How The CIA Got Conservative Author Ronald Kessler To Spin For Them On Torture

Ronald Kessler

The Senate Intelligence Committee's report on torture reveals that conservative author Ronald Kessler was “blessed” by the CIA, receiving background information from the agency which he used to push false claims about the effectiveness of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and publishing classified information without triggering a leak investigation.

Earlier today the committee released the executive summary of its report, the result of a five-year investigation of the CIA's detention and interrogation program. According to The Washington Post, the document “renders a strikingly bleak verdict of a program launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, describing levels of brutality, dishonesty and seemingly arbitrary violence that at times brought even agency employees to moments of anguish.”

Kessler was once a reporter for mainstream publications but over the past few decades became a right-wing journalist known for his gossipy style. This past year, he authored The First Family Detail: Secret Service Agents Reveal the Hidden Lives of Presidents, one of a number of right-wing books that sought to smear Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The newly released torture report cites Kessler's willingness to promote false claims about the effectiveness of torture as an example of how the CIA's Office of Public Affairs (OPA) “provided unattributed background information on the program to journalists for books, articles, and broadcasts, including when the existence of the CIA's Detention and Interrogation Program was still classified.”

Kessler included such classified information in his book The CIA at War, but internal CIA emails cited by the report reveal that an investigation was never made into these leaks of classified information because OPA “provided assistance with the book” and it “contained no first time disclosure.” The agency made the decision to pass on an investigation because CIA cooperation with Kessler had been “blessed” by then-Director of Central Intelligence, George Tenet.

The report states that Kessler's book “included inaccurate claims about the effectiveness of CIA interrogations, much of it consistent with the inaccurate information being provided by the CIA to policymakers at that time.” According to the report, claims in the book about the effectiveness of CIA interrogations that used torture techniques were false.

For example, the report describes as “incongruent with CIA records” Kessler's claim that the capture of detainee Khallad bin Attash was the “result” of CIA interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the September 11, 2001, attacks. In The CIA at War, Kessler claimed as a result of his interrogation, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “told the CIA about a range of planned attacks - on U.S. convoys in Afghanistan, nightclubs in Dubai, targets in Turkey, and an Israeli embassy in the Middle East.” But the torture report says these claims were also “incongruent with CIA records.” 

Kessler also was used by the CIA to push back on what a CIA officer called “undue credit” given to the FBI for “CIA accomplishments,” in a draft of his 2007 book, The Terrorist Watch. Kessler provided the agency with a draft of his book, and met with the CIA Director of Public Affairs Mark Mansfield who said that after the meeting he believed the agency had “made some headway” in making Kessler's book “more balanced than it would have been.” After the meeting, the text more closely reflected the CIA's inaccurate claims that several successes in fighting against terrorism could be attributed to “coercive interrogation techniques.”

After his meeting with the CIA, Kessler added the statement that members of Congress and the media “have made careers for themselves by belittling and undercutting the efforts of the heroic men and women who are trying to protect us” and “too many Americans are intent on demonizing those who are trying to protect us.”