President Bush’s Secret Police

December 22, 2014–You probably don’t remember this, but when CIA lawyer John Rizzo published his memoir Company Man, there was a bit of a dust up because Rizzo asserted that President George W. Bush was never briefed on the CIA torture techniques, whereas in his own memoirs Mr. Bush claimed he had personally approved them. Now we have real evidence in the matter–grace to the CIA (about which, more in one moment). It seems clear that senior administration officials steered clear of Mr. Bush. Their rationale was undoubtedly to afford the president as much leeway for plausible deniability. But the result was a highly controversial program, run by subordinates, with no one’s cognizance but their own. In effect Mr. Bush approved the CIA becoming his secret police and then left them to their own devices. That sinister eminence Vice-President Dick Cheney became the master of the dark side.

As to the evidence, we owe that to the CIA’s desperate effort to discredit the investigation of the Senate intelligence committee into its torture programs. The former CIA officers who allied themselves to crush the investigators asked Langley to give them secret documents to backstop their denials of investigators’ charges. The CIA, breaking U.S. government rules for handling declassification of secret documents, as well as its own regulations for this purpose, afforded the former CIA officers preferential treatment and gave them information denied to other requestors. The CIA permitted a long-promised declassification review of the actual Senate report to languish while it rushed out these secret documents to fuel the deniers. Moreover, it released the very class of information to them that it routinely denies to all requestors. I wrote at length in The Family Jewels   about how the denizens of Langley have bankrupted their declassification process. Now, these actions surrounding the Senate report show chapter and verse.

You can see the documents for yourself. (I am posting some of them as “Bush Torture Documents,” a product in the “Downloadable” section of this website.) The information in many of these documents is what the CIA calls “predecisional” and denies. In fact some of these documents were subjects of a lawsuit brought against the CIA by the American Civil Liberties Union, a suit the agency lost. Required to release, it did so, but reluctantly and only a few words per paragraph. For its former spooks, though, the CIA released virtually entire documents– to persons with the avowed purpose of discrediting congressional oversight of the agency.

Now back to the substance. The notorious Justice Department memos from John Yoo furnished the supposed legal basis for the CIA interrogation program in August 2002. By that time detainee Abu Zubaydah for four months. After that time it was not until January 2003 that CIA director George J. Tenet brought the interrogators under a formal directive. A record from top CIA lawyer Scott W. Muller makes clear that those consulted for approval of the CIA program in the summer of 2002 did not include the president. Dick Cheney, however, held center stage.

What was on the books was Mr. Bush’s formal order of February 7, 2002 that detainees were to be treated in a humane fashion. That came to be called the “February Memo.” The CIA documents detail literally dozens of instances where agency lawyers and others sought acknowledgements from Justice Department, White House, and Pentagon officials, that that order did not apply to the CIA or what it was doing. In one typical instance, at the White House on January 6, 2003, in presidential counsel Alberto Gonzales’s office, Mr. Gonzales and vice-presidential lawyer David Addington “confirmed that the February Memo was applicable only to the Armed Forces.”

When the United Nations held an International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, a White House press spokesman put out a favorable statement which cited the February Memo. The CIA went ballistic. Director Tenet demanded renewed affirmation of government and Justice Department support for its torture program. National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger volunteered to pass to the White House press office that it should tone down its message since the memo did not apply to CIA.

Later Patrick Philbun, a senior official at the Justice Department, commented that Justice had never taken a written position on certain features of the CIA operation. In June 2004 Tenet again demanded reaffirmation of his agency’s operations. In the interim he halted CIA interrogations in their tracks. Weeks later the Justice Department threw out the 2002 legal papers underlying the torture. The CIA and Justice hammered out a New Deal, capped by a meeting in the White House Situation Room on July 2, 2004. Again President Bush would be absent.

Dick Cheney was very much present, however. From the available documents it appears that Mr. Cheney was there for every key episode. He was consulted in advance in August 2002. One meeting Cheney attended by video link. His lawyer David Addington was a presence too. At one point in July 2003 Cheney, Condi Rice, and Alberto Gonzales agreed that in “some combination” they would tell President Bush the CIA was pursuing interrogations “using techniques that could be controversial.”

As noted, these initiatives came in response to CIA demands for “reaffirmation” of the Bush administration’s commitment to torture. The CIA’s actions were not those of officials confident of the legality of their actions. Quite the opposite. These were fidgety men and women, constantly seeking reassurances. They knew they had entered a moral swamp. They were ready to burn videotapes, destroying evidence, at the drop of a hat. Egged on by the dark lord, Dick Cheney, they ended up becoming a secret police.

