Jose Rodriguez’s Tortured Logic

July 1, 2017–You will recall Jose Rodriguez as the officer in charge of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center at the height of its torture program, and subsequently the agency’s director of operations–the aggrandized “National Clandestine Service”–when he led the charge to destroy videotapes documenting the tortures the Counterterrorism Center (CTC) had carried out. Psychologists hired by Rodriguez for the CTC are now being sued in U.S. district court by victims of the tortures the CIA carried out. Mr. Rodriguez, called as a witness from the CIA, has provided evidence in this suit, now on the docket for the Eastern District of Washington State.

The CIA man filed a declaration this past January, under penalty of perjury; and he was sworn and deposed by lawyers in the case on March 7, 2017. The affidavit is stipulated as correct, and the deposition under oath is what it is. Both shed some very interesting light on the CIA torture program conducted under his leadership. With Independence Day coming up this seems a good moment to review these actions taken in the name of America.

According to the Rodriguez declaration, CIA hired psychologists James E. Mitchell and J. Bruce Jessen because the CTC “had no resident experience in interrogation”–skills which, Rodriguez says plainly, “must be developed over years.” Neither Mitchell no Jessen had ever conducted an interrogation, and the most experience they had acquired lay in playacting and subsequently debriefing individuals training to escape and evade prospective captors.

Concerning the techniques which Mitchell and Jessen did speak for, the ones used in so-called SERE training, Rodriguez said at deposition that to his knowledge their long-term effects had never been studied by the CIA. Rodriguez had no knowledge whether their use could lead to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  He never asked anyone whether PTSD could result from them. He also never asked anyone to research the literature on potential effects, in spite of the fact that the notorious Justice Department “legal” memos stipulated that that kind of a search would figure in showing agency personnel had exercised due diligence to meet a standard of legality for their actions.

Jose Rodriguez never observed any interrogations. He never watched one on tape. He never experienced any torture method himself. When assessing the effectiveness of interrogations the CIA took no account of the physical or psychological harm inflicted upon detainees. Rodriguez continues to maintain there was no CIA torture, although, given all this, there is literally no way he could know that.

At a certain point psychologists Mitchell and Jessen themselves decided a detainee had become compliant, and recommended to CTC that waterboarding him be stopped. Rodriguez confirms that happened, adding that his response was to order them to continue.

In a deposition studded with “I don’t remember”s and “I don’t know”s, Rodriguez insisted on answering a question on the potential of CIA interrogation techniques to produce long-term harm. His answer was “No,” and his reason was because “It never did.”

This is the level of management exercised in the rendition and detention program–hire people for expertise which they lacked, let them propose strong arm methods, conduct no research, no review, order them to continue when they advised stopping, and insist the program had been hugely useful. I have not mentioned that Rodriguez continues to obfuscate over the status of Abu Zubaydah–claiming him a high-level Al Qaeda official–as well as the timing of key Zubaydah revelations on Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Jose Padilla–given before CIA torture began, and used by Rodriguez as primary examples for the effectiveness of interrogation. Altogether a sad story.

Hillary’s Emails: Overclassification “Run Amok”

January 30, 2016–The spokesman’s statement was redundant. “Overclassification” means crazy, excessive secrecy. To say that it “ran amok” is repetitious. Brian Fallon, Hillary Clinton’s spokesperson, nevertheless had a point–and you read it here, first. Last August, as a matter of fact (in “Hillary’s Emails: Bursting the Secrecy Bubble,” August 22, 2015). The State Department announced on Friday that twenty-two of the Hillary Clinton emails examined by authorities contained information graded “TOP SECRET” or above. Those emails will now be separated from the court-ordered release of Clinton electronic messages and made secret. Guess what? That’s a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey.

We are close to six months after the piece in this space, cited above, predicted that secrecy authorities would comb over the Clinton email, find things they prefer not be out, and try and squelch public distress by means of imposing secrecy. Well, Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) inspector general I. Charles McCullough, III, has done just that. The 22 emails are his hit list, possibly (but perhaps not) approved by Fearful Leader James Clapper, the man who issued an official ODNI directive designating officers of the United States intelligence community as the greatest threat to national security the U.S. faces.

In an interview last week on National Public Radio, Hillary Clinton commented on one of the TOP SECRET messages, one that informed her about an article on the drone war that was appearing in the New York Times. “How a New York Times public article that goes around the world could be in any way viewed as classified, or the fact that it would be sent to other people off the New York Times website, I think, is one of the difficulties people have in understanding what this is about.”

