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On November 15, 2003, two Jewish synagogues are struck by suicide truck bombs in Istanbul, Turkey. Five days later, the British HSBC Bank and British Consulate in Istanbul are hit by more truck bombs. Fifty-eight people are killed in the attacks, including the British consul general, and over 750 are wounded. Turkish investigators believe the attacks were orchestrated by local al-Qaeda operatives after getting approval from Osama bin Laden. (BBC 11/20/2003; BBC 2/16/2007) In 2007, seven people will be sentenced to life in a Turkish prison for their role in the attacks. One of them is Luai Sakra, who confessed to being one of the two masterminds of the attacks (see March 21, 2006-February 16, 2007). Forty-one people receive shorter sentences, and 26 people are acquitted. (BBC 2/16/2007) Evidence will later emerge suggesting that Sakra was an informant for the CIA, Turkey, and Syria at least in 2000 and 2001 (see 2000 and September 10, 2001).
The US Army investigates the report of a colonel who documented potential abuses of Iraqi detainees by a joint Special Operations and CIA task force looking for weapons of mass destruction. The report will be made public by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) almost four years later (see August 15, 2007). The ACLU believes the colonel, whose name is redacted from the report, is Colonel Stuart Herrington (see December 12, 2003). The colonel reports that in late November someone called him with details of prisoner abuse that had occurred in June or July 2003 in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport. The colonel’s source had previously reported the abuse to Major General Keith Dayton, commander of the Iraq Survey Group in charge of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, and to officials in the Defense Intelligence Agency. The colonel meets with Major General Barbara Fast, the top intelligence officer in Baghdad, to brief her on his investigation into the matter, and gives her a copy of the report. The colonel is subsequently informed that the Judge Advocate General’s office attached to the US command in Iraq found “no evidence to support the allegations that detainees were mistreated.” The colonel believes this conclusion is a “cover-up,” and, in later testimony, will refer to his “blunt dismay” at the finding. He will testify that he cannot understand how his own report could have been taken so lightly given that he had provided names of the witnesses and “already had two people who admitted it.” Fast will later say to the colonel that she never saw his report until mid-2004, a statement that the colonel has trouble believing. Fast will be cleared of all allegations of misconduct by the Army inspector general, who will conclude that she took prompt action to alert the proper authorities once she was informed of the alleged abuse. (American Civil Liberties Union 8/15/2007)
The CIA reduces the period for which detainees can be deprived of sleep during the application of one of its standard techniques. Previously, if detainees were subjected to sleep deprivation as a part of a standard interrogation technique, the application could go on for 72 hours (see November 2002). However, the maximum is now reduced to 48 hours. Detainees are also subjected to sleep deprivation as a part of enhanced techniques, in which case the maximum is 11 days. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004, pp. 30 )
In an interview with author James Bamford, an unnamed FBI agent says that Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, deliberately hid 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar from the FBI, allowing 9/11 to happen. He says: “They refused to tell us because they didn’t want the FBI, they didn’t want John O’Neill in particular, muddying up their operation. They didn’t want the bureau meddling in their business—that’s why they didn’t tell the FBI. Alec Station worked for the CIA’s CTC [Counterterrorist Center]. They purposely hid from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau that they were following a man in Malaysia who had a visa to come to America. The thing was, they didn’t want John O’Neill and the FBI running over their case. And that’s why September 11 happened. That is why it happened.… They have blood on their hands. They have three thousand deaths on their hands.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 224)
In December 2003, a US naval vessel stops a small fishing boat in the Arabian Sea. According to a Western anti-narcotics official, a search turns up “several al-Qaeda guys sitting on a bale of drugs.” Later that month, a raid on a drug runner’s house in Kabul, Afghanistan, leads to the discovery of a number of satellite phones. The CIA determines the phones had been used to call numbers linked to suspected al-Qaeda-linked operatives in Turkey, the Balkans, and Western Europe. One official describes this as part of “an incredibly sophisticated network.” In March 2004, US troops raiding a suspected al-Qaeda hideout in remote Afghanistan discover opium with a street value of $15 million. (McGirk 8/2/2004)
The 9/11 Commission suspects that the CIA is using harsh techniques on high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees who are being interviewed about the 9/11 plot. The commission does not interview the detainees itself, but submits questions to the CIA, and the CIA then puts them to the detainees. However, commission staffers will later be reported to have “guessed” that harsh techniques are being used, and are worried these techniques affect the detainees’ credibility. Executive Director Philip Zelikow will later say, “We were not aware, but we guessed, that things like that were going on.” According to senior US intelligence officials, the detainees used as sources by the 9/11 Commission are “subjected to the harshest of the CIA’s methods,” including “physical and mental abuse, exposure to extreme heat and cold, sleep deprivation and waterboarding.” (Windrem and Limjoco 1/30/2008) One of the detainees, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whose interrogations are mentioned hundreds of times in the report (see After January 2004), was extensively waterboarded (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and a CIA manager will say that up to 90% of the information he provides under questioning is unreliable (see August 6, 2007).
On a trip home to Washington, the chief of the CIA’s Baghdad station, Gerry Meyer (see May 18, 2006), meets with President Bush to discuss the situation in Iraq. (Risen 2006, pp. 146-147) Details of the meeting are unknown, but Meyer recently wrote a report saying the situation in the country was deteriorating (see November 10, 2003), so this is probably the main topic of conversation.
Senior CIA official Robert Grenier, who, as the agency’s mission manager, inquired about the Joseph Wilson mission to Niger on behalf of the vice president’s office (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003), and told Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA official (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), is interviewed by the FBI as part of the Plame Wilson investigation. Grenier tells FBI investigators of his June 11, 2003 conversation with Libby, regarding Wilson’s Niger trip and the CIA status of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Grenier says that he is not sure whether Plame Wilson’s name came up during the conversation, a story he will tell again to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak in January 2004, but will change when he testifies for the prosecution in the Libby perjury trial (see January 24, 2007). (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007; Schulman 1/25/2007; Hossein 3/2007)
For the first time, 9/11 Commissioner Thomas Kean says that the 9/11 attacks could and should have been prevented. Kean, a Bush appointee and former Republican governor of New Jersey, states that “This was not something that had to happen… There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed.” In 2002, FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, “[T]here was nothing the agency could have done to anticipate and prevent the [9/11] attacks” (see May 8, 2002) and other Bush administration officials have also said the attacks were all but unstoppable. Kean promises major revelations from the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, NSA, and possibly former President Clinton and President Bush. (CBS News 12/17/2003) But within days, Kean amends his comments. He says that he wants to make it “clear” that he meant that officials at the operational level two years ago deserved to be singled out for blame and that no judgments had been reached about senior officials. This coincides with continued attempts from the White House to paint the intelligence prior to the attacks as non-specific “chatter,” and the attacks themselves as “literally bolts from the blue.” (Oliphant 12/21/2003)
Libya announces that it is giving up its unconventional weapons and ballistic missile programs in response to recent negotiations with the US and Britain. Thousands of nuclear reactor components are taken from a site in Tripoli and shipped to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Later examination shows that the Libyans had made little progress towards developing any sort of nuclear program. Nevertheless, it is a significant breakthrough in the Bush administration’s relations with Muslim nations considered to be inimical to Western interests.
'Scared Straight'? - Bush administration officials declare that the Libyan government “caved” under American pressure and because of the US-led invasion of Iraq; because Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi had approached the US shortly before the invasion of Iraq, it is plain that al-Qadhafi had been “scared straight” by the belligerent US approach to Middle Eastern affairs. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will call that characterization “useful, if wishful.” The threat of a Libyan WMD program was sketchy at best, regardless of Bush officials’ insistence that the US had forced the disarmament of a dangerous foe. But, Scoblic will write, the Libyan agreement serves as “a retroactive justification of an invasion whose original rationale had become increasingly dubious.” The Libyan agreement also “seemed to prove that conservatives could solve rogue state problems in a morally pure but nonmilitary way—that they did not have to settle for containment or the distasteful quid pro quo that had characterized deals like Clinton’s 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea (see October 21, 1994). They could simply demand disarmament.”
Negotiating Disarmament Since 1999 - The reality of the Libyan agreement is far different from the Bush interpretation. Al-Qadhafi’s government has for years wanted to get out from under UN sanctions imposed after Libyan hijackers bombed a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Since 1999, the US and Britain have been negotiating with Libya, with the ultimate aim of lifting sanctions and normalizing relations. President Clinton’s chief negotiator, Martin Indyk, said that “Libya’s representatives were ready to put everything on the table” during that time. Bush officials, after an initial reluctance to resume negotiations, were reassured by Libya’s offer of support and assistance after the 9/11 attacks, and resumed discussions in October 2001. Al-Qadhafi himself offered to discuss disarmamement with the British in August 2002. Negotiations opened in October 2002. With the Iraq invasion looming, the Libyans held up further negotiations until March 2003; meanwhile, Vice President Cheney warned against striking any deals with the Libyans, saying that the US did not “want to reward bad behavior.” The negotiations resumed in March, with efforts made to deliberately keep State Department and Pentagon neoconservatives such as John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz in the dark “so that,” Scoblic will write, “administration conservatives could not sabotage a potential deal.” The negotiations were led by the CIA and MI6. (Bolton attempted to intervene in the negotiations, insisting that “regime change” in Libya was the US’s only negotiating plank, but high-level British officials had Bolton removed from the process and gave al-Qadhafi reassurances that Bolton’s stance was not reflective of either the US or Britain’s negotiating position.)
Pretending that Libya 'Surrendered' - After the deal is struck, administration conservatives attempt to put a brave face on the deal, with Cheney saying: “President Bush does not deal in empty threats and half measures, and his determination has sent a clear message. Just five days after Saddam [Hussein] was captured (see December 14, 2003), the government of Libya agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons program and turn the materials over to the United States.” Administration officials insist that there had been no negotiations whatsoever, and Libya had merely capitulated before the American display of military puissance. “It’s ‘engagement’ like we engaged the Japanese on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Bay in 1945,” one administration official boasts. “The only engagement with Libya was the terms of its surrender.” And Bush officials claim that the Libyans gave up their weapons with no terms whatsoever being granted them except for a promise “only that Libya’s good faith, if shown, would be reciprocated.” That is not true. Bush officials indeed made significant offers—that the US would not foment regime change in Libya, and that other “quid pro quo” terms would be observed.
Thwarting Conservative Ideology - Scoblic will conclude: “Left unchecked, the administration’s ideological impulses would have scuttled the negotiations. In other words, for its Libya policy to bear fruit, the administration had to give up its notion that dealing with an evil regime was anathema; it had to accept coexistence even though al-Qadhafi continued to violate human rights. Libya is thus the exception that proves the rule.” (Scoblic 2008, pp. 251-255)
The chief of the CIA’s station in Baghdad, Iraq, is removed from his position. (Miller and Drogin 2/20/2004; Jehl and Johnston 2/27/2005) At this time the chief, whose name is apparently Gerry Meyer (see May 18, 2006), is not in Iraq, but reporting to superiors in Washington. He is simply told not to return to his station. (Risen 2006, pp. 147) However, the reason for the chief’s removal is unclear and three contradictory accounts will be given. The first account, put about by anonymous officials, is that Meyer does not have the management skills to administer the station, one of the largest the CIA has ever had. (Jehl and Johnston 2/27/2005; Risen 2006, pp. 128) One unnamed official will comment, “There was just a belief that it was a huge operation and we needed a very senior, very experienced person to run it.” A second version holds that Meyer is fired for drafting two pessimistic “Aardwolf” reports about the US’s prospects in Iraq (see August 30, 2003 and November 10, 2003). (Miller and Drogin 2/20/2004) According to a Harper’s magazine post, White House officials ask for “dirt” on Meyer, including his political affiliation. “He was a good guy,” an anonymous CIA official will comment, “well-wired in Baghdad, and he wrote a good report. But any time this administration gets bad news, they say the critics are assholes and defeatists, and off we go down the same path with more pressure on the accelerator.” (Silverstein 5/18/2006) However, a third version will later emerge. In this account, the firing is due to concern over the deaths of two Iraqis questioned by CIA officials shortly before Meyer’s removal. After senior agency officials learn of the deaths of Abed Hamed Mowhoush (see November 26, 2003) and Manadel al-Jamadi (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003), in which CIA personnel were involved, they become unhappy with Meyer and have him removed. (Jehl and Johnston 2/27/2005; Risen 2006, pp. 127-128) This version will apparently be supported by a document released subsequent to a Freedom of Information Act request in 2009. The document is a redacted set of May 2004 talking points to be used by a senior CIA official in a briefing of the House Intelligence Committee. The talking points do not say specifically why Meyer was fired, but do say he committed errors in detainee treatment. This will be confirmed by an anonymous former official, who will say that Meyer “wasn’t paying enough attention to the detainee situation,” as well as the issue of “ghost detainees.” (Strobel 8/25/2009) Whatever the reason for his firing, Meyer soon leaves the CIA. (Jehl and Johnston 2/27/2005; Silverstein 5/18/2006) According to author James Risen, his departure comes after he faces “piercing questions from CIA officials stemming from a series of inflammatory accusations about his personal behavior, all of which he flatly denied.” Risen will add that Meyer leaves the CIA “in disgust.” Whatever the reason, some CIA officials come to believe that Meyer ran into trouble because of the candid report. “When I read that November aardwolf,” a CIA official who knows Meyer will comment, “I thought that he was committing career suicide.” (Risen 2006, pp. 127-128)
The FBI sends veteran interrogator George Piro to question captured Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein. Over a period of months, Piro uses a combination of friendliness, warmth, and verbal provocations to tease a wealth of information from Hussein. At no time does Piro or other FBI interrogators use “aggressive” or “harsh” interrogation methods against Hussein. Piro works closely with a team of FBI and CIA analysts to pore over Hussein’s responses. He will later recall his sessions with Hussein for CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley.
'Mr. Saddam' - Piro begins calling the dictator “Mr. Saddam,” as a sign of respect; by the end of their time, they are on a first-name basis with one another. Hussein never finds out that Piro is “just” an FBI agent; he believes that Piro is far more influential than he actually is, and is directly briefing President Bush on their conversations. “He didn’t know I worked for the FBI, he didn’t know I was a field agent,” Piro will recall. Had he found out, “I think initially he would have been angry. He would feel that I was way beneath him, and would not respond well to the interrogation. Or even to me.… I think he thought, and actually on a couple of occasions talked around the issue that I was directly answering to the president.” Piro will recall setting several strategies of deception into motion, including his barking orders at the guards to send them into a panic to obey his instructions. “[I]t was all part of our strategy,” Piro will explain.
Controlling the Dictator - Piro will say that he gained physical control of the setting—a small, windowless room with chairs and a table—merely by placing himself between Hussein and the door. “I purposely put his back against the wall,” Piro will recall. “And then mine against the door, psychologically to tell him that his back was against the wall in the interview room. And that I stood between him and the door, psychologically. Between him whether it’s to go back to his cell, freedom, whatever he was projecting to be outside of that door. I was kind of that psychological barrier between him and the door.” Piro will add, “I basically said that I was gonna be responsible for every aspect of his life, and that if he needed anything I was gonna be the person that he needed to talk to.” Piro controls Hussein’s food and cleaning materials—Piro will describe Hussein as a “clean freak” who uses large numbers of baby wipes to disinfect his cell and his food. Piro allows Hussein pen and paper to write what Piro will describe as inordinate amounts of “terrible” poetry. “We had the guards remove their watches,” Piro will recall. “And the only person that was wearing a watch was me. And it was very evident to him, ‘cause I was wearing the largest wristwatch you could imagine. And it was just the act of him asking for the time—was critical in our plan.” Pelley says, “So you controlled time itself,” and Piro answers, “Yes.”
