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The Portrayal of the CIA in ‘The Report’: Separating Truth From Fiction

Brian Greer
Wednesday, December 11, 2019, 12:23 PM

The CIA should be held accountable for its mistakes, but it’s important to stick to the facts when doing so.

A woman walks across a floor emblazoned with the CIA seal, pushing a pile of papers. (CIA)

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In the movie “The Report,” Adam Driver portrays Senate investigator Daniel Jones in his endeavor to document and expose the history of the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs) in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. The efforts of Jones and his colleagues resulted in the so-called “Torture Report,” which was released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) in December 2014. “The Report” is garnering positive reviews and Oscar buzz for Driver, and it is receiving widespread acclaim in the human rights community. As a CIA attorney who experienced many of the events depicted in the second half of the movie, however, I can attest that “The Report” contains numerous distortions and outright fabrications about how the CIA acted toward the SSCI investigation under the Obama administration. In sacrificing the truth to achieve a broader agenda, the film suffers from many of the same flaws as “Zero Dark Thirty”—the controversial movie depicting the hunt for Osama bin Laden, which “The Report” is attempting to juxtapose.

On the one hand, it is not surprising that any movie that is “based on real events” takes liberties with the truth. This is to be expected, especially with a movie about the CIA, which is an easy target for caricatures by Hollywood screenwriters. No one should watch “Zero Dark Thirty” or “13 Hours” (about the Benghazi attack) and think that the films are accurate depictions of the CIA’s role in the events they portray. “The Report” should be held to an even higher standard, however. The movie, at its core, is about Jones’s attempt to expose the truth about the interrogation program and the CIA’s purported misrepresentations relating thereto. In telling that story, it’s especially important to present an accurate portrayal of events; it would have been easy to do so here, while still getting the film’s important message across. Instead, Jones and the filmmakers seem to believe that advancing distortions about the CIA is justified if it accomplishes a broader narrative. But rather than admitting that “The Report” takes some license with the truth, Jones (who assisted with the film) has insisted that the “movie didn’t need to be Hollywood-ized or dramatized…. We’re not taking any liberties.” This is simply not true with respect to many of the events depicted in the second half of the movie.

Before fleshing out this point, I’d like to quickly touch on my experience as a CIA attorney. I joined the agency’s Office of General Counsel in 2010, years after the detention and interrogation program had been shut down. During my eight years at the CIA, I developed an expertise on the classification of information relating to program, primarily by working on terrorism prosecutions and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation where such information was at issue. Based on this experience, I was asked to be the lead CIA attorney working on the redactions of the Executive Summary and the Findings and Conclusions of the SSCI report—which I’ll refer to here as the “study,” to distinguish it from the title of the movie. Although I transitioned to a different position after the initial redactions to the study were completed in August 2014, I continued to consult on this effort until the SSCI study was released in December of that year. My work was mostly behind-the-scenes, and I never interacted with Jones directly, although many of my colleagues did. This article is based on my experience and theirs, and I have not coordinated any aspect of this article with the CIA or anyone affiliated with the interrogation program.

Notwithstanding this background, I am not here to defend the CIA’s use of EITs nor to debate whether they were effective, which is the focus of the first half of “The Report” as well as the SSCI study itself. As the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU’s) David Cole has argued persuasively, Jones’s focus on whether valuable intelligence was obtained from the use of EITs distracts from the much more important discussion about legality, morality, and shared responsibility relating to the interrogation program. For me personally, the proposition is simple: The United States should treat foreign detainees, even terrorists who don’t share U.S. values, in the same manner that we would expect our service members to be treated. I believe some aspects of the interrogation program violated the law; that the program was mismanaged, especially in the early years; and that there was a lack of accountability for the mistakes that were made, from top to bottom. And I believe it’s critical that the United States learn from these mistakes, so that they aren’t repeated.

