Brennan: Claim That Detainees Didn't Provide Valuable Intel After EITs 'Lacks Any Foundation at All'

WASHINGTON -- CIA Director John Brennan stepped to the podium at Langley today for a rare press conference to respond to a report accusing the agency of torture, launching into a passionate defense of the men and women who work there.

Brennan began by walking everyone back to the dark days of 9/11, and reminded all that the first combat death in Afghanistan -- Johnny "Mike" Spann, killed on Nov. 25, 2001 -- was CIA. Since then, he said, 20 more CIA officers "have lost their lives around the world at the hands of terrorists."

But he also stressed that the Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats' report, which said enhanced interrogation techniques were not effective in gleaning useful intelligence, "lacks any foundation at all" in its conclusion.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Brennan said, "Our government and our citizens recognized the urgency of the task to find and stop al-Qaeda before it could shed the blood of more innocent men, women and children, be it in America or be it in any other corner of the world."

The EIT program was "uncharted territory for the CIA and we were not prepared," he added. "We had little experience housing detainees and precious few of our officers were trained interrogators… As concerns about Al Qaeda's terrorist plans endured, a variety of these techniques were employed by CIA officers on several dozen detainees over the course of five years before they ended in December of 2007."

"The previous administration faced agonizing choices about how to pursue al-Qaeda and prevent additional terrorist attacks against our country while facing fears of further attacks and carrying out the responsibility to prevent more catastrophic loss of life. There were no easy answers. And whatever your views are on EITs, our nation and, in particular this agency, did a lot of things right during this difficult time to keep this country strong and secure."

Brennan said the CIA views Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-Calif.) report as "flawed" in its execution, noting that CIA officers were not interviewed by committee investigators.

"In a limited number of cases, agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all. And we fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes," he said. "It is vitally important to recognize, however, that the overwhelming majority of officers involved in the program at CIA carried out their responsibilities faithfully and in accordance with the legal and policy guidance they were provided. They did what they were asked to do in the service of our nation."

Brennan stressed that detainees who were subjected to EITs did yield valuable intelligence, including in finding Osama bin Laden, but he cannot say whether it was the EITs that led the detainees to talk.

"The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable," he said.

He added that the record "simply does not support the study's inference that the agency repeatedly, systematically and intentionally misled others on the effectiveness of the program."

"Primarily, however, the study's contention that we repeatedly and intentionally misled the public and the rest of the U.S. government rests on the committee's view that detainees subjected to EITs did not produce useful intelligence, a point on which we still fundamentally disagree."

The longtime CIA veteran -- who joined in 1980 and was deputy executive director when al-Qaeda struck the homeland on 9/11 -- said one of the "most frustrating aspects" of the study is that it "conveys a broader view of the CIA and its officers as untrustworthy, that the institution and the workforce were willing to forego their integrity in order to preserve a program they were invested in and supposedly believed to be right."

"This in no way comports with my experience in the CIA. While the agency has a traditional bias for action and a determined focus on achieving our mission, we take exceptional pride in providing truth to power, whether that power likes or agrees with what we believe and what we say or not and regardless of whether that power is affiliated with any particular political party."

Feinstein was live-tweeting Brennan's speech, responding to his statements with the hashtag #ReadTheReport.