Just so. But ODNI’s hit on Clinton is a real one. It happens this way: there are plenty of things ODNI–or the CIA, or the NSA–don’t want out in public. In their secrecy game, if ODNI (or one of the others) do not themselves declassify information, then it’s still secret, even if everybody in the world knows it. So if the Times gets a leak and prints it, the newspaper is dealing in secret information. Meanwhile, government officials need to know what’s in the papers so they can respond when the media or the public asks about it.

It’s perfectly understandable that someone sent Secretary of State Hillary Clinton an email containing the text of what the Times had reported, including whatever ODNI or anyone else deemed to be TOP SECRET. Right now you can go to the State Department’s Electronic Reading Room and see precisely equivalent messages that have since been released: to the U.S. Ambassador in Thailand warning the Times had the CIA black prison story; to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice containing the text of the Times story reporting that CIA officer Jose Rodriguez had ordered the secret destruction of videotapes that were evidence in a criminal case. You can easily imagine other examples that should be there–like the cables that must have flown around when the press reported that an American sought by Pakistani authorities for killing Pakistani citizens in a street incident was linked to the CIA.

So, let’s call a spade a spade–what just happened was that the spooks coerced the State Department into invoking secrecy, casting a cloak of classification, over material that was not designated secret by an “original classification authority”–as per government regulation–that had been in the public domain for many months, and that is subject to a court order compelling its release. As Barry Goldwater once said about CIA lies over Nicaragua, “This is no way to run a railroad!”

Last August I gave other recent examples of officials hoist on the petard of secrecy rules–and made the point that the officials against whom the rules are actually enforced–those who pay the price–are the people far down the food chain. The truth is that we are, all of us, being hurt by secrecy run amok. When the country reaches the point when officials cannot do their jobs without criminal violation of secrecy regulations, then it’s time for the regulations to change, not time to throw Hillary in jail. While we’re at it, it is time to understand that the security services have ceased being arbiters of necessary secrecy–if they ever were–and have become information manipulators seeking political, and other, advantages.

CIA Torturers Talk Back

September 9, 2015–Remember last December, when the Senate intelligence committee released its investigative report on CIA torture programs? Many CIA officers, principals in the story, mounted an across-the-board effort to discredit the SSCI investigation, spin doctoring every aspect of the Senate report. The former officials put up their own website, flush with copies of op-eds, transcripts of interviews, and an array of documents declassified to support their position. The former agency officers have seemed quiet of late–not even adding to their website–but it turns out this was simply because they were repackaging the same information in book form. That book is being released today.

I kid you not when I say the website involved many principals in the sorry story of CIA torture, otherwise euphemized as the “RDI Program,” for rendition, detention, and interrogation. Editor of the new book is Bill Harlow. Mr. Harlow previously served as the CIA’s top public relations man, and he is the coauthor of the memoirs of both agency chief George J. Tenet and gung ho spook Jose Rodriguez. Both of them are contributors to the new book too. So is Michael V. Hayden, a man who loved operations, held the reins as the last prisoner was tortured, moved heaven and earth to keep CIA’s authority to torture intact even after President George W. Bush shut down the program, and is cited in the Senate report as systematically misleading Congress on what had been done. A third agency director who contributed to this new bit of PR, Porter J. Goss, is the man who stood aside while clandestine service director Rodriguez engineered the destruction of videotapes that documented CIA officers engaged in criminal acts–an obstruction of justice.

Both website and book are contrived to rebut–indeed that is the book’s title–the Senate intelligence committee report. In fact Rebuttal is built around the June 27, 2013 CIA response to the Senate report, for which the agency held up declassifying the investigation in the first place. The idea that this agency rebuttal hasn’t received sufficient attention is just wrong. First off, Senate investigators and CIA officials met multiple times to discuss the substance of the agency’s objections to the Senate report. If you look at the Senate report you’ll find many instances where the investigators take up specific claims in the CIA rebuttal and introduce additional evidence to counter them. I am told there are also places where the investigators accepted agency contentions and changed their text to accommodate them. In other words the CIA response has already been taken into account. The agency’s rebuttal document is nevertheless worded as a wholesale rejection of the Senate report.

Second, the CIA response is not so coherent anyway. Langley’s general counsel, Stephen Preston, would be appointed the Pentagon’s top lawyer in the course of the haggling over the Senate report. As part of Preston’s nomination hearings he was obliged to answer questions regarding the CIA’s preparation of its response, in which the general counsel had a supervisory role. Preston described a process where CIA director John O. Brennan simply farmed out sections of the Senate report to different officers for each to refute, where no one read the entire text of the Senate investigation, where the emphasis was on scoring points rather than reflecting on the evidence, where the Senate’s text was manipulated so as to optimize it for refutation.