It is a piece of CIA lore that in Congress in 1947, when legislators were debating whether to create a peacetime intelligence agency, they insisted it would not be permitted to become a Gestapo–the World War II experience was fresh then–and the agency would have no police powers. At Dick Cheney’s prodding that history was turned on its head.

The use of these documents today, for former intelligence officers to fashion a counternarrative that the CIA torture program was legal, authorized at the highest level, and well managed, is an attempt to hide an outrage under a veneer of efficiency. Think of East Germany during the Cold War.

Apart from everything else, the document dump represents a direct challenge to the President of the United States. Here, CIA officers are signaling that they have evidence on presidents, in this case George W. Bush, which can be deployed to the political peril of the White House. Back in 1975, the “Year of Intelligence,” confronted with evidence of CIA domestic spying, the redoubtable agency spymaster Richard M. Helms told President Gerald R. Ford, that he was not prepared to take the fall for Langley’s misdeeds, and that, if someone wanted to make him, a “lot of cats” were going to come out. The threat that Mr. Helms implied is now real–in the actions of these CIA successors. The secret police are defying their superiors.

Don’t forget, too, that all this discussion has turned on CIA activities with only a relative handful of detainees. The interrogations were matched by–and helped to fuel–a targeted assassination program using remotely-fired missiles and, at one point, a unit of human assassins. There were snatch teams grabbing people off the street in Italy, transport teams taking hand-offs of prisoners in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Montenegro, Sweden, Great Britain, and elsewhere; ghost planes to carry detainees from one secret prison to another. In a speech at Georgetown University in February 2004, Director Tenet took credit for the CIA after 9/11 taking 2,500 prisoners. For months the officers of the Counterterrorism Center must have been circling the globe like compradors, dealing flesh, wheedling favors from allied security services, because the vast majority of those detainees were handed over (rendered) to foreign spooks with even less compunction about what they were doing than the CIA. Jose Rodriguez has a lot to answer for.

Gamer’s Corner: Congratulations Contest Winner!

December 20, 2014–Thank you to all those who entered stories in the Favorite Game Designer Stories contests. There were some very amusing ones, ranging from the cat who loved pizza–and jumped four-paw-flat into the middle of a pie to the invention and improvement of the “pantzooka.”

Designers featured in the stories–and some of the storytellers too–will become the subjects of “Simulation Corner” columns in Against the Odds magazine. These will appear irregularly and mix with the varied other subjects that column covers. We have probably got a list now good for several years of these occasional columns.

The context winner is Brian Train, involved in the pantzooka invention, who tells of the time he and designer Joe Miranda attended the Burning Man gathering together. Both Brian and Joe are designers worthy of inclusion in this series, so you can look forward to seeing them in the pages of ATO.

CIA ! Sshh !!! OMG–PR !!

December 12, 2014–You know the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is in trouble when they hold a press conference. Amid the fires on Playa Giron at the Bay of Pigs, the swirling assassination charges of the Phoenix Program, the cynical denials to Congress that the agency had had anything to do with those fellows dropping supplies to the Nicaraguan contra rebels, charges the agency was running guns to Bosnian freedom fighters–never a press conference.

It’s odd, really. There are obscure federal agencies but nothing so opaque as this. Aside from our vaunted “intelligence” community, what others are there who employ tens of thousands of people, whose budgets amount to tens of billions of dollars, whose programmatic activities kill people, who are subjected to this level of scrutiny? I can’t think of one. Can you?

What level of scrutiny? Their budgets are secret. It was a struggle of more than six decades to require U.S. intelligence to divulge even an overall figure for the amount spent on this function each year. Their authorities are classified. Officials appear at nomination hearings and feed senators a load of horse**** and then disappear into the secret world. Agency spokespersons make numerous statements for publication on stories in the public domain that have no traceable texts or physical existence. Freedom of information and sunshine laws are interpreted any way they damn well please. Agency officials appear in Congress at open hearings almost only for the purpose of threatmongering, stoking public hysteria while warding off inquiry. Everything is all about image.

The kind of regulatory hearing that preoccupies most federal agencies hardly matters to the spooks. Until 1967 the CIA had never appeared before a congressional committee for purposes of accountability and then the hearing was secret. Until 1975 neither CIA nor NSA had been in open hearing either. Indeed the public is kept ignorant of the most basic information necessary for regulatory purposes. The congressional intelligence committees are supposed to stand in for the public, but we see repeatedly how they are deceived. Each time the spooks explain those manipulations as inadvertent mistakes or clumsy errors, or accidental misplacements of records, but the pattern is plain to see. In my book The Family Jewels I showed at great length how the CIA massages image by influencing journalists and using declassification rules. In the present instance of a senate investigation of the CIA, agency officers hacked into the computer systems of regulatory investigators. In spy tradecraft the word for that is “countersurveillance.”