No Coercive Interrogation Methods - Piro will say that no coercive interrogations, such as sleep deprivation, excessive heat or cold, bombardment with loud music, or waterboarding are ever used. “It’s against FBI policy, first,” Piro will explain. “And wouldn’t have really benefited us with someone like Saddam.… I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach.” The best methods for use with Hussein are, according to Piro, time and patience.
Using Emotions to Create Vulnerability - Piro uses their time to build a relationship with Hussein based on dependency, trust, and emotion. He alternates between treating Hussein with courtesy and kindness, and provoking him with pictures and video images designed to anger and embarrass the former dictator. He uses pictures of the toppling of Hussein’s statues and news videos documenting his overthrow. “I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to see those videos and to get angry,” Piro will say. “You want to take him through those various emotions. Happy, angry, sad. When you have someone going through those emotions they’re not able to really control themselves. And they’re more vulnerable during the interview.”
Insult Drove Kuwait Invasion - Piro learns that one of the driving forces behind Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (see August 2, 1990) was personal insult. “What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the Emir Al Sabah, the former leader of Kuwait, to try to resolve some of the… issues” between Kuwait and Iraq, Piro will recall. “And the Emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait. He wanted to punish, he told me, Emir Al Sabah, for saying that.” The 1991 US invasion of Iraq (see January 16, 1991 and After) soured Hussein on then-President George H. W. Bush, a feeling that Hussein transferred to the son. “He didn’t like President [George W.] Bush,” Piro will say. “He would have liked meeting President Reagan. He thought he was a great leader. Honorable man. He liked President Clinton. But he did not like President Bush, the first or the current.”
Small Things, Big Impact - Piro will recall the outsized impact relatively small incidents have on Hussein. One night the FBI flies Hussein to a hospital. He is manacled and blindfolded. Piro will remember: “And once I saw how beautiful Baghdad was in the middle of the night, so I took advantage of it. I allowed him to look out and the lights were on. There was traffic. And it looked like any other major metropolitan city around the world. And for him to see that. And as I mentioned, you know, big Baghdad is moving forward without you. I mean, little things like that didn’t require a lot of suggestion on our part. It made its point.” Piro even uses Hussein’s birthday, a former national holiday, to drive home his point. “In 2004, no one celebrated his birthday on April 28th. So the only one that really knew and cared was us. I’d brought him some cookies, and we, the FBI, celebrated his birthday for him.” Piro gives Hussein packets of flower seeds and allows him to plant his own small garden, which he must tend with his hands because the FBI will not allow him to use tools. Piro will recall that their strolls in Hussein’s tiny garden are often the site of large revelations.
Avoiding Capture - Hussein tells Piro that US forces simply missed him during the first days of the invasion, the “shock and awe” assault. “He said that he was at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there, but that we missed him,” Piro later says. “He told me he changed the way he traveled. He got rid of his normal vehicles. He got rid of the protective detail he traveled with. Really just to change his signature so he would be much harder to identify.” And Hussein denies ever using body doubles or decoys, as US intelligence had long asserted.
WMD - Five months into the sessions, Hussein finally opens up to Piro regarding the subject of Iraq’s WMD programs. Using indirection, Piro begins to tease information out of Hussein. “He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s. And those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq,” Piro will recall. So why, Pelley will ask, did Hussein “put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?” Piro will respond: “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.” It is apparent, Piro says, that Hussein did not believe he could survive without the perception that he had WMD. But Piro confirms that Hussein always intended to restart his WMD program someday. “The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there,” Piro will observe. “He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.”
Did Not Believe US Would Invade - From there, Hussein begins to explain why he let the US continue to believe he had such weapons even as troops began massing on his borders. He didn’t believe the US would actually invade, he says. As Piro will recall: “[H]e told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox (see December 16-19, 1998). Which was a four-day aerial attack. So you expected that initially.” Hussein says that Iraq would have survived a relatively limited aerial bombardment. “He survived that once,” Piro will recall. “And then he was willing to accept that type of attack. That type of damage.” But he never believed the US would invade until almost the moment of the initial assault.
'The Secret War' - Hussein knew his military could not win in any confrontation with the US. Instead, as Piro will recall: “What he had asked of his military leaders and senior government officials was to give him two weeks. And at that point it would go into what he called the secret war.… Going from a conventional to an unconventional war.” Pelley will remark, “So the insurgency was part of his plan from the very beginning,” to which Piro will say, “Well, he would like to take credit for the insurgency.”
Iraq and al-Qaeda - Hussein confirms that his regime had no dealings with al-Qaeda, as many Bush officials have long believed. Hussein considered Osama bin Laden “a fanatic,” according to Piro. “You can’t really trust fanatics,” Hussein tells the interrogator. And he had no interest in any alliance with al-Qaeda. “He didn’t wanna be seen with bin Laden,” Piro will recall. “And didn’t want to associate with bin Laden.” Hussein viewed bin Laden as a threat to him and his regime.
Independent Confirmation and Praise for Piro's Efforts - Hussein’s claims are later verified by independent interrogations with other high-ranking Hussein regime officials. Piro’s boss, FBI Assistant Director Joe Persichini, will say that Piro’s interrogation is a high mark of the bureau’s recent efforts. “The FBI will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and I would have to say that the interview with Saddam Hussein is one of the top accomplishments of our agency in the last 100 years,” Persichini will say, and gives credit to Piro’s language skills. Only about 50 of the 10,000 FBI agents speak Arabic, he will note. Piro will credit his FBI and CIA colleagues for their work in analyzing Hussein’s statements, and their extensive knowledge of Hussein and his regime. “The more you know about your subject, the better of an interview… that you’re gonna conduct,” he will say. “You’ll be able to recognize inconsistencies, deception, things like that. Plus it really establishes your credibility within the interview.”
No Regrets - One thing Hussein never shows during his long interviews, Piro later recalls, is remorse. “No remorse,” Piro will say. “No regret.” (CBS News 1/27/2008)
Eric Pound is appointed chief of the CIA’s station in Athens, Greece. He will be in the position during the Olympic Games this year. (Miller 2/17/2008)
Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles asks the CIA to analyze where the drug profits in Afghanistan are going. The CIA concludes that it is probable some of the drugs are going to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-related group just north of Afghanistan; the Taliban; the anti-US warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; and possibly al-Qaeda. Charles says, “The linkages were there.” Author James Risen later comments, “The connections between drug trafficking and terrorism that the Pentagon didn’t want to acknowledge were real and growing, and were clearly helping to fuel a revival of guerrilla activity in Afghanistan.” (Risen 2006, pp. 152-162) An article in the Independent this year will come to similar conclusions (see August 14, 2004). Based on this report and other evidence, Charles will push for a tough counter-narcotics policy but will end up losing his job instead (see November 2004).
Robert Seldon Lady, a CIA officer involved the rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003) from Italy to Egypt, retires from the agency. The retirement comes at the end of many years of service and is not due to any fallout from the abduction. When the rendition becomes public knowledge next year, Lady will be the only one of the CIA officers accused of involvement to have retired. (Cole 3/2007 )
John Kiriakou, who will later make a crucial intervention in the US debate on the ethics of waterboarding (see December 10, 2007), leaves the CIA. He had been with the agency since 1990, and also played a role in the Plame affair (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). (Rozen 12/21/2007)
A CIA program to kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) is terminated, and then revived under a new code name and surreptitiously outsourced to the private military corporation Blackwater. (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009)
Outsourcing Kidnappings and Assassinations - The public will not learn of the program until 2009 (see August 19-20, 2009). The reason for the move is that key officials leave the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, which had run the program, and go to work for Blackwater. A retired intelligence officer intimately familiar with the assassination program will say of the reason for using Blackwater, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” According to the Washington Post, the contract goes to Blackwater “in part because of its close ties to the CIA and because of its record in carrying out covert assignments overseas.” (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009) Blackwater is given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders, including planning and surveillance, and is awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry. Blackwater executives help the CIA in planning, training, and surveillance exercises for team members. It remains unclear whether Blackwater’s role is merely for training and surveillance, or if Blackwater employees are slated to actually carry out kidnappings and assassinations. A former official will say that the Blackwater phase involves “lots of time spent training,” mostly in the US. The teams reportedly simulate missions that often involve kidnapping. “They were involved not only in trying to kill but also in getting close enough to snatch,” the official will say. Blackwater does not have an official contract with the CIA; instead, individual executives, such as its founder and CEO Erik Prince, have contracts with the agency. (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009)
Program Never Implemented - Although the CIA spends several million dollars on the program, no one is actually captured or killed, and most of the program’s elements are never implemented. According to a former official, there is “much frustration” among team members at this. (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009)
Program Termination - The assassination program began in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks, and will continue until 2009, when then-CIA Director Leon Panetta will terminate it. Blackwater’s role in the program will be terminated much sooner (see (2005-2006)). In 2009, government officials will tell the New York Times that the CIA’s efforts to use what the newspaper calls “paramilitary hit teams” to kill al-Qaeda operatives “ran into logistical, legal, and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset.” (Mazzetti 8/20/2009; Baer 8/21/2009) Despite an initial prohibition from Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002), the program will later be briefed to Congress (see June 24, 2009). The fact that Blackwater became involved in it is one of the reasons Congress is notified. The New York Times will report that “government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.” In addition, a private contractor involved in an operation would not have the same diplomatic immunity as a US government employee. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009)
Former CIA Agent: Director 'Horrified' at Use of Mercenaries - In 2009, former CIA agent Robert Baer will write: “Panetta must have been horrified that the CIA turned to mercenaries to play a part in its dirty work. It’s one thing, albeit often misguided, for the agency to outsource certain tasks to contractors. It’s quite another to involve a company like Blackwater in even the planning and training of targeted killings, akin to the CIA going to the mafia to draw up a plan to kill [Cuban dictator Fidel] Castro.” Baer believes that the Blackwater contracts were more about “bilking the US taxpayer than… killing Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders.… [A]s soon as CIA money lands in Blackwater’s account, it is beyond accounting, as good as gone.” Baer will note that Blackwater is involved in a number of highly questionable actions, including the apparent murder of several Iraqi and Afghan civilians, and will ask “what the CIA saw in Blackwater that the public still has not.” Baer will conclude by speculating, “Even more troubling, I think we will find out that in the unraveling of the Bush years, Blackwater was not the worst of the contractors, some of which did reportedly end up carrying out their assigned hits.” (Baer 8/21/2009)
The CIA and ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) conduct a joint raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, attempting to find Abu Faraj al-Libbi. He is al-Qaeda’s operational head since Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). Al-Libbi is not captured in the raid. However, he will be captured a year later in Mardan, near Abbottabad (see May 2, 2005). (Ignatius 5/11/2011) Abbottabad is the town where Osama bin Laden will eventually be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Pakistani forces conduct a raid in April 2004 attempting to get al-Libbi in Abbottabad (see April 2004) and another raid in 2004 where they unwittingly almost capture al-Libbi (see After April 2004). It is not known the US raid is the same as either of these. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will describe both raids in a 2006 book and will not mention US participation, even though he does with other raids in the book. (Musharraf 2006, pp. 210-211)
White House chief of staff Andrew Card calls 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and asks him not to demand the resignation of CIA Director George Tenet. Card says that he has heard the Commission will issue a statement tomorrow, but that President George Bush does not wish it. “You know, the president likes George,” he says, so such a call from the Commission would put Bush in an impossible position. Card asks that the Commission reconsider its apparent demand. However, Kean tells Card that he must have heard a false rumor, and that the Commission has no intention of calling for Tenet’s head in the middle of its inquiry. Card had actually heard the rumor from Tenet himself, although it is not known where Tenet learned it. At this point the Commission is considering recommending a long-mooted split of Tenet’s responsibilities. As director of central intelligence (DCI), Tenet runs the CIA and is also responsible for the intelligence community as a whole, although he does not have any real power over the other agencies supposedly under him. The split would mean that the CIA director would only run the CIA, and a director of national intelligence would be appointed above him, to coordinate the activities of all agencies in the intelligence community. It is possible that Tenet has misinterpreted talk of such a split as preparations for calling on him to resign. (Kean and Hamilton 2006, pp. 144; Shenon 2008, pp. 403)
In early 2004, the head of the CIA station in Kabul, Afghanistan, known only as “Peter,” reports a revival of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces near the border of Pakistan. He proposes a spring intelligence push in the Pakistani tribal regions of South Waziristan and Kunar. Since 2002, al-Qaeda has mainly been regrouping in Waziristan, and many speculate that Osama bin Laden may be hiding there (see August 2002). Peter estimates that 24 field officers and five station officers would be needed for the new push. However, CIA headquarters replies that it does not have the resources to make the surge, presumably due to commitments in Iraq. Peter is rotated out of his post a short time later. (Gellman and Linzer 10/22/2004)
In a letter to Representative John Conyers (D-MI), the CIA confirms that Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA employment status is “classified information.” (Corn 3/16/2007)
The CIA appoints a new chief of its large station in Baghdad, Iraq. The officer, whose name is unknown, will serve there for a year (see December 2004). (Silverstein 5/18/2006) A former CIA officer will comment that the station chief previously served in Kosovo and “rose rather meteorically” there. (Miller and Drogin 2/20/2004)
After 15 months of brutal torture in Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004), British terror suspect Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001) is flown to Afghanistan by the CIA.
Shock at Brutal Treatment - Even the hardened CIA agents in Afghanistan are shocked by the treatment meted out by the Moroccans, who, among other treatments, had repeatedly slashed and lacerated Mohamed’s genitals with scalpels and knives. Mohamed will later recall: “When I got to Kabul a female agent started taking close-up pictures of my genitals. She was shocked. When they removed my diaper she could see blood was still oozing from the cuts on my penis. For the first two weeks they had me on antibiotics and they took pictures of my genitals every day. They told me, ‘This is not for us. It’s for Washington.’ They wanted to be sure it was healing.”
