Mainers are well represented in the secretive world of the Senate Intelligence Committee, as Wednesday proved.
Before making a joint announcement that they would support the effort of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to release portions of the Intelligence panel’s report on the CIA’s use of torture, Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Independent Angus King discussed the decision extensively between themselves.
“Both of us spent a great deal of time reviewing the report, the CIA’s rebuttal, interviewing the staff authors, talking to the minority staff, and we actually set up a separate briefing for ourselves with CIA officials,” Collins said. “That was very helpful in educating us on the issues.”
The Washington Post reported Monday on the details of the Senate committee report, citing officials who had reviewed its contents. Among the findings, as described by the newspaper: The CIA used “excruciating interrogation methods that yielded little, if any, significant intelligence.”
It’s unusual, but by no means unprecedented, for senators from a single state to share committee assignments. However, in the case of intelligence oversight, it means that Collins and King spend many hours cloistered in a room on the second floor of the Hart Senate Office Building outside of the folks from Kittery, Caribou and Augusta.
“Angus and I work very well together on a wide variety of issues, and I think we both have been — as committee members would tell you — extremely diligent about attending the committee briefings,” she said. “We’re almost always there, twice a week, for the multiple hours of, of hearings and briefings. And perhaps we bring the same state of Maine sensibility to some of these issues that led us to reach the same conclusion.”
In this case, the two senators decided they would back Feinstein on a committee vote that’s expected Thursday to move ahead with the process of releasing portions of the study by the Democratic staff of the Intelligence panel. The matter is at the center of a fight between the intelligence agency and the Senate itself about improper access to data and potential spying.
Assuming Feinstein gets the support of a majority of the panel, the matter would move to the White House for declassification review, Feinstein explained earlier in the week.
In their joint statement, Collins and King noted several underlying issues.
“Our vote to declassify this report does not signal our full endorsement of all of its conclusions or its methodology. The report has some intrinsic limitations because it did not involve direct interviews of CIA officials, contract personnel, or other Executive branch personnel. It also, unfortunately, did not include the participation of the staff of Republican Committee members,” the Maine senators said. “We do, however, believe in transparency and believe that the Executive Summary, and Additional and Dissenting Views, and the CIA’s rebuttal should be made public with appropriate redactions so the American public can reach their own conclusions about the conduct of this program.”
Collins reiterated that sentiment in a brief statement later in the day.
“I reached the conclusion that the report has many flaws in its methodology, but that its basic conclusion that detainees were mistreated in [a] very brutal fashion at times was correct, and I believe the American people have the right to make their own judgement,” she said.