Some journalists have written breathlessly of yesterday’s press conference with CIA director John O. Brennan as “unprecedented.” Where that adjective applies is the care the agency took with its image. Take the venue. Brennan had the press in the atrium of the CIA headquarters building, where stars are carved into the marble wall representing CIA officers fallen in the line of duty. He made sure to refer to the wall, and the stars, in the course of his 45-minute exchange. Obviously nothing could be more disruptive to agency business than to have a public event in the main entry area. This is especially true in that when the Langley complex was built, designers carefully included an auditorium area–affectionately known as “The Bubble” (it even looks like a buckeyball)–outside the main building so that events could be held without impacting the secret work of the spies.

There have been CIA press conferences in the past. Bill Colby held a couple in the heat of the scandals of 1975 with the Church and Pike Committee investigations pressuring the agency to respond. My favorite was at the height of the flap over news the CIA, in support of its Nicaraguan secret war, had flooded Los Angeles with drugs. The CIA director actually flew out to LA for that session and it got national TV coverage. Then there was the time the CIA  was caught misleading the congressional oversight committees (again!) on its ties to Guatemalan army officers responsible in the murders of American citizens. Both of those were in the Clinton administration. That’s pretty much it. I might have missed a couple, but for an agency whose history spans sixty-seven years that’s not a hell of a lot. Notice the pattern? As I said up top, the press conference is a sure index of CIA nervousness.

Now to substance. Director Brennan set the context as carefully as he chose the venue. He spent nearly half the time on his opening statement, which was long on 9/11 and the atmospherics of those days. Some might dispute this, since references to the program were scattered through Brennan’s remarks, but my reading was that the CIA bossman passed over the substance of the torture program in a single paragraph (which noted it had approved by the president and the Department of Justice).

Brennan went on to the senate investigation, disputing it, asserting the CIA had acknowledged mistakes, and lambasting the Senate intelligence committee for a one-sided report for which investigators interviewed no one. He used the word “unprecedented” to describe the amount of help CIA gave the investigators. Nary a word about countersurveillance, about the CIA’s doing an internal survey covering the materials the Senate might get its hands on, CIA’s criminal complaint against the investigators to the Department of Justice, or its long foot-dragging on providing evidence, which had actually forced the president’s White House counsel to broker a deal between the CIA and the Senate committee. I don’t think Brennan actually used the word “partisan.” Instead he compared the new report unfavorably to the Senate intelligence committee’s “bipartisan” investigation of the Iraq WMD intelligence. Too clever by half. The whole problem with the Senate WMD investigation was that it was not bipartisan, but rather, driven by a Republican majority–precisely the way the CIA is wont to characterize the present effort. Apart from that, the CIA behaviors noted above might be likely to engender a certain investigatorial ire, no?

Director Brennan picked up another point from the chorus of former spooks who are shrilly screaming from the sidelines. Interviews. In the Iraq WMD inquiry, Brennan noted, some CIA officers were interviewed as many as four times. With torture, none. But Mr. Brennan left out the Justice Department obstruction of justice inquiry that proceeded in tandem with the Senate investigation. The CIA played the Ollie North card here. The prosecution of North for his role in the Iran-Contra affair failed because he had spoken to Congress on the substance of issues for which he was indicted, which left the evidence tainted. Here Justice’s obstruction inquiry took precedence over the Senate intelligence committee’s investigation. The senators had another source, though. They used the interviews conducted by CIA’s Inspector General in an internal investigation into the torture. That proved sufficient for the Senate investigation but not for Brennan and the cheerleaders. Note the play: the Senate is prevailed upon to give a free hand to the Justice inquiry; the CIA pressures the White House to drop Justice charges against its officers; then the favor Senate investigators did for Justice is used to discredit the Senate’s own inquiry.

In his defense of torture Director Brennan made much of another canard that is becoming popular among the cheerleaders: “knowability.” Now that torture has been applied, the argument goes, it is not possible to know what information the detainees would have provided if they had not been tortured. This is a straw man claim that relies on a false application of an analytical concept. In fact, “knowable” is a specific philosophical term in the intelligence business. It refers to what is beyond the realm of knowledge. In Cold War days when CIA analysts were projecting the size of Russian missile forces five to ten years in the future, they were making predictions about production decisions Soviet leaders were only going to make three to five years into the future. Those decisions were unknowable.

