In a little noticed angle of the debt-ceiling deal, the Senate voted to confirm Stephen Preston, currently the CIA’s top lawyer, for the same job at the Pentagon. That’s news because Preston’s nomination had been held up by Senator Mark Udall and became a proxy battle in Congress’s struggle with the CIA over a damning 6,000-page report on the agency’s torture program. The report, which cost $40 million, apparently provides definitive proof that the torture program was ineffective, even counterproductive, and was deceptively sold to Congress. The condition of Preston’s confirmation was answers to questions from Sen. Udall, which were obtained by The New Yorker. In his responses to Udall, Preston distances himself from the CIA’s bristling opposition to the torture report.
"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.
Edward Price, a media spokesman for the C.I.A., said in a statement, “Mr. Preston’s answers are fully consistent with the Agency’s position and its response to the Senate report on the Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation program. The C.I.A. response noted that the C.I.A. agreed with a number of the Senate study’s findings and had taken steps to address shortcomings identified by the report, but it also detailed significant errors in the study.” The C.I.A. declined to discuss details, and documents suggest some significant differences between Preston and the agency.
The C.I.A. has defended its record on keeping Congress informed. In contrast, Preston, in his answers to Udall, concedes that, during the Bush years, the C.I.A. “fell well short” of current standards for keeping the congressional oversight committees informed of covert actions, as is required under the 1947 National Security Act."
“Without the right amount of sunshine, some of the problems documented in the study—to include problems that I believe still exist today—will remain uncorrected," said Udall. "The American people have the right to know what the government has done on their behalf.”