After he was informed that the New York Times was about to publish an article on torture tape destruction, CIA Director Michael Hayden told his employees that the CIA destroyed the tapes in part to protect the identities of CIA interrogators:
[T]he tapes posed a serious security risk. Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them and their families to retaliation from al-Qa’ida and its sympathizers.
The White House reiterated this line in defense of the tape destruction, claming, “The President doesn’t have any reason to doubt” Hayden’s response.
In a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee today, former CIA Assistant General Counsel John Radsan, who served under George Tenet, said this excuse is bogus since there are plenty of options for protecting intelligence. “It doesn’t make sense to me that the tapes needed to be destroyed to protect identities,” Radsan said:
There was no indication that they wanted to share this with anybody. If they are worried about a leak, the CIA protects a lot of classified information. If you have tapes in an overseas location, then have the tapes moved back to headquarters as Ms. Jackson-Lee said, put it in a safe in the Director’s office. If a tape is not safe in the CIA, in the office of the Director of the CIA, we’re in trouble.
Radsan said such methods have historical precedent. During the Bay of Pigs invasion, the CIA Director did not want a classified internal investigation from “leaking,” so the Director personally kept a copy of the report, put it in a safe, and it “was safe for a long period of time.”
Earlier this month on CBS, a “well-informed source” informed the network that the CIA destroyed the interrogation tapes to “protect CIA officers from criminal prosecution.” “You’d have to burn every document at the CIA that has the identity of an agent on it under that theory,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) of Hayden’s excuse.
REP. COHEN: Does anybody on the panel believe that the tapes were destroyed to preserve the anonymity of CIA operatives? Do you think you might buy that at all, Mr. Rivkin?
RIVKIN: I would only buy that with the following observation which I made several times today.
It is not that you as Congress would reveal this information; but in a time when everything leaks, and that’s not an overstatement, having those tapes posted in the Internet — leaked the same way the Abu Ghraib tapes were — in a situation where individuals doing the interrogation were shown, these individuals were overseas — would either destroy their careers or may well put their lives in jeopardy.
REP. COHEN: But wasn’t it possible to block out their face or their identity and still have the tape but to secure the anonymity of the CIA operative?
Well, again, this assumes that one could guarantee that an unredacted tape would not be leaked, or even it was somehow the identity was obscured that it would not be restored. And that is a big assumption given what else has happened with the most secret of programs that this government has employed in the last several years.
COHEN: Than you sir. Professor?
RADSAN: With respect, I disagree with Mr. Rivkin. It doesn’t make sense to me that the tapes needed to be destroyed to protect identities. You’ve alluded to one possibility of redacting, but the other basic possibility, there was no indication that they wanted to share this with anybody.
If they’re worried about a leak, and the CIA protects a lot of classified information, if you had tapes at an overseas location, then have the tape moved back to headquarters, as Ms. Jackson-Lee said, put it in a safe in the director’s office. If a tape is not safe in the Central Intelligence Agency, in the office of the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, we’re in trouble.
A historical note, as you remember with the Bay of Pigs, there was a very controversial Inspector General investigation that was done internally. The Director of Central Intelligence at that time didn’t want this leaking and didn’t want it well-known. The Director of Central Intelligence said, ‘We’ll take back the copies of the report, I’ll keep one, I’ll put it in the safe,’ and it was safe for a long period of time.