With the detainees CIA tortured, “knowable” does not even apply. The fact is that we have evidence, in CIA cables, that the subjects gave out information before they were tortured. The likelihood is that good interrogation practices would ensure that flow of data continued. The kinds of details cited by Mr. Brennan and in the CIA’s response document to the Senate report are ones likely to have emerged anyway, over time. With or without torture I don’t see that CIA tracked down Osama bin Laden especially quickly. They could have taken a little bit longer and conducted a legitimate interrogation. As detectives “detect,” so intelligence officers are supposed to analyze. “Knowable” has nothing to do with it.

Brennan and company are essentially saying torture is a convenience. To engage in morally reprehensible actions for convenience is unacceptable on so many levels we shouldn’t even be talking about it. It is high time to enforce accountability on CIA. Instead of accountability we get posturing and invocations of fallen heroes to justify a shabby present. The system is broken. Public relations is not oversight, nor is accountability vague pleas that the agency has heard the complaints and made appropriate changes. Accountability is explicit, specific, and it involves personnel decisions, not to mention open covenants openly arrived at.

The Real Deal on CIA Torture

December 11, 2014–“It’s all a bunch of hooey,” says former Vice-President Dick Cheney of the Senate intelligence committee’s investigation of CIA torture. He should know. After all, he sat at George W. Bush’s side when the torture programs were ordered and approved. It is hooey–at least the way CIA officers, retirees, and one segment of the media are portraying it–and not for the reasons they say.

I agree the agency was no rogue elephant. That the CIA went its own way is hooey. Langley remained at all times under complete control of the Bush White House. CIA has only one boss. President Bush ordered the torture. (Investigating that was not within the scope of the Senate investigation–and you can bet that beyond top secret classification levels will shield every White House and NSC document on CIA torture for decades into the future.)

There’ve been whispers in the media over the past few days that some minions advised Mr. Bush to use the Senate torture investigation to distance himself from the agency. Neither he nor Mr. Cheney has done that. Rather, they have asserted they were in control, though they’ve permitted circulation of claims they remained ignorant of details. Bush is pictured almost heroically, refusing to be briefed so he could not inadvertently leak crucial data. That is hooey. The reason to not be aware of details is Alberto Gonzales’s reason, to preserve a fig leaf of cover and shield Mr. Bush from criminal liability.

It is hooey–as Wolf Blitzer put it to Senator Dianne Feinstein–that if Americans die or are injured in protests resulting from the emergence of the CIA torture information, that will be on the Senate intelligence committee. Shoot the messenger again, why don’t you? It is the CIA torture, not the investigation of it, that bears consequences. Those consequences would still exist if there had been no investigation. The situation would have been like an IED waiting to explode.

It is also hooey what our former spooks have been saying. White House authorities and cursory review from a Justice Department wannabee secret warrior do not eliminate a stack of international conventions, common law, and the U.S. code. The law is absolute. It applies to everyone, including wannabee secret warriors and presidents. The responsibility of George Tenet, John McLaughlin and their successors was to tell the president the U.S. could not go as far as Dick Cheney wanted.

There is more hooey in disputing the facts of the Senate investigation. Why is it that Michael V. Hayden, Jose Rodriguez and Republicans in the Senate have not been able to make stick the charge that this is a mere partisan attack by a political party? Robert Grenier, Rodriguez’s successor at the head of the Counterterrorism Center, accused the investigators of “cartoonish findings.” Yet the wave of criticisms, mounting toward tsunami proportions, continues past one day’s news cycle, not abating. It is because the intelligence committee report consists almost entirely of quotations from CIA documents strung together with connective text. This report is so damning because it consists essentially of CIA paper.

It is hooey to argue the CIA was informative and fully responsive to congressional overseers. Indeed CIA dishonesty is inherent in what it does assert–that it was responsive within the secrecy parameters set by the White House. Here, again, we have a question of law and custom. By custom, executive order, and statute, CIA is required to inform Congress. But the record of the past decade and a half–on issue after issue, not just the CIA torture–has been one of manipulating who got to hear what, when and how. The stupid dispute about what Nancy Pelosi knew and when is just a case in point. It was symptomatic of this manipulation that the full intelligence committees received their first comprehensive briefing on the CIA torture just hours before President Bush declared an end to CIA black prisons and sent the detainees to Guantanamo. It is equally revealing that the Senate report’s two dozen examples of CIA dissimulation and deception are all drawn from that same 2006 briefing, which the CIA now says was one for which they could have prepared their director better.