That’s all to say that my statements here are not the reflexive reaction of a CIA loyalist who defends the agency at all times, at all costs. The CIA made numerous, sometimes egregious mistakes with the interrogation program, and it’s important that the agency be held to account by its oversight committee and the American public.

But the second half of “The Report” tells a different story, and it is here where the film departs most dramatically from the truth. The central premise of the second act of the movie is that the CIA did everything within its power to obstruct Jones’s investigation into the interrogation program, in order to prevent the SSCI study (and the truth) from ever coming out. While I can’t speak to the entirety of the SSCI investigation, as I was not involved in its infancy, I can definitively state that this premise is not an accurate reflection of what I experienced from December 2012—when the study was initially approved by the committee——through its public release in December 2014.

Through the film, Jones presents his case against the agency’s actions under the Obama administration as part of a broader narrative, which has its roots in conspiracy-laden stereotypes about the CIA: That the agency is all-powerful; that it is incapable of telling the truth or acting responsibly; that it will lie, cheat, and steal at any cost; that it spies on Americans at will; and that it resists accountability and oversight of any kind. If any of these ideas sound familiar, it’s because they underlie the same delusions that motivate President Trump and some of his supporters when they rail against the “deep state” conspiracies carried out by the CIA and broader intelligence community—culminating in the outrageous theory that the CIA may have fabricated Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee servers, which still persists with the bogus CrowdStrike/Ukraine server story being pushed today. While Trump’s motivations for doing so are much more pernicious than selling movie tickets, Jones’s efforts are torn from the same playbook. These baseless theories not only inflict real, long-term damage on the CIA as an institution; they also harm the honorable, hard-working CIA officers who quietly and thanklessly serve their country—the same type of public servants who have performed so honorably in the current impeachment scandal.

In this vein, “The Report” isn’t just about holding the CIA to account for the sordid history of the interrogation program. It presents a broader question: Can the CIA ever be trusted? Can it ever operate in a responsible manner in areas that are unrelated to the interrogation program—even when it’s operating under the supervision of an administration like President Obama’s, under the leadership of directors like Leon Panetta and John Brennan, and under the oversight of entities like Dianne Feinstein’s SSCI? For Jones, the answer is clearly that it cannot (he admitted as much in a recent interview, in which he posited, “How can we trust this organization to act in a responsible and ethical manner in terms of providing accurate information to those who need to know it?”). This broader agenda is what appears to drive the distortions presented in the second half of “The Report.”

Jones’s thesis is contrary to what my colleagues and I experienced at the CIA during the time period covered by the second half of the film (2009 to 2014). I suspect that most Obama administration national security officials, as well as some Democratic members and staffers of the SSCI, agree with me on this point based on their own experience. Under the direction of the White House and strong senior leadership (Leon Panetta, in particular), the CIA actually learned to embrace congressional oversight during these years, particularly in the counterterrorism arena—which may come as a shock to some readers. In fact, it got to the point where the CIA’s counterterrorism briefers were sometimes sharing too much information with the SSCI, often telling the committee about internal executive branch policy deliberations well before issues had been decided. Jones’s SSCI colleagues who worked with the CIA during this time could attest to this, but the story doesn’t fit with his narrative about an agency that’s incapable of submitting to civilian oversight. The movie also ignores the fact that Jones’s colleagues who worked with him on the SSCI study actually got along quite well with their CIA counterparts throughout much of this time period. While relations were tense at the outset of the investigation and near its conclusion, for the majority of the investigation, the two sides had a productive, respectful, and cooperative working relationship. You won’t see this in “The Report,” however.

Countering this narrative is important. When it comes to critical issues of the day like Russian interference in our elections or North Korea’s WMD program, policymakers and the public need to know whether they can trust the CIA. That’s not to say that the CIA should be blindly trusted; it absolutely shouldn’t be, and rigorous oversight is essential. Nor am I suggesting that it behaved perfectly during the Obama years. It didn’t. But the “trust but verify” approach taken during that time period presents a model for effective oversight of the CIA, one that can build and sustain the agency’s institutional credibility in the long-term.

