did so while the Justice Department was insisting in court that copies were being stored.

Other copies still exist, including at the CIA itself, but news of the deletion is significant, as it occurred at the CIA inspector general’s office, which is in charge of overseeing policies and conduct at the agency to ensure that it is not breaking the law or acting out of bounds.

Although the full 6,700-page torture report has never been released to the public, the Senate did release a 500-page executive summary in 2014. The report detailed the CIA’s use of so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and more, sparking an outcry from a number of human rights groups.

With the American Civil Liberties Union suing to get the entire report released, the fact that the inspector general’s copy was erased has raised red flags.

“It’s breathtaking that this could have happened, especially in the inspector general’s office — they’re the ones that are supposed to be providing accountability within the agency itself,” said Douglas Cox, a City University of New York School of Law professor, to Yahoo News, which first reported the deletion. “It makes you wonder what was going on over there?”

When the Senate released its 500-page executive summary, copies of the full report were sent to multiple federal agencies, including the CIA’s internal watchdog. After receiving a computer disk containing the report, the inspector general’s office it to its network and then destroyed the disk, Yahoo reported. According to acting Inspector General Christopher R. Sharpley, this was “the normal course of business.”

In early 2015, the Justice Department ordered federal agencies not to open the file because doing so would make it subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Consequently, last week, a federal appeals court declined to release the report under FOIA because it is considered a congressional document.

Nevertheless, an employee at the CIA inspector general’s office reportedly believed that the Justice Department’s order not to open the file meant that it should be removed, and then deleted it. This left the office without the disk or the network copy.

The Senate committee that drafted the torture report and the Justice Department both learned of the erasure during the summer of 2015. However, the judge overseeing the FOIA lawsuit was never told, and back in February 2015 the Justice Department assured the courts that the files would not be destroyed.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California) is now urging the CIA to give the inspector general’s office another copy. So far, the watchdog has yet to receive it.

“Your prompt response will allay my concern that this was more than an ‘accident,’” she wrote to agency director John Brennan. “The CIA IG should have a copy of the full study because the report includes extensive information directly related to the IG’s ongoing oversight of the CIA.”

Meanwhile, Feinstein wrote to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, urging her to inform the courts that the copy has been destroyed.

Feinstein was the leading lawmaker pushing for the release of the executive summary of the torture report, and sent copies of the full report to other agencies so that it could be preserved and potentially declassified later. She also sent a copy to the CIA inspector general because she wanted the watchdog to review the torture program and ensure that it was never resumed.