Rather sounds like Fearful Clapper, the director of national intelligence, telling Congress that his lie, about the NSA not spying on millions of Americans, wasn’t really a deception because, allegedly, he was thinking of something else at the time. Doesn’t it?

Or, how about the CIA hit team project for assassinations? That was kept from Congress for at least three years after it was an operation, even though the congressional committees are supposed to be kept “fully and currently” informed.

Former CIA people and Bush White House officials have lost their moral compass. This is not about the formalities of White House approvals, the cursory legal review, or the kabuki playing of the congressional oversight system, it is about human rights, and the legal rights of individuals. And public opinion, including international public opinion, matters.

I have used this example before but it is worth revisiting: French Army officers made the same mistake in the Algerian war. Faced with an overarching threat they tortured to find and defeat an insurgent enemy. Public charges arose, just like with the CIA torture, which were denied in terms that might almost make today’s CIA people plagiarists. The French thought they had gotten away with it. A legislative amnesty was voted, later a presidential pardon issued. But time after time after time the torture charges came back to haunt the officers. Indeed, another court trial flowing from the Algerian torture took place even while the CIA black prisons were active–nearly five decades after the Algerian war. Just to seal the point, today’s newspaper contains word that in Brazil, where the military tortured dissidents in the 1960s, and where a legislative pardon was also issued, the recommendation of a truth commission is to prosecute the perpetrators after all. Again that is five decades after the fact.

The international criminal liability of CIA officers and Bush administration officials is a live issue. It will not go away. That is why President Obama erred so badly in not dealing with the CIA torture right after taking office in 2009. The fight over releasing the torture report shows just how entrenched the forces of repression still are. They will become increasingly desperate. And they still hope that fig leaves will protect them.




The Torture Report: She Said, He Said

December 9, 2014–So it’s out. Finally! Despite every imaginable kind of pressure to keep the lid on this atrocity, the emergence of the Senate intelligence committee’s investigative report could not be prevented. Now the chips will fall where they may. There are a host of items on this platter, enough substance to keep a battalion of analysts busy for weeks–plus more added by the CIA “response paper” of June 2013, which the agency released to counter the Senate report. There’s no possibility of conveying more than first impressions, but overall I will say the combination of the two documents is odd. The CIA’s response paper largely accepts  the criticisms of the Senate investigation, then disputes the intelligence committee’s chapter and verse, leaving Senator Dianne Feinstein–it’s her paper after all–on one side of a “she said, he said” dispute. Here are some examples to illustrate:

Michael V. Hayden: If you visited this space yesterday you’ll have read that General Hayden, a former CIA director among other things, is not my favorite exemplar of truthfulness. One thing the Senate report makes much of is CIA’s misleading of Congress. In an appendix the torture report provides more than two dozen examples of CIA deceptions, and traces from the agency’s own documents and records just why Langley’s claims were phony. Every one of the CIA’s deceptive comments involves General Hayden, most of them from the omnibus briefing the CIA finally furnished to Congress when the program was being shelved. My favorite–Hayden had told Congress there were 97 CIA detainees (the intelligence committee has established there were 116, though a few were yet to be captured). In January 2009 a CIA officer established there were at least thirteen “new finds,” making the latest number 112. Hayden ordered the officer to keep the number reported at 98, picking “whatever date I needed to make that happen.” The CIA response paper disagrees with the conclusion that the agency impeded congressional oversight–but it admits that “a few aspects” of Hayden’s testimony were in error and that it could have done a better job of preparing the director for his appearance before Congress. Whatever else happens, you’ve been warned. Do not believe Michael Hayden!

Jose Rodriguez: This former manager of the torture program has been running around hollering from every rooftop that the torture was legal. Let’s put aside the whole debate over the Justice Department memoranda, though, and take this one from strictly inside the CIA. Teams at the first black prison begin torturing their subject, and they report to headquarters that they can’t keep it up, they have moral qualms, there are legal issues. Rodriguez shoots back a cable on August 12, 2002, instructing the base chief and field officers to “refrain” from using “speculative language as to the legality of given activities.” Mr. Hayden–backed by CIA lawyer John Rizzo, by the way– represented to Congress that any CIA officer observing a torture session had not only the ability to object to a “given activity,” but a positive duty to stop it at any point. Needless to say, the Senate report gives examples like this one, where field officers objected and were told in so many words to shut up.

Responsiveness to Oversight: The CIA Inspector General made his own inquiry into the torture program, which I have referenced in this space before. The reaction of CIA’s top operations officer–Jose Rodriguez’s predecessor in that post–when the IG raised questions of legality, organization, and effectiveness of the torture–was to object that the IG report should have concluded that torture is effective.