The best way to test conspiracy theories like those advanced by Jones is to ask yourself: If the theory is true, are the discrete actions of the perpetrator of the conspiracy consistent or inconsistent with that theory? For example, if James Comey and the FBI were trying to thwart the election of President Trump, why did they conceal the investigation into several of his campaign officials while publicly discussing the Clinton email investigation up until Election Day? If Joe Biden was trying to protect his son, Hunter Biden, in Ukraine, why did he try to remove the prosecutor who had already declined to thoroughly investigate Burisma? The same test shows that the conspiracy theory advanced by Jones in “The Report”—that the CIA did everything within its power to prevent the study from coming out—doesn’t hold up.

First, if the CIA was trying to cover up the truth, why did it produce 6.3 million pages of internal records to the SSCI in the first place? Jones likes to conveniently tout the 6.3 million pages figure when stressing the comprehensive nature of the SSCI study, while still wanting the public to believe that the CIA was engaged in a massive cover-up. But both can’t be true. This was the largest and most comprehensive document collection and production in the history of the agency (which has been through massive investigations like the Church Committee and Iran-Contra investigations). The CIA produced not only cables, which are the official records of agency operations, but also all relevant emails, memoranda, notes, and even instant messages. Offices were searched by hand; every responsive scrap of paper that could be located was produced. The attorney-client and deliberative process privileges were waived. That’s not to say the search was perfect. It’s a large agency, and this process required a long series of (oftentimes painful) interactions with the SSCI to refine the scope of the production. The fact remains, however, that none of this is consistent with Jones’s theory that the CIA was engaged in a massive cover-up in the Obama years.

Toward the end of the movie, a scene is presented in which CIA Director John Brennan is briefing Feinstein about the agency’s response to the SSCI study, and he implies that there are additional key records that the CIA was secretly withholding from the SSCI. This scene may advance Jones’s thesis, but it is a complete fabrication. The CIA did not withhold responsive records, and there is no way that Feinstein would have allowed Brennan to get away with this concealment had it occurred. The only responsive records that were withheld were withheld at the direction of the Obama White House (not the CIA) on the grounds of executive privilege. While such documents may have helped round out the story, given their nature (reflecting advice prepared for the president) they would have been most revealing of the extent to which George W. Bush’s White House was briefed on the interrogation program. This issue was not a central focus of the SSCI study, and if these documents had been produced, they likely would have undercut the SSCI’s argument that the Bush White House was left in the dark about what the CIA was doing.

In another scene, Jones explains that the CIA was using contractors from two large defense companies to assist with the agency’s document production. He points out that James Pavitt, a former senior CIA officer who was named in the SSCI study numerous times, was on the board of one of the companies. In explaining this, Driver’s character implies that these contractors were doing Pavitt’s personal bidding and were secretly hiding documents from the committee. This conspiracy theory, which would have amounted to obstruction of justice were it true, is sheer fantasy. Documents were not hidden, and Pavitt played no role in the CIA’s document production.

Second, if the CIA was trying to prevent the SSCI study from coming out up until the last moment, why did it provide the SSCI with a mostly unredacted version that was cleared for public release in August 2014? The film portrays the CIA as doing everything in its power to prevent the SSCI study from being released up until the final moments before it became public on Dec. 14, 2014. This simply did not happen. Throughout 2014, I was involved in numerous meetings with CIA leadership relating to the study. No one ever suggested that the CIA or the White House should attempt to prevent the study from being released altogether. It is true that there was a last-ditch effort to temporarily delay the release of the study over concerns about reprisals against U.S. personnel overseas, but the State Department was seeking the delay, not the CIA. And most of the material in the study had already been categorically declassified, with approved redactions provided to the SSCI, so the executive branch could not legally prevent the study from coming out at this point in time.

