The decision means it's highly unlikely the report -- which concluded that interrogation techniques such as waterboarding did not elicit useful intelligence from detainees -- will be made public so long as Republicans control the Senate and the White House. Democrats are concerned it will never see the light of day if the copies are destroyed.
The report, written under then-intelligence chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein when Democrats controlled the Senate, has remained classified, except for an executive summary that was released when the report was completed in 2014. The report concluded that interrogation techniques such as waterboarding did not elicit useful intelligence from detainees.
The Senate report was sent to federal agencies in the hope that it could eventually be made public, but committee chairman Richard Burr, R-North Carolina, has asked the administration to return the copies to the Senate.
The DC Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the report was a congressional record, which is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, which Burr said was why he has asked that the agencies return the documents.
"I have directed my staff to retrieve copies of the congressional study that remain with the Executive Branch agencies and, as the committee does with all classified and compartmented information, will enact the necessary measures to protect the sensitive sources and methods contained within the report," Burr said in a statement.
Republicans have criticized the report as unfairly targeting the CIA and ignoring the intelligence gained under the interrogation program.
The administration's decision to return the reports to the Senate was first reported
by The New York Times.
The intelligence panel's Democrats slammed the Trump administration for giving the copies back, and Burr for making the demand they be returned.
Sen. Mark Warner, top Democrat on the committee, said he was "very disappointed" by the decision.
"This study must be preserved for history, and the Senate intelligence committee will continue to conduct vigorous oversight of our nation's intelligence agencies to ensure that they abide by both the spirit and the letter of the law that bans the practices outlined in the report," he said in a statement.
Feinstein called Burr's move "divisive" and claimed Democrats on the committee had not been notified or consulted.
"No senator -- chairman or not -- has the authority to erase history," the California Democrat said. "I believe that is the intent of the chairman in this case."
And Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon accused Burr and the Trump administration of seeking to "pave the way for the kind of falsehoods used to justify an illegal and dangerous torture program."
"For the sake of future generations of Americans, this report should be immediately returned to the government agencies who gave it up, disseminated widely within the government and most importantly, declassified for the American people," Wyden said in a statement.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued to make the full report public, but its case was dismissed.
"It would be a travesty for agencies to return the CIA torture report instead of reading and learning from it, as senators intended," said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU's National Security Project.
The committee sent the report to seven federal agencies: the CIA, CIA inspector general, FBI, director of national intelligence and the Justice, State and Defense Departments.
But even if all those copies are returned to the committee, there is another way the report could eventually be made public.
When President Barack Obama was still in office, the White House felt it was caught between congressional Democrats who wanted the full report made public and the CIA and intelligence community that felt strongly against it, according to a former administration official.
But in December, the White House declared the document a presidential record, which means it's part of the Obama presidential record, which remains classified for 12 years.
"It doesn't mean it will be automatically declassified after 12 years, but at least in this case, a copy will be preserved," the official said.