Bin Laden’s Messenger: In a classic instance of “she said, he said,” the Senate investigators and the CIA disagree on the role of torture in bringing down Osama bin Laden. You’re sure to hear more about this since it goes to the debate ignited by the movie Zero Dark Thirty. You’ll recall that, at that time, there were a flurry of statements pro and con about whether torture had been necessary in uncovering the true role of the individual who served as Bin Laden’s go between, tracking whom led to the terrorist hideout. Members of the Senate intelligence committee issued statements that, unlike what was implied by the movie, torture had not been necessary. The CIA itself put out a statement in that vein, though there were opposing comments too. Here the Senate investigators lay out in enormous detail that CIA had data identifying the messenger from prisoners who were never tortured, or spoke before they were tortured, and focusing on the NSA intercepts and foreign liaison data nailing down the ID. In this case the CIA response paper insists that some information came from a prisoner after torture that was critical to the ID. As I say, I bet there will be more about this–and it is a place where the actual Senate report, not this thinned-out executive summary, could be crucial to a proper understanding of the matter. Stay tuned.


Family Jewels Crisis (2)

December 8, 2014–To judge from the hysteria among intelligence officers who are supposed to pride themselves on calmness in the storm, we are standing at the edge of a precipice–never mind that it is of their own making. Having commented just yesterday on the haste with which former CIA operative Jose Rodriguez put up a pre-emptive defense of agency torturers in the face of the investigative report of the Senate intelligence committee on these CIA programs, we see this morning that Rodriguez, the CIA Counterterrorism Center official who ran the torture program has been joined by others, monopolizing the airwaves of the Sunday talk shows.

Many months ago I named a number of these people and called them “soothsayers.” Here’s Michael V. Hayden back again and you can see why. Yesterday on Face the Nation, Mr. Hayden, a former Air Force general who led the NSA, then the CIA, and finally became a senior assistant to the Director of National Intelligence, thundered that it “beggars the imagination” that CIA lied about a program that wasn’t doing any good. “We’re not here to defend torture,” Hayden added via email. “We’re here to defend history.”

Sounds good doesn’t it? Here’s the thing: In the spring of 2004 the CIA Inspector General (IG) issued an investigative report of his own, one that covered the first two years of the torture program and which included internal CIA review documents that questioned the value of whatever had been obtained using these methods. Hayden took over the CIA in 2006. When the IG continued to nose around uncomfortable agency business Hayden began a counterintelligence investigation–of the Inspector General. In 2008 the Senate Armed Services Committee, after long investigation, also did a report on U.S. government torture. That report questioned the effectiveness of the torture and showed that CIA had been an important mover in importing these methods to the Pentagon. Later an internal, expert review by the Defense Science Board rejected the efficacy of torture methods. And the FBI expert interrogators working alongside the CIA in the black prisons, and also with the military at Guantanamo, withdrew from those tainted programs.

And speaking of defending history, Jose Rodriguez is the official most responsible for the destruction of the CIA videotapes documenting the torture, a presumptive obstruction of justice but certainly a blow against history.

That is the history. Worse, when the Congress passed legislation outlawing torture again (it was already criminal under several statutes), General Hayden pushed to exempt the CIA from the law. As torture was ruled out of bounds by the Bush (2) administration, CIA bid to keep open a contingency authority to use these methods, whose effectiveness seems to have been evident only at Langley.

The facts are that (1) Michael Hayden was a johnny-come-lately, not around to see the effectiveness of the early torture; (2) official reviews found the effectiveness of the technique questionable and its legal basis defective; (3) Mr. Hayden attempted to obstruct further inquiries by the IG on his watch; and (4) he sought to preserve a CIA capability for torture in the face of renewed action to render it illegal.

George J. Tenet and his deputy and one-time acting director, John McLaughlin, have also been mentioned as participants in this pre-emptive effort to cut down the Senate investigation. No doubt they come at this from the perspective of protecting loyal employees but both of them should know better. The torture was controversial at CIA even while it was going on, had the dangerous and so-much-discussed criminal liabilities, and had impacts that at best are debatable. For them to take sides means cutting themselves off from another slice of CIA veterans in what may end up as a mud-slinging contest. Better to stay out of this.