There are several considerations that undermine the “The Report’s” suggestion that the CIA thought it could prevent the release of the study up until its December 2014 release, which permeates the second half of the film:

  • The CIA and other intelligence community agencies (in an effort led by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence) spent the summer of 2014 working on producing a redacted version of the Senate Intelligence Committee study for public release. The CIA had a large team of officers dedicated full time to this effort, which was completed in August 2014, at which time we provided the SSCI with a redacted copy of the study. As far as the CIA was concerned, at that point the SSCI was completely free to release the redacted version of the study—it had been officially declassified. Naively, we thought the SSCI might actually release this version. The film portrays this version of the study as mostly redacted, but in truth the CIA’s effort left more than 85 percent of the SSCI study unredacted (which is unprecedented for a detailed report about a highly classified covert action program), and half of those redactions were in the footnotes (and therefore didn’t affect the study’s narrative). Virtually all of the study’s findings and conclusions, the most important part of it, were unredacted by the CIA in this initial declassified version—hardly suggesting a concerted cover-up. At that time, almost all information relating to the application of EITs to high-value detainees and intelligence gained from the interrogation program (unless its release would harm sources or ongoing operations) had been categorically and permanently declassified—allowing the SSCI to present the unvarnished story of the harshness of the interrogation techniques and whether or not valuable intelligence was obtained from them. “The Report” mentions none of this and instead falsely states that the entire discussion of the treatment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was blacked out and that the remainder of the study was redacted to the point of being unreadable. This is simply not true. Yes, the SSCI wasn’t happy with some of those remaining redactions, especially those relating to the identifying information about career CIA officers. And subsequent, painful negotiations, combined with a rewriting of some sections of the study by the SSCI to avoid classification issues, ultimately reduced the redactions by another 8 percent—a rather modest difference if you believe the first version represented a cover-up. The fact of the matter is from August 2014 on, there was no question that a substantially unredacted version of the SSCI study was coming out that told a very damaging story about the CIA; the SSCI was free to release it at any time. The movie’s portrayal of the release of the study as being in serious jeopardy up until its December 2014 release is pure fiction.

  • There’s another important reason that the study was likely to be released regardless of the CIA’s preferences: Both the ACLU and reporter Jason Leopold had submitted FOIA requests for it, and those requests were pending in federal court throughout the summer and fall of 2014. The CIA convinced the court to stay these proceedings pending the outcome of the agency’s negotiations with the SSCI over redactions, and we periodically updated the court on the status of the discussions. Even if the CIA or White House had somehow prevented the SSCI from releasing the study, the agency still likely would have been required to release the study (and the records cited therein) in FOIA litigation.

  • Third, the broad declassification of the interrogation program information in the study was also seen by some in the CIA as being inevitable for a completely separate reason: the military commission prosecutions pending in Guantanamo Bay. By 2014, some officers had come to recognize that it was unlikely that the prosecutions of the 9/11 perpetrators would ever make it through the completion of a death penalty trial without the agency being required (either by the military commission or the White House) to declassify large chunks of information relating to the program and the defendants’ treatment. Painful though it would be, the CIA was likely going to be required to pull off the declassification bandage at some point, and the release of the study provided a vehicle for doing so. Among other things, the declassification dramatically streamlined the discovery process in these cases, which had been moving at a glacial pace previously.

None of this is to suggest that the CIA was championing the release of the study. It certainly was not. And it is true that the agency was opposed to the release of the additional volumes the full SSCI report (primarily due to the effort and distraction that would come from redacting 5,000+ additional pages of material). But even the SSCI agreed on this point, as it never voted to release these additional volumes. With respect to the study itself, however, the CIA recognized early on that a substantially unredacted version was going to be published, and it acted in good faith in order to facilitate that effort.

