WASHINGTON — Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, acknowledged on Wednesday that the C.I.A. had failed to keep members of Congress fully informed that the agency had videotaped the interrogations of suspected operatives of Al Qaeda and destroyed the tapes three years later.
General Hayden’s comments struck a different tone from a message he sent to C.I.A. employees last Thursday, when he said that Congressional leaders had been informed about the tapes and of the “agency’s intention to dispose of the material.”
Emerging from a closed session with members of the House Intelligence Committee, General Hayden said Wednesday that “particularly at the time of the destruction, we could have done an awful lot better at keeping the committee alert and informed.”
After a hearing that lasted nearly four hours, Representative Silvestre P. Reyes of Texas, the committee’s chairman, called parts of General Hayden’s testimony “stunning” and said lawmakers were just at the beginning of what would probably be a “long-term investigation.”
Government officials said Wednesday’s session was far more contentious than General Hayden’s classified briefing to the Senate Intelligence Committee a day earlier. They said lawmakers had grilled the C.I.A. director about the accuracy of the statement he sent to agency employees after learning that The New York Times was preparing to publish an article about the tapes. As General Hayden noted publicly after the Senate hearing on Tuesday, the tapes were destroyed before he arrived at the C.I.A. in May 2006.
The Senate and House committees are expected now to turn their focus to officials said to be directly involved in the decision, including Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who has been described by intelligence officials as having authorized the destruction of the tapes while he was head of the agency’s clandestine branch in 2005. One Congressional official said the House panel was likely to call Mr. Rodriguez as a witness next week.
Congressional investigators are particularly interested in advice the C.I.A. received from White House lawyers over a two-year period, from 2003 to 2005. Government officials have said that White House aides advised the C.I.A. to preserve the tapes, but the exact guidance they gave remains murky.
Some in Congress are curious to know why, if Mr. Rodriguez had really ignored White House advice not to destroy the tapes, he was apparently never reprimanded.
Also on Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion in a federal court in New York asking a judge to hold the C.I.A. in contempt for flouting a 2004 court order that it said required that the agency retain and identify all material related to the treatment of detainees in C.I.A. custody.
Intelligence officials have said that the tapes, documenting the interrogations of the suspected Qaeda operatives Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were made in 2002 and destroyed in November 2005.
In the A.C.L.U. case, the court ruled in September 2004 that several government agencies, including the C.I.A, must produce all detainee documents. Those documents that are classified, the court ruled, must be identified in a written log and the log must be submitted to the judge for review.
Some legal experts said that the C.I.A. would have great difficulty defending what seemed to be a decision not to identify the tapes to the judge, and the subsequent decision to destroy the tapes.
“Where the court ordered them to search and enumerate the records at issue, they had a clear duty to do so,” said Meredith Fuchs, general counsel at the National Security Archive, a research group in Washington that frequently files Freedom of Information Act requests for national security documents.
On Wednesday, Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, asked Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, General Hayden and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to expand the inquiry to examine whether security services in other countries might have taped interrogations of terrorism suspects sent abroad by the C.I.A.