The same goes for former president George W. Bush, who is being dragged into this debate. Bush associates are being quoted as convinced of the loyalty of CIA officers and the president himself as having felt lucky to have them on his side. This is a place where the full Senate report, not merely the executive summary we expect to be released, represents a time bomb. If the investigative report contains chapter and verse on CIA deception of its own superiors that will be explosive. As I noted in my book The Family Jewels presidents tend to shield intelligence agencies until controversy brushes them too closely. If Mr. Bush stood inert in the face of CIA deception he knew about because he believed in “enhanced interrogation,” that would be a black mark and could be a matter of international criminal misconduct. These are murky waters, uncharted at best, with shoals visible on the horizon.

John Kerry, Shame on You!

December 19, 2014 (Update)–Nearly two weeks since Secretary Kerry’s  clumsy intervention, and ten days after the Senate report was finally released. There have been zero Americans killed in international protests, and, in fact, no protests of any consequence. You might want to scratch your head and wonder, “what was he thinking?”

December 7, 2014–The Secretary of State of the United States has now taken a hand in the wrongheaded effort to head off release of the investigative report in the Senate intelligence committee’s inquiry into CIA torture programs. Secretary John Kerry this week telephoned committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein to make his case. As reported in the press Kerry referred to alleged national security implications of a release of the torture report and to supposed dangers from jihadists who learn of CIA torture. This whole line of argument is so wrong in so many ways–and John Kerry should be ashamed to be lending himself to this phony exercise.

National security implications? Frankly, the most important national security implications of CIA torture have been for U.S. allies, who have largely adhered to international conventions prohibiting torture, and are embarrassed to see the leader of their pack engaged in such awful behavior. In the United Kingdom CIA torture has led to a court judgment against the Crown. In Poland CIA collaborators are under criminal indictment. In the European Union legal actions are ongoing and will undoubtedly create further embarrassment. Meanwhile, in the United States there has been a concerted effort to evade accountability–or even an open accounting. That perception of evasion is surely more damaging than owning up to what has been done in the name of American democracy.

As for the jihadists I guarantee you that they have believed all along that captured Islamists are tortured. An investigative report which confirms that will add nothing to the pot. It could perhaps even help by documenting that the torture was not practiced even more widely.

Some sources are saying the Kerry phone intervention had White House support. This is an awkward matter since President Obama is on record in favor of releasing the report, but it is consistent with analysis in this space that Obama chief of staff Dennis McDonough’s role has also been designed to forestall release and/or diminish the report if it appears.

John Kerry is the last person who should be involved here. Kerry started off in politics as a Vietnam veteran opposing the Vietnam war. at the exact same time Mr. Kerryvoiced his opposition. Today he defends torture? Shame on you, John Kerry!

CIA Torture Update: In another last-ditch defense, anticipating the Senate committee will go ahead and release its report, the CIA’s torture impresario, Jose A. Rodriguez is in the “Outlook” section of today’s Washington Post to say that torture was legal and that it “proved effective by any reasonable standard.” Along the way he alleges that Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House back in 2002, had been briefed on the torture and denied that fact. In my book The Family Jewels I explored the evidence on this claim in detail. It was controversial in 2009, right after Mr. Obama released the Justice Department memoranda on the supposed legality of the torture. Pelosi is correct. The same CIA document on which Rodriguez relies in this article, to allege Congress was briefed on torture forty times, lists a different congresswoman, not Pelosi, as attending the briefing to which Rodriguez refers. Equally to the point, one purpose of the Senate inquiry was to establish whether the torture had been effective–by “any reasonable standard” or any other–and the investigation is widely reported as establishing that it was not. So far the airwaves have been dominated precisely by cheerleaders for torture like Rodriguez. It is high time to have some official pronouncements that are less self-interested. Suppressing this report means deep-sixing that evidence.

As for Mr. Rodriguez’s allegation the torture was legal– those Justice Department papers have been widely rejected as statements of applicable law, refuted in reviews of professional responsibility, and were even re-argued in other memoranda at the time to reduce the scope of the original errors. Mr. Rodriguez, it should be noted, is the CIA official responsible for the destruction of videotapes of the CIA torture. Those tapes documented criminal offenses and their destruction can presumptively be construed as an obstruction of justice. Suppressing the Senate report on CIA torture serves the same end. Let’s have no more of this cant!

Designer Story 2: Why No Pacific Third Reich?

December 6, 2014: With Pearl Harbor Day coming up tomorrow I thought I’d offer another designer story to whet your appetite for the Favorite Game Designers Story Contest. This one is about why I never directly took the Third Reich game system to the Pacific War. Instead I did a game called Pearl Harbor.

Remember contest details are in another post here. The days are counting down. All entries must be received by midnight of December 15, 2014. There’ve been some good ones. Keep them coming!

