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'Unknowable' If CIA Methods Elicited Useful Information, Agency's Chief Says

CIA Director John Brennan
Carolyn Kaster
CIA Director John Brennan

CIA Director John Brennan defended his agency's actions after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and said while it is "unknowable" whether the CIA's interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects provided useful information, the agency did not mislead the Bush White House about its activities.

Brennan's comments, at a rare news conference today, come two days after the Senate intelligence committee released the executive summary of its report on the agency's interrogation practices.

The report's two main assertions — that the CIA misled the Bush White House about its methods, and that techniques did not yield any useful information — have been disputed heavily by both former CIA officials and former officials of President George W. Bush's administration.

Brennan said he found the process by which the Senate committee arrived at its report "flawed," but that many of its conclusions were "sound and consistent with our own findings." He said the agency was authorized by Bush, in the wake of Sept. 11, to come up with ways to keep the country safer.

It was "uncharted territory for the CIA," he said, "and we were not prepared." The CIA chief said though some of the agency's actions were abhorrent and unauthorized, the CIA "did a lot of right things" at a time when there were "no easy answers."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Senate panel that released the report, live tweeted during Brennan's news conference. You can see those tweets below.

But the agency has its defenders.

Bush told CNN over the weekend that while he hadn't read the report, the CIA has "good people, really good people, and we're lucky as a nation to have them." Vice President Dick Cheney told Fox News that "the report is full of crap."

John Rizzo, the agency's former general counsel, told NPR that abuses, when discovered, were reported, adding that he had no doubt the program yielded results. Similarly, John McLaughlin, a former deputy director of the agency, told NPR the report was "off-base." Former CIA directors and deputy directors rebutted the report in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.

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