'The Dark Prison' - But the initial shock gives way to a new session of brutality at the hands of his American captors. Mohamed will later call his Afghani detention facility “the dark prison,” and recall it as one of the lowest points of his life. In Morocco, Mohamed confessed to anything he was asked—being part of a plot to build a radioactive “dirty bomb,” being a confidant of 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, having met Osama bin Laden dozens of times—in order to, he says, avoid further torture. Now the Americans want him to be a prosecution witness against high-ranking al-Qaeda already in US custody. But Mohammed knows nothing of these people or their crimes, he will later say. The tortures with scalpels are not repeated, but Mohamed will recall seemingly endless ordeals of being shackled by the wrists to his door frame, often in complete darkness, and in one memorable instance, being subjected to a rap CD being played in his cell at ear-shatteringly loud volumes for an entire month without stop. “It’s a miracle my brain is still intact,” he will later say. In September, he is transferred to Guantanamo (see September 2004 and After). (Rose 3/8/2009)
CIA Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt convenes an accountability board to review the poor performance of the CIA’s personnel in Iraq. It is unclear exactly whose performance the board reviews, when the board is convened, or what conclusions it reaches. However, it may well be convened shortly after the firing of Baghdad station chief Gerry Meyer in late 2003 (see (Late December 2003)), possibly due to the deaths of two detainees. (Strobel 8/25/2009)
German intelligence sources claim that the CIA misinformed them about an alleged terror plot due to take place at a Hamburg hospital on December 30, 2003, and allegedly fear that the information was planted. According to information provided to TV 2 Nettavisen, a German TV station, German intelligence has yet to find any evidence for the plot, which is alleged to be the work of the radical Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam. A German intelligence officer known only as Vahldiecker says, “We have not found any proof that the terror alarm was genuine, but we haven’t found any evidence that states it was not. It is of course possible that it was fake, but we do not know that for certain yet.… It is possible that [the CIA] gave us the wrong information, but it is not likely that they did it on purpose.” However, German intelligence has indicated that it believes the information was planted on purpose and is surprised at the handling of the case and the leaks to the media; the story appeared on Der Spiegel Online within hours of the CIA tip. (Selvik, Pettersson, and Kvamme 1/7/2004)
CIA official Craig Schmall, who serves as Vice President Dick Cheney’s agency briefer and has served as the briefer for Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003 and July 14, 2003), is interviewed by the FBI in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation. Schmall says nothing about either Valerie Plame Wilson or her husband, Joseph Wilson, though he discussed both of them with Libby and Cheney. It is not known if the FBI is aware of the earlier conversations between Schmall, Libby, and Cheney. (Central Intelligence Agency 1/9/2004 ; Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007; Marcy Wheeler 1/25/2007)
A male Iraqi dies while being interrogated by American officials, probably from the CIA. According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (see October 24, 2005), the male, detained in the city of Al Asad, is “standing, shackled to the top of a door frame with a gag in his mouth at the time he died.” The cause of death is asphyxia and blunt force injuries—in essence, being beaten to death while choking on a gag. The ACLU believes the Iraqi’s name was Abdul Jaleel. (American Civil Liberties Union 10/24/2005)
In interviews with the 9/11 Commission, unnamed deputies for CIA director George Tenet repeatedly claim that, before 9/11, they were never given a clear instruction to assassinate Osama bin Laden. This is false, as President Bill Clinton issued such an order following the 1998 embassy bombings (see December 24, 1998). According to author Philip Shenon, the deputies tell the commission “again and again” that they had not been given clear orders to assassinate bin Laden, but “that the CIA had instead been given a confusing set of presidential orders that allowed for bin Laden’s capture, but not his death.” Officers at the CIA apparently blamed this on “overly cautious” lawyers at the White House and Justice Department. The commission learns the deputies’ claims are false from Clinton’s former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in January 2004 (see January 14, 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 253-4)
A group of former CIA officials sends a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) asking that Congress investigate the Plame Wilson identity leak. The officials, whose names are not released to the press, call the leak a “shameful event in American history” that has damaged national security. They write, “Congress must send an unambiguous message that the intelligence officers tasked with collecting or analyzing intelligence must never be turned into political punching bags.” Such leaks endanger the work and the safety of intelligence professionals and their sources, the letter notes. A Congressional investigation would not only determine who leaked Plame Wilson’s CIA identity, it continues, but would signal that such behavior would not be tolerated. (Zakaria 1/22/2004)
CIA Director George Tenet spends a lot of time reading material about the CIA’s performance in the run-up to 9/11 before interviews with the 9/11 Commission. Author Philip Shenon will point out that Tenet sets aside so much time despite the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the problems this is causing.
'Cram Sessions' - “Tenet insisted on all-day, almost all-night cram sessions to prepare himself for the interview with the 9/11 Commission,” Shenon will write. CIA staffer Rudy Rousseau will say, “He spent an enormous amount of time mastering an enormous amount of material.” The cram sessions are held at the weekend and until late on week nights, and cover the work done by Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, as well as the failed plans to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
CIA's Achilles' Heel - Shenon will also comment: “Tenet wanted specifically to master what had happened in Kuala Lumpur in 2000 with [9/11 hijackers] Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar and why the CIA had apparently failed for so long to alert anyone that the two hijackers had later entered the United States from Asia. Like almost everyone else at the agency, Tenet seemed to understand that the CIA’s failure to watch-list the pair after their arrival in California was the agency’s Achilles’ heel—one horrendous blunder that could sink the CIA.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 257)
Still Cannot Remember - Despite the cramming, Tenet apparently has problems remembering facts that could cast the CIA in a bad light (see January 22, 2004, April 14, 2004, and July 2, 2004).
The 9/11 Commission interviews CIA Director George Tenet, but, due to frequent evasive answers, the commission doubts that he is telling them the full truth. The commission, represented at the interview by Executive Director Philip Zelikow, Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, and some staffers, takes the unusual step of putting Tenet under oath before questioning him, because, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “The CIA’s record was full of discrepancies about the facts of its operations against bin Laden before 9/11, and many of the discrepancies were Tenet’s.”
"I Don't Recall" - The commission immediately begins to doubt Tenet’s veracity, as he keeps saying, “I don’t remember,” “I don’t recall,” and “Let me go through the documents and get back to you with an answer.” This is despite the fact that Tenet spent a long time revising for his discussions with the commission beforehand (see Before January 22, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will summarize: “Tenet remembered certain details, especially when he was asked the sorts of questions he was eager to answer… But on many other questions, his memory was cloudy. The closer the questions came to the events of the spring and summer of 2001 and to the 9/11 attacks themselves, the worse his memory became.” In addition, the memory lapses concern not only details, but also “entire meetings and key documents.” Tenet even says he cannot recall what was discussed at his first meeting with President George Bush after his election in 2000, which the commission finds “suspicious.” Neither can he recall what he told Bush in the morning intelligence briefings in the months leading up to 9/11.
"We Just Didn't Believe Him" - Zelikow will later say that there was no one “a-ha moment” when they realize Tenet is not telling them the full truth, but his constant failure to remember key aspects disturbs them, and in the end, Zelikow will say, “we just didn’t believe him.” After the meeting, Zelikow, who seemed to have decided that the CIA had failed in the run up to 9/11 at the very start of the investigation (see Late January 2003), basically reports to the commissioners that Tenet perjured himself. The staff and most of the commissioners come to believe that, in Shenon’s words, Tenet is “at best, loose with the facts,” and at worst “flirting with a perjury charge.” Even Commission Chairman Tom Kean, “who found it difficult to say anything critical of anyone,” comes to believe that Tenet is a witness that will “fudge everything.”
CIA View - CIA staffers will later dispute this, saying that Tenet’s inability to remember some things was perfectly normal. CIA staffer Rudy Rousseau will say, “I’m surprised he remembered as much as he did.” Tenet’s chief of staff John Moseman will say, “Neither he [Tenet], nor we, held anything back… To suggest so now is not honorable.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 257-260)
A group of 10 ex-CIA officials are working with members of Congress to push for a Congressional inquiry into the leak of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert agency status. The former officials want to know if Plame Wilson’s exposure compromised US national security. Former CIA analyst Larry Johnson and nine other former CIA analysts and case officers send a letter to House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and other senior Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives. The officers call on Congress to act “for the good of the country,” and say it is time to “send an unambiguous message that the intelligence officers tasked with collecting or analyzing intelligence must never be turned into political punching bags.” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says she agrees with the thrust of the letter, and supports efforts by Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) to force the House to open such a probe. Holt and other Democrats have introduced a resolution that, if approved, would request that the Bush administration forward all documents related to the Plame Wilson investigation to Congress. It is unlikely that House Republicans will allow the resolution to be brought to a vote. “The Department of Justice investigation has the full support of Congress and should be vigorously pursued, but it is not enough,” Holt says. (United Press International 1/22/2004; Anderson 1/23/2004; Chicago Sun-Times 1/23/2004)
Following the arrest of German national Khalid el-Masri in Macedonia (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004), a dispute breaks out at CIA headquarters over what to do with him. Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, argues that el-Masri should be rendered to Afghanistan. Author Jane Mayer will describe Bikowsky as a “tall, pale-skinned, spiky-haired redhead who wore bright red lipstick” and indicate she is a former Soviet analyst who had been at Alec Station during the pre-9/11 failures. Mayer will add that she “was particularly controversial among many of her male colleagues for her ferociousness,” and, that she was “reviled by some male colleagues for what they regarded as her aggression.” Lacking proof against el-Masri, Bikowsky argues that the man in custody is probably a terrorist and should be taken to a black site. (Mayer 2008, pp. 35, 273, 282-283) A former CIA officer will say: “She didn’t really know. She just had a hunch.” (Priest 12/4/2005) Mayer will attribute Bikowsky’s determination to having been part of the unit when it failed before 9/11. Other officers suggest they should wait to see whether el-Masri’s passport, suspected of being a forgery, is genuine or not, and point out there is no evidence he was anything but a tourist on holiday when he was arrested. However, Bikowsky does not trust the Germans, apparently thinking them soft on terrorism, and does not want to wait. Another problem is that these discussions occur during the holiday period and, by the time the CIA’s station in Germany looks at the paperwork, el-Masri is already on his way to Afghanistan (see January 23 - March 2004). (Mayer 2008, pp. 282-283) Bikowsky will also make a sight-seeing trip to see alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed waterboarded (see After March 7, 2003), will be considered for the position of deputy station chief in Baghdad (see (March 23, 2007)), and may be interviewed by the CIA’s inspector general during its investigation into torture (see July 16, 2003).
Former CIA Director George Tenet privately testifies before the 9/11 Commission. He provides a detailed account of an urgent al-Qaeda warning he gave to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). According to three former senior intelligence officials, Tenet displays the slides from the PowerPoint presentation he gave the White House and even offers to testify about it in public. According to the three former officials, the hearing is attended by commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow, and some staff members. When Tenet testifies before the 9/11 Commission in public later in the year, he will not mention this meeting. The 9/11 Commission will neglect to include Tenet’s warning to the White House in its July 2004 final report. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) Portions of a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony will be leaked to reporters in 2006. According to the transcript, Tenet’s testimony included a detailed summary of the briefing he had with CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black on July 10 (see July 10, 2001). The transcript also reveals that he told the commission that Black’s briefing had prompted him to request an urgent meeting with Rice about it. This closely matches the account in Woodward’s 2006 book that first widely publicized the July meeting (see September 29, 2006). (Eggen and Wright 10/3/2006) Shortly after Woodward’s book is published, the 9/11 Commission staff will deny knowing that the July meeting took place. Zelikow and Ben-Veniste, who attended Tenet’s testimony, will say they are unable to find any reference to it in their files. But after the transcript is leaked, Ben-Veniste will suddenly remember details of the testimony (see September 30-October 3, 2006) and will say that Tenet did not indicate that he left his meeting with Rice with the impression he had been ignored, as Tenet has alleged. (Shenon 10/2/2006) Woodward’s book will describe why Black, who also privately testified before the 9/11 Commission, felt the commission did not mention the July meeting in their final report: “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork about the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about. It was what happened in investigations. There were questions they wanted to ask, and questions they didn’t want to ask.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 78)
The CIA’s inspector general conducts an internal investigation of the treatment of CIA detainees in Afghanistan. As part of that investigation, the use of drugs on detainees is raised. When the inspector interviews the commanding officer of a secret detention facility in eastern Afghanistan shared by US military and intelligence teams, the inspector asks if the “OGA”—an acronym standing for “other government agency” and used to refer to the CIA—had been able to “practice their TTP [tactics, techniques and procedures] at your facility.” The commander replies, “No, they can’t use drugs or prolonged sensory deprivation in our facility.” It is unclear whether the commander is referring to interrogations. A senior US official will say in 2008 that the commander’s mention of drugs was either a mistake or a reference to am agency other than the CIA. (Warrick 4/22/2008)
Two government officials testify that they asked conservative columnist Robert Novak not to publish the name of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson in his column (see Before July 14, 2003 and July 14, 2003). The officials’ names are not made public. Testifying before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see January 2004), the officials say that before Novak printed his column, they warned him that by publishing her name and CIA affiliation, he risked jeopardizing her ability to engage in covert work, damaging ongoing intelligence operations, and hurting sensitive overseas intelligence assets. Novak has claimed that CIA officials told him that Plame Wilson was nothing more than an analyst, and, as reporter Murray Waas writes, “the only potential consequences of her exposure as a CIA officer would be that she might be inconvenienced in her foreign travels.” The statements of the two government officials contradict Novak’s version of events, and the two officials call his characterizations false and misleading. According to the officials, Novak was told that Plame Wilson’s work for the CIA “went much further than her being an analyst,” and that publishing her name would be “hurtful,” could stymie ongoing intelligence operations, and jeopardize her overseas sources. “When [Novak] says that he was not told that he was ‘endangering’ someone, that statement might be technically true,” says one of the officials. “Nobody directly told him that she was going to be physically hurt. But that was implicit in that he was told what she did for a living.” The other official says: “At best, he is parsing words. At worst, he is lying to his readers and the public. Journalists should not lie, I would think.” Notes from one of the officials from his conversation with Novak bolster the officials’ testimony. The officials also contradict Novak’s claim that CIA officials told him Plame Wilson was part of the agency decision to send her husband to Niger to investigate the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations (see July 6, 2003). One of them says that the CIA at first refused to comment, and later told Novak that Plame Wilson played no part in the selection of her husband (see February 13, 2002). “He was told it just wasn’t true—period,” the official testifies. “But he just went with the story anyway. He just didn’t seemed to care very much whether the information was true or not.” (Waas 2/12/2004)
Hassan Ghul, an al-Qaeda leader captured in Iraq in January 2004 (see January 23, 2004), tells interrogators that Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti is a trusted courier who is close to Osama bin Laden. Abu Ahmed is an alias; his real name apparently is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, but at this point US intelligence only knows him by his alias.
