Jane Mayer reports: Last night, along with the bill reopening the government, the Senate confirmed Stephen W. Preston, the top lawyer at the C.I.A., to move to the Pentagon to serve in the same role there. The vote slipped by unnoticed by most, but on close inspection, it revealed previously unreleased documents that lift the lid on an unusual standoff between Congress and the Obama Administration’s C.I.A. At its core is a bitter disagreement over an apparently devastating, and still secret, report by the Senate Intelligence Committee documenting in detail how the C.I.A.’s brutalization of terror suspects during the Bush years was unnecessary, ineffective, and deceptively sold to Congress, the White House, the Justice Department, and the public. The report threatens to definitively refute former C.I.A. personnel who have defended the program’s integrity. But so far, to the consternation of several members of the Intelligence Committee, the Obama Administration, like Bush’s before it, is keeping the damning details from public view.
Preston’s confirmation became a proxy skirmish in the fight. Obama reportedly hoped to get Preston confirmed before the congressional recess this past summer. Instead, Senator Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado, who is a member of both the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Armed Services Committee, put a “hold” on Preston’s confirmation until he answered a set of additional, and previously undisclosed, questions. A copy of these seven questions, and Preston’s answers, obtained by The New Yorker (below), sheds new light on the conflict.
The questions and answers make clear that Udall, who has pushed vigorously for the report’s release, voted to confirm Preston only after he believed that the general counsel distanced himself from his own intelligence agency’s defiant and defensive stance on the six-thousand-three-hundred page report, which cost forty million dollars to produce. Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, are pushing to declassify and publicly release it. But John Brennan, the agency’s director, a career C.I.A. officer, and an Obama confidant, is apparently resisting disclosure, and challenging many of the report’s conclusions.
On June 27th, the C.I.A. delivered an impassioned rebuttal of the report to the committee. Last month marked the last of numerous meetings between C.I.A. and Intelligence Committee personnel over the disputed report. They did not go well, according to several informed sources. Meanwhile, despite Obama’s calls for increased transparency, the White House has apparently sat on the sidelines, urging the two intransigent sides to work out their differences. Without White House involvement, the standoff is likely to remain a huge battle. [Continue reading…]