WASHINGTON (AFP) – US President Barack Obama will visit CIA headquarters on Monday amid charges he undermined the US intelligence community by unveiling details of its controversial interrogation methods.
The US leader, who last week released "Top Secret" memos on interrogation techniques widely condemned as torture, will go to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, for private meetings with personnel and to deliver a public message "about the importance of the CIA's mission" to US national security.
Obama is set to reassure CIA officers of his promise not to seek prosecution of CIA agents or former officials under his predecessor George W. Bush who authorized or carried out the harsh techniques the government now condemns.
"This is a time for reflection, not retribution," Obama said Thursday after releasing the documents.
Former head of the US Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Hayden, however, warned Sunday that the release could still leave agents vulnerable to civil lawsuits or congressional probes targetting CIA agents who relied on the Bush-era memos to carry out harsh interrogations.
"There will be more revelations. There will be more commissions. There will be more investigations," he told the TV program "Fox News Sunday."
This is an agency, he added, "that is at war and is on the frontlines of defending America."
The harsh interrogation techniques, Hayden insisted, had succeeded in battling Al-Qaeda and saving American lives, something he characterized as "an inconvenient truth."
Hayden, who was replaced as CIA chief earlier this year by Obama, assailed the decision to release the memos as "really dangerous" for US intelligence efforts.
The documents showed how the Bush-era legal officials argued that tactics such as simulated drowning, face slapping, the use of insects to scare prisoners and sleep deprivation did not amount to torture.
"Most of the people who oppose these techniques want to be able to say: 'I don't want my nation doing this' -- which is a pure honorable position -- and 'they didn't work anyway'," Hayden said.
"The facts of the case are that the use of these techniques against these terrorists made us safer, it really did," he said.
"It's what I'd call, without meaning any irreverence to anybody, 'a really inconvenient truth'."
Hayden specifically rejected a weekend report in The New York Times citing CIA officials saying that waterboarding and beating of a top Al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaydah, yielded no more information than softer interrogation techniques.
"We stand by our story. The critical information we got from Abu Zubaydah came after we began the EIT's, enhanced interrogation techniques," he said.
Hayden said Abu Zubaydah had "clammed up" after providing some "nominal information" under initial questioning.
But under harsher interrogation he "gave up more valuable information," including tips that led to the capture of another senior Al-Qaeda agent, Ramzi Binalshibh, he said.
Hayden also said Obama's own CIA director, Leon Panetta, as well as three other former CIA chiefs had warned the White House against releasing the memos outlining US interrogation techniques.
"The definition of top secret is information which, if revealed, would cause grave harm to US security," he said, adding that the release of the documents, by definition of their classification, was "a grave threat to national security."
The gravest effect, Hayden said, was that agency officers may be held back in the future from acting in the best interests of the country.
Because of the furor over the memo's release, an officer may not be satisfied if the Justice Department, White House and Congress sign off on specific actions, said Hayden.
However, Janet Napolitano, Obama's homeland security secretary, defended the decision.
"When you look at the great public need for accountability and responsibility and transparency here, and when you look at our desire to close the book on this regrettable chapter and move the country forward, it was imperative, really, that the reports be released," she said on CNN.