Thursday, January 17, 2008

Find the CIA Scandal Amid the Scandals

Marty Lederman says we're missing the real CIA scandal. It's less that the video tapes of torture were destroyed, and more that they quit making the tapes.
But even sticking to the tapes themselves, the greater scandal is not that these tapes were destroyed, but instead that the CIA did not create tapes of all its high-level interrogations. That is to say, the real outrage was the orders from the CIA to stop taping.

No one is talking about this. But it is really rather remarkable that the CIA decided not to videotape its investigations of high-level al Qaeda officials. This is an enemy bent on committing horrifying terrorist acts. Our intelligence about that enemy is minimal, and therefore any information we obtain from these interrogations could be of critical importance. (That was, recall, the justification for the “enhanced” techniques in the first place.) We have not used these techniques in the past, and we are uncertain how effective they will be. It’s a learning process. Moreover, the information gleaned from these interrogations, presumably in a foreign language not known to most of the officials dealing with the terrorist threat, might be quite difficult to interpret. It may be very hard at first to understand just which responses from the detainees are important and which are not, and how their responses fit into the broader intelligence-gathering efforts of the intelligence agencies. Under the government’s frequently invoked “mosaic” theory of intelligence gathering, one might not know the true value of particular intelligence for some time, until it can be viewed in a broader context, alongside a great deal of other intelligence collected before and after. More than likely, the information can best be understood and appreciated only by officials not present during the investigations. According to the Post story, Rodriguez himself told several colleagues that the taping was necessary “so that experts, such as psychologists not present during interrogations, could view Zubaida’s physical reactions to questions.”

According to this very important story in the L.A. Times last month, videotaping is among the current “best practices” of intelligence agencies around the globe—“an essential tool in improving the methods -- and results -- of terrorism interrogations,” not to mention an invaluable research and teaching tool in determining which techniques work. Magnus Ranstorp, a veteran counter-terrorism expert with the Swedish Defence College, goes so far as to say that if agencies don’t save and analyze tapes of their interrogations, “they have been derelict in their duty.”
And Marty has an answer. Read on.


MT said...

It's just plain economics. Like when the White House recycled back-up tape and some old e-mails went missing. No big whup.

MT said...

"re-used" not "recycled" I might have said.