Harman: CIA brushed off warnings on interrogation tapes
Rep. Jane Harman, the California Democrat who warned the CIA in 2003 against destroying tapes of its agents using so-called harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists, now says the agency brushed off her concerns over the tapes' preservation with a curt, "very unsatisfactory" response.
Whether the former ranking member of the Intelligence Committee pushed for more information on the interrorgation methods that sparked her initial concern remains an open question. Democrats are accusing the CIA of keeping them in the dark about plans to destroy videotapes, and Harman acknowledges that her memory is fuzzy regarding a classified briefing she participated in just after taking over for Nancy Pelosi as top Democrat on the committee.
"I can't really reconstruct the meeting -- again, which was highly classified -- because I took no notes. It was five years ago and this feeble grandma just ain't that good," Harman told NPR's Robert Siegel Monday.
In February 2003, Harman wrote to the CIA and urged them to preserve the tapes, which were destroyed in 2005.
It wasn't until the destruction of the tapes was publicly revealed last week that Harman disclosed her earlier warnings to the CIA. On Friday, Harman said the CIA "never responded to" her 2003 letter, although she modified that accusation Monday.
"I did hear over the weekend from a staffer that she thinks there was a response, very unsatisfactory, to my letter, and I'm eager to see if the CIA recognized then that what I said was important," Harman said on CNN's American Morning Monday. "They obviously ignored it in 2005."
Harman's spokesman did not return phone messages or e-mails Monday or Tuesday, and the precise timing of the CIA's response remained unclear. Harman offered more details about the CIA response on NPR's All Things Considered.
"A very short response to my letter was received by the committee," she said. "I've asked that that be declassified as well, but it's just a response that says: Thank you for your letter; we're evaluating your request."
The CIA refused to provide details as well.
"I'm sorry I'm just not going to be able to help you, particularly since all the preliminary inquiries are under way," a CIA spokeswoman told RAW STORY Monday. "We're just not commenting right now."
Because her letter was classified, Harman said she was prevented from discussing it or any aspects of the CIA's secret interrogation program, which presumably squelched the opportunity to publicly criticize the agency or begin congressional investigations.
However, Harman did apparently tell Pelosi about the letter. As Minority Leader, a post she assumed in January 2003, Pelosi remained part of the Gang of Eight, those members of Congress who are privy to the most sensitive intelligence briefings.
"Harman objected, which Pelosi thought was the right thing to do and would have done if she had been ranker," an aide to the Speaker told TPM Muckraker. Pelosi did not sign her name to Harman's letter, though she agreed with the decision to send it.
CIA chief Michael Hayden said Congress was informed the tapes would be destroyed, but Harman disputed that assertion. Former Republican Rep. Porter Goss, not Hayden, led the CIA when the tapes were destroyed two years ago.
"I had no reason to believe that the videotapes would be destroyed without consulting Congress -- no reason whatsoever," she said on NPR.
Harman said she was not informed when the CIA actually did order the tapes' destruction in late 2005, when Congress, the courts and the Sept. 11 Commission were investigating CIA interrogation practices and requested information from the agency that presumably would have included the destroyed recordings.
Such action "may constitute obstruction of justice," Harman said on CNN, and she said it is incumbent upon new Attorney General Michael Mukasey to demonstrate his independence from the White House in mounting a vigorous investigation of all potential lawbreaking.
"This is a first test of the new attorney general, Mukasey," she said. "One of the problems we have in this administration is they set their own rules, they provide their own legal opinions and they investigate themselves. This is another self-policed action gone awry."
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified comments from CIA chief Michael Hayden as coming from Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell.
This video is from CNN's American Morning, broadcast on December 10, 2007.