Sen. Bob Graham, a former Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says the President should declassify the Senate report on CIA torture and (at the time of this interview) the still secret 28 pages of the Congressional report on who financed the 9/11 attacks. This interview was produced March 17, 2014, with Paul Jay on Reality Asserts Itself.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
The struggle between the Senate Intelligence Committee and its attempt to have more oversight at the CIA is a long-rooted struggle that has been going on for decades. The most recent example of this is the fight between the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, and her attempt to deal with alleged crimes of the CIA during the years of the Bush–Cheney administration and its use of torture.
There’s a document—6,300-page document, we are told—that’s been created by the Senate Intelligence Committee and its investigators. It is not yet been released. Most of it is classified. We are told there are negotiations going on between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA about what might be declassified. But, of course, President Obama has the authority to declassify the entire document, and although he says he’s in favor of it, he hasn’t done it yet, and many people wonder why, ’cause that would help settle all of this. Of course, many people’s heads might be on the line for rolling, because it’s thought that within that document there could be allegations of criminal activity conducted by various people in the CIA involved in the torture program.
At any rate, what the core of all of this is: is there such a thing, in reality, of civilian oversight of the CIA? And a lot of this rests on the shoulders of the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
And now we’re going to speak to a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who I think can bring a lot of background to us.
So now joining us from Florida is Senator Bob Graham. He was the chair, as I said, of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was also the chair of the congressional joint committee into 9/11. He held many other important positions on intelligence, and from 2010 to 2012 was on the CIA External Advisory Board.
Thanks for joining us, Senator.
BOB GRAHAM, FMR. U.S. SENATOR: Thank you very much, Paul.
JAY: So, first of all, what do you make of this recent situation of the documents that have not been declassified? And Dianne Feinstein had a reputation of being one of the strongest supporters of the CIA on the Hill up until this point. In fact, an ex-intelligence officer said to me she was such a supporter of the CIA, people used to joke she was like a CIA mole on the Hill. But this fight, she has allowed this fight to break into the open. What do you make of it all?
GRAHAM: This is a recurring pattern. We’ve had an active intelligence service during wartime since the Revolutionary War. But the first time we had a civilian intelligence agency was 1947, with the creation of what’s now the Central Intelligence Agency. And this immediately raised the issue of who’s going to provide oversight from the congressional side of the American government. Initially it was through a joint committee, which had responsibility to oversee the atomic program, and this was somewhat of a secondary job. That didn’t work very well, and there were a number of scandals, particularly in the ’60s and early ’70s, which led to the Church (Frank Church of Idaho) Committee, which recommended that there be permanent, specific to intelligence oversight committees in both the House and the Senate. That’s how we got to where we are.
Since that time, there has been a friction between the intelligence community and the congressional oversight committees on issues like are the agencies complying with their obligation to give the oversight committees all relevant information, are the—from the side of the CIA, are the intelligence committees trying to get too much into the operational business of the agencies.
So what’s happening now is not a new phenomenon. Just the players and the specific facts are different.
JAY: Now, is it not a new phenomenon—or maybe it’s not—that the CIA, apparently, allegedly, actually broke into, I guess you could say, the Senate’s computers, the Intelligence Committee’s computers? That’s how they came to know. They’ve alleged that some of the staffers of the Senate Intelligence Committee have gotten access to an internal CIA report on the tortures and that the staffers weren’t classified at the correct level of secrecy to have that kind of access. And then Brennan, the head of the CIA, apparently actually threatens Dianne Feinstein with charging these people. She’s called it, publicly, an act of intimidation against her committee. Is this not unprecedented? Or have you seen this kind of thing before?
GRAHAM: I would say this specific act, having, allegedly, CIA operatives hacking into computers of staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that’s a new dimension to this recurring problem.
The background to this is that the CIA has done an internal investigation on the question of torture interrogation techniques. That’s referred to as the Leon Panetta internal report. When the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the CIA to give it all relevant information, it would be assumed that that report would have been part of the information that would have been transferred.
Apparently, that was not—that’s a matter of controversy. The CIA says they did not transfer it and that in fact the committee got it by some clandestine measures. The Senate chairman, Senator Feinstein, says, yes, it was part of the original transfer of information; so they received it, and it is appropriately a part of the committee’s documents for purposes of doing this investigation.
I don’t see any reason why the CIA should not have transferred it. It’s an important piece of information that the committee deserves to have access to, and it represents, apparently, what the CIA itself, after careful examination, concluded to be both the nature of the investigation—and it’s suggested that it was much harsher methods than had previously been revealed—and the effectiveness of that interrogation in terms of getting information that was useful and could not have been obtained in other means.