Ghul's Mysterious Captivity and Interrogation - Ghul apparently is held in a secret CIA prison for the first couple of years of his imprisonment. The conditions of his interrogation during this time are unknown, but presumably they are very harsh and many may call them torture, based on how other prominent prisoners are treated in secret CIA prisons around this time. Officials will later claim that Ghul is “quite cooperative” and the use of any harsh techniques on him would have been brief. (Goldman 5/2/2011) However, a prisoner who is kept in a cell next to Ghul’s will later testify in Britain that Ghul told him the CIA transferred him to Morocco at some point. It is not known if this is true, or what may have happened to Ghul in Morocco, but some prisoners are transferred to countries like Morocco so that harsh torture techniques that the CIA is not approved to use can be used on them by other intelligence agencies. (Associated Press 6/15/2011)
Ghul's Apparently Honest Account - Ghul reportedly tells his interrogators that Ahmed is a trusted courier who is close to bin Laden. He also says that Ahmed has been close to al-Qaeda top operational heads Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi. This is in contrast to the claims of other prisoners, including KSM, who have already said that Ahmed is either dead or unimportant. As a result, US intelligence analysts grow increasingly convinced that Ahmed is an important figure who could lead to bin Laden. Ghul adds that Ahmed has not been seen in a while. Analysts take this as another clue that Ahmed could be with bin Laden. Ghul either does not know Ahmed’s real name or does not tell it to his interrogators. In the wake of Ghul’s comments, KSM is asked again about Ahmed, and KSM sticks to his story that Ahmed is not important. (Shane and Savage 5/3/2011)
'Linchpin' in Search - Tracking Ahmed will eventually lead US intelligence to bin Laden (see Summer 2009 and July 2010). An unnamed US official will later say, “Hassan Ghul was the linchpin” in the hunt for bin Laden. (Goldman 5/2/2011)
A CIA officer who blocked notification to the FBI that Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa makes a number of false statements about the blocking in an interview with the Justice’s Department’s office of inspector general. The officer, Michael Anne Casey, was working at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, in 2000. She blocked a cable drafted by an FBI agent on loan to Alec Station named Doug Miller telling the FBI about Almihdhar (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), but then drafted a cable falsely stating the information had been passed (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and insisted to Miller’s colleague Mark Rossini that the FBI not be informed the next day (see January 6, 2000). Instead of telling the inspector general why she blocked the initial cable and then drafted the cable with the false statement, Casey claims that she has no recollection of Miller’s cable, any discussions about putting it on hold, or why it was not sent. She also claims the language of the cable suggests somebody else told her the information about Almihdhar’s visa had been passed to the FBI, but cannot recall who this was. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 242-243 ; Bamford 2008, pp. 19-20) The exact date of this interview is not known, although the inspector general discovered Miller’s cable in early February (see Early February 2004) and Miller and Rossini are interviewed around this time. Both men also falsely claim not to recall anything about the cable (see (February 12, 2004)).
A CIA review of the passport of Khalid el-Masri determines that it is genuine, not a forgery. El-Masri had been arrested in Macedonia (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004) and rendered to Afghanistan, where he is being tortured (see January 23 - March 2004), partly because the CIA thought he was traveling on a false German passport. However, the news that the passport is legitimate does not inspire the CIA to release him, as a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, still wants him held. A former colleague will say that this is because of a “gut feeling” the manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, has and because she “can’t admit a mistake.” Another former colleague will say, “She just looked into her crystal ball and it said that he was bad.” Although it is clear by now that there was no problem with el-Masri’s passport and that he is not an associate of the 9/11 hijackers (note: the hijackers knew a different man with the same name), Bikowsky insists el-Masri “had phone calls to people who were bad. Or to people who knew people who were bad.” Some other CIA officers are unhappy with this state of affairs. One CIA official comes in every morning and asks, “Is that guy still locked up in the Salt Pit?” (Mayer 2008, pp. 284-285)
Following its failure to get direct access to high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees (see October 2003 and November 5, 2003-January 2004), the 9/11 Commission has the CIA ask the detainees more questions about how the plot developed. This is a second round of questions from the Commission, which was dissatisfied with the answers produced by the first round. According to CIA and 9/11 Commission staffers, as well as an MSNBC analysis in 2008, this second round is “specifically to answer new questions from the Commission.” Analysis of the 9/11 Commission report indicates this second round includes more than 30 separate interrogation sessions. Based on the number of references attributed to each of the sessions, they appear to have been “lengthy.” The Commission is aware that the detainees are being harshly treated (see Late 2003-2004), but it is unclear whether they are further tortured during these additional sessions. The CIA is still using some or all of its “enhanced techniques” at this time (see Shortly After April 28, 2004-February 2005). (Windrem and Limjoco 1/30/2008)
Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will claim in a 2008 book that in early 2004, the 9/11 Commissioners indicate that they intend to name a junior CIA officer as the only official to be identified for a pre-9/11 failure. However, Scheuer writes: “A group of senior CIA officers… let it be known that if that officer was named, information about the pre-9/11 negligence of several very senior US officials would find its way into the media. The commissioners dropped the issue.” (Scheuer 2008, pp. 273) The name of the junior officer is not known, but some possibilities include:
Tom Wilshire (referred to as “John” in the final 9/11 Commission report), who withheld information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, May 15, 2001, Mid-May 2001, Mid-May 2001, Late May, 2001, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001);
Clark Shannon (“Dave”), one of his associates who also failed to inform the FBI about Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see June 11, 2001);
Richard Blee (“Richard”), Wilshire’s boss, who apparently failed to pass on information about Almihdhar to his superiors (see August 22-September 10, 2001).
The names of the CIA officers who threaten the Commission are not known, nor are the details of the alleged negligence by the senior officials.
The US learns that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former al-Qaeda camp commander, was allegedly tortured in Egypt, where he was rendered by the CIA (see January 2002 and After). Although CIA Director George Tenet will describe al-Libi’s handling by the Egyptians as “further debriefing,” after being returned to US custody, al-Libi tells CIA officers he was tortured and these claims are documented in a series of cables sent to CIA headquarters on February 4 and 5. These cables are the final proof, many believe, that the US is illegally “outsourcing” torture to other countries, against suspects who have not been convicted or even charged with a crime. After being tortured by his Egyptian captors (see November 11, 2001), al-Libi was returned to US custody on November 22, 2003. The February 5 cable reads, in part, that al-Libi was told by the Egyptians that “the next topic was al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq…. This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” The Egyptians didn’t like al-Libi’s response, and locked him in a 20 inch by 20 inch box for 17 hours—effectively burying him alive. The Egyptians released him and gave him one more change to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not give the proper response, he was knocked to the ground and beaten. The CIA debriefers send this information straight to Washington (see February 14, 2004), thus informing the CIA that not only was this key piece of evidence about the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda false, but it was obtained by extreme, US-sanctioned torture. Although stories and witness accounts about torture in such US-allied countries as Egypt, Syria, Morocco, and Uzbekistan have long been known, this is the first time such torture has been detailed in an official US government document. It will be almost a year before the Bush administration will confirm the CIA’s rendition program (see March 11, 2002), and even then it will begin a litany of reassurances that the US does not torture, nor does it hand over prisoners to countries that torture. The CIA cables will be declassified in September 2006, and roundly ignored by the mainstream media. And as of late 2007, al-Libi will still be a “ghost prisoner” whose whereabouts and circumstances are considered a US state secret. (Grey 11/6/2007)
The 9/11 Commission gets greater access to classified intelligence briefings under a new agreement with the White House. The 10-member panel had been barred from reviewing notes concerning the presidential daily briefings taken by three of its own commissioners and the commission’s director in December 2003. The new agreement allows all commission members the opportunity to read White House-edited versions of the summaries. The White House had faced criticisms for allowing only some commissioners to see the notes. Still, only three commissioners are allowed to see the original, unclassified documents. (Yen 2/10/2004)
Former US Attorney Joseph DiGenova says that it will be almost impossible to prove that the person or persons who leaked Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status to reporters violated the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. The leaker or leakers would have had to have received the information in their official capacity, got the information from someone with official clearance, and done so in defiance of agency efforts to keep the employee’s name a secret, DiGenova says. For someone to overhear the name of a covert agent and relate it to someone else is not a violation, he adds. Moreover, he claims that Plame Wilson’s CIA status was well known. “A lot of people knew that [Plame Wilson] worked for the CIA,” he tells a Fox News reporter. “People outside of the government knew that she worked at the agency. They did not know probably, that she worked in WMD—weapons of mass destruction—and was doing undercover work. But in order for it to be a crime, you must know that is what she did.” (Fox News 2/11/2004) Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status (see Fall 1992 - 1996) has been described as highly classified and known to only a few (see September 30, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and January 2004), and her exposure as a serious breach of national security (see Before July 14, 2003, July 14, 2003, October 3, 2003 and October 11, 2003).
Two FBI agents, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, falsely claim they have no memory of the blocking of a key cable about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in an interview with the Justice Department’s office of inspector general. Miller drafted the cable, which was to inform the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa, while he and Rossini were on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. However, it was blocked by the unit’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, and another CIA officer known only as “Michael” (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Miller and Rossini remember the events, but falsely tell the Justice Department inspector general they cannot recall them.
Pressure Not to Disclose Information - Sources close to the inspector general’s probe will say, “There was pressure on people not to disclose what really happened.” Rossini, in particular, is said to feel threatened that the CIA would have him prosecuted for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act if he said what really happened inside Alec Station. They are questioned at the same time, and together with a CIA officer who will be described as “sympathetic,” although it is unclear why. CIA officials are also in the room during the questioning, although it is unclear why this is allowed. When they are shown contemporary documents, according to the Congressional Quarterly, “the FBI agents suddenly couldn’t remember details about who said what, or who reported what, to whom, about the presence of two al-Qaeda agents in the US prior to the 9/11 attacks.” The inspector general investigators are suspicious. (Stein 10/1/2008)
'They Asserted that They Recalled Nothing' - Nevertheless, neither Rossini nor Miller are severely criticized by the inspector general’s final report. It simply notes: “When we interviewed all of the individuals involved about the [cable] they asserted that they recalled nothing about it. [Miller] told the [inspector general] that he did not recall being aware of the information about Almihdhar, did not recall drafting the [cable], did not recall whether he drafted the [cable] on his own initiative or at the direction of his supervisor, and did not recall any discussions about the reasons for delaying completion and dissemination of the [cable]. [Rossini] said he did not recall reviewing any of the cable traffic or any information regarding Alhazmi and Almihdhar. Eric [a senior FBI agent on loan to Alec Station] told the [inspector general] that he did not recall the [cable].” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 241, 355-357 )
Later Admit What Really Happened - At some point, Miller and Rossini tell an internal FBI investigation what really happened, including Wilshire’s order to withhold the information from the FBI. However, very little is known about this probe (see After September 11, 2001). (Stein 10/1/2008) Rossini will be interviewed for a 2006 book by Lawrence Wright and will recall some of the circumstances of the blocking of the cable, including that a CIA officer told Miller, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” (Wright 2006, pp. 311, 423) Both Miller and Rossini will later talk to author James Bamford about the incident for a 2008 book. (Stein 10/1/2008) The exact date of this interview of Miller and Rossini is unknown. However, an endnote to the 9/11 Commission Report will say that Miller is interviewed by the inspector general on February 12, 2004, so it may occur on this day. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502)
An Army memorandum records an interview of a US interrogator stationed at the Orgun-E Military Intelligence Detention Facility in Afghanistan. According to the interrogator, “standard operating procedure” with detainees includes extended sleep deprivation, stress positions, and withholding food. The interrogator also refers to standard practices of “OGA” officials (OGA means “other goverment agency” and is a reference to the CIA), who drug prisoners and subject them to lengthy sensory deprivation. Another memo records the use of what interrogators call “fear up harsh” techniques, which include “disrespect for the Koran,” insults, subjecting prisoners to blinding lights, and exposing them to extremely loud music for prolonged periods. The memoranda will be released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006). (American Civil Liberties Union 1/12/2006)
The CIA sends a memo to top Bush administration officials informing them that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative being held in custody by the CIA, recanted his claim in January that Iraq provided training in poisons and gases to members of al-Qaeda (see September 2002). (Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005; Pincus 11/6/2005) The claim had been used in speeches by both President George Bush (see October 7, 2002) and Secretary of State Colin Powell (see February 5, 2003).
Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) tells US interrogators that Abdul Hakim Murad, along with KSM a key conspirator in the Bojinka plot, only had a small role in the operation, according to the 9/11 Commission. The Commission will cite four intelligence reports, drafted on February 19 (two), February 24, and April 2, 2004, as the source of this claim. According to KSM, Murad’s only role in the plot was to courier $3,000 from Dubai to Manila. However, other evidence indicates Murad was much more significantly involved in the plot (see Before January 6, 1995 and January 6, 1995). The Commission will comment, “This aspect of KSM’s account is not credible, as it conflicts not just with Murad’s own confession [note: this may be unreliable as Murad was tortured (see After January 6, 1995)] but also with physical evidence tying Murad to the very core of the plot, and with KSM’s own statements elsewhere that Murad was involved in planning and executing the operation.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 489)
A CIA officer in the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) instructs Rod Barton, a former UN weapons inspector who is contributing to an upcoming ISG report, not to mention the two trailers (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003) that the administration previously claimed were biological weapons factories. Since the trailers were discovered in April and May of 2003, experts have concluded that they were actually designed to produce hydrogen for artillery weather balloons. Barton later recalls the officer telling him, “You don’t understand how difficult it is to say anything different.… I don’t care that they are not biological trailers. It’s politically not possible.” (Hanley 5/13/2006)
A book examining the life of Mohamed Atta while he lived in Florida in 2000 is published. Welcome to Terrorland: Mohamed Atta and the 9-11 Cover-Up in Florida, is by Daniel Hopsicker, an author, documentary maker, and former business news producer. Hopsicker spent two years in Venice, Florida, where several of the 9/11 hijackers went to flight school, and spoke to hundreds of people who knew them. His account portrays Atta as a drinking, drug-taking, party animal, strongly contradicting the conventional view of Atta having been a devout Muslim. He interviewed Amanda Keller, a former stripper who claims to have briefly been Atta’s girlfriend in Florida. Keller describes trawls through local bars with Atta, and how he once cut up her pet kittens in a fit of anger. The book also alleges that the CIA organized an influx of Arab students into Florida flight schools in the period prior to 9/11, and that a major drug smuggling operation was centered around the Venice airfield while Atta was there. (Phalnikar 4/30/2004; Glenn 7/11/2005) It also implicates retired businessman Wally Hilliard, the owner of Huffman Aviation, as the owner of a Lear jet that in July 2000 was seized by federal agents after they found 43 pounds of heroin onboard. (Hicks 2/26/2004; Peerenboom 3/22/2004) The book is a top ten bestseller in Germany. (Hopsicker 2004; Phalnikar 4/30/2004)
After investigating the 9/11 hijackers, the CIA finds that the 19 operatives used a total of 364 aliases, including different spellings of their own names and noms de guerre. Although some examples are made public, the full list is not disclosed. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 1, 5 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 ) However, an FBI timeline of hijacker movements made public in 2008 will mention some of the aliases. For example:
Hani Hanjour and Ahmed Alghamdi rent a New Jersey apartment using the names Hany Saleh and Ahmed Saleh. (Saleh is Hanjour’s middle name.) (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 144, 205 )
Fayez Ahmed Banihammad uses the aliases Abu Dhabi Banihammad and Fayey Rashid Ahmed. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 167, 174 )
Nawaf Alhazmi uses the aliases Nawaf Alharbi and Nawaf Alzmi Alhazmi. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 60 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 248 )
Mohamed Atta frequently likes to use variants of the name El Sayed, for instance calling himself Awaid Elsayed and even Hamburg Elsayed. Marwan Alshehhi also uses the Elsayed alias. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 125, 126 )
When Majed Moqed flies into the US on May 2, 2001, the name Mashaanmoged Mayed is on the flight manifest. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 139 )
In contrast to this, many reports emphasize that the hijackers usually used their own names. For example, the 9/11 Commission will say, “The hijackers opened accounts in their own names, using passports and other identification documents.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 22 ) In addition, a Commission staffer will tell UPI: “They did not need fake passports. The plotters all used their own passports to get into the country and once here, used US-issued ID documents whenever possible.” (Waterman 8/17/2005)
A manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, agrees that the agency can release an innocent German citizen named Khalid el-Masri who has been imprisoned in one of the CIA’s black sites for about two months (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004). The CIA has known el-Masri is innocent for some time, but has not yet got around to releasing him (see (February 2004)). However, the manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, makes his release conditional on the German intelligence services promising to follow him once he is free. She is told that as el-Masri is not a terrorist, but innocent, he cannot be put on a watch list, followed, or monitored when making phone calls. Therefore, she is reluctant to let him go and he remains in prison in Afghanistan. (Mayer 2008, pp. 285)
A video of US citizen Nick Berg being beheaded in Iraq is made public and causes widespread horror and outrage around the world. Berg had been working in Iraq with private companies installing communications towers. On March 24, 2004, he is taken into custody. Berg’s family is sent e-mails confirming that he is in US custody (however, US officials will later claim they were erroneously notified and he was in Iraqi government custody instead). The official reasons for his arrest are “lack of documentation” and “suspicious activities.” Regardless of who is holding him, it is not disputed that he is visited three times by the FBI while being held. On April 5, the Berg family launches an action against the US military for false imprisonment, and the next day Berg is released. Berg stays in a hotel in Baghdad for the next few days, and tells a hotel guest that he had been held in a jail with US soldiers as guards. His family last hears of him on April 9, when he tells them he is going to try to leave Iraq. Then, nearly a month later on May 8, his headless body is found dumped on a Baghdad roadside. Three days after that, on May 11, the video of his beheading is broadcast. (Neville 5/29/2004; National Public Radio 8/14/2004) The video shows five masked men taunting and then beheading Berg, and one of them claims to be Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Two days later, a CIA official says, “After the intelligence community conducted a technical analysis of the… video, the CIA assesses with high probability that the speaker on the tape is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and that person is shown decapitating American citizen Nicholas Berg.” (BBC 5/13/2004) However, many doubts about the video and the identity of al-Zarqawi surface:
Berg is seen wearing an orange jumpsuit typically worn by detainees in US custody. At the start of the video, he speaks directly to the camera in a relaxed way. The Sydney Morning Herald will later comment, “It is highly likely that this segment is edited from the interrogation of Berg during his 13 days of custody.”
