CIA Told Not to Destroy Interrogation Tapes

In the summer of 2005, then CIA director Porter Goss met with then national intelligence director John Negroponte to discuss a highly sensitive matter: what to do about the existence of videotapes documenting the use of controversial interrogation methods, apparently includ­ing waterboarding, on two key Al Qaeda suspects. The tapes were eventually de­stroyed, and congressional investigators are now trying to piece together an extensive paper trail documenting how and why it happened.

One crucial document they'll surely want to examine: a memo written after the meeting between Goss and Negroponte, which records that Negroponte strongly advised against destroying the tapes, according to two people close to the investigation, who asked for anonymity when discussing a sensitive matter. The memo is so far the only known documentation that a senior intel official warned that the tapes should not be destroyed. Spokespeople for the CIA and the intel czar's office declined to comment, citing ongoing investigations.

Current and former U.S. officials familiar with the history of the tapes, who also asked for anonymity, told newsweek that Jose Rodriguez Jr., then chief of the CIA's espionage branch, the National Clandes­tine Service, decided on his own authority in late 2005 to destroy the tapes in order to protect the identity of under­cover CIA officers. The officials said that Rodriguez and his close aides had been asking top agency managers for more than two years about what to do with the tapes, but felt they never got a straight answer.

The tapes were kept—and destroyed—at a secret location overseas. It is unknown whether Rodriguez knew about Negroponte's position. Goss believed he had an "un­derstanding" with Clandestine Services that the tapes were to be preserved and was dis­mayed to learn that they had been destroyed, according to a source familiar with his views.

The fate of the congression­al inquiries remains unclear. On Friday, the Justice Department asked the House intel panel to back off its request for documents and testimony on the grounds that it might in­terfere with its own probe. In addition, prominent criminal defense lawyer Robert Bennett confirmed that he is representing Rodriguez. Bennett told NEWSWEEK that his client had been "a dedicated and loy­al public servant for 31 years" and "has done nothing wrong." But he warned that Rodriguez may refuse to cooperate with investigators if he concludes that the probes are a "witch hunt." "I don't want him to become a scapegoat."