Inside the fight to reveal the CIA’s torture secrets

The first part of the inside story of the Senate investigation into torture, the crisis with the CIA it spurred and “the mens” whose life would never be the same

Daniel Jones had always been friendly with the CIA personnel who stood outside his door.

When he needed to take something out of the secured room where he read mountains of their classified material, they typically obliged. An informal understanding had taken hold after years of working together, usually during off-peak hours, so closely that Jones had parking privileges at an bureau spacecraft office not far from its McLean, Virginia, headquarters. They would ask Jones if anything he wanted to remove contained real names or encompas names of any bureau officials, assets or partners, or anything that could compromise an operation. He would say no. They would nod, he would wish them a good night, and they would go their separate ways.

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One man’s fight to reveal
the CIA’s torture secrets

The Insider

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After midnight in the summer of 2013, Jones deliberately transgressed that accord.

Jones, a counter-terrorism staffer, had become the chief researcher for the Senate intelligence committee, the CIAs congressional overseer, on its biggest inquiry. For five years, he had been methodically sifting through internal CIA accounts of its infamous torture program, a process that had begun after the committee learned thanks to a New York Times article , not the agency that a senior official had destroyed videotapes that recorded infamously brutal interrogations. The subsequent committee investigation had deeply strained a relationship with Langley that both sides badly wanted to maintain. The source of that strain was simple: having read millions of internal emails, cables and accounts of agency torturing, Jones had come to believe everything the CIA had told Congress, the Bush and Obama White Houses and the public was a lie.

There was one document in particular that demonstrated it. Jones and his squad had determined it years before, placed mysteriously onto a shared computer network drive the Senate intelligence committee investigators were utilizing in northern Virginia , not far from CIA headquarters. But they hadnt appreciated its full significance until relevant agencies, in an attempt at refuting a report that was still far from publication, told Barack Obamas staff that the committee was pushing a hysterical interpreting of the agencys fateful post-9/ 11 embrace of torture. The document, prepared for Leon Panetta when he was CIA director, had reached the same conclusions about the torture program that Jones had. As long as Jones had it, he would be able to show that the agency knew full well how brutal the torture was; how ineffective its torturers considered it to be; and how exhaustively the CIA had covered all of that up.

As long as Jones had the document, that is. Lurking in the back of his intellect was the event that had led him to devote 5 years of ceaseless work, through nights and weekends: the CIA had already destroyed evidence of torture. It did that before the Senate had launched an investigation, and long before that investigation had turned acrimonious.

Inside the small room in Virginia the CIA had set up for the Senate researchers, Jones reached for his canvas messenger pouch. He slipped crucial printed-out passages of what he called the Panetta Review into the container and secured its lock. Sometime after 1am, Jones walked out, carrying his pouch as he always did, and forgetting to tell the agency security personnels what it contained. After years of working together , no one asked him to open the suitcase.

Outside the CIA satellite office in Virginia

McClean,
Photograph: Alamy

Jones walked to the parking lot until he found his black Porsche Boxster. He flung the suitcase onto the passenger seat and drove across the Potomac river , not stopping until he reached the Hart Senate office building on Capitol Hill. It was hours before dawn, but Jones strolled into the building, sped to the second floor where the committee did its run, and placed the locked purse into a committee safe.

Jones, by accord, had significant access to classified bureau material. He would not be leaking the Panetta Review to the public. He was ensuring its preservation so Congress could exercise its constitutionally mandated oversight on an bureau with a vivid recent history of document extermination on precisely this issue. But Jones, in his first-ever interview, acknowledged to the Guardian: We had crossed a bridge. For the first time we had knowingly contravened a CIA agreement.

It was an unfathomable turn of events, and it would have severe repercussions. Jones had years of training and experience handle categorized material: before to intervene in the Senate committee staff, he was an FBI counter-terrorism analyst. The Senate committee was not favorably inclined toward absconding with intelligence documents: its leadership was spending summer 2013 excoriating NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a traitor. But, Jones said: I was afraid[ the document] would be destroyed I was the one saying, We have to do this.

Jones takes full responsibility for taking the document, but will not clarify who actually made government decisions. Senators on the committee say they learned about it after the fact rather than directing him to take the document, and support the decision to this day.

I dont disagree with it. I mean, appear, Director[ John] Brennan tried very hard to cover up the Panetta Review, told Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and longtime intelligence committee member.

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The Panetta Review tale would spur a furious CIA to take an extraordinary step: it would spy on its own legislative overseers especially Jones. The episode would spill out publicly the following March, when top committee Democrat Dianne Feinstein, who had already taken a huge political hazard in pushing the torture inquiry, accused the CIA on the Senate floor of triggering what she called a constitutional crisis. Both sides requested the justice department seek a criminal investigation on the other. The bitterness would virtually overshadow a landmark report, a fraction of which was released to the public in December 2014, that documented in chilling detail the depravations CIA inflicted on terrorism suspects after 9/11.

The CIA has stopped defending its torment program but not its personnel. While it has reknit its relationship to the committee, thanks to a GOP leadership that has all but disavowed the torture investigation, it continues to maintain that the torment report is inaccurate. Obama, whose trusted aide John Brennan operates the CIA, maintained research reports at arms length, with his administration declining even to read it.

But the CIA has gone beyond successfully inhibiting the report. In a grim echo of Joness fears, the agencys inspector general, Langley lately exposed, destroyed its transcript allegedly road traffic accidents. Accountability for torturing has been the exclusive province of a committee investigation greeted with antipathy by Obama. While Obama prides himself on ending CIA torture, the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, has vowed if election to bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding. Key CIA leaders defending the agency against the committee, including Brennan and former director Michael Morrell, are reportedly seeking to run Langley under Hillary Clinton.

This is the inside story of the Senate investigation into torture and the crisis with the CIA it spurred. It is formed from interviews with critical players in the drama, supported by voluminous internal reports and publicly available documents. Jones agreed to provide new details but would not discuss classified information with the Guardian.


When it came time for Brennan to talk publicly about the Senate inquiry, long after Joness predawn drive, he spent five minutes fitting the CIAs torturers into the context of 9/11. But 9/11 changed Joness life as well.

A native of central Pennsylvania, Jones , now 41 years old, taught in Baltimore in his early 20 s as part of the Teach for America program promoting serving in inner-city schools. After 9/11, he recalled, he wanted to influence public policy over the emerging war on terrorism, and sought work on Capitol Hill. An aide to Tom Daschle, then the Senate Democratic leader, advised Jones to instead spend several years at a counter-terrorism agency, like the CIA or FBI. The aide would eventually cross tracks with Jones in a different capacity he was Denis McDonough, the Obama confidant who would become White House chief of staff.

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