When the CIA announced its new podcast on Thursday and opened with the joke “(tap tap tap) Is this thing on? 🎙️”—the Twitterverse lost it. First off, it’s obvious that the agency that listens to countless people around the world knows when the mic is on. Then came the question: What would a famously secretive agency talk about in a podcast? According to experts, the CIA wants to improve its image and “deny the reality” of what it does.
The agency’s podcast is called The Langley Files, an apparent reference to the location of its headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and its name makes it sound a lot more interesting than it actually is. The first episode features an interview with CIA director Bill Burns, who talks about the “misconceptions” folks have about the agency, namely that its work isn’t what folks see in spy movies. It’s a “team sport,” Burns said on the podcast, which allows the agency to do work like finding out Russian President Vladimir Putin’s plans to invade Ukraine or successfully taking out Ayman al-Zawahiri, the co-founder of al-Qaeda.
In the words of the CIA, the podcast aims to “educate and connect with the general public, sharing insight into the Agency’s core mission, capabilities, and agility as an intelligence leader.”
Translation: The CIA is going to talk about how great it is, but it’s not going to talk about its torture program of terror suspects, false assessment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction after 9/11, organization of coups, or drug trafficking. And that’s only the things we know they do.
On Twitter, The Langley Files was met with incredulity, jokes, and criticism from lawyers, journalists, and more.
Alka Pradhan, human rights counsel for Ammar al Baluchi at the Guantánamo Bay Military Commissions Defense Organization, was one of the people who criticized the CIA over its new podcast on Twitter. Pradhan represents Ammar al-Baluchi, who is accused of being al-Qaeda’s “moneyman” in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Baluchi is a detainee at Guantánamo Bay and was tortured by the CIA, according to the agency’s declassified internal report.
In an email to Gizmodo, Pradhan pointed out the irony that the U.S. government was putting out a podcast that is essentially propaganda, especially considering that it likes to point fingers at other countries and criticize “propaganda.”
“The CIA’s intent is clearly to rehabilitate its reputation for a generation that knows them as the torturers,” Pradhan explained. “That reputation is well-deserved. This type of whitewashing is an additional blow to victims like my client who is missing parts of his brain from his time in the CIA torture program — and still can’t get medical care for it.”
Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of the outlet Shadowproof and curator of The Dissenter Newsletter, also spoke out against the CIA’s new podcast on Twitter, calling it “security state propaganda intended to whitewash history.”
Gosztola told Gizmodo via Twitter direct messages that the podcast will expand the agency’s ability to “deny the reality” of what it does in the world. He pointed out that the CIA has no problem lying and working the media.
As an example, Gosztola cited the Senate torture report from 2014 that concluded the CIA knew torture—which included rectal dehydration, rectal feeding, week-long periods of sleep deprivation, and threats to detainees’ families—was an ineffective and brutal way to gather information from detainees. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop the agency from lying and saying that it worked, even spreading falsehoods in the news, he said.
Right off the bat in the first episode, the CIA is already whitewashing its history, Gosztola stated.
“They highlighted the CIA drone strike that killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Of course, there is no mention of how this is one of the few strikes that killed the intended target and the fact that thousands of innocent civilians have been killed in CIA strikes,” Gosztola pointed out.
Furthermore, Gosztola highlighted the fact that this year is the CIA’s 75th anniversary, which the agency’s director and the podcast’s hosts seem particularly excited to celebrate.
“We can be confident that as they recall operations during the Cold War and global war on terrorism there will be an effort to obscure the support for assassinations, coups, and meddling in countries’ affairs that truly defines our understanding of the CIA,” he emphasized.