The needle already was in the haystack. That essentially is the message embedded in the Democrats' Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on CIA interrogations and detentions, approved with one lonely Republican vote, that of former Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine, and released by committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California.
Three former CIA directors contend that enhanced interrogation techniques, approved under President George W. Bush and prohibited by President Barack Obama, yielded key information that saved lives and led to Osama bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. These claims go against Democratic rhetoric about what President Obama calls "the false choice between our security and our ideals." Democrats need to believe that what Feinstein calls "torture" doesn't actually yield information. So in 2009, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to study CIA interrogations.
Feinstein has urged critics to read the report. I read the 500-page executive summary and finished with more questions than answers. It was like reading a bureaucratic version of Mad magazine's onetime cartoon "Spy vs. Spy." Clearly, there are rifts in the intelligence community. There was the FBI vs. the CIA -- part turf war, part mission divide. Within the CIA, there were officers who believed in rapport building and officers who believed that shows of force deliver the goods. My guess is that both methods work, although one can be faster. Each side of that divide thinks its approach teased out the information that led to bin Laden.
The committee, to its discredit, chose to tarnish the tough guys. The CIA, the report notes, "determined from its own experience with coercive interrogations, that such techniques 'do not produce intelligence,' 'will probably result in false answers,' and had historically proven to be ineffective. Yet these conclusions were ignored." If information was gleaned without the now-banned techniques and later a detainee offered it up during or after a harsh interrogation, the report deliberately ignored the harsh-sourced tidbit. The committee waded through 6.3 million documents. You could see how a CIA officer working in a warehouse of data might not see a phone number's significance until a detainee lied in a way that signaled its import. The committee deliberately ignored any breakthrough revelations.
The summary dismisses enhanced interrogation techniques because detainees subjected to them were known to provide fabricated information. Hello, Republicans counter, detainees not subject to harsh measures also fabricate answers. The CIA mocked the committee's credulity in generally accepting "at face value detainees' accounts that they lied under enhanced techniques and told the truth" afterward.
The GOP minority report slams the committee's failure to interview anyone at the CIA. The committee blames an Obama Department of Justice investigation of the CIA, expanded in 2009, for allowing brass to not require that staff be interviewed. No worries, quoth the committee: "The CIA's own documents provided a robust, contemporaneous, and firsthand record of the EIT program."
To feed the outrage meter, the report reveals that the CIA paid $81 million to a contracting firm started by psychologists James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who convinced the government that it could get more information by instilling in detainees a sense of "learned helplessness."
Other than that, the report is heartbreaking. Suspected Islamic extremist Gul Rahman died on a cold concrete floor -- wearing only a sweatshirt and shackled to a wall -- probably from hypothermia. I don't know what to make of allegations of rectal feeding -- if they are even true. But I do know that the procedure was not an authorized interrogation technique. Techniques such as sleep deprivation surely preyed on agency interrogators, as well as detainees. It was ugly work. I understand why some officers recoiled from the methods.
The report cost taxpayers $40 million -- for which Team DiFi blames the CIA. The outcome was predetermined. Feinstein maintains that waterboarding and sleep deprivation are "torture" that failed to produce crucial information obtainable by other means. CIA chief John Brennan wouldn't use that word.
He told reporters last week it is "unknowable" whether the CIA would have learned what it needed to know without harsh measures. "But for someone to say that there was no intelligence of value -- of use -- that came from those detainees once they were subjected to EITs?" Brennan said. "I think that lacks any foundation at all."
"If it were not clear before, the Feinstein report shows that Democrats do not have the stomach for the tough policies necessary to prevail," John Yoo, the former Bush lawyer who wrote memos authorizing the use of enhanced interrogation techniques, opined in National Review. "Because they cannot deny their involvement, they must claim that the CIA lied."
For all the many offenses cataloged in the Feinstein report, the Justice Department investigation concluded in 2012 without finding any prosecutable offense. That tells me the wrongdoings alleged in the report aren't remotely solid.