CIA Director John Brennan walks to a podium to begin a news conference at the agency's headquarters in Langley, Va., on December 11, 2014.

CIA Director John Brennan walks to a podium to begin a news conference at the agency's headquarters in Langley, Va., on December 11, 2014. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

CIA Director Brennan Tries To Put Torture In the Past

In a rare news conference, CIA Director John Brennan reacts to the release of the Senate’s report on torture. By Stephanie Gaskell

During a rare news conference, CIA Director John Brennan praised his staff at the agency and said the Senate report on torture is “a chapter in our history” that is in the past.

Two days after the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s report on the CIA’s so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” of detainees in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Brennan spoke to reporters at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.

He said there’s no way to know whether the interrogations directly resulted in any intelligence, and reiterated that the program ended in 2007. Several reforms have been put in place since. Brennan said he’s concerned about morale at the massive intelligence agency after the release of the 600-page report.

“One of the most frustrating aspects of the study is that it conveys a broader view of the CIA and its officers as untrustworthy, that the institution and the workforce were willing to forgo their integrity in order to preserve a program they were invested in and supposedly believed to be right,” Brennan said. 

“I certainly agree that there were times when CIA officers exceeded the policy guidance that was given and the authorized techniques that were approved and determined to be lawful. They went outside of the bounds in terms of their actions that – as part of that interrogation process. And they were harsh, as I said, in some instances, I consider them abhorrent and I will leave to others to how they might want to label those activities. But for me, it was something that is certainly regrettable,” Brennan said.  

“But we are not a perfect institution. We’re made up of individuals. And as human beings, we are imperfect beings. But as I think we have acknowledged over the years, we have brought those mistakes, shortcomings and excesses to the attention of the appropriate authorities, whether it be to our inspector general, to the Department of Justice and others. As you well know, the Department of Justice looked at this for many years and decided that there was no prosecutable crimes there.”

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Brennan said he has been in touch with his counterparts across the globe to try to help them prepare for any backlash from the release of the report.  

Brennan began his remarks with a reminder of the pain and fear that gripped the nation after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. “Our government and our citizens recognized the urgency of the task: to find and stop al Qaeda before it could shed the blood of more innocent men, women and children, be it in America or be it in any other corner of the world,” Brennan said.

“Indeed, there were numerous credible and very worrisome reports about a second and third wave of major attacks against the United States. And while we grieved, while we honored our dead, while we tended to our injured and while we embarked on the long process of recovery, we feared more blows from an enemy we couldn’t see and an evil we couldn’t fathom. This is the backdrop against which the agency was directed by President [George W.] Bush to carry out a program to detain terrorist suspects around the world.”

But Brennan, who at the time was deputy executive director of the CIA, said the agency wasn’t prepared to set up a detention and interrogation program in the wake of 9/11. “In many respects, the program was uncharted territory for the CIA and we were not prepared. We had little experience housing detainees, and precious few of our officers were trained interrogators. But the president authorized the effort six days after 9/11, and it was our job to carry it out,” Brennan said.

When asked by a reporter whether he supported the release of the report, Brennan said he’s made his views known to the president but would not share them publicly. The reporter pressed him, asking him to share his thoughts “in the interest of transparency.”

“I think there’s more than enough transparency that has happened over the last couple days. I think it’s over the top,” Brennan said.