Then the video cuts to scenes including the five masked men. But their Arabic is heavily accented in Russian, Jordanian, and Egyptian. One says “do it quickly” in Russian. A voice also seems to ask in English, “How will it be done?” Glimpses of their skin look white. (Neville 5/29/2004)
The masked man identified as al-Zarqawi does not speak with a Jordanian accent even though al-Zarqawi is Jordanian. CNN staff familiar with al-Zarqawi’s voice claim the voice does not sound like his. (CNN 5/12/2004; Neville 5/29/2004)
Berg is then decapitated, but there is very little blood. Dr John Simpson, executive director for surgical affairs at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, says, “I would have thought that all the people in the vicinity would have been covered in blood, in a matter of seconds… if it [the video] was genuine.” Forensic death expert Jon Nordby of the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators suggests that the beheading was staged and Berg was already dead. He also suggests that Berg appears to be heavily drugged in earlier parts of the video. (Goldstein 5/22/2004) The Herald comments, “The scream is wildly out of sync, sounds female, and is obviously dubbed.” (Neville 5/29/2004)
Al-Zarqawi is the one shown cutting Berg’s throat with a knife, and uses his right hand to do so. But people who spent time in prison with al-Zarqawi and knew him well claim that he was left handed. (Gettleman 7/13/2004)
The timing of the video also raises suspicions, as it is broadcast just two weeks after the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal is exposed, and the shock of the beheadings cause some to claim a moral relativism to justify the US military’s abusive behavior towards detainees. (Neville 5/29/2004)
Strangely, Al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui somehow used Berg’s e-mail account years before in Oklahoma (see Autumn 1999). US officials call this “a total coincidence.”
The London Times comments that “The CIA’s insistence that al-Zarqawi was responsible appears based on the scantiest of evidence.… Sound experts have speculated that the voice might have been dubbed on.” Further, “There are discrepancies in the times on the video frames.” (Allen-Mills and Fielding 5/23/2004)
No autopsy is performed on Berg’s body, nor is there any determination of the time of his death. (Neville 5/29/2004)
No proper investigation of the circumstances surrounding his death is ever conducted. For instance, the US military will tell Berg’s family that they could find no evidence of Berg’s last days in a Baghdad hotel and that no Westerner stayed in that hotel for weeks. But the Washington Post was able to get a copy of the hotel register with Berg’s name on it, along with the date of his checkout, a list of the things he left in his room, and the exact words he said as he left the hotel. (National Public Radio 8/14/2004)
It will later be reported that the US military was conducting a propaganda campaign to inflate the importance of al-Zarqawi (see April 10, 2006), but it is unknown if Berg’s death was somehow related to this campaign.
The CIA recalls more than 100 intelligence reports that were based on information provided by Iraqi defector Curveball. A notice to CIA stations around the world states: “Discrepancies surfaced regarding the information provided by… Curveball in this stream of reporting, which indicate that he lost his claimed access in 1995. Our assessment, therefore, is that Curveball appears to be fabricating in this stream of reporting.” The CIA now believes that Curveball’s descriptions of the make-believe trailers were based on various piece of information that he obtained through Internet research and what his former co-workers refer to as “water cooler gossip.” (Drogin and Goetz 11/20/2005)
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who helped disprove the White House’s claim that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) and in turn had his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, exposed as a CIA agent through a White House leak (see July 14, 2003, September 26, 2003, and September 30, 2003), publishes his book, The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife’s CIA Identity: A Diplomat’s Memoir. He had signed with a relatively small publisher, Carroll & Graf, after making a gentleman’s agreement with C&G editor Philip Turner, and refused to allow his literary agent to bid his book out for a larger advance in order to honor the agreement with Turner. According to Wilson’s wife, he worked relentlessly for four months to complete the book, eager to tell not just the story of his trip to Niger and his wife’s outing, but to write about his wide and varied diplomatic career in Africa and the Middle East (see September 5, 1988 and After, September 20, 1990, and Late November, 1990). (Wilson 2007, pp. 171-172) The book sells well and garners mostly positive reviews; for example, author and former White House counsel John Dean gives it a glowing review in the New York Times (see May 12, 2004). But right-wing supporters of the Bush administration quickly publish their own vilifications of Wilson and his book (see July 12, 2004). Plame Wilson will write in 2007: “Having lived through the first spate of attacks on Joe’s credibility and character in the wake of the leak, I thought I had acquired some armor. I was wrong. I knew the comments were politically motivated, but they were still painful to read, and once again we felt under siege.” Plame Wilson is particularly alarmed by the death threats made against her and her family by unidentified telephone callers, including one “seriously deranged person” who manages to talk to her four-year-old son for a moment. She asks the CIA for additional security measures to protect her children, a request that the agency will eventually deny. She will recall: “To say that the CIA response ‘disappointed’ me doesn’t begin to touch the betrayal that I felt. After [REDACTED] loyal service, I expected the agency to come through on its standing promise to protect its ‘family,’ something that had always been a point of CIA pride.… Clearly, I was on my own.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 178-180)
Two senior CIA managers, Counterterrorist Center head Jose Rodriguez and Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt, are informed that an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri is being held at one of the agency’s black sites in Afghanistan. The news comes about as a result of dissatisfaction on the part of some officers that the agency is holding an innocent man and refusing to release him (see Late March 2004). According to author Jane Mayer, “a lawyer for the [Counterterrorist Center] surreptitiously alert[s] a lawyer for the European division—which ha[s] an interest in [el-]Masri because of his German citizenship—that he [is] innocent. Together the CIA lawyers scheme […] about how to get [el-]Masri released.” A senior European division officer then goes to see Rodriguez, who had heard that el-Masri is, in Mayer’s words, a “tremendous catch.” However, the officer tells him, “It’s the wrong Khalid el-Masri.” (Note: some of the 9/11 hijackers knew a different man of the same name.) Subsequently, Pavitt is also informed of the problem. Mayer will comment, “Yet for months after these senior CIA officers were warned that the agency was holding an innocent man in dire circumstances, the situation continued.” (Mayer 2008, pp. 285)
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) is temporarily released in Egypt, where he was taken by the CIA after being abducted (see Noon February 17, 2003). He makes a series of phone calls to family members and acquaintances in Milan, Italy, saying he was kidnapped, taken by English- and Italian-speaking men, put on a plane with a US flag on it, and held in prison for a year, but is now under house arrest. In one of the calls, Nasr tells his wife: “I was very close to dying. But I don’t think about death anymore.… I am deeply saddened because I wasn’t able to do what I had planned to do in Italy.” He says that he has been tortured—subjected to freezing temperatures and electric shocks, among other forms of abuse (see Late February 2003 or Shortly After). He also warns religious colleagues at the Islamic Cultural Center in Milan that his Egyptian interrogators want to abduct another three people. He is soon rearrested by the Egyptian authorities because of the calls. The calls are recorded by Italian investigators, who have had him under surveillance for some time. (Whitlock 12/6/2005; Cole 3/2007 ) Armando Spataro, an Italian prosecutor who had previously worked with the CIA on surveillance of Nasr in Milan, learns of the calls. As the CIA’s practice of rendition is well known, he is unsurprised the agency had played a role in the operation, and also feels Italian intelligence may have been involved. However, the first call the Italians intercept from Nasr in Egypt causes them to try to determine the exact circumstances of the kidnap. According to GQ magazine, Spataro considers the rendition a “national embarrassment” and a “clear violation of Italian sovereignty and law.” (Cole 3/2007 ) Nasr will be released again in 2007 (see February 11, 2007).
Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the failed watchlisting of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and May 15, 2001) and the failure to obtain a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 24, 2001), is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission. He tells them that nobody in the US intelligence community looked at the bigger picture and no analytic work foresaw the lightning that could connect the thundercloud [i.e. increased reporting that an al-Qaeda attack was imminent] to the ground [i.e. the cases that turned out to be connected to 9/11 such as the search for Almihdhar and Alhazmi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and the Phoenix memo]. The 9/11 Commission will agree with this and write in its final report: “Yet no one working on these late leads in the summer of 2001 connected the case in his or her in-box to the threat reports agitating senior officials and being briefed to the President. Thus, these individual cases did not become national priorities.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 277) However, Wilshire was receiving such threat reporting. For example, he received a report that al-Qaeda was planning an Hiroshima-like attack (see Summer 2001). (Wright 2006, pp. 340) Wilshire also repeatedly suggested that Khalid Almihdhar may well be involved in the next big attack by al-Qaeda (see July 5, 2001, July 13, 2001, and July 23, 2001). For example, on July 23, 2001 he wrote: “When the next big op is carried out by [bin Laden] hardcore cadre, [al-Qaeda commander] Khallad [bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid Almihdhar should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].” (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 )
Two officers in the CIA’s European division hatch a plan to free an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri who has been held at an agency black site since January (see January 23 - March 2004). The plan, which is termed a “reverse rendition,” is basically to take el-Masri out of prison, fly him somewhere, drive him round in circles for a few hours, and then let him go. However, a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is opposed to this plan. The manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, had been the driving force behind el-Masri’s rendition to Afghanistan in the first place and had previously put obstacles in the way of his release (see Late March 2004). Now, she still argues that el-Masri is a terrorist. Author Jane Mayer will comment on why Bikowsky’s opposition carries weight: “She had an unusual amount of clout in the agency. She was smart and tough. And her trump card was that she sometimes personally briefed President Bush.” (Mayer 2008, pp. 285-286) Despite Bikowsky’s opposition, a version of the “reverse rendition” plan will be implemented at the end of May (see May 29, 2004).
Former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center Cofer Black tells the 9/11 Commission: “[U]nfortunately, when Americans get killed, it would translate into additional resources. It’s a constant track: either you run out, or people die, when people die you get more money.” He says this at the end of his prepared statement in a section dealing with what he says is a lack of funds at the CIA for counterterrorism. (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004)
In a public interview with the 9/11 Commission, CIA Director George Tenet falsely claims that he had no communication with President Bush during August 2001, a period when the CIA was aware of increasing signs al-Qaeda would attack the US. Tenet actually met Bush at least twice during this period (see August 17 and 31, 2001). The claim is made in a question and answer session with Commissioner Tim Roemer, who asks Tenet about it because of its links to the mid-August arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui and Tenet’s knowledge of this (see August 17 and 31, 2001, August 23, 2001, and September 1-8, 2001).
"I Don't Believe I Do" - When Roemer asks Tenet “when do you see him [Bush] in August?” Tenet replies, “I don’t believe I do.” Roemer asks again and Tenet, who spent days reading documents to be ready for his discussions with the 9/11 Commission (see Before January 22, 2004), says: “He’s in Texas, and I’m either here or on leave for some of that time. So I’m not there.” When asked about whether he spoke to Bush on the phone in August, he says, “we talked to him directly through the spring and early summer almost every day,” but he himself did not speak to Bush in August.
Bombshell - Roemer thinks the admission CIA Director Tenet did not talk to the president for a month during a period of increased threat is a “bombshell,” and is aware that others on the commission believe that Tenet has repeatedly lied to them (see January 22, 2004 and July 2, 2004). However, as Tenet denies there were any such meetings or conversations and Roemer does not know otherwise yet, he cannot pursue the topic and moves on to the question.
Furious - However, Tenet’s statement is quickly discovered to be untrue, and later that day the CIA’s press office calls round Washington informing reporters that Tenet “momentarily forgot” about the two briefings. Roemer is then “furious” with Tenet. He had wanted to withhold judgment on Tenet despite the criticism from the Commission’s staff, but now decides that he can “assume the worst about Tenet’s veracity—and the worst about what had happened in August between him and the president.”
'Hotter than Hades - Roemer is especially skeptical of Tenet’s claim he does not recall that he flew to Texas in the middle of August: “It’s probably 110 degrees down there, hotter than Hades… You make one trip down there the whole month and you can’t remember what motivates you to go down there to talk to the president?” Roemer’s suspicion that Tenet and Bush talked about domestic terrorism will later be supported by a section in a 2007 book by Tenet, which says, “a few weeks after the Aug. 6 PDB [entitled “Bin laden Determined to Strike in US”] was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events.” In the book, Tenet will recall not only flying to Texas, but also being driven around the ranch by Bush and discussing the plants and animals on it with him. (Priest 4/15/2004; Shenon 2008, pp. 361-362)
CIA Director George Tenet orders a suspension of waterboarding and some other aggressive interrogation techniques. Intelligence officials will later claim that the Abu Ghraib scandal publicized in April 2004 (see April 28, 2004), is a major factor in the decision. Additionally, the CIA’s Inspector General finishes a secret report around the same time the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks, an it suggests that many aggressive techniques may violate an international treaty against torture that the US has signed (see May 7, 2004). NBC News will later claim that the biggest reason is the worry: “Could CIA officials, including both the interrogators and their superiors, ultimately be prosecuted?” (Windrem 9/13/2007) The CIA approved a list of about 10 aggressive techniques, including waterboarding, in March 2002 (see Mid-March 2002), and used them on many high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees until this time (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). But the CIA suspends their use until the Justice Department can conduct a legal review. One former senior CIA official will say in June 2004, “Everything’s on hold. The whole thing has been stopped until we sort out whether we are sure we’re on legal ground.” (Priest 6/27/2004) In December 2004, the Justice Department will publicly issue a new and public memo allowing the use of some aggressive techniques (see December 30, 2004). Then, in February 2005, it will secretly issue another memo that goes further, and will even allow the CIA to use waterboarding again. The New York Times will later call it “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency” (see February 2005). The CIA presumably then resumes using most of these techniques but it does not resume waterboarding, as it had already stopped doing that in 2003 (see May 2002-2003).