JAY: Senator, when you were chair of the Intelligence Committee, this was during the Bush years. This is when a lot of this activity was going on. When the CIA came to see you, did they tell you the truth about these things?
GRAHAM: Frankly, no. And I’ll give a personal story.
When the fact that we were doing these new interrogation techniques, which were being described as torture—the administration began releasing reports that other people—specifically, members of Congress—knew about this torture and had not raised any objections. As I was chairman of the Intelligence Committee, my name appeared on several of those lists.
Well, I knew that I was unaware that this was going on. So I asked what were the dates in which these briefings where we were supposed to have been told about torture took place, and I got four dates, all in 2002. I have had a practice for many years of carrying a little notebook in which I write down, among other things, what I do throughout the day. So I check my notebooks for those four dates, and on three of the dates there was no meeting held, and on the fourth date there was a meeting held, but the subject matter was unrelated to the issue of torture. I told the representatives of the intelligence community that and offered them to go through my daily records, and they agreed that my records were right.
Now, that raises a couple of questions. Were they trying to deceive the public by throwing a big blanket over lots of people in order to distribute the responsibility for knowing about and not objecting to torture? Or was it just a matter of incompetence that they hadn’t kept the dates of when and who was at these briefing sessions that they say were held? Either answer is not a very positive statement about the professionalism of the intelligence community.
JAY: So did you have the feeling that you were a sort of inconvenience, and that you were also there—I mean, not just you personally, but as a committee—there to be somewhat manipulated by the CIA?
GRAHAM: Well, I think there was some of that. We had a situation during our investigation, which was also conducted during the year 2002, in which we became aware (not because the FBI had told us; in fact, they had specifically withheld this information) that there were two of the earliest hijackers to enter the United States who were living in San Diego, and in their files in San Diego they had information about these people, but the FBI claimed they didn’t have the information at the central office in Washington. Over the objection of the FBI, we sent staff to San Diego, and they came up with a trove of information about these people and the close ties between individuals, in some cases, who were employees of the government of Saudi Arabia; in other cases, they were nationals of Saudi Arabia and had suspicious affiliations.
One of those in particular was a retired university professor. He happened not to be a Saudi. He actually was an Indian of Muslim profession who operated a boarding house, and two of his residents were these two future hijackers. At the same time, he was on the payroll of the FBI as an asset to collect information about what were these students that he had formally had in his classroom and that were living in San Diego, attending various universities there, what were they up to.
GRAHAM: You have this anomaly that two of the people who are going to be involved in killing more than 3,000 people on September 11 were living in the home of a person who was also being paid by the FBI.
JAY: Right. Senator, we’re going to link—when we show this story, we are going to link to our interview series we did with you where we go into quite a bit of detail about all of that.
But I want to ask you, do you—you know, you have, more than most people, a great deal of experience on the inside of at least the political side of the inside of the American intelligence community. You know, there’s this phrase some people have coined and used they call deep state, and a lot of people have different interpretations of that. But do you find that the CIA, and maybe other parts of the intelligence community, they kind of have their own agenda, what they think is the way you protect or fulfill the agenda, their agenda, and that the whole political, what are supposed to be the people setting the foreign policy agenda, the president and Congress, they’re kind of there to be pushed in various directions, but the institutions, the intelligence institutions, have really their own momentum and agenda? Did you find that?
GRAHAM: There was some of that. But my assumption is that when an agency that is responsible to—where the—and the head of it and the major figures in the agency are all presidential appointees, that the president of the United States has the obligation to oversee the specific management of those agencies. So I don’t assume that these are just rogue people out doing whatever they want to. I assume that they are acting at the direction of the president.
JAY: And so, in terms of responsibility for these acts of torture, that leads back to President Bush and Vice President Cheney. But if you look at the situation now, this, you know, 6,000 some odd page document that is the result of the Senate investigation, the president, Obama, he has the ability to declassify that. He could do it today. He could settle a lot of this argument. But some people are suggesting he doesn’t want to do that, because, one, his own appointee, Brennan, who’s now head of the CIA, could well be implicated in some kind of criminal activity, and number two, it’s been suggested if he declassifies this and allows it all to go public, he’s going to be at war with the intelligence community, and he’s—well, I guess someone used the word he’s afraid of doing that.
GRAHAM: Well, and there’s a third reason, and that is that maybe the information will point a finger at the level of competence of the agencies involved, and the agencies don’t want to have that disclosed, and the president is protecting them.