Another conspiratorial episode portrayed in “The Report” centers on the “spying” scandal relating to the so-called “Panetta Review.” The Panetta Review was based on an internal review of the CIA records being produced to the SSCI, designed to help Director Panetta have early awareness of the story that was likely to come out in the study. But this effort was halted well before it was completed, and these documents remained in draft form, marked as privileged. The SSCI staffers were briefed on the existence of these documents and were told that they were not receiving them given their privileged nature and because they were outside the scope of the SSCI’s document request. Through means still unknown, the SSCI staffers obtained the documents anyway, and Jones eventually did a bad job of keeping it a secret. The CIA conducted a limited, preliminary security review to determine how this access occurred and then proposed that a more robust joint investigation be undertaken with the SSCI security staff, which Feinstein was amenable to initially. But when Jones found out about the CIA’s initial security review, everything went to hell, and a major scandal ensued.

The portrayal of this episode in the movie is riddled with fabrications. The actions of the agency were documented in a public CIA inspector general report that Jones and his defenders tout when convenient for them, as well as an internal CIA Accountability Review Board report. “The Report’s” falsehoods relating to these events include the following:

  • In a dramatic scene, the film shows dark-clad, mysterious CIA personnel physically removing the SSCI’s servers from their workspace in the middle of the night. This never happened. The reason this didn’t happen is because the SSCI staffers were working on a CIA-owned and operated computer system. It was not a SSCI system, but the SSCI staffers had their own user accounts and a dedicated shared drive. Although it was a stand-alone network, it was a network that was used by both CIA personnel and Senate staffers. There was no “air gap” between the two sides as stated in the movie; it was logically separated, as is the case on many computer networks. CIA IT staff controlled this computer system; they were the systems administrators. All they had to do to determine whether the SSCI staffers had been accessing the Panetta Review was to log-in using their existing administrator privileges. While there was a legitimate dispute about whether this access violated the understanding between the CIA and the SSCI with respect to the SSCI drive (which permitted CIA IT access for administrative purposes), this is a far cry from physically stealing a SSCI server in the middle of the night, as portrayed in the movie. Nor did this effort involve “hacking” in any sense of the word, as alleged later in the movie. CIA IT staff already had authorized access to the SSCI side of the network, and the SSCI staffers were well aware of this.

  • In the movie, after the server is stolen, the same mysterious CIA personnel break into the SSCI staffers’ office, log into their computers, rummage through their desks, and take pictures off the walls. Again, it’s well documented that this never happened, and it is perhaps the most disturbing fabrication in the movie. The filmmakers want the viewer to believe that CIA thugs broke into the SSCI staffers’ office under the cover of night, even though it is well documented in multiple investigations that such an egregious act did not occur. For what purpose? Such thinking is dangerous. If you believe the CIA would do this, it’s not a big leap to believe it would wiretap Trump Tower or engage in some of the other abuses falsely alleged by the president and his defenders.

  • The movie also contains a scene in which Brennan and a CIA lawyer leave a meeting with Feinstein, upon which Feinstein immediately informs Jones that the charges against him relating to his Panetta Review access “are being dropped.” This also never happened. The implication is that the “all-powerful” CIA was calling the shots yet again. But that’s not how the justice system works. There were never any criminal charges against Jones. There was a referral to the Justice Department for a potential investigation, and the Justice Department determined in its sole discretion that it would not pursue charges and directly informed the SSCI of that conclusion. In addition, while I don’t doubt that the referral greatly concerned Jones, anyone who understands how the Justice Department operates knows that there was no chance that it would have pursued a prosecution against him—a move that would have created a political firestorm and faced significant legal hurdles because of obvious separation of powers issues. And while I was not involved in the CIA’s crimes referral, I can assure you that no one involved thought it would prevent the SSCI study from coming out. Knowing the resolve of Feinstein, it was understood that if anything, this episode would strengthen her desire to publish the study. No one was foolish enough to think that she would be intimidated. It’s insulting to suggest that she could have been.

