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Context of 'Before August 24, 2009: ’Screaming Match’ Allegedly Precedes Release of 2004 CIA Report'

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The Justice Department informs CIA Director Leon Panetta that, after due deliberation, it will recommend to the White House that it release four Bush-era “torture memos” almost uncensored (see April 16, 2009), in compliance with a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Panetta, who is about to leave for an overseas trip, tells Attorney General Eric Holder and White House officials that the administration needs to consider the possibility that the memos’ release might expose CIA officers to lawsuits on allegations of torture and abuse. He also demands more censorship of the memos. The Justice Department informs other senior CIA officials, and as a courtesy, former agency directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, and John Deutch. Senior CIA officials object, arguing that the memos’ release could damage the agency’s ability to interrogate prisoners in the future and would further besmirch CIA officers who had acted on the Bush administration’s legal guidance. They also warn that the release might harm foreign intelligence services’ trust in the CIA’s ability to protect national security secrets. The four former directors also raise objections, arguing that the release might compromise ongoing intelligence operations. The torture authorized by the Bush White House had been approved under Tenet’s directorship. On March 19, the Justice Department requests a two-week delay in releasing the memos; department officials tell the court handling the lawsuit that the administration is considering releasing the memos without waiting for a court verdict. Two weeks later, Justice Department officials tell the court that the memos would come out on or before April 16. President Obama becomes more and more involved in the matter, leading a National Security Council (NSC) session on the issue and holding high-level sessions with Holder and other Cabinet members. Obama also discusses the issue with lower-level officials, and with an unidentified NSC official from the Bush administration. Obama’s biggest worry is the possibility of endangering ongoing intelligence operations. The Justice Department argues that the ACLU lawsuit would in the end force the administration to release the documents anyway. Obama eventually agrees, and the White House decides it will be better to release the memos voluntarily and avoid the perception of only releasing them after being forced to do so by a court ruling. Obama also decides that very few redactions should be made in the documents. The only redactions in the memos are the names of US employees, foreign services, and items related to techniques still in use. To mollify CIA personnel concerns, Obama will send a personal letter to CIA employees reassuring them that he supports them, understands the clandestine nature of their operations, and has no intention of prosecuting CIA employees who followed the legal guidelines set forth in the memos. [Associated Press, 4/17/2009]

Entity Tags: John Deutch, Barack Obama, American Civil Liberties Union, Bush administration (43), George J. Tenet, Leon Panetta, US Department of Justice, Eric Holder, Michael Hayden, Porter J. Goss

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

According to ABC News, the Justice Department’s release of a 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general (see May 7, 2004 and August 24, 2009) is preceded by a “profanity-laced screaming match” between CIA Director Leon Panetta and White House officials. This apparently produces disquiet among White House officials regarding Panetta. According to ABC News, some White House officials are “worrying about the direction of its newly-appoint[ed] intelligence team.” Some reports say that Panetta has already threatened to resign once, and White House officials are discussing “a possible shake-up of top national security officials.” According to one unnamed “senior adviser to [President] Obama on intelligence matters,” “You can expect a larger than normal turnover in the next year.” And another former senior intelligence official predicts, “Leon will be leaving.” But a White House spokesman, Denis McDonough, says the reports of Panetta’s threatened resignation and a potential “shake-up” of top intelligence and national security officials are “inaccurate.” Both Panetta and CIA spokesman George Little say reports of his threatened resignation are “absolutely untrue”; the spokesman says of the alleged tirade that Panetta is known to use “salty language.” Former counterterrorism specialist and current ABC News consultant Richard Clarke says: “It would be a shame if such as talented a Washington hand as Panetta were to leave after one year. It takes that long for any senior bureaucrat to begin to understand what needs to get done and how to do it. The CIA needs some stability.” [ABC News, 8/24/2009] Newsweek’s Mark Hosenball says that Panetta has been sending mixed messages. “Panetta had been kind of ambiguous, at least in terms of his public statements and even his private messages, as to whether he’s strongly opposed to release of documents like this or not,” he says. “Some cases it’s looked like he’s been in favor of releasing documents like this; in other cases, it’s looked like he’s been against it. I think he’s trying to straddle the issue here. I mean, certainly, previous CIA directors like General Mike Hayden and George Tenet have strongly expressed the view that this stuff shouldn’t have been released. Panetta hasn’t been quite as strong in saying that publicly, anyway.” [PBS, 8/24/2009]

Entity Tags: Mark Hosenball, Central Intelligence Agency, Denis McDonough, Leon Panetta, Obama administration, Richard A. Clarke, George Little

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

CIA Director Leon Panetta briefs President Obama about the intelligence on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Obama first learned about the compound in September (see September 1, 2010), but now Panetta gives his most persuasive argument on why bin Laden is likely to be hiding in the compound. Obama asks Panetta to come up with a plan for action. [Wall Street Journal, 5/23/2011]

Entity Tags: Leon Panetta, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

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