WASHINGTON — The Senate Intelligence Committee has asked the C.I.A. for an internal study done by the agency that lawmakers believe is broadly critical of the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program but was withheld from congressional oversight committees.
The committee’s request comes in the midst of a yearlong battle with the C.I.A. over the release of the panel’s own exhaustive report about the program, one of the most controversial policies of the post-Sept. 11 era.
The Senate report, totaling more than 6,000 pages, was completed last December but has yet to be declassified. According to people who have read the study, it is unsparing in its criticism of the now-defunct interrogation program and presents a chronicle of C.I.A. officials’ repeatedly misleading the White House, Congress and the public about the value of brutal methods that, in the end, produced little valuable intelligence.
Senator Mark Udall, Democrat of Colorado, disclosed the existence of the internal C.I.A. report during an Intelligence Committee hearing on Tuesday. He said he believed it was begun several years ago and “is consistent with the Intelligence’s Committee’s report” although it “conflicts with the official C.I.A. response to the committee’s report.”
“If this is true,” Mr. Udall said during a hearing on the nomination of Caroline D. Krass to be the C.I.A.’s top lawyer, “this raises fundamental questions about why a review the C.I.A. conducted internally years ago — and never provided to the committee — is so different from the C.I.A.’s formal response to the committee study.”
The agency responded to the committee report with a vigorous 122-page rebuttal that challenged both the Senate report’s specific facts and its overarching conclusions. John O. Brennan, one of Mr. Obama’s closest advisers before taking over the C.I.A. this year — and who denounced the interrogation program during his confirmation hearing — delivered the agency’s response to the Intelligence Committee himself.
It is unclear what the agency specifically concluded in its internal review.
Mr. Udall, whose public criticisms of the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone data has raised his profile in Congress and won him praise from privacy advocates, said he would not support Ms. Krass’s nomination until the C.I.A. provided more information to the committee about the interrogation program.
Ms. Krass did not respond directly to Mr. Udall’s statements about the internal C.I.A. review. Dean Boyd, an agency spokesman, said the agency was “aware of the committee’s request and will respond appropriately.”
Mr. Boyd said that the C.I.A. agreed with a number of the conclusions of the voluminous Senate investigative report, but found “significant errors in the study.”
“C.I.A. and committee staff have had extensive dialogue on this issue, and the agency is prepared to work with the committee to determine the best way forward on potential declassification,” he said.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who is the Intelligence Committee’s chairwoman, said recently that her committee would soon vote to adopt the report’s executive summary and conclusion, which would then be subject to a formal declassification process before it was publicly released.
Republican members of the committee, angry about what they see as a biased and shoddy investigation by their Democratic colleagues, are planning to make public a rebuttal of their own.
The Senate report, which took years to complete and cost more than $40 million to produce, began as an attempt to document what was perhaps the most divisive of the Bush administration’s responses to the Sept. 11 attacks. But it has since become enmeshed in the complex politics of the Obama administration.
President Obama ended the detention program as one of his first acts in the Oval Office, and has repeatedly denounced the C.I.A.’s interrogation methods under the program. During a speech in May, he said that the United States had “compromised our basic values by using torture to interrogate our enemies, and detaining individuals in a way that ran counter to the rule of law.”
And yet Mr. Obama has repeatedly resisted demands by human rights groups to seek prosecutions for the lawyers who approved the interrogation methods or the people who carried them out, and the White House has been mostly silent during the debate over the past year about declassifying the Senate report.
For all his criticisms of the counterterrorism excesses during the Bush administration, Mr. Obama has put the C.I.A. at the center of his strategy to kill militant suspects in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.
Human rights groups have tried to pressure the White House to intervene to get the Senate report declassified.
“Whether it’s stalling or concealing, the C.I.A. is trying to avoid reckoning with its past abuse,” said Naureen Shah of Amnesty International USA. “And that’s what makes declassifying the Senate’s report so crucial right now.”
Ms. Krass is a career government lawyer who works at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the arm of the department that advises the White House on the legality of domestic and foreign policies.
The office was particularly controversial during the Bush administration, when lawyers there wrote lengthy memos approving C.I.A. interrogation methods like waterboarding and sleep deprivation, as well as signing off on the expansion of surveillance by the National Security Agency.
Under Mr. Obama, the office has approved other controversial practices, including the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric living in Yemen who was an American. Mr. Awlaki was killed in September 2011 by a C.I.A. drone strike, launched from a secret base in Saudi Arabia.
Much of Tuesday’s hearing was consumed by a debate about whether the White House should be forced to share Justice Department legal memos.
Under polite but persistent questioning by members of both parties, Ms. Krass repeatedly said that while the two congressional intelligence committees need to “fully understand” the legal basis for C.I.A. activities, they were not entitled to see the Justice Department memos that provide the legal blueprint for secret programs.
The opinions “represent pre-decisional, confidential legal advice that has been provided,” she said, adding that the confidentiality of the legal advice was necessary to allow a “full and frank discussion amongst clients and policy makers and their lawyers within the executive branch.”
Senator Feinstein appeared unmoved. “Unless we know the administration’s basis for sanctioning a program, it is very hard to oversee it,” she said.
Still, it is expected that the committee will vote to approve Ms. Krass.
December 17, 2013
By MARK MAZZETTI
© 2013 The New York Times Company