Maybe it was all a big misunderstanding.
Yesterday, The New York Times reported
that the White House and Justice Department had advised against destroying the interrogation videotapes of -- but CIA officials said that advice was less than direct (of the "probably wouldn't be a good idea" variety). As Newsweek reports
, that seems to have been the pattern for CIA, White House, and Justice Department officials who failed to unequivocally direct that the tapes be preserved. (For those who haven't already, check out our monster timeline
telling the tale of the tapes.)
Thankfully for investigators, "an extensive paperâor e-mailâtrail exists documenting the contacts between [the CIA's] Clandestine Service officials and top agency managers and between the CIA and the White House regarding what to do about the tapes." Both directors of the CIA during that time, George Tenet and Porter Goss, were no more explicit, only indicating "that they believed it would be unwise to destroy the tapes." The CIA's general counsel is characterized as "never comfortable with the idea of the tapes being destroyed."
The discussions about the comfortability and wisdom of destroying the tapes unfolded in "fits and starts" between 2003 and late 2005, the mag reports, when Jose Rodriguez of the Clandestine Service made the clear and irrevocable decision that the tapes should be destroyed. That move came after a lawyer in the Clandestine Service advised that "there is no explicit legal reason why the Clandestine Service had to preserve the tapes." But a source whispers to Newsweek
that the advice did not "directly authorize the tapes' destruction or offer advice on the wisdom or folly of such a course of action." I guess the joke's on Rodriguez.Newsweek
provides a little more detail about the tapes. For the entirety of their existence, they were kept in a secret location overseas, where they were eventually destroyed. At one point "portions... were electronically transmitted to CIA headquarters," but those traces have likely been rubbed out. Finally, there's a "detailed written transcript of the tapes' contents," which apparently still exists.
All of this, of course, doesn't do anything to explain why the tapes -- or their descriptions -- were kept from those seeking them, including the 9/11 commission and a federal judge.