CIA Director: 'We Know We Have Room To Improve'

John BrennanAPCIA Director John Brennan speaking at the White House in 2010.

CIA Director John Brennan has addressed the blockbuster Senate report released Tuesday which criticised the agency’s former use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques as “brutal.”

In remarks at a press conference on Thursday Brennan defended the agency.

“There were no easy answers and, whatever your views on EIT’s, our nation and particularly this agency did a lot of things right …. to keep our nation strong and secure,” said Brennan.

At the same time, Brennan later acknowledged some mistakes were made, though he also criticised the Senate’s investigation.

“We know we have room to improve,” Brennan said.

The Senate report, which is the culmination of an investigation that lasted several years, documented the various techniques used by CIA interrogators including: forced rectal feeding, mock executions, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and psychological manipulation.

Brennan, who was speaking from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, began his remarks by invoking September 11th.

“As deputy executive director of the CIA on that morning of 9/11, I knew what it was like to belong to an intelligence agency that had been ringing the bell for many months about Al Qaeda’s plans to attack,” said Brennan.

He noted the agency’s headquarters in Virginia was seen as a potential target following the attacks.

“The men and women at our counterterrorism center stayed at their posts despite the danger,” Brennan said.

The enhanced interrogation techniques were adopted and authorised by President George W. Bush in the wake of those attacks. Obama, who has said some terrorism suspects were tortured during CIA interrogations, subsequently banned the EIT’s when he took office in 2009.

Brennan went on to say obtaining intelligence was the “most important” component of the CIA’s mission in the aftermath of September 11th. He also claimed the enhanced interrogation techniques were “determined to be lawful” by the Department of Justice and “authorised” by the Bush administration.

Along with decrying the violent nature of many of the techniques used by the CIA, the Senate report concluded the intelligence obtained by these interrogations was questionable. However, Brennan said there was valuable information obtained and it is “unknowable” whether this intelligence could have been gained through other means.

Still, in spite of his defenses of the CIA interrogation program, Brennan acknowledged “further organizational improvements to be made.” He said the agency has been and will continue to implement various “reforms.”

Brennan also admitted some of what occurred during the interrogation program was improper. He said there were “a limited number of cases” where CIA officers used techniques that were “abhorrent,” unauthorised, and “should be repudiated by all.” However, Brennan said the “overwhelming majority” of CIA officers acted honorably.

The investigation also found CIA officials misled the Department of Justice, the Bush administration, and the public. Brennan acknowledged there were “instances” where “instances” where “representations” of the program made by officials were “inaccurate.”

Brennan also suggested the Senate report, which was released by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was inappropriately partisan and did not include enough input from the CIA. An alternate report released by Republican members of the committee defended the agency.

After he concluded his remarks, Brennan took questions from reporters. One of these questions was about the report’s conclusion intelligence obtained through the program did not help lead to the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden. Officials had suggested information from these interrogations was crucial to the 2011 raid on Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan.

“It is our considered view that the detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques provided information that was useful and was used in the ultimate operation to go against Bin Laden,” Brennan said.

This post was last updated at 2:45 p.m.

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