CIA Director George Tenet is informed that the agency has wrongly rendered an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri to a black site in Afghanistan and has been holding him there for several months (see January 23 - March 2004). Tenet receives this information at a meeting with all the main participants in the case: a bin Laden unit manager named Alfreda Frances Bikowsky who pushed the rendition in the first place; Counterterrorist Center head Jose Rodriguez and Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt, who have known of the case for some time but done nothing about it (see (April 2004)); and two European Division officers who have a plan to free el-Masri (see (April 2004)). After they all say their piece, Tenet is, according to author Jane Mayer, “stunned.” He says: “Are you telling me we’ve got an innocent guy stuck in prison in Afghanistan? Oh sh_t! Just tell me—please—we haven’t used ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques on him, have we?” The group then discusses what to do, and one suggestion is to let him go with a large quantity of cash. According to two of Mayer’s sources, Pavitt chuckles, “At least the guy will earn more money in five months than he ever could have any other way!” (Mayer 2008, pp. 286) No definitive decision about what to do is taken, and Tenet goes to see National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see (May 2004)).
CIA Director George Tenet informs National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the agency has been holding an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri at a black site for several months (see January 23 - March 2004). Rice’s demeanor during the meeting will be described as “very flat, as always,” and after hearing the story she says slowly, “Okay.” Tenet then explains the plan to conduct a “reverse rendition,” releasing el-Masri with a large amount of cash, but with no explanation to anyone, including the German government. Rice disagrees with the plan. “Your plan won’t work. We have to tell the Germans. We can’t put the president in the position of telling a lie to our allies,” she says. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is also consulted about the matter, and agrees with Rice’s assessment. (Mayer 2008, pp. 286)
The CIA’s inspector general completes a lengthy, secret report on the interrogation of detainees in US custody. The report, based on over 100 interviews, a review of the CIA’s videotapes of interrogations (see November 2005), and some 38,000 pages of documents, will remain secret throughout the Bush administration and into the first year of the Obama administration. Some portions will be made public over the years. The report includes evidence that US interrogators used harsh tactics—torture—against detainees who were not withholding information. Officials familiar with the report will say that it concludes some of the techniques used violate the UN Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994). According to a declassified summary of the report later made public, the report finds that “it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks.” The threat of such an imminent attack was cited by the Justice Department in its numerous authorizations of torture. The report prompts CIA general counsel John Rizzo to request new statements from the Justice Department confirming the legality of CIA interrogation methods (see May 10, 2005 and May 30, 2005). (Smith 5/9/2009)
The CIA’s inspector general, John Helgerson, releases a highly classified report from his office that examines allegations of torture from the time period between September 2001 (after the 9/11 attacks, when the CIA first began detaining suspected terrorists and informants) and October 2003. In the report, Helgerson warns that some aggressive interrogation techniques approved for use by the CIA since early 2002 (see Mid-March 2002) might violate some provisions of the international Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994). The report doubts the Bush administration position that the techniques do not violate the treaty because the interrogations take place overseas on non-US citizens. It will be released, in heavily redacted form, to the public in August 2009 (see August 24, 2009). From what becomes known of the report’s contents, the CIA engaged in a number of illegal and ethically questionable tactics on the part of its interrogators. Some of these tactics include the use of handguns, power drills, threats, smoke, and mock executions. Many of the techniques used against detainees were carried out without authorization from higher officials. The report says that the CIA’s efforts to provide “systematic, clear, and timely guidance” to interrogators were “inadequate at first” and that that failure largely coincided with the most significant incidents involving the unauthorized coercion of detainees, but as guidelines from the Justice Department accumulated over several years, oversight “improved considerably.” The report does not conclude that the techniques reviewed constitute torture, but it does find that they appear to constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under the Convention. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Jehl 11/9/2005; Williams 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009)
Physical Abuse - The report defines torture as an act “intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain and suffering.” It then begins detailing such acts. Incidents of physical abuse include:
One incident caused the death of an Afghani detainee. According to the report: “An agency independent contractor who was a paramilitary officer is alleged to have severely beaten the detainee with a large metal flashlight and kicked him during interrogation sessions. The detainee died in custody.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009) In a 2009 statement, Helgerson will write: “In one extreme case, improvisation took a disastrous turn when an agency contractor in rural Afghanistan—acting wholly outside the approved program and with no authorization or training—took it upon himself to interrogate a detainee. This officer beat the detainee and caused his death. Following an investigation of the incident, this contract employee was convicted of assault and is now in prison.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Heron 8/24/2009)
Waterboarding was routinely used, in a manner far exceeding previously issued guidelines. Interrogators “continuously applied large volumes of water,” and later explained that they needed to make the experience “more poignant and convincing.” The CIA interrogators’ waterboarding technique was far more aggressive than anything used in military survival training such as the SERE program (see December 2001). Eventually, the agency’s Office of Medical Services criticized the waterboarding technique, saying that the “frequency and intensity” with which it was used could not be certified as “efficacious or medically safe.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009) The report refers in particular to the treatment of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who was reportedly waterboarded more than once (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). Waterboarding is considered torture and is illegal in the US. The report also raises concern that the use of these techniques could eventually cause legal troubles for the CIA officers who used them. (Jehl 11/9/2005)
Helgerson will write: “We found that waterboarding had been utilized in a manner that was inconsistent with the understanding between CIA and the Department of Justice. The department had provided the agency a written legal opinion based on an agency assurance that although some techniques would be used more than once, repetition would ‘not be substantial.’ My view was that, whatever methodology was used to count applications of the waterboard, the very large number of applications to which some detainees were subjected led to the inescapable conclusion that the agency was abusing this technique.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Heron 8/24/2009)
In July 2002, a CIA officer used a “pressure point” technique “with both of his hands on the detainee’s neck, the officer manipulated his finger to restrict the detainee’s carotid artery.” The carotid artery supplies the brain with oxygenated blood; such “manipulat[ion]” could lead to unconsciousness or even death. A second officer “reportedly watched his eyes to the point that the detainee would nod and start to pass out. Then the officer shook the detainee to wake him. This process was repeated for a total of three applications on the detainee.”
A technique routinely used by CIA interrogators was the “hard takedown,” which involves an interrogator grabbing a detainee and slamming him to the floor before having the detainee moved to a sleep-deprivation cell. One detainee was hauled off his feet by his arms while they were bound behind his back with a belt, causing him severe pain.
Another routinely used technique is “water dousing,” apparently a variant of waterboarding, in which a detainee is laid on a plastic sheet and subjected to having water sluiced over him for 10 to 15 minutes. The report says that at least one interrogator believed the technique to be useful, and sent a cable back to CIA headquarters requesting guidelines. A return cable explained that a detainee “must be placed on a towel or sheet, may not be placed naked on the bare cement floor, and the air temperature must exceed 65 degrees if the detainee will not be dried immediately.”
- - Detainee Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, suspected of plotting the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), was repeatedly “bathed” with hard-bristled scrub brushes in order to inflict pain. The brushes caused abrasions and bleeding. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Helgerson will write: “Agency officers who were authorized to detain and interrogate terrorists sometimes failed in their responsibilities. In a few cases, agency officers used unauthorized, threatening interrogation techniques. The primary, common problem was that management controls and operational procedures were not in place to avoid the serious problems that arose, jeopardizing agency employees and detainees alike.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Heron 8/24/2009)
Mental Abuse - Numerous instances of mental and emotional abuse were also documented.
In 2002, interrogators staged a mock execution to intimidate a detainee. CIA officers began screaming outside the room where the detainee was being interrogated. When leaving the room, he “passed a guard who was dressed as a hooded detainee, lying motionless on the ground, and made to appear as if he had been shot to death.” The report says that after witnessing this performance, the detainee “sang like a bird.”
Handguns and power drills were used to threaten detainees with severe bodily harm or death. One such instance involved al-Nashiri. An American, whose name is not released but who is identified as not being a trained interrogator and lacking authorization to use “enhanced methods,” used a gun and a power drill to frighten him. The American pointed the gun at al-Nashiri’s head and “racked” a round in the chamber. The American also held a power drill near al-Nashiri and revved it, while al-Nashiri stood naked and hooded. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Williams 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
In 2009, reporter David Ignatius will say he finds the “image of a CIA interrogator standing with a power drill next to somebody he’s interrogating… particularly horrific, because that’s a technique that’s been used in torturing people in Iraq.” (PBS 8/24/2009)
A CIA interrogator told al-Nashiri that if he did not cooperate with his captors, “we could get your mother in here” and “we can bring your family in here.” The report says that the interrogator wanted al-Nashiri to infer for “psychological” reasons that his female relatives might be sexually abused. The interrogator has denied actually threatening to sexually abuse al-Nashiri’s mother or other relatives.
An interrogator threatened the lives of one detainee’s children. According to the report, an “interrogator said to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that if anything else happens in the United States, quote, ‘we’re going to kill your children.’” According to the report, the debriefer was trying to exploit a belief in the Middle East that interrogation techniques included sexually abusing female relatives in front of the detainees. It was during these same interrogation sessions that Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009). (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Williams 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Fear of Recriminations - According to the report, there was concern throughout the agency over the potential legal consequences for agency officers. Officers “expressed unsolicited concern about the possibility of recrimination or legal action” and said “they feared that the agency would not stand behind them,” according to the report. (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009) According to the report, CIA personnel “are concerned that public revelation” of the program will “seriously damage” personal reputations as well as “the reputation and effectiveness of the agency itself.” One officer is quoted as saying he could imagine CIA agents ending up before the World Court on war crimes charges. “Ten years from now, we’re going to be sorry we’re doing this,” another officer said. But “it has to be done.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009) Helgerson will write: “This review of the agency’s early detention and interrogation activities was undertaken in part because of expressions of concern by agency employees that the actions in which they were involved, or of which they were aware, would be determined by judicial authorities in the US or abroad to be illegal. Many expressed to me personally their feelings that what the agency was doing was fundamentally inconsistent with long established US government policy and with American values, and was based on strained legal reasoning. We reported these concerns.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Heron 8/24/2009)
Recommendations - The report lists 10 recommendations for changes in the treatment of detainees, but it will not be reported what these are. Eight of the recommendations are apparently later adopted. Former CIA assistant general counsel John Radsan will later comment, “The ambiguity in the law must cause nightmares for intelligence officers who are engaged in aggressive interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects and other terrorism suspects.” (Jehl 11/9/2005)
Approval, Contradictory Statements by Attorney General - The report says that Attorney General John Ashcroft approved all of these actions: “According to the CIA general counsel, the attorney general acknowledged he is fully aware of the repetitive use of the waterboard and that CIA is well within the scope of the DOJ opinion that the authority given to CIA by that opinion. The attorney general was informed the waterboard had been used 119 times on a single individual.” In 2009, reporter Michael Isikoff will say that the contents of the report “conflict… with the public statements that have been made over the years by Bush administration officials and CIA directors.” In 2007, then-CIA Director Michael Hayden will tell the Council on Foreign Relations that the agency’s detention and interrogation program was “very carefully controlled and lawfully conducted—has been carefully controlled and lawfully conducted.” Isikoff will say, “It’s kind of hard to square that with… what was in the CIA inspector general report that had been presented five years ago in 2004.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Questions of Effectiveness - The report does document that some interrogations obtained critical information to identify terrorists and stop potential plots, and finds that some imprisoned terrorists provided more information after being exposed to brutal treatment (see August 24, 2009). It finds that “there is no doubt” that the detention and interrogation program itself prevented further terrorist activity, provided information that led to the apprehension of other terrorists, warned authorities of future plots, and helped analysts complete an intelligence picture for senior policymakers and military leaders. But whether the harsh techniques were effective in this regard “is a more subjective process and not without some concern,” the report continues. It specifically addresses waterboarding as an illegal tactic that is not shown to have provided useful information. “This review identified concerns about the use of the waterboard, specifically whether the risks of its use were justified by the results, whether it has been unnecessarily used in some instances,” the report reads, and notes that in many instances, the frequency and volume of water poured over prisoners’ mouths and noses may have exceeded the Justice Department’s legal authorization. In the instance of detainee Abu Zubaida, the report finds, “It is not possible to say definitively that the waterboard is the reason for Abu [Zubaida]‘s increased production [of intelligence information], or if another factor, such as the length of detention, was the catalyst.” In 2009, Isikoff will note that the effectiveness of torture is not clarified by the report. “As you know, Vice President [Dick] Cheney and others who had defended this program have insisted time and again that valuable intelligence was gotten out of this program. You could read passages of this report and conclude that that is the case, that they did get—some passages say important intelligence was gotten. But then others are far more nuanced and measured, saying we don’t really know the full story, whether alternative techniques could have been used.” (Central Intelligence Agency 5/7/2004 ; Mazzetti and Shane 8/24/2009; Williams 8/24/2009; Finn, Warrick, and Tate 8/24/2009; MSNBC 8/25/2009)
Cheney Blocked Report's Completion - Reporter Jane Mayer later learns that Cheney intervened to block Helgerson from completing his investigation. Mayer will write that as early as 2004, “the vice president’s office was fully aware that there were allegations of serious wrongdoing in the [interrogation] program.” Helgerson met repeatedly and privately with Cheney before, in Mayer’s words, the investigation was “stopped in its tracks.” She will call the meetings “highly unusual.” In October 2007, CIA Director Michael Hayden will order an investigation of Helgerson’s office, alleging that Helgerson was on “a crusade against those who have participated in controversial detention programs.” (Leopold 3/6/2009)
The New York Times learns that FBI Director Robert Mueller has ordered FBI interrogators to stay out of CIA-led interrogations of suspected al-Qaeda members. Mueller, and many FBI officials, believe the CIA’s interrogation tactics are too brutal and violate domestic and international laws. Mueller and other FBI officials have objected to the use of techniques such as waterboarding, as well as forced starvation, forced drugging, and beatings. FBI officials told Mueller that the techniques would be prohibited in criminal cases. Some CIA officers are worried that public outrage over the recent revelations of prisoner abuse at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison might lead to a closer examination of the agency’s treatment of al-Qaeda prisoners. “Some people involved in this have been concerned for quite a while that eventually there would be a new president, or the mood in the country would change, and they would be held accountable,” one says. “Now that’s happening faster than anybody expected.” (BBC 5/13/2004) In 2008, a Justice Department investigation (see May 20, 2008) will reveal that sometime in mid-2002, the FBI’s then-assistant director for counterterrorism, Pasquale D’Amuro, ordered FBI agents at Guantanamo to stop participating in interrogations and leave the facility. D’Amuro brought the issue to Mueller’s attention; according to the Justice Department report, D’Amuro “stated that his exact words to Mueller were ‘we don’t do that’ and that someday the FBI would be called to testify and he wanted to be able to say that the FBI did not participate in this type of activity.” D’Amuro was concerned that the use of such aggressive interrogation techniques “failed to take into account an ‘end game.’” The report will continue: “D’Amuro stated that even a military tribunal would require some standard for admissibility of evidence. Obtaining information by way of ‘aggressive’ techniques would not only jeopardize the government’s ability to use the information against the detainees, but also might have a negative impact on the agents’ ability to testify in future proceedings.” Mueller agreed with D’Amuro and issued what became a “bright line rule” barring FBI agents from participating in CIA and military interrogations involving such methods. (Isikoff and Hosenball 5/20/2008)
Rabinder Singh, a senior officer in India’s Research and Intelligence Wing (RAW) defects to the US while under investigation for illegally passing classified documents to the CIA. It is suspected that high level colleagues in the RAW and CIA helped him to escape. (Times of India 6/9/2004) The Indian government believes that the defection is only the tip of the iceberg of infiltration of its intelligence agencies by the CIA and the Mossad. (Jane's International Security News 7/1/2004)
On May 17, 2004, security officials say that recent intelligence has led to increased concern about the possibility of a major terrorist attack in the US. It is believed that the attack could take place as early as the summer and before November, perhaps in an attempt to affect the outcome of the Presidential election. Potential targets include the dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, the G8 economic summit on Sea Island, Georgia, Fourth of July celebrations, the Democratic convention in Boston, the Republican convention in New York, and the Olympics in Greece. However, no specific target, time or date is identified for the possible attack. Sources do state that the assessment is new and is the result of intelligence gathered over time. However, an official with the Department of Homeland Security, speaking on condition of anonymity, states that “We are not aware of any new highly credible intelligence indicating a planned attack in the US this summer. Nothing in the current intelligence is exceptionally specific.” (Arena 5/25/2004) The next day, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller hold a news conference to warn of a “plane attack inside the United States.” They warn that terrorists are “poised for an immediate attack.” Ashcroft says “credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al-Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months. This disturbing intelligence indicates al-Qaeda’s specific intention to hit the United States hard.” (CNN 5/26/2004) The Justice Department asks for assistance in locating seven alleged terrorist operatives and states an increased concern about attacks over the summer. (CBS News 6/14/2004) It is later revealed the threat actually came from a group that falsely claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in Madrid. One expert says that the group is “not really taken seriously by Western intelligence.” These warnings come as the administration is under heavy criticism for failures in Iraq. The Abu Ghraib torture scandal dominates headlines. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) This warning also comes on the heels of other bad news for the Bush administration. During a May 16 interview on Meet the Press, Secretary of State Colin Powell is cut off by an aide while discussing misleading CIA information regarding WMD in Iraq. He admits that “it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.” (MSNBC 6/15/2004) Three days later, Newsweek reports that White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez warned in a January 25, 2002 internal White House memo that US officials could be prosecuted for war crimes due to the unprecedented and unusual methods used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. (Isikoff 5/19/2004)
Alfred Frances Bikowsky (see September 21, 2011), the CIA officer responsible for the wrongful rendition and torture of the innocent German Khalid el-Masri (see Before January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004), is promoted at some point after el-Masri is released from prison (see May 29, 2004). Writing in 2008, author Jane Mayer will say Bikowsky is appointed to “a top post handling sensitive matters in the Middle East.” (Mayer 8/14/2008) A February 2011 Associated Press article will state that at that time Bikowsky is head of the agency’s Global Jihad Unit, so presumably the promotion is to the position of head of this unit. (Goldman and Apuzzo 2/9/2011)
An Iranian man appears in Turkey with a laptop computer and the phone number of a German intelligence officer. He calls the number, and 24 hours later, CIA analysts are poring over thousands of documents containing information and sketches. The CIA concludes that Iran is trying to retrofit its longest-range missile, the Shahab III, to carry a nuclear payload. The retrofit project is designated Project 1-11, the documents say, and analysts believe that the laptop information confirms their belief that Iran has a viable and active nuclear weapons program. Though the information on the laptop is from 2003 and earlier, it leads to the issuance of a National Intelligence Estimate (see August 2, 2005) that declares “with high confidence” Iran is working on a nuclear bomb, and will give ammunition to the Bush administration’s attempts to pressure Russia, China, and the US’s European allies to sanction Iran if it does not give up its uranium enrichment program. (Baker and Linzer 12/8/2007)
Origin of Laptop - The laptop was stolen by the Iranian citizen from an Iranian engineer, who some intelligence sources say may now be dead. The laptop contains designs by a firm called Kimeya Madon for a small facility to produce uranium gas, a substance that could be enriched for fuel or nuclear weapons. The laptop also contains drawings relating to the retrofitting of the Shahab III. The laptop’s information, so extensive that some say it may have been designed by an entire team of engineers, will be given unsubstantiated confirmation from an imprisoned Pakistani arms dealer, who will say that Iran took delivery of several advanced centrifuges that would greatly increase its nuclear knowledge. Although the documents are not verified, US intelligence considers them authentic.
