Justice Dept. Inspector General Claims CIA Hampered Its Investigation

Report says the agency blocked access to senior al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah.

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A new Justice Department report accuses the CIA of hampering an investigation by its inspector general into the FBI's involvement in the controversial interrogation and detention of terrorism-related detainees.

The key accusation: that the CIA's decision to deny investigators access to interview Abu Zubaydah, a high-level al Qaeda operative waterboarded after he was taken into U.S. custody, was "unwarranted."

The allegations—while only briefly mentioned in a footnote in the report—highlight another example of how the FBI and CIA still sometimes struggle over the boundaries of cooperation between the agencies.

The problem began in early 2007 when, according to the inspector general's report, IG investigators sought approval to interview several detainees at Guantánamo Bay. The Defense Department agreed, saying this would not interfere with intelligence gathering. But then the CIA objected to interviewing Zubaydah.

While some of the reasons were redacted from the report, the CIA asserted that interviewing Zubaydah did not fall within the IG's "investigative mandate." What's more, the CIA reportedly feared he would make false statements about CIA employees.

CIA spokesperson Paul Gimigliano said today, "As the document points out, the CIA was not convinced that the Department of Justice IG had an 'immediate' need to interview Abu Zubaydah. The publicly released footnote includes some of the reasons behind that judgment."

But the IG was not persuaded by these explanations and concluded in the report "that the CIA's reasons for objecting to OIG access to Zubaydah were unwarranted, and its lack of cooperation hampered our investigation."

Though the IG did not elaborate specifically on how its lack of access to Zubaydah hampered its investigation, the methods used on Zubaydah were central to the FBI's decision to pull out of some interrogations. When Zubaydah was first captured in 2002, he was interrogated by the FBI. Soon CIA officers arrived on scene and took control of the interrogation. One FBI agent was so bothered by some of the severe interrogation techniques used by the CIA—ones clearly prohibited under FBI guidelines—that he wrote a memo in spring 2002 expressing concern to headquarters.

By August, FBI Director Robert Mueller decided that FBI agents would no longer participate in joint interrogations where extreme techniques were used, although they were permitted to watch. It wasn't until 2004—after the public disclosure of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq—that the FBI issued formal guidance requiring agents to report abusive techniques.

—Emma Schwartz