Last night, several news outlets reported that Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair contradicted claims from the White House on enhanced interrogations. Blair, in a letter to his intelligence community colleagues last week, wrote: "High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qaeda organization that was attacking this country." When the DNI released parts of Blair's letter as his public statement on the subject, that sentence was cut.
So you have the Director of National Intelligence acknowledging that "high value information" came from the now-banned techniques, contra his boss, and then hiding that intelligence assessment from the public. This from the self-described most transparent administration in history.
Smells like a scandal, no? The DNI's office apparently thought so and put out a statement to clarify Blair's position -- explaining why the assessments were cut from the public statement and backpedaling from his claim that the techniques were so valuable. (The DNI's office claims assessment were cut for space -- an odd explanation since such statements are released on the internet or over email. And Blair now says that because we don't know if we could have gotten the information using other methods he favors ending the techniques.)
So how did the Washington Post report it? Under the headline "Intelligence Chief Says Methods Hurt U.S." The story, written by Joby Warrick with an assist from Karen DeYoung, glides past the controversy by the conflicting statements and relegates to a mere footnote the fact that the DNI cut the discordant assessments from its initial public statement.
The Obama administration's chief intelligence officer has told the White House that harsh interrogations of suspected al-Qaeda officials produced "valuable" information, but he added that it is impossible to tell whether the same intelligence leads might have been obtained using less controversial methods.
In any case, the damage to the country's image caused by the use of waterboarding and similar techniques exceeded any potential benefit, Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair said.
"The information gained from these techniques was valuable in some instances," he said in a statement yesterday, "but there is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means."
It's not until the last paragraph of the story that readers learn that "the memo that circulated last week among Blair's staff included language that was not in a public statement released the same day, the Associated Press reported last night."
An Associated Press story opened this way: "The Obama administration's top intelligence official privately told employees last week that 'high value information' was obtained in interrogations that included harsh techniques approved by former President George W. Bush." After a brief chronology of the events of the past week, the story noted that continued: "In a public statement released the same day, Blair did not say that interrogations using the techniques had yielded useful information. As word of the private memo surfaced Tuesday night, a new statement was issued in his name that appeared to be more explicit in one regard and contained something of a hedge on another point."
The Post spent years writing about the supposed "politicization of intelligence" during the Bush years -- often despite the fact that bipartisan panels looking into the subject had gutted those claims. Those stories were, often as not, splashed across the top of the newspaper.
The Post reporters plainly read the AP's more straightforward reporting of the story, since their story referenced the AP piece. So why did they Post downplay Blair's assessment and shrug off the fact that he attempted to bury it? And why, too, didn't the Post press the DNI's office on its laughable explanation for the omissions or scrutinize the flawed reasoning behind Blair's repacking of his original claim?
It would be nice to know.