hide captionCIA Director Michael Hayden speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York in September.
CIA Director Michael Hayden is scheduled to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Tuesday to discuss why his agency videotaped the interrogation of terrorism suspects and then destroyed the tapes.
The Justice Department and the CIA say they will investigate the destruction of the tapes, which are believed to have shown interrogators using especially harsh methods.
Just a week ago, the CIA and other agencies released a national intelligence estimate that concluded Iran halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago. Because it challenged the Bush administration's claims, the estimate was taken as a demonstration of the spy agency's independence.
Praise for NIE
Democrat Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a longtime CIA critic, praised the estimate as an example of sound analysis.
But the CIA did not bask in glory for long. On Thursday came the news that the agency videotaped interrogations of terrorism suspects and then destroyed the tapes — despite warnings from Congress not to do so. The tape story quickly overshadowed the Iran story: It combined in one scandal two big issues —- the CIA's interrogation policies and CIA accountability.
The news of the tapes broke just as Congress was advancing legislation that would bar the agency from using extreme procedures to force detainees to talk — such as waterboarding, which simulates drowning.
Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said the CIA may have stopped videotaping interrogations just a few months after it started because the agency realized the images might be inflammatory.
"Certainly one possibility is that they stopped because they began to realize that what was on those videotapes was potentially dynamite, that if people in the future could see the visual images of prisoners being waterboarded they would be horrified even more than if they read the description of that technique in the newspaper," Malinowski said.
The CIA's congressional overseers meanwhile seized on another point — that the agency apparently destroyed the videotapes on its own. Three days after praising the work of the CIA, Rockefeller was outraged.
"They destroyed it without letting us know, without asking our permission, without consulting, without informing us in any way. They just did what the CIA likes to do," Rockefeller said.
The charge that the CIA sometimes does whatever it wants is an old one.
In 1975, Democratic Sen. Frank Church of Idaho led a congressional inquiry into CIA secret actions, charging that the agency sometimes acted "like a rogue elephant."
Loch Johnson, Church's staff director, said Church wanted to make the intelligence agencies a part of the U.S. government that would not be exempt from a system of checks and balances.
History of CIA Oversight
As an outgrowth of the Church committee proceedings, the House and Senate intelligence committees were given oversight of the nation's intelligence agencies.
Johnson, who is now a professor at the University of Georgia, has been monitoring CIA oversight ever since his days on the Hill.
He said the agency's apparently unilateral decision to destroy the videotapes raises the question of whether the agency has fulfilled its obligation to keep Congress informed of its actions.
"Starting in 1975, we had a whole new era of serious oversight when it came to intelligence, and this flies in the face of that whole effort," Johnson said.
Hayden, the current CIA director, was not at the agency at the time the interrogation videotapes were made, nor was he there when they were destroyed. He has said repeatedly he is a firm advocate of congressional oversight.
When Hayden appears on Capitol Hill, he will undoubtedly face tough questions on that point, as well as on the interrogation practices that gave rise to this new scandal.
hide captionCIA Director Michael Hayden, shown at a House Intelligence Committee in January, recently told agency employees that the CIA destroyed videotapes it made in 2002 of two top terrorism suspects because it was afraid that keeping them "posed a security risk."
Win McNamee/Getty Images
CIA Director Michael Hayden, shown at a House Intelligence Committee in January, recently told agency employees that the CIA destroyed videotapes it made in 2002 of two top terrorism suspects because it was afraid that keeping them "posed a security risk."
Win McNamee/Getty Images
News that the CIA made and then destroyed videotapes of al-Qaida suspects undergoing harsh interrogations while in agency custody seemed to have come out of nowhere. However, the story has been unfolding for years, though largely out of public view. The controversy over the tapes spans several countries and involves Congress, federal prosecutors and the top leadership of the CIA.
Here are some of the key moments.
March 2002: Terrorism suspect Abu Zubaydah, allegedly a high-ranking member of al-Qaida, is captured in Pakistan and flown to an undisclosed CIA detention center. Zubaydah is said to be an organizer of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and a tcaop al-Qaida recruiter. The Bush administration portrays his capture as a major breakthrough.
2002: Abu Zubaydah and at least one other al-Qaida member are subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, possibly including waterboarding (controlled drowning), by their CIA captors. The agency videotapes several of these interrogations, partly to ensure that the techniques used are legal and partly to provide backup documentation of the information collected, according to CIA officials.
2003: The CIA's internal watchdog watches the videotapes and verifies that the interrogation practices were legal, according to CIA director Michael Hayden.
Also in 2003, the CIA informs Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and two other members of Congress of the tapes' existence.
August 2004: The 9/11 Commission completes its work on the terror attacks and the U.S. government's response to it. The commission had requested all relevant information from the CIA. But it never received videotapes of CIA interrogations conducted in 2002. An agency spokesman says the CIA "went to great lengths to meet the requests of the 9/11 Commission" and preserved the tapes in case the commission asked for them specifically.
2005: Lawyers representing terrorism suspect Zacarias Moussaoui make formal requests to the CIA for transcripts and other documentary evidence of the interrogation of agency prisoners. CIA lawyers tell prosecutors that the agency did not have such recordings.
Later in 2005, the CIA destroys at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two al-Qaida suspects in the agency's custody. The tapes showed CIA employees subjecting the suspects to harsh interrogation techniques. The tapes were reportedly destroyed at the request of Jose Rodriguez, then head of the agency's Directorate of Operations, its clandestine service.
November 2006: The Senate Intelligence Committee learns of the tapes' destruction, according to committee chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV).
December 2007: CIA Director Michael Hayden tells agency employees that the CIA destroyed videotapes it made in 2002 of two top terrorism suspects because it was afraid that keeping them "posed a security risk." If the tapes had become public, they would have exposed CIA officials "and their families to retaliation from al-Qaida and its sympathizers." Hayden makes the announcement hours after The New York Times informs the agency of its intention to publish a report about the tapes. Human rights groups and some members of Congress express outrage, accusing the agency of "destroying evidence." The Senate's second-ranking Democrat, Richard Durbin of Illinois, asks the Justice Department to investigate whether the CIA obstructed justice by destroying the videotapes.