Obama administration proves why we need someone to leak CIA Torture Report

image: Reuters

image: Reuters

It’s now been over a month since the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to force the Obama administration to declassify parts of the Committee’s landmark report on CIA torture, and the public still has not seen a word of the 6,000 page investigation.

White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan (R) listens as U.S. President Barack Obama nominates him to become the next CIA director at the White House in Washington January 7, 2013. Reuters.

White House counterterrorism advisor John Brennan (R) listens as U.S. President Barack Obama nominates him to become the next CIA director at the White House in Washington January 7, 2013. Reuters.

Despite both the White House and CIA promising a quick declassification review, Politico reported this week that the White House and CIA are now refusing to even answer questions as to when the report will be sent back to the Intelligence Committee for release. Senator Dianne Feinstein said, “I would hope that it would be short and quick. That may be a vain [effort].” Senator Dick Durbin said, “I don’t know what the reason is [for the delay].”

Sadly, it was quite predictable that the White House and CIA would delay the release of a report, which is reportedly devestating in its criticism of the CIA, and will remind the public that the Obama administration refused to hold anyone at the CIA accountable for its crimes. Disturbingly, the CIA itself—the same agency the report accuses of years of prisoner abuse and systematic lying—is in charge of the redaction process for the report, despite the fact that it has already dragged its feet for over a year, has been accused of misleading the Senate Intelligence Committee, and even allegedly spied on its staffers all in an apparent attempt to prevent the report from seeing light.

The UN Special Rappateur on Torture, Juan Mendez—himself a survivor of torture—recently wrote that the CIA’s role in the process “a preposterous conflict of interest,” lamenting that “[o]nce again, the torturers will have the opportunity to censor what the public can know.”

The silence and delay by the US government is all the more reason why the CIA Torture Report should be leaked to the public. Of course, we wish that the official transparency process was not broken, and that the report would go through a fair and quick declassification review. But unfortunately, time and again, the administration has prevented information about government wrongdoing from coming out through official channels.

Last week was the tenth anniversary of the release of the Abu Gharib photos, the first hint the American public received about the torture committed by the US government under the Bush administration. Notably, the public saw these photos only because they were leaked to the press, just like much of the information we would later learn about the CIA’s torture program.

Unfortunately, in recent years the Justice Department has prosecuted a record number of news sources, and Sen. Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has led the charge for more. Worse, Sen. Feinstein—despite advocating for the release of the torture report—has said she’s already referred a leak related to an article by McClatchy about the torture report's findings to the Justice Department.

The government’s crackdown against leaks is one reason why Freedom of the Press Foundation has helped news organizations install SecureDrop, an open-source whistleblower submission system that helps sources get documents to journalists in a much more anonymous and secure way than email. Currently, journalists at five major news organizations in the United States use SecureDrop. If a potential source wants to use it, they need to follow these simple steps:

  1. Find a public wifi internet connection that is not connected to your work or home, such as a coffee shop.
  2. Download, install, and load the Tor Browser Bundle (or for more security, the Tails operating system).
  3. Using the Tor Browser, enter in your news organization’s onion URL (see below). Remember: only attempt to load this URL inside the Tor Browser.
  4. Follow the instructions on the SecureDrop screen.

Here are onion URLs of the five groups of journalists at major US news organizations currently operating SecureDrop:

The Intercept: y6xjgkgwj47us5ca.onion

ProPublica: pubdrop4dw6rk3aq.onion

New Yorker: strngbxhwyuu37a3.onion

Forbes: bczjr6ciiblco5ti.onion

Wired's Kevin Poulsen: poulsensqiv6ocq4.onion

Of course nothing can guarantee 100% security, and sadly any government official would be taking a great personal risk by leaking anything, including the torture report, to journalists. But it increasingly looks like the public will need a brave official willing to take a courageous stand if we are to get real transparency and accountability anytime soon.


[This op-ed also appears on the Freedom of the Press Foundation blog.]