So anyway, Third Reich had been a tremendous success. The idea of extending the game to the Pacific was a natural. More than that, I had cut my teeth on Pacific wargames. As a kid learning to do this stuff I had designed probably five or so versions of a strategic campaign game. In its most ambitious form this game was a hybrid that had a strategic map and then broke out various subroutines for different actions. There was a surface naval game modeled on Jutland, an air war module, rules for scientific and industrial development, and ground war provisions that broke out the level of the engagement (battalion, regiment, division or above) with both specific maps (for Pacific islands and certain large areas, such as Malaya or Burma) and generic ones. All of it had weekly turns. A group of friends played that game almost every day through one summer, and in those several months we did not get the game past early 1944. The problem was too much.

Third Reich was too different. That is, the continental warfare in Europe, with mass armies, in which naval and air forces played a subsidiary role, offered a version of war that in my view was distinct from that in the Pacific, where the air and naval forces put on the big show, and land armies played in sotto voce. Moreover, with the game Third Reich already out you couldn’t easily adapt rules for naval and air warfare which had deliberately been kept very simple.

So I did Pearl Harbor, which Avalon Hill was not interested in and which I took to Game Designers’ Workshop. I know lots of gamers disliked that one in comparison to the other, but I still think that design to have been less artificial than the Pacific TR that Avalon Hill finally tried. They had to go to Victory in the Pacific to get something successful. And I was sad the Pacific title had not clicked.


Gamers’ Corner: The Magic Bus: A Story to Whet Your Apetite

December 2, 2014–For all you Gamers out there! You’ll have seen I am hosting a contest encouraging you to give us stories about your favorite game designers. Keep those entries rolling in! Just to give you the flavor of the endeavor, let me tell this one . . .

It was the summer of 1978, coming up on Origins, which that year would be held on the campus of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Game designer Kevin Zucker had started Operational Studies Group (OSG) and was out with his first game, Napoleon At Bay. Naturally he wanted to make the convention with a load of them, where gamers would be anxious to scoop them up. He priced air freight. Too much. Post Office–too slow. Uncertain to boot.

Kevin had the idea of driving a van. He had a friend–another former SPI-er named Terry Hardy–now an official with Avis.  Terry had run office operations for SPI, that was his kind of thing. He was good at it. Same with Avis. Terry used his employee discounts and contacts to get Kevin a sweetheart deal on a van.

Van in hand, Zucker enlisted his OSG sidekick Jay Nelson to go along, but figured he needed one more person to share the driving. That’s where I came in. Naturally I myself was looking for passage to Ann Arbor. In those days you could go to the airport, sit standby, then pay for instant cheap tickets on half-filled planes to your destination. Better than that you could do it in the moment–no advance bookings, no impedimenta, just like that. My plan was to head for LaGuardia, fly into Detroit, and find some shuttle bus to Ann Arbor. Then the phone rang and it was Kevin.

Today (full disclosure) Kevin Zucker and I are good friends. In those days we were friendly but nothing like now. I suppose The Magic Bus triggered the change. I’d known Kevin from SPI, where he worked as an editor, assistant to Redmond Simonsen, and game designer too–a jack of all trades. I was past his door frequently since I was close to Redmond, who had the corner office in the Art Department and Kevin the next one over. I always made sure to stop and hang out a bit with Red whenever I was at SPI. So when Kevin left SPI we were on good terms–and indeed I subsequently published a game of my own with Kevin’s OSG. Anyway, when Kevin called and wanted another driver for the van that was fine with me. Kevin and Jay drove by my apartment and picked me up and off we went. It was less than a day until Origins was scheduled to kick off and time was of the essence.

Zucker was right that he needed another driver. With getting the van, loading the OSG games and booth materials, and picking up Jay and me, he was exhausted. We left New York down I-95 to the Jersey Turnpike and somewhere around the Delaware Water Gap Kevin started falling asleep. Jay was already out. We had started out before sunrise. I took over the driving.

There’s something about long-distance driving. I don’t know if it’s the Spell of the Interstate or Romance Behind the Wheel, but every time I get out on the road like that I always think of America on the go. Anyway we were driving along and it seemed only a minute later when Kevin woke up.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“Half past Ohio,” I replied (indeed we were somewhere between Cleveland and Toledo).

Kevin and I talked it over and agreed only a minute had passed since the Delaware Gap. That’s when we decided we had a Magic Bus. Jay took over for the last lap into Ann Arbor, where we arrived in time for the OSG guys to set up and still have dinner before dark. And the rest of that Origins trip was splendid . . .