U.S. President Barack Obama paid his first visit to the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency on Monday. Visit was part of an effort to boost agency morale only days after the release of once-secret memos that outlined the legal justification for harsh interrogation techniques used on terror suspects.
The memos were graphic and troubling.
The four documents - issued under the Bush administration - revealed details of interrogation techniques like simulated drowning that have been condemned around the world.
President Obama banned the use of these techniques shortly after assuming office in January. He told CIA employees that it is time for the nation in general and the intelligence community in particular to move forward.
"We have to acknowledge potentially we have made some mistakes," said President Obama. "That is how we learn. But the fact that we are willing to acknowledge them and then move forward that is precisely why I am proud to be President of the United States and that is why you should be proud to be members of the CIA."
In his brief remarks, Mr. Obama sought to explain his decision to release the memos and to lift the spirits of CIA employees.
He said he acted because a court case was expected to force the release of the documents anyway and because much of the secret information had already been leaked to the news media.
The president acknowledged the release of the memos has been difficult for the intelligence community. But he told the CIA staff not to be discouraged.
"I have fought to protect the integrity of classified information in the past and I will do so in the future," said Mr. Obama. "And there is nothing more important than protecting the identities of CIA officers. So I need everybody to be clear - we will protect your identities and your security as you vigorously pursue your missions."
Several former CIA directors had fought against the release of the interrogation memos. Among them was Retired Air Force General Michael Hayden, who held the post from 2006 until early this year.
He told the Fox News Sunday television program that he is concerned about the possible effects of the released memos. He said CIA officers might worry about the legal and political ramifications of every order they are given.
"I think the really dangerous affect of this is you have agency officers stepping back from the kinds of things that the nation expects them to do," said Michael Hayden.
The chorus of criticism has also been loud from Congressional Republicans.
Saxby Chambliss of Georgia is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
"There are some things that when you operate in the 'cloak-and-dagger' world of the intelligence community, that need to remain within the intelligence community," said Saxby Chambliss. "I think it is unfortunate that those memos were put out there."
Chambliss also said he believes the Obama administration is looking for every opportunity it can get to embarrass former President George Bush. He said that this time, it went too far.