December 9, 2014

TSG IntelBrief: A Secure Nation: Releasing the SSCI Report

• The release of the summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI)’s report on CIA Interrogation and Detention Practices presents a far more powerful narrative of a nation secure in doing the right thing than do the details of harsh tactics provide a narrative of an insecure nation doing wrong

• Whatever propaganda and incitement value that enemies of the U.S. might find in the report is purely tactical, while the value of releasing the report, acknowledging the past, and moving ahead is a strategic national interest

• The fearful notion that the report will cause our enemies to actually attack us manages both to ignore the last 13 years of intense and widespread hostility and to repeat the mistaken mindset that led to the use of torture in the first place: fear makes for bad policy

• Violent extremists won’t likely believe the findings of the report, as they imagine the U.S. does far worse; the facts are for Americans, not the extremists

• Increased security at U.S. installations is a proper precaution due to the possibility of protest and unrest, but the separate threat posed by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda remains as it has for years, serious and continuing.


With today’s expected release of the summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Report on CIA Interrogation and Detention Practices, the U.S. has raised its security posture at installations due to possible unrest. This is a common-sense precaution, given the speed at which protests can turn explosive. However, opponents of the report’s release warn that violent extremists will seize upon the report as a reason to attack U.S. interests worldwide. Such an objection manages to ignore the last 13 years of anti-U.S. violence which suggest that the violent extremists and terrorists aren’t lacking in motivation. It also manages to let a tactical decision (why terrorist group attack—which is usually whenever they are able) outweigh a strategic imperative (a nation of law needs to acknowledge past mistakes).

As witnessed in the relentless social media-based propaganda in which groups like the Islamic State use both Hollywood effects and imagination to create effective motivational imagery, facts don’t play a large role in their mythology. The facts contained in the report are not for the extremists, who will dismiss them as a whitewash since they believe the U.S. actually commits far, far worse acts of torture and violence. Rather, the facts are for the U.S. to acknowledge, confront, correct, and move forward. Openly reckoning with a checkered past is the best counter-narrative to extremist propaganda.

Fear that enemies will use the report to wage war against the U.S. also repeats the mistake that led to the policy on, and use of, torture in the first place. Fear makes for incredibly bad policy, as it allows tactics to overrule strategy. The use of orange jumpsuits in hostage videos is a relatively new phenomenon, one that stems from other past poor practices and polices that have done grievous harm to U.S. national security with minimal tactical gains. The danger is not the report itself but what was done during the period in the report’s review. The past decade of escalating violence is evidence of long-term strategic loss due to tactical mistakes.

U.S. installations and citizens have been at elevated risk for years and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Effective counterterrorism tactics and sharp application of law (which, after all, have kept al-Qaeda on the run long after the end of the practice of torture) that are firmly in line with U.S. strategic interests provide the best manner to address current and future threats, and are the hallmark of a secure nation. 


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