  • “The Report” presents the December 2013 confirmation hearing of Caroline Krass to be CIA general counsel as a key moment in the Panetta Review saga. In the movie, Jones admits to Sen. Mark Udall prior to the hearing that he has secretly obtained the documents, and Udall then confronts Krass about them. After the hearing, Feinstein erupts at Jones for concealing this from her. The film omits the fact that Feinstein had already demanded a copy of the Panetta Review from the CIA prior to the hearing. Since Jones was Feinstein’s lead staffer at this time, her request likely originated from him. If the movie is accurate, however, when Feinstein’s office made this official request to the CIA, Jones had not told Feinstein that he had already secretly obtained those documents. If Jones believed that he had done nothing wrong, there would have been no reason to conceal this fact from Feinstein and other SSCI members. For this reason, many in the CIA viewed Feinstein’s request for the Panetta Review as an attempt by Jones to “paper over” his suspected transgression by obtaining the documents through normal channels.

There are numerous other details about the Panetta Review scandal that the movie misrepresents, which are too complicated to document here. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a legitimate scandal. The episode raised serious separation of powers concerns, and some aspects of it should never have occurred in any scenario (especially the crimes report based on faulty information, as well as the review of certain staffer’s emails, which was in direct contravention of instructions from agency lawyers; SSCI work product was supposed to be strictly off-limits). But in telling the story, the film should stick to the well-documented facts (which still help Jones’s case in some respects) rather than resorting to fabrications. And the biggest mystery of all—exactly how Jones obtained the Panetta Review documents—is still left untold.

The second half of the movie contains dozens of additional falsehoods, too many to detail here. Some of the more egregious distortions include the following:

  • Just like “Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Report” acts as if the central character did almost everything alone, while largely ignoring the contributions of the larger team behind him or her. The other SSCI staffers who worked on the study do appear in “The Report,” but the movie would have you believe that Jones did almost all the work. The movie does a disservice to the contribution of the larger team at the SSCI, just like “Zero Dark Thirty” did with the “Maya” character played by Jessica Chastain. By elevating Jones, “The Report” also gives insufficient credit to Senator Feinstein and her predecessor, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, both of whom led the effort to initiate and then publish the study. Panetta is also unmentioned in the movie (beyond the references to the Panetta Review), even though he set the CIA on its path of unprecedented cooperation with the SSCI.

  • In the movie, the Jones character repeatedly states that the Panetta Review “confirms everything we’ve been finding.” This is a gross exaggeration. The Panetta Review was mostly a boring recitation of the factual record—a timeline containing very little analysis (by design). It did not confirm “all,” or even most, of the SSCI’s findings. Jones can get away with asserting this, however, because he knows that the CIA does not want to release the Panetta Review, which was a preliminary draft that was never completed and never used for its intended purpose. While this scandal was unfolding, Udall sent a letter to the CIA, which has never been released, that detailed some of the points where the Panetta Review allegedly agreed with the SSCI study and contradicted the CIA’s official response. I remember reading the letter and finding it unremarkable; most of the issues he identified were relatively minor and did not go to the core of the dispute between the CIA and the SSCI over the program.

  • The movie presents CIA General Counsel Caroline Krass as being deeply involved in the redaction process and as advocating for aggressive redactions. Both aspects are inaccurate. Krass wisely left the redaction process to her deputy and myself, and she was a strong advocate of making the minimal necessary redactions to the study. The movie shows Krass instructing agency officers to “redact anything that could result in legal exposure for our officers,” adding that “if you have a question, black it out.” I was the lawyer who instructed the redaction team. We had a discrete set of redaction criteria based on legitimate national security concerns, and “anything that could result in legal exposure for our officers” was not among them. Jones knows this, as he was briefed on the criteria. In addition to violating the executive order on classification, such a standard would have been nonsensical, as it would have meant that anything about the application of EITs would have been redacted. In reality, such information was almost completely unredacted in the initial redacted version of the study that was provided to the SSCI in August 2014, which Jones is well aware of since he reviewed the document.