For example, there are twenty major conclusions of the Senate investigation. The CIA rebuttal also contains twenty sections that are labeled replies to Senate conclusions. Not a single one of the CIA rebuttals corresponds to that numbered and labeled conclusion in the SSCI document. This makes a jumbled up hodge-podge of the Senate report. Its last two conclusions are not even taken up in the CIA response, several others were addressed only indirectly, and Langley’s mavens put words in the Senate committee’s mouth, making up an alleged SSCI conclusion, apparently so that it could use the phrase “saved lives.”

“Saved lives” appears in the name of the CIA’s officers’ website as well as in countless agency statements, speeches, and claims. If asserting a thing makes it so, in the classic propaganda technique, then this debate would have been over a long time ago. But like Richard Nixon steadfastly asserting his innocence in Watergate, the issue won’t go away because it is real. There is a fire behind the smoke and mirrors.

Lawyer Preston insisted that he had no writ to ensure the CIA responses were accurate or responsibility for the overall document, and made only spot contributions to its contents.

Asked about the forthcoming work that embodies the CIA response document, Senator Dianne Feinstein says, “”The new book doesn’t lay a glove on the factual accuracy of the Committee’s report.”

The truth about the secret war against terrorism is that the CIA and its cohorts replicated every one of the abuses that got the agency in trouble in the 1970s, this time on a global scale.

From the standpoint of citizens attempting to obtain accountability from their government institutions, the coddling given this crew of CIA officers is also deplorable. The fight over getting the Senate report released went on for nearly two years. During the last six months of that time the cabal were actively planning to counter the investigation before it was declassified. It took time to create and design their website and to obtain content for it. In particular, declassification of documents is an issue here: the CIA crew obtained preferential treatment in the declassification of documents. In fact, it appears that CIA work product may have been created especially to be released to this cabal (an Office of the Historian paper on CIA-congressional relations to uphold the claim the agency was square in its briefings to Congress). The bulk of these documents were released in September and November 2014, in good time for them to be placed on the crew’s website before release of the Senate report that December 8. In addition, the secrecy mavens were quite permissive in what they released to this crew, providing, for example, virtually complete versions of CIA records that the American Civil Liberties Union had already applied for, been denied, sued, won the case, only to be given completely gutted redactions.

The fact is that this whole crew–there are plenty more in here whom I haven’t named–have been treated with kid gloves so far. They are lucky to have escaped prosecution. Not satisfied with that, the crew apparently wants Americans to sign on to the monstrous acts committed in the nation’s name, perhaps even congratulate them for heroism (??!!?). Too much more of this and the thinning veneer of protection may be stripped away. Less swagger needed. Like the classic image of the spy these fellows should be gathering their cloaks around them and disappearing into the night.

Spooky Lawyer: Who’s the Real Disgrace?

May 22, 2015–The other day I posted a piece commenting on the hypocrisy of the senior spy agency officials complaining about the New York Times action in using the full names of certain CIA officials. They did this in a letter to the editor of the Times. I noted how the law they invoked to justify themselves does not actually cover what they claim, and so on (see “Crocodile Tears: The Spooks Doth Protest too Much,” May 12, 2015). All of that was a standard ploy to intimidate–claim legal cover, assert that the alleged offense is life-threatening, and encourage the public to dismiss the opponent, in effect to kill the messenger.

The officials who cried and gnashed their teeth were, all of them, former top people at the CIA. As recounted in the post, more than a few had crossed the line of controversy themselves. Their motives in trying to knock down the Times (or anyone else who might object to high-handed CIA actions) were/are entirely transparent. But so far as the Intelligence Identities Protection Act is concerned, none of the spooks was a lawyer, so they have at least the excuse of not knowing any better.

Not so for Robert S. Litt, the general counsel for the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). It is his business to know the law. But Litt has yet to rise above the gunslingers who partner at big law firms, among whom he once walked. “The law” for them is what interpretation they can get away with at a given moment. The niceties of the Intelligence Identity Protection Act ignored, Mr. Litt denounced the Times in an interview published on April 27, saying “I think the New York Times disgraced itself over the weekend,” by publishing the names, continuing “these are people whose identities are protected by statute.”

I could not let this pass without comment. Robert Litt is the same man who conspired with the DNI, General James Clapper, to provide a fraudulent explanation for perjured testimony DNI Clapper gave Congress when directly asked if the National Security Agency is spying on hundreds of millions of Americans. The country now knows in horrific detail not only that that was/is true, but that it had been going on for years. General Clapper denied it. Fearful leader that he is, Clapper also rejected an opportunity to correct his testimony. Mr. Litt helped Fearful Leader contrive the excuse that he had been thinking about something different when asked the direct question, so his sworn testimony had therefore not been a lie.