As you know, there is another, similar situation involving our report of the 9/11, where there was a chapter of 28 pages which largely deals with the question of who financed 9/11. That chapter has been censored now for more than 12 years, and there is no evidence that there is any likelihood that it’s going to be made available to the American people in the near future.
I think that’s an outrage. There’s nothing in that report that involves today’s national security. There is a lot in that report which might help explain how did 9/11—how was it allowed and capable of actually occurring. And that information should be available to the American people.
JAY: Right. And Senator Graham can’t say what’s in those 28 pages, ’cause he’s bound by his secrecy oaths. But I didn’t sign any of those oaths, and I’ve actually read the newspapers, and I do know what’s in those 28 pages, ’cause there were some reports in The L.A. Times and The New York Times interviewing people who saw those redacted 28 pages, and apparently in those 28 pages were the actual names of members of the Saudi government who were involved and facilitating and helping finance the 9/11 attacks. But as I said, Senator Graham’s not allowed to say what’s in those things, ’cause he was—those pages were redacted under his watch. So at any—.
GRAHAM: Well, I appreciate your awareness of and alerting your audience to the circumstances under which I am discussing this matter.
JAY: And again I’ll point you—watch the whole series we did with the senator, ’cause I think it’s extremely revealing and compelling.
Just finally, Senator, so what’s at stake right now? You have a president who says he wants these documents to go public, has the power to do so, but isn’t releasing them. McClatchy broke a story in the last day or two, Jonathan Landay, that there’s actually another 9,000 pages of documents related to this that the Senate Intelligence Committee wants that the White House has not handed over. We don’t know what’s in those pages, but apparently it pertains to the torture investigation. So you have a president saying he wants openness, except he has the power to do so and isn’t. And the CIA, apparently, is, according to Dianne Feinstein, actually trying to threaten the Senate Intelligence Committee to get them to stop pursuing any attempt to release these documents. So this is quite a crisis for this whole structure, is it not?
GRAHAM: It is, and it’s a crisis which is unfolding, uniquely, in public view. Many of the things that I experienced, such as the situation in San Diego, were successfully, on behalf of the affected agencies, withheld from the American people. This one is—laundry is being washed in public view.
It is a supreme example of the tension between the congressional responsibility to exercise effective oversight. And because of the clandestine nature of the intelligence agencies, if the Congress does not carry out that function, nobody’s carrying out the function. No journalist has access to the kind of information that the Congress has, no academic, none of the other eyes that normally focus on and give people an insight into what their government is doing. So I think this is a major issue.
The president is inevitably going to be the ultimate figure in how this matter is resolved. I personally hope that he will resolve it on the side of openness and then be prepared to deal with the consequences of letting the American people know what’s happening, and that it won’t be just limited, as important as it is, to this 6,000-page report on torture, that it will also include things like the report on who financed 9/11.
JAY: And there must be many other things. I mean, how many of these secrets—I know you can’t talk about them, I guess, but how much is there that is not really national security but is more protecting people’s rear ends?
GRAHAM: Well, that’s the old saying: you don’t know what you don’t know. So I can’t tell you. I know from personal experience and involvement a number of documents that I think should be made public which have not been made public.
This raises a process question. The classification is done by a committee of representatives of the different intelligence agencies. All of them have professional knowledge on national security. But all of them also have the desire not to have their agency appear to be less than a highly competent professional intelligence-gathering and analytical agency. In this classification process, there should be somebody who represents the public interest, so that if the agencies are claiming classification because they want to cover up incompetence, they will not be allowed to do so.
JAY: And do you think it needs to be something other than what there is? Because a lot of people have been critiquing in particular Dianne Feinstein and her committee as having been kind of rubber stamping a lot of what’s been going on in terms of the intelligence gathering, the electronic surveillance of American people. I mean, and some people have accused her of being a little hypocritical that the first time she really says anything about all this is when she gets spied on.
GRAHAM: Well, the way the system was set up by the Church Committee report, it puts an enormous amount of responsibility on the two congressional intelligence committees. They are supposed to know everything about the activities of all of the intelligence agencies within their jurisdiction, which is all of the foreign intelligence agencies, starting with the CIA and the National Security Agency.
JAY: Senator, just quickly, does that include the army intelligence?
GRAHAM: No, it does not include the military, which is under the Armed Services Committee, or the FBI, which is under the Judiciary Committee. But the American people have got to have confidence that those committees are carrying out their responsibilities, because if they aren’t, there’s no one else to do it.
JAY: Do you think they are?
GRAHAM: I think it’s been uneven over the now three or four decades that the committees have been in place.
JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Senator.
GRAHAM: Great. Thank you very much, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.