  • At the risk of stating the obvious, all of the “behind-the-scenes” depictions of White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough, Brennan, and Krass are fictional. The focus on McDonough is particularly perplexing. McDonough had no involvement with the interrogation program and played a relatively minor role in the CIA’s interactions with the SSCI—beyond his resistance to getting too involved. His involvement was focused primarily on arbitrating a dispute about redactions relating to the identities of low-level CIA officers, where he ultimately sided with the agency. The film’s depiction of McDonough as the “bad guy” has a whiff of score settling. It is also odd that the movie is so critical of Obama administration officials while barely mentioning any officials in the Bush administration—under whose watch the program was developed and carried out.

  • As stated in the film, it is true that the CIA prevented the SSCI from interviewing employees about the interrogation program given the launch of special prosecutor John Durham’s criminal investigation, but the movie ignores two important facts in this regard. First, the agency could not prevent the SSCI from interviewing former employees, and there were quite a few former employees out there who were involved in the interrogation program. The SSCI deliberately chose not to do so. Second, the Durham investigation into the interrogation program largely ended in June 2011. The SSCI could have elected to start interviewing employees at this time; the study was not completed until 18 months later, in December 2012. It deliberately chose not to do so, thereby limiting the accuracy of the study.

  • In the movie, every time Jones leaves the CIA workspace, a security guard diligently asks him if he’s taking any information that would violate the SSCI’s agreement with the agency over what information could be removed. This never happened. The CIA trusted the SSCI staffers to abide by the ground rules and did not have a security guard questioning them every time they left the building. They came and went like any other agency employee (the only limitation being that a CIA officer had to be present to allow them into their office space). Showing this level of trust would not have supported the movie’s agenda, so a fictional scene was created instead.

  • The film implies that Jones was the first to discover many of the key facts relating to the interrogation program. In truth, information about the program had been flowing out for years—first, mostly through leaks and subsequently, through authorized releases through FOIA cases brought by the ACLU, Amnesty International, and others. The movie ignores their contributions and acts is if everything uncovered by Jones was breaking news. The details certainly were, as was Jones’s assessment of whether EITs generated valuable intelligence, but many of the other headlines of the study were already known thanks to these earlier efforts by others.

  • In the movie, Jones states that one reason the Justice Department may have elected not to prosecute CIA contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen is because they were contractually indemnified by the agency. I can say with confidence that this would have had nothing to do with the department’s decision about whether to prosecute. Indemnification simply meant that the agency would pay their legal bills; it provided no immunity in relation to a criminal prosecution, and it would not have influenced the department one iota.

It would have been easy to tell the story of the CIA’s mistakes and Jones’s efforts to expose them while sticking to the facts—most of which are a matter of public record. But by advancing a false, conspiratorial story about the agency’s conduct in the Obama years, the film provides fodder to extreme elements on both ends of the political spectrum who are inclined to believe any narrative about the CIA that fits their worldview. This might sell more movie tickets, but it does little to advance an honest dialogue about the proper role that the CIA should play in our democratic system and how to best ensure that these mistakes are not repeated. It also does a disservice to the public servants at the CIA who serve honorably every day.

All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official positions or views of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or any other U.S. Government agency. Nothing in the contents should be construed as asserting or implying U.S. Government authentication of information or CIA endorsement of the author’s views. This material has been reviewed by the CIA to prevent the disclosure of classified information.

Brian D. Greer was an attorney at the CIA’s Office of General Counsel from 2010 to 2018. He served as the chief of staff to General Counsel Caroline Krass and was a member of the Senior Intelligence Service. Earlier in his career, he served as deputy chief of the Office of General Counsel’s Litigation Division and as an operations attorney in the Weapons and Counterproliferation Mission Center and the East Asia Division.

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