I dissected the tortured logic of this flimsy assertion in a pair of columns early last year (both now form part of my longform “The NSA Watch,” which is available as a product on the Downloadable section of this website). Suffice it to say that both Mr. Litt and General Clapper–when preparing for Clapper’s testimony, when delivering it, and when presented the opportunity to correct the record to avoid misleading overseers and the public–refused to do so, and contrived to lie instead.

That is a “disgrace.” We are talking about government officials sworn to uphold the Constitution collaborating in perjuring testimony under oath, to mislead a duly authorized legislative body directly responsible for overseeing their actions.  Robert Litt has no business talking about anyone’s disgrace.

The Times defended itself well enough. The newspaper’s executive editor, Dean Baquet gave an interview to the same legal blog on April 29 arguing that the paper understood the CIA’s drone war as essentially a military operation and therefore felt unable to treat officials conducting it as purely intelligence operatives. In particular when, it turned out, the top guy behind the drones was a prime architect of the CIA torture program.

When do you stop going along, and begin to conduct real oversight? Conversely, when does appropriate security cross the line into coverup? Baquet was asked about Robert Litt’s assertion (repeated in the letter from top spooks to the Times) that by revealing names the newspaper was putting lives in danger. Baquet’s response: “I wish the CIA did not say that about everybody and everything.”

Just so. When top covert operator Jose Rodriguez conspired to obstruct justice, causing the destruction of videotapes that were evidence of CIA officers conducting torture, the rationale was that the tapes endangered lives.

The original rationale for the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in 1982 was that protecting names would save lives.

Let’s be very clear here: in all the recorded history of the CIA–now nearing seven decades–only one agency officer is known to have been marked for killing and then murdered. That man, Richard Welch, chief of station in Athens, had had his name in the press but had made rookie security mistakes the likes of living in a house known as the CIA’s chief residence (it was even on city tours) and not varying his route to work. Welch had been warned to take precautions and had not done so. His murderers, from a Greek revolutionary group, were later captured and revealed they had known all about the CIA man, but without ever seeing or even being aware of, the mentions of Welch in the press.

The CIA, terrified that disaffected agency officer Philip Agee was going around making a practice of blowing the covers of its people, made Richard Welch the poster boy for its campaign to obtain passage of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

Since the passage of that law there is no evidence that any CIA officer has been targeted because her/his name was revealed. Agency officers have died in combat, in plane crashes, in a random attack on the agency’s front gate, by suicide. I dare say–the evidence here, of course, would be secret–that more CIA officers have perished in domestic disputes than have been killed because their names were revealed.

Meanwhile the CIA uses the Act to hide the names of senior officials engaged in official business, acting in their official capacities, from public scrutiny.

The New York Times and its reporters are not sworn to uphold CIA regulations. Agency officers at a certain level of the organization should be known individuals. Equally to the point, the Identities Protection Act stipulates in defining the crime that the defendant  have engaged in a pattern of revelations of names (a la Agee), which the newspaper certainly has not done.

What is truly disgraceful is the CIA’s cynical scaremongering and its efforts to intimidate critics.

Crocodile Tears: the Spooks doth Protest too Much

May 12, 2015–In case you’re not aware of it, a couple of weeks ago (on April 26 to be exact) the New York Times ran a feature story on how the CIA, currying favor in Washington, had managed to elude criticism for its drone strikes up until this past January, when one of the mechanical murderers managed to blow up an American citizen being held hostage by the bad guys, plus an Italian hostage and other Americans who were playing for the bad guys but, still, were entitled to constitutional protections. Hinting at its distress at this state of affairs, the Times put a shot across the bow of the CIA by naming the head of the Counterterrorism Center who was dismissed after that fiasco, his replacement, and the new head of the Operations Directorate (or National Clandestine Service, depending on which musical chair you are using at the moment).

Today the Times carries a letter to the editor signed by twenty ex-CIA officers complaining of the newspaper’s action. They insist that “nothing is to be gained by ‘outing’ career operations officers” and asserting that “Congress overwhelmingly passed the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982 precisely to protect” these dedicated men and women.

With me so far?

