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Who's Who In Senate-CIA Report Showdown

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks after a closed-door meeting Thursday on Capitol Hill. The panel voted to approve declassifying part of a report on Bush-era interrogations of terrorism suspects.
Molly Riley
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., speaks after a closed-door meeting Thursday on Capitol Hill. The panel voted to approve declassifying part of a report on Bush-era interrogations of terrorism suspects.

The world could soon get its first official look at the CIA's post-Sept. 11 interrogation and detention activities now that the Senate Intelligence Committee has voted to make public a blockbuster report about the agency's secret program.

The Senate panel's move to declassify key parts of the 6,300-page document comes just weeks after a rancorous battle erupted between the committee's Democratic chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, and the CIA over allegations the agency spied on members through their computers.

Eleven senators voted to declassify, with three Republicans voting no — Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, James Risch of Idaho and Dan Coats of Indiana.

One senator, Republican Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, voted present.

Efforts to lift the blackout on the report had been opposed by Republicans on the 15-member committee until Wednesday, when Maine's two senators — Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King — called for its release.

The senators suggested that the findings, though criticized by some GOP committee members as erroneous and based on unproven assumptions, "lead us to conclude that some detainees were subjected to techniques that constituted torture."

The report goes next to President Obama — who in 2009 ended the controversial interrogation program — for review before any findings are released.

Here's a look at some of the more prominent Senate voices in the unusually public fray over the controversial document, its partial release and the charged relationship between the CIA and the powerful committee.

Dianne Feinstein, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman

Feinstein stunned the intelligence community in early March when she took to the Senate floor and publicly denounced the CIA, alleging that the spy agency had searched the committee's computers and secretly removed documents relating to the report.

In what she described as a defining moment for congressional oversight of the CIA, Feinstein also accused the agency of engaging in tactics of intimidation by asking the FBI to look into investigators' methods and conduct. CIA Director John Brennan has disputed her claims.

The California Democrat, 80, was a supporter of the Patriot Act and National Security Agency data collection.

Feinstein said this on the Senate floor about the CIA and release of the report:

"If the Senate can declassify this report, we will be able to ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted.

"But Mr. President, the recent actions that I have just laid out make this a defining moment for the oversight of our Intelligence Community. How Congress responds and how this is resolved will show whether the Intelligence Committee can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation's intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.

"I believe it is critical that the committee and the Senate reaffirm our oversight role and our independence under the Constitution of the United States."

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman

Chambliss, the highest-ranking Republican on the typically bipartisan committee, has been among its most vocal critics of the secret report and opponents of its declassification.

After Feinstein's comments on the Senate floor, Chambliss, who is retiring at the end of this session of Congress, took to the floor himself to respond, urging that intelligence business remain out of public view. He also suggested that Feinstein's accusations of computer snooping by the CIA are as yet unproven.

"Although people speak as though we know all the pertinent facts surrounding this matter, the truth is, we do not," he said.

The Georgia Republican reiterated his — and Republicans' — skepticism about the contents of the report:

"The Republican committee members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and staff were not involved in the underlying investigation of the detainee and interrogation report. We do not know the actual facts concerning the CIA's alleged actions or all of the specific details about the actions by the committee staff regarding the draft of what is now referred to as the Panetta internal review document. Both parties involved have made allegations against one another, and have speculated as to each other's actions. But there are still a lot of unanswered questions that must be addressed."

In the end, though, Chambliss voted to declassify.

"Today, I voted in favor of sending a portion of this majority report to the executive branch for declassification. Despite the report's significant errors, omissions, and assumptions — as well as a lot of cherry-picking of the facts — I want the American people to be able to see it and judge for themselves," he said in a statement.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller

Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat who is also retiring at the end of the session after three decades in the Senate, chaired the Intelligence Committee from 2007 to 2009. His 2007 order of a review of CIA records related to "enhanced" interrogation techniques and reports that the agency destroyed videotapes related to such interrogation eventually led to the massive report in question.

"There need to be an incredible number of reforms. That will catch us up to where we should have been 10 years ago," he told The Hill newspaper last month. Of the report, he said: "The substance of this thing is so deep and so wide and so unknown to the American people."

Sen. Marco Rubio

Rubio, a potential GOP presidential contender in 2016, has called for an investigation into Feinstein's allegations of CIA spying, saying this during a Bloomberg interview:

"There should be an impartial investigation of it, and I think until that point people should reserve judgment. But I would just caution that I don't think anyone has a clean hand, and I think it's important for the full truth to come out. I think people may be surprised to learn that, in this case, there were no good guys and maybe two or three bad ones.

The Florida Republican was one of only three Republicans to vote no.

Sen. Mark Udall

Udall, a Colorado Democrat, has been front and center on the issue of the report and allegations that the CIA rooted through the committee's computers. He threatened to stall the nomination of the CIA's general counsel, and has alleged that the agency has provided the committee with conflicting accounts of its post-Sept. 11 activities.

In a letter last month to President Obama, Udall characterized the CIA's "actions to be incredibly troubling for the Committee's oversight responsibilities and for our democracy."

Sen. Susan Collins

Collins, a Maine moderate, was the first Republican committee member to publicly back release of portions of the secret review of CIA activities. She and fellow Maine Sen. Angus King released this statement Wednesday:

"We remain strongly opposed to the use of torture, believing that it is fundamentally contrary to American values. While we have some concerns about the process for developing the report, its findings lead us to conclude that some detainees were subjected to techniques that constituted torture. This inhumane and brutal treatment never should have occurred. Further, the report raises serious concerns about the CIA's management of this program.

"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. 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.

"Torture is wrong, and we must make sure that the misconduct and the grave errors made in the CIA's detention and interrogation program never happen again."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Liz Halloran joined NPR in December 2008 as Washington correspondent for Digital News, taking her print journalism career into the online news world.