Possible Forgeries - However, analysts admit it is possible that the documents are forgeries, perhaps from internal opponents of the Iranian government, or perhaps from the government itself in an attempt to convince Western intelligence agencies that its nuclear weapons program is still in an embryonic stage. The US denies that the documents were provided through the auspices of any Iranian dissident groups such as the Mujahedeen-e Khalq. (Broad and Sanger 11/13/2005; Linzer 2/8/2006) The identity of the Iranian “walk-in” may be revealed four years later (see February 2007). By November 2004, administration officials begin to admit that they cannot confirm the reliability of the laptop’s documents (see November 2004 and November 17-18, 2004).
9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow is investigated by the Justice Department following a complaint by the CIA that he mishandled classified information. Zelikow did not leak information to reporters, but there are suspicions he has included classified information in e-mails with other people on the Commission, including e-mails that were sent overseas. The CIA received notification that Zelikow may have mishandled the information from an unnamed member of the Commission’s staff. Zelikow is not interviewed during the investigation, and will later say that he does not become aware of it until later and that his security clearances will later be renewed. Zelikow will also say that the investigation may be an attempt by the CIA to play “hardball” in a dispute over the declassification of information, and to “criminalize this dispute and target me in the process.” The CIA will deny this, saying that they could have leaked news of the investigation to the press, but did not do so. Some of the Commission’s staff find the investigation to be ironic, because Zelikow fired staffer Dana Lesemann for a less serious breach of the rules for handling classified documents soon after the Commission started. The information is closely held within the 9/11 Commission, and even some commissioners do not learn of the investigation. It is unclear how the investigation concludes and how seriously it is taken at the Justice Department. (Shenon 2008, pp. 406-410)
Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi intelligence agent, was captured by US forces in Iraq at some point after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. His arrest was not announced and he was put in a secret CIA prison. It is unknown when he was arrested exactly, but in June 2004, the FBI is allowed to interrogate him. Al-Ani gained notoriety after 9/11 when Bush administration officials claimed he had a meeting with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague, in the Czech Republic (see April 8, 2001). He tells the FBI that he never saw or heard of Atta until Atta’s face appeared in the news shortly after 9/11. (US Senate and Intelligence Committee 9/8/2006, pp. 100 ) The allegations that the meeting took place have been slowly dying despite the efforts of some Bush administration officials to promote them (see September 18, 2001-April 2007). Also in June 2004, the 9/11 Commission publicly asserts that the alleged meeting never took place (see June 16, 2004). Nonetheless, al-Ani is kept in a secret CIA prison until 2006 and then quietly released (see 2006). His denials are kept secret until September 2006 (see September 8-10, 2006).
The chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan, leaves his position. The official, known only as “Peter,” was appointed to the position a year earlier (see June 2003) and departs upon the completion of his tour. (Gellman and Linzer 10/22/2004)
In November 2002, as the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry was finishing its investigation, it formally asked for a report by the CIA to determine “whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable” for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. (Jehl and Lichtblau 9/14/2004) The CIA report by the agency’s inspector general is completed in June 2004. Newsweek calls the report “hard-hitting” and says it “identifies a host of current and former officials who could be candidates for possible disciplinary procedures imposed by a special CIA Accountability Board.” (Isikoff 10/24/2004) While the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and 9/11 Commission Reports didn’t single out individuals for blame, this one does, and it is said to find “very senior-level officials responsible. Those who have read the classified report say that it faults about 20 intelligence officials, including former CIA Director George Tenet, his former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and the former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center Cofer Black. Tenet in particular is faulted for focusing too little attention on combating al-Qaeda as a whole in the years prior to 9/11.” (Scheer 10/19/2004; Miller 10/6/2005; Linzer and Pincus 10/6/2005) The report is submitted to John McLaughlin, interim acting CIA Director, but he returns it to the inspector general with a request “for more information.” (Jehl and Lichtblau 9/14/2004) It continues to remain completely classified, and even the 9/11 Commissioners (who all have high level security clearances) are not allowed to see it before they complete their own 9/11 investigation. (Isikoff 10/24/2004) In late September 2004, Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) and Jane Harman (D-CA), chairman and highest ranking Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee respectively, send a letter to the CIA. (Jehl 10/27/2004) They request that at least their committee, as the oversight committee that originally mandated the creation of the report, be allowed to see the report. But even this committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee are not allowed to see it. One anonymous official who has read the report tells the Los Angeles Times, “It is infuriating that a report which shows that high-level people were not doing their jobs in a satisfactory manner before 9/11 is being suppressed.… The report is potentially very embarrassing for the administration, because it makes it look like they weren’t interested in terrorism before 9/11, or in holding people in the government responsible afterward.” This official says the report has been deliberately stalled, first by John McLaughlin, then by Porter Goss, his replacement as CIA Director. (Ironically, Goss was the co-chairman of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that originally called for the report.) This official further notes that the only legal and legitimate reason the CIA can give for holding back such a report is national security, yet this reason has not been invoked. The official claims that Goss is “basically sitting on the report until after the [November 2004 Presidential] election. No previous director of CIA has ever tried to stop the inspector general from releasing a report to the Congress, in this case a report requested by Congress.” (Scheer 10/19/2004; Miller 10/20/2004) One anonymous CIA official says, “Everybody feels it will be better off if this hits the fan after the election.” (Isikoff 10/24/2004) The previously mentioned official speaking to The Los Angeles Times comments that the successful delay of the report’s release until after the election has “led the management of the CIA to believe it can engage in a cover-up with impunity.” (Scheer 10/19/2004) More details of the report are revealed to the media in January 2005.(see January 7, 2005). In October 2005, CIA Director Porter Goss will announce that he is not going to release the report, and also will not convene an accountability board to hold anyone responsible.(see October 10, 2005).
The CIA closes a prison known as the Salt Pit near Kabul, Afghanistan. According to the Washington Post, the reason for the closure is that the road leading to the prison is unsafe. The facility is relocated to Bagram Air Base. The date of closure is uncertain, although a detainee was still being held there in late May 2004 (see May 29, 2004) and the prison’s closure is reported in November 2005. (Priest 11/2/2005)
An official known only as “Spider” is appointed as the new chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan. Presumably, this occurs around June, when the previous station chief, “Peter,” departs (see June 2004). (Gorman 8/24/2010) Spider will leave the position at some point, but will be reappointed in 2009 (see Summer 2009).
Citing personal reasons, CIA Director George Tenet announces he will be stepping down in the next month. President Bush praises Tenet’s service, but there is widespread agreement that significant intelligence failures occurred during his tenure, most strikingly 9/11 itself. Sources also suggest that Tenet, originally a Clinton appointee, has been made a convenient scapegoat for Bush administration intelligence failures in Iraq and elsewhere. (CNN 6/4/2004; Cornwell 6/4/2004) Tenet and the Bush administration are expecting harsh criticism from several reports expected to find serious failures in intelligence gathering and analysis related to the 9/11 attacks. Most damaging is an upcoming Senate Intelligence Committee report expected to single out the CIA for errors in its judgments before the Iraq war (see June-November 2004). Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has warned the administration that the report will be so harsh that questions will be raised as to whether senior CIA officials should be held accountable. Tenet will be replaced by Deputy Director John McLaughlin until a replacement is named, and will eventually be replaced by Porter Goss (see September 24, 2004). A friend of Tenet’s, former Deputy Director Richard Kerr, says that Tenet “may have believed that he was hurting the president. He’s an honorable person, and he may have had that as a consideration.” Former Democratic senator David Boren, a close friend and mentor of Tenet’s, says Tenet is not leaving because of criticisms likely to be leveled at either him or the agency: “If criticism either actual or anticipated was a factor, he would have left a long time ago. It’s been months of his desiring to leave.” Bush has asked Tenet to remain in the job several times over the past few months. When Tenet told Bush of his intentions to leave on June 2, Bush asked him to stay through the end of the year. Tenet replied that summer is a natural break point and a good time for him to depart. All the camaraderie and mutual praise between the two men aside, many believe that Tenet is departing in part because he is seen as a possible political liability for Bush. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) says, “I don’t think there are any tears over there” in the White House over Tenet’s departure. Former Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) believes that Tenet was in some way pushed to leave. “This president has been enamored of George Tenet, and has been reluctant to hold him or anyone else accountable, and that failure was becoming a bigger and bigger liability,” he says. According to Graham, Bush announces Tenet’s resignation for his own political well-being, “under circumstances where he is at the crime scene as short as possible.” Apparently, senior White House officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell learn of Tenet’s resignation just a few moments before it is announced to the press. Two Congressmen who knew last night of the resignation were Goss (R-FL) and John Warner (R-VA), the chairmen of the House Intelligence and Senate Armed Services Committees, respectively. (Bumiller and Jehl 6/4/2004)
Al-Qaeda operative Musaad Aruchi is arrested in Karachi, Pakistan, by Pakistani paramilitary forces and the CIA. Aruchi is said to be a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and a cousin of 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef. (Another of his nephews, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, was captured in Karachi the year before (see April 29, 2003). CIA telephone and Internet intercepts led investigators to the apartment building where Aruchi lived. Aruchi is in frequent contact with Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, who is in touch with al-Qaeda operatives all over the world. Aruchi is flown out of the country in an unmarked CIA plane; there have been no reports on his whereabouts since and he will not be transferred to Guantanamo Bay with other high-ranking prisoners in 2006. Noor Khan is followed and then arrested a month later (see July 13, 2004). (Khan 8/3/2004; Burke, Harris, and Bright 8/8/2004)
The White House sends a classified memo to the CIA. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Washington Post will later learn that it approves “harsh tactics” by CIA interrogators in questioning suspected terrorists. The memo was requested by CIA Director George Tenet, who asked for legal cover for the torture and harsh interrogation methods employed by CIA interrogators in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal. Tenet had already asked for, and received, a similar legal authorization a year earlier (see June 1, 2003). (Warrick 10/15/2008; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
The 9/11 Commission arranges for a final interview of CIA Director George Tenet. The Commission’s staff thinks of the interview as a “final test of Tenet’s credibility,” because they believe that both he and other CIA managers have not been telling them the full truth (see Before January 14, 2004 and January 22, 2004). In particular they want to ask him about a memorandum of notification that enabled the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden, but was not acted on (see December 24, 1998).
