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By Michael Doyle and Marisa Taylor, McClatchy Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — The CIA’s current fight to keep secret the details of its terror suspect interrogations echoes its long history of keeping the public in the dark, sometimes for decades.

This latest skirmish pits the spy agency against the Senate Intelligence Committee, which wants to reveal more from its five-year, $40 million investigation. It’s a fight, like so many before, over what stays undercover and why.

Invariably, the CIA is ultra-cautious about releasing information. This might save lives and protect operations. The results, though, can also obstruct oversight, frustrate lawmakers, and anger judges. Sometimes, it can simply verge on the absurd.

“There is a belief inside the CIA that it does not have to release anything about anything it does,” said Kel McClanahan, a Washington lawyer who sues the CIA over its classification decisions. “They have been smacked down again and again in court, but they continue to think they’re exempt from the law.”

The CIA and others within the Obama administration now want to excise pseudonyms from the public version of the long-awaited interrogation report. Describing the blackouts as “significant,” the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, delayed release of the 480-page executive summary of the panel’s inquiry.

The CIA, meanwhile, will be detailing its own version of events in a rebuttal timed to come out with the committee’s report.

The battle over fake names is higher-stakes than it sounds. Such blackouts could water down the impact of a report that is expected to detail “un-American” abuses of detainees that many believe to be torture, said Michael J. Quigley, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer who was part of the investigating team in 2009.

“The American people in general still think torture works, and this report is supposed to show it doesn’t,” said Quigley, who wouldn’t comment on the content of the still-unpublished report. “If this report loses its context and meaning, then the only narrative that is comprehensible and public is from the agency. The agency’s argument is that it does work, and that’s not valid.”

White House spokesman Josh Earnest countered that “more than 85 percent of the report was un-redacted, and half of the redactions that occurred were actually just in the footnotes.”

“This is an indication that there was a good-faith effort that was made by the administration and by national security professionals to evaluate this information and to make redactions that are consistent with the need to protect national security, but also consistent with the president’s clearly stated desire to be as transparent as possible about this,” Earnest said.

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Aug. 5 that “constructive dialogue” with the Senate committee was underway. James Clapper, director of national intelligence, added in a statement that “we are confident that the declassified document delivered to the committee will provide the public with a full view of the committee’s report on the detention and interrogation program.”

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

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Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

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