Who are these paragons of intelligence who have the virtue to cast stones? They include David Petraeus, former CIA chief convicted of leaking classified data to his girlfriend; former CIA deputy director Frank Carlucci, called in to save Ronald Reagan’s chestnuts from impeachment for violations of the Arms Control Export Act; former CIA director John M. Deutch, found to have improperly removed classified information from CIA headquarters; former CIA director Michael V. Hayden, found by the Senate’s investigation to have lied to Congress about CIA torture programs; former CIA director Porter Goss, who approved subordinates’ destruction of evidence material to a criminal investigation of CIA torture programs; former CIA director George J. Tenet, who started the CIA torture program; and former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who once said he’d have to crash a plane onto White House grounds to get the attention of the president. There are others but this is plenty to make the point.

For years now the Central Intelligence Agency has played fast and loose with its responsibilities in terms of simple public information. The names of intelligence officers is a good example. The agency routinely redacts names from documents it declassifies, and, starting with Jose Rodriguez, has now extended the practice to serving officers in senior positions. This is not admissible.

The sole basis on which the identity of an officer can be kept secret is the aforesaid Intelligence Identities Protection Act (Public Law 97-200). The law only protects serving “covert agents.” Covert agents are defined as officers of the clandestine service serving outside the United States or having served outside the United States within the past five years.

The recently-relieved officer who headed the Counterterrorism Center had been its chief since 2006–any eligibility he had to remain a covert agent expired four years ago. The named Deputy Director for Operations comes to that post from service as chief of the Special Activities Division, which does paramilitary operations. His last known overseas posting was as chief of station in Kabul. The Times did nothing wrong. Its only offense, if it be called that, was to remind the spooks of their favor in playing the CIA’s game this far.

More to the point, no CIA officer at the level of center or division chief or above, and certainly no one who is a deputy director, should ever be entitled to clandestinity. These people routinely have to deal with outside authorities including congressional overseers. Putting masks on those people makes a mockery of accountability.

Our former CIA chiefs shed crocodile tears. –And half of them have no business on this podium anyway. Accountability is the business of the fourth estate–and should be a gold coin in government. The Times names names that should have been public in the first place.

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.

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.

 

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!

Tone-Deaf CIA Lawyer

March 1, 2014– Midway through his gossipy, score-settling memoir, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) acting general counsel John A. Rizzo drops the line that his boss of the mid-90s, director of central intelligence John Deutch, used to make remarkably tone-deaf public comments. It’s a charge you might very well want to apply to Rizzo himself. I wrote about the CIA lawyer at some length in my book The Family Jewels.

Back in the Deutch era, when the CIA was caught misleading Congress by failing to reporting that agents in its employ had had a hand in torture and murder–including of American citizens in Guatemala–the CIA boss ordered a review of agency assets for others with blood on their hands. Among others, the Counterterrorist Center’s best spy had been involved in an attack in which Americans had been wounded (the intent had been to kill). CIA hired him later, when remorse led the man to change sides and supply them intel. The agency had never reported the man’s past to the Justice Department–as it is obliged to do–or to the congressional oversight committees. When it got around to doing so after the Guatemala affair this information promptly leaked to the New York Times. Agency officers warned the spy he might be outed and the man disappeared, never to be heard from again. Rizzo seems to want to say, and half-implies, that the spy’s former comrades did away with him. The CIA lawyer then condemns Times reporter Tim Weiner for going ahead with most of this story, and after that trounces him for not mentioning the affair in the book Weiner wrote later about the CIA. (Just parenthetically, Weiner’s CIA history basically stops much earlier than this 1990s episode.)

Fast forward to the drone war of today. John Rizzo was the CIA lawyer at the center of the agency’s “kill list” of people to be taken out by drones. Rizzo essentially bragged about his role to Newsweek reporters for a feature article that magazine published in February 2011. But when nominated for CIA general counsel, at Rizzo’s confirmation hearing he was much less forthcoming to the congressional overseers. And in his memoir Rizzo does not mention his role, or deal with the drone war at all–except to express the antiseptic opinion that he thinks drones are here to stay. Looks just like the offense of which he accuses the journalist.

This is a guy who wore a flaming pink polo shirt on a field visit to a CIA black prison, who finds nothing objectionable about the Justice Department “torture memos”–which he, in fact, solicited–and who shellacks the Bush White House for getting cold feet mid-course. The polo shirt incident led his CIA security man to ask sarcastically why he didn’t just paint a bull’s eye on his back. So who is tone-deaf here?

There is at least one CIA excess which Rizzo does find outrageous. That is agency operations chief Jose Rodriguez’s gambit in November 2005 to destroy videotapes documenting CIA torture at the black prisons. Rizzo recounts that he had never felt as upset and betrayed as he did the morning he found out about it. But Rodriguez’s maneuver was of a piece with countless things that John Rizzo spent a thirty-four year career justifying, and at times contriving.