What Memo? - When the Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow says he wants to talk about the memo, Tenet, who spent a long time revising for his sessions with the Commission (see Before January 22, 2004), replies, “What are you referring to?” Zelikow explains about the memo, but Tenet says, “I’m not sure what we’re talking about.” He then says he remembers an early draft of the memo, which did not authorize the CIA to kill bin Laden. Zelikow explains that the draft Tenet is referring to is an early version of the memo, and that a later version, apparently requested by Tenet himself, allowed the CIA to kill bin Laden. Zelikow has not been able to bring the memo with him, because it is so highly classified, and Tenet still does not remember, saying, “Well, as I say, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Disbelief - Author Philip Shenon will write: “Zelikow and [Commission staffer Alexis] Albion looked at each other across the table in disbelief. It was the last straw with Tenet, the final bit of proof they needed to demonstrate that Tenet simply could not tell the truth to the Commission.” Zelikow will later say that he concluded Tenet’s memory lapses were not genuine, but that “George had decided not to share information on any topic unless we already had documentary proof, and then he would add as little as possible to the record.”
False Denial - However, Tenet will deny this was the case, and say he could not remember the authorization to kill bin Laden because he had been on holiday when it was signed and transmitted to Afghanistan. (Shenon 2008, pp. 359-360) However, the 9/11 Commission will state that this memo was “given to Tenet.” In addition, the 9/11 Commission Report calls the message in which the instructions were communicated to the assets in Afghanistan that were to kill bin Laden “CIA cable, message from the DCI.” DCI stands for director of central intelligence, Tenet’s official job title. Therefore, Tenet very probably did know about it. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 132, 485)
The Senate Intelligence Committee releases the 511-page Senate Report on Iraqi WMD intelligence, formally titled the “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” (US Congress 7/7/2004; CNN 7/9/2004) All nine Republicans and eight Democrats signed off on the report without dissent, which, as reporter Murray Waas will write, is “a rarity for any such report in Washington, especially during an election year.” (Waas 10/27/2005)
Report Redacted by White House - About 20 percent of the report was redacted by the White House before its release, over the objections of both Republicans and Democrats on the committee. Some of the redactions include caveats and warnings about the reliability of key CIA informants, one code-named “Red River” and another code-named “Curveball” (see Mid- and Late 2001). The source called “Red River” failed polygraph tests given to him by CIA officers to assess his reliability, but portions of the report detailing these and other caveats were redacted at the behest of Bush administration officials. (Jehl 7/12/2004; Rosenthal 7/18/2004)
Widespread Failures of US Intelligence - The report identifies multiple, widespread failures by the US intelligence community in its gathering and analysis of intelligence about Iraq WMD, which led to gross misunderstandings and misrepresentations about Iraq’s WMD programs to the American public by government officials. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), who has previously attempted to shift blame for the intelligence misrepresentations away from the Bush administration and onto the CIA (see July 11, 2003 and After), says that intelligence used to support the invasion of Iraq was based on assessments that were “unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence.” He continues: “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and if left unchecked would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Today we know these assessments were wrong.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the 18-member panel that created the report, says “bad information” was used to bolster the case for war. “We in Congress would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now,” he says (see October 10, 2002). “Leading up to September 11, our government didn’t connect the dots. In Iraq, we are even more culpable because the dots themselves never existed.” Numerous assertions in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002) were “overstated” or “not supported by the raw intelligence reporting,” including:
Claims that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program;
Claims that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons;
Claims that Iraq was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle that could be used to deliver chemical and/or biological weapons payloads onto distant targets;
The so-called “layering effect,” where “assessments were based on previous judgments, without considering the uncertainties of those judgments” (Roberts calls it an “assumption train”);
The failure to explain adequately the uncertainties in the October 2002 NIE to White House officials and Congressional lawmakers;
Reliance on claims by “Curveball,” noting that the use of those claims “demonstrated serious lapses in handling such an important source”;
Use of “overstated, misleading, or incorrect” information in helping then-Secretary of State Colin Powell present the administration’s case to the United Nations in February 2003 (see February 5, 2003); and
The failure of the CIA to share significant intelligence with other agencies. (CNN 7/9/2004; Jones 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
“One fact is now clear,” Roberts says. “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and if left unchecked, would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Well, today we know these assessments were wrong.” (Jones 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004) Rockefeller says the intelligence community failed to “accurately or adequately explain the uncertainties behind the judgments in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to policymakers.” The community’s “intelligence failures” will haunt America’s national security “for generations to come,” he says. “Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower,” he says. “We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before.” (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
'Group Think' and 'Corporate Culture' - Roberts says the report finds that the “flawed” information used to send the nation to war was the result of “what we call a collective group think, which led analysts and collectors and managers to presume that Iraq had active and growing WMD programs.” He says this “group think caused the community to interpret ambiguous evidence, such as the procurement of dual-use technology, as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs.” Roberts blames “group think” and a “broken corporate culture and poor management,” which “cannot be solved by simply adding funding and also personnel.” (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
Lack of Human Intelligence in Iraq - Perhaps the most troubling finding, Roberts says, is the intelligence community’s near-total lack of human intelligence in Iraq. “Most alarmingly, after 1998 and the exit of the UN inspectors, the CIA had no human intelligence sources inside Iraq who were collecting against the WMD target,” he says. (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
No Connection between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Rockefeller says that the administration’s claims of an alliance between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda had no basis in fact: “[N]o evidence existed of Iraq’s complicity or assistance in al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, including 9/11.” The report says that intelligence claims of connections between Iraq and some terrorist activities were accurate, though the contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq from the 1990s “did not add up to an established formal relationship.” (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
Divided Opinion on Pressure from Bush Administration - Republicans and Democrats on the committee differ as to whether they believe the CIA and other intelligence agencies groomed or distorted their findings as a result of political pressure from the White House. “The committee found no evidence that the intelligence community’s mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure,” Roberts says. However, Rockefeller notes that the report fails to explain fully the pressures on the intelligence community “when the most senior officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly. It was clear to all of us in this room who were watching that—and to many others—that they had made up their mind that they were going to go to war.” The analysts were subjected to a “cascade of ominous statements,” Rockefeller says, that may have pushed them to slant their analyses in the direction the White House indicated it wanted. The report finds that Vice President Dick Cheney and others who repeatedly visited intelligence agencies (see 2002-Early 2003) pressured intelligence analysts or officials to present particular findings or change their views. However, the report notes repeated instances of analysts exaggerating what they knew, and leaving out, glossing over, or omitting dissenting views. According to the report, the intelligence community released a misleading public version of the October 2002 NIE (see October 4, 2002) that eliminated caveats and dissenting opinions, thus misrepresenting “their judgments to the public which did not have access to the classified National Intelligence Estimate containing the more carefully worded assessments.” (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004; Jones 7/9/2004) In an interview the evening after the report’s release, Rockefeller is asked if the report documents “a failure of a system or is this a failure of a bunch of individuals who just did their jobs poorly?” Rockefeller responds: “This is a failure of a system.… It is not fair to simply dump all of this on the Central Intelligence Agency. The Central Intelligence Agency does not make the decision, and [former Director] George Tenet does not make the decision to go to war. That decision is made at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.… So we went to war under false pretenses, and I think that is a very serious subject for Americans to think about for our future.” Asked “if the president had known then what he knows now, he would have still taken us to war?” Rockefeller answers: “I can’t answer that question. I just ask—the question I ask is, why isn’t he, and maybe he is, why isn’t he as angry about his decision, so to speak his vote on this, as I am about mine?” (Lehrer 7/9/2004)
Supporting the Claim of Iraq's Attempt to Purchase Nigerien Uranium - The report states flatly that senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson made the decision to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The CIA has demonstrated that Plame Wilson did not make that decision (see February 19, 2002). However, as well as claiming that Plame Wilson sent Wilson to Niger, it claims that Wilson’s report, far from disproving the assertion of an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium, actually bolstered that assertion. The report states that the question of Iraq’s attempt to buy Nigerien uranium remains “open.” It also says Wilson lied to the Washington Post in June 2004 by claiming that the documents used to support the claim were forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). “Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’ when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports,” the report states. Wilson told committee members he may have been confused and may have “misspoken” to some reporters (see May 2, 2004). The committee did not examine the documents themselves. (Schmidt 7/10/2009) The committee made similar claims a year before (see June 11, 2003 and July 11, 2003 and After). Progressive reporter and columnist Joshua Micah Marshall disputes the report’s claim that Wilson’s trip to Niger actually helped prove the assertion that Iraq tried to buy Nigerien uranium. The intelligence reports making the assertion are “fruits of the same poison tree” that produced so many other false and misleading claims, Marshall writes, and were based on the assumption that the forged documents were genuine. (Joshua Micah Marshall 7/10/2004) In 2007, Plame Wilson will write, “What was missing from the [committee] report was just as telling as the distortions it contained. The ‘Additional Views’ section… had concluded” that she was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. Yet that was contradicted by a senior CIA official over a year before. Plame Wilson will call the “Additional Views” section “a political smear if there ever was one,” crammed with “distortions and outright lies. Yet it continues to be cited today by Joe’s critics as proof of his lack of credibility.” The Wilsons learn months later that committee Democrats decided not to fight against the attacks on Wilson’s integrity; according to one of the senior Democratic senators on the panel, there was simply too much “incoming” from the Republicans for them to fight every issue. There were “far too many serious substantial disputes” that needed solving, and the Democrats chose to allow the attacks on Wilson to proceed without comment. (Wilson 2007, pp. 187-190)
Portion of the Report Delayed - Roberts and other Republican majority committee members were successful in blocking Democrats’ attempts to complete the second portion of the report, which delineates the Bush administration’s use of the intelligence findings. That report will not be released until after the November 2004 presidential election. Rockefeller says he feels “genuine frustration… that virtually everything that has to do with the administration” has been “relegated to phase two” and will be discussed at another time. The second part of the committee’s investigation will focus on the “interaction or the pressure or the shaping of intelligence” by the Bush administration, Rockefeller says. “It was clear to all of us that the Bush administration had made up its mind to go to war,” he says, and he believes that such a “predetermination” influenced the intelligence community. Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says she hopes a similar House investigation would address some of those issues. However, she notes, she has been stymied by House Republicans in even launching that investigation. “There has not been the cooperation that there apparently has been on the Senate side,” she says. She has just now managed to wangle a meeting with House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL), who is being touted as the next director of the CIA (see September 24, 2004). Harman says, “I would hope we could address [the issues] factually and on a bipartisan basis, but at the moment I don’t have a lot of confidence in it.” (CNN 7/9/2004; Jones 7/9/2004) Roberts’s spokeswoman Sarah Little later says that the committee has not yet decided whether the second portion of the report will be fully classified, declassified, or even if it will hold hearings. (Waas 10/27/2005)
Cheney, Roberts Colluded in Interfering with Report - Over a year later, the media will find that Roberts allowed Cheney and members of his staff to interfere with the committee’s investigation and dramatically limit its scope (see October 27, 2005). Rockefeller will say that he made three separate requests for White House documents during the committee’s investigation, but never received the documents he asked for. “The fact is,” Rockefeller will say, “that throughout the Iraq investigation any line of questioning that brought us too close to the White House was thwarted.” Rockefeller’s spokesperson, Wendy Morigi, will say that Rockefeller will “sadly come to the conclusion that the Intelligence Committee is not capable of doing the job of investigating the fundamental question as to whether the administration has misused intelligence to go to war.” (Waas and Singer 10/30/2005) Plame Wilson will write: “In the coming months, many reliable sources told us that before the report was issued, there was considerable collusion between the vice president’s office and… Roberts on how to craft the report and its content. So much for checks and balances and the separation of powers.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 192)
Author Clifford May, a former Republican National Committee staffer and a well-known television pundit, lambasts former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s new book, The Politics of Truth (see April 2004). May, who has written derisively about Wilson before (see September 29, 2003), opens by accusing Wilson of publishing a “quickie book sporting his dapper self on the cover” that contains little substance and is based largely on “a wet-kiss profile in Vanity Fair.” He derides Wilson’s lengthy experience as a diplomat (see July 31, 1990, August 1-2, 1990, August 6, 1990, August 8-9, 1990, September 20, 1990, and January 12, 1991) by calling him “the guy who makes sure the embassy plumbing is working and that the commissary is stocked with Oreos and other products the ambassador prefers.” Most notably, May comes to the conclusion that Wilson himself, and not the White House, outed his wife Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent, a conclusion he says was reached by a “bipartisan Senate committee report.” May is referring to the recent report by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004). He repeats many of the committee’s erroneous assertions, including the allegation that Wilson’s wife was responsible for the decision to send Wilson to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). In regards to President Bush’s State of the Union assertion that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), May writes, “We now know for certain that Wilson was wrong and that Bush’s statement was entirely accurate.” He goes on to assert that the forged documents used to support the Iraq-Niger uranium story were likely “planted in order to be discovered—as a ruse to discredit the story of a Niger-Iraq link, to persuade people there were no grounds for the charge. If that was the plan, it worked like a charm.” May even says that Wilson’s report bolstered the belief that the uranium story might be true. He repeats his earlier charges that Wilson is an incompetent partisan whom the CIA had no business sending to Niger in the first place. He never explains exactly how Wilson outed his own wife as a CIA agent, though he does assert, wrongly, that Plame Wilson was never an undercover agent (see Fall 1992 - 1996) and therefore no one broke the law in revealing her status as a CIA official. (May 7/12/2004) In 2004, Wilson will write of May’s assertion that his wife’s CIA status “was supposedly widely known” throughout Washington, “[I]f what May wrote was accurate, it is a damning admission, because it could have been widely known only by virtue of leaks among his own crowd.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 443-444)
The 9/11 Commission interviews two CIA analysts who drafted an August 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). The interview is conducted mainly by commissioners Richard Ben-Veniste and Jim Thompson and follows an internal battle inside the Commission (see June 2004 and Early July 2004). Despite a claim by the Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow that the analysts, known only as Barbara S and Dwayne D, were reluctant to answer questions, they are willing and eager to respond to Ben-Veniste.
PDB Item Not 'Historical' - According to author Philip Shenon, the analysts are “confused” and “appalled” by claims by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and others at the White House that the PDB item only contained an “historical” overview of domestic terrorism threats. The analysts say that this was not its purpose and that it was supposed to remind President Bush that al-Qaeda remained a dire threat in August 2001 and that a domestic attack was certainly a possibility. For example, the item referred to “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks.” Barbara S says, “That’s not historical,” and adds the threat of a domestic terror attack by al-Qaeda was thought “current and serious” at that time.
Ordered up 'In-House' - In addition, the analysts say that another claim made by the White House, that President Bush specifically ordered the PDB (see April 13, 2004), is false. They state that the PDB item was ordered “in-house” by the CIA in the hope that the White House would pay more attention to the threat. However, President Bush had asked his intelligence briefers about the possibility of a domestic attack by terrorists that summer (see July 5, 2001).
Zelikow Objects to Placement of Material in Final Report - Ben-Veniste insists that the material from the two analysts is placed prominently in the Commission’s final report, although Zelikow objects to this. After negotiations, the relevant paragraph will read as follows: “During the spring and summer of 2001, President Bush had on several occasions asked his briefers whether any of the threats pointed to the United States. Reflecting on these questions, the CIA decided to write a briefing article summarizing its understanding of this danger. Two CIA analysts involved in preparing this briefing article believed it represented an opportunity to communicate their view that the threat of a bin Laden attack in the United States remained both current and serious. The result was an article in the August 6 Presidential Daily Brief titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.’” (Shenon 2008, pp. 377-379)
While reviewing reports from Iraq, senior CIA case officer and WMD expert Valerie Plame Wilson admits a fellow CIA officer into her office. In 2007, Plame