Judge Blocks Release of CIA Files on Agency’s “Torture Report” Senate Fight

Friday, April 15, 2016
Judge James Boasberg (photo: Wikipedia)

By Adam Klasfeld, Courthouse News Service


MANHATTAN (CN) - Two years after the CIA's fight with Senate investigators came to a boil, a federal judge refused to illuminate the imbroglio's back story for a Vice News investigative reporter.


"Like a multigenerational soap opera, the persistent controversy swirling around the Central Intelligence Agency's rendition, detention, and interrogation program has now spanned two presidential administrations, numerous congressional sessions, and the comings and goings of six CIA directors," the opinion released Friday begins. "In one of its most recent episodes, the CIA, after finding itself in the binocular crosshairs of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, allegedly flipped the lenses around to spy back on its Congressional overseers."


From the whimsical introduction by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg, a reader might not expect that the judge had been summarizing the spy agency's alleged attempt to hack into the computers of Senate investigators to cover up torture.


But that's exactly what Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., accused the CIA of doing.


In a 40-minute speech on March 11, 2014, Feinstein told Congress that the agency tried to remove an internal report named after ex-CIA director Leon Panetta that had provided a damning assessment of the ineffectiveness and brutality of the CIA's Rendition and Interrogation Network.


The declassified summary of what became known as the torture report ultimately featured Panetta's review prominently.


When Feinstein's committee moved the Panetta review from CIA offices to a safe of the Hart Building in Washington, the CIA tried unsuccessfully to characterize the maneuver as criminal mishandling of classified information.


The Department of Justice's probe into those claims evaporated, but the antagonism between the Senate committee and the CIA endured.


Working at the time for Al Jazeera America, Jason Leopold filed a 2014 request for the back story under the Freedom of Information Act.


Working with Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher Ryan Shapiro, Leopold sought the agency's investigative files, its correspondence with Senate committee and the CIA talking points to uncover how spies spun the squabble to the public.


Boasberg rebuffed Leopold and Shapiro's request in a scathing, 24-page opinion on Monday.


The researchers had complained about the CIA's failure to identify which records system it searched before denying access, but Boasberg nixed this argument as "oft-used but rarely successful strategy."


Boasberg's playful tone has become a common feature in his handling of other lawsuits by Leopold.


"They say the devil is in the details, and that apparently is where plaintiff Jason Leopold hopes to find him," the judge wrote of the reporter in May last year.


Frequent FOIA lawsuits have landed Leopold a number of scoops - such as "The Google Search That Made the CIA Spy on the U.S. Senate," and a revelation about former Attorney General Eric Holder using Kareem Abdul Jabbar's birth name as his email address.


The investigative reporter filed four complaints alone related to the CIA's entanglement with Senate investigators, alternately seeking access of the declassified torture report summary, the Panetta review, the CIA's criminal referrals and the case discussed in this opinion.


Boasberg so far has dismissed three of them.


The reporter's attorney, Jeff Light, kept tight-lipped about his client's next steps.


"We're still reviewing the decision in order to determine whether we are going to appeal," Light said in a phone interview.


Meanwhile, the dust still has not settled between the spy agency and the legislators over the incident.


Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., demanded that CIA director John Brennan apologize to him in February. 


To Learn More:

Stacked CIA Panel Clears CIA of Wrongdoing in Hacking of Senate Computers (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)

Judge Who Blocked Release of Osama bin Laden Death Photos Now Blocks Release of Senate Torture Report (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

New Republican Senate Intelligence Chairman Wants to Bury CIA Torture Reports (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

CIA Admits it Spied on Senate Intelligence Committee and Lied about It (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Steve Straehley, AllGov)

CIA Spied on Senate Committee Investigating CIA (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)


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