By Matthew Cole
ABC News
12/12/14

A top al Qaeda expert who remains in a senior position at the CIA was a key architect of the agency’s defense of its detention and “enhanced interrogation” program for suspected terrorists, developing oft-repeated talking points that misrepresented and overstated its effectiveness, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report released last week.

The report singles out the female expert as a key apologist for the program, stating that she repeatedly told her superiors and others — including members of Congress — that the “torture” was working and producing useful intelligence, when it was not. She wrote the “template on which future justifications for the CIA program and the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques were based,” it said.

The expert also participated in “enhanced interrogations” of self-professed 9-11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, witnessed the waterboarding of terror suspect Abu Zubaydah and ordered the detention of a suspected terrorist who turned out to be unconnected to al Qaeda, according to the report.

The expert is no stranger to controversy. She was criticized after 9/11 terrorist attacks for countenancing a subordinate’s refusal to share the names of two of the hijackers with the FBI prior to the terror attacks.

But instead of being sanctioned, she was promoted.

The expert was not identified by name in the unclassified 528-page summary of the report, but U.S. officials who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity confirmed that her name was redacted at least three dozen times in an effort to avoid publicly identifying her. In fact, much of the four-month battle between Senate Democrats and the CIA about redactions centered on protecting the identity of the woman, an analyst and later “deputy chief” of the unit devoted to catching or killing Osama bin Laden, according to U.S. officials familiar with the negotiations.

NBC News is withholding her name at the request of the CIA, which cited a climate of fear and retaliation in the wake of the release of the committee’s report in asking that her anonymity be protected.

While the two psychologists who developed the “enhanced interrogation techniques,” Dr. James Mitchell and Dr. Bruce Jessen, quickly became household names as a result of the report – including being the subjects of a “Saturday Night Live” skit” – scathing criticism of the expert’s role in defending the program went nearly unmentioned.

The expert — one of several female CIA employees on whom “Maya,” the lead character in the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” was based — has previously been identified in the media as a CIA officer involved in the rendition program. But the Senate report offers the first detailed account of the depth of her involvement. It quotes from emails, memos and congressional testimony, to document her unique role in what it says were misrepresentations about the efficacy of the CIA’s program, which President Barack Obama has said included torture. The report does not ascribe any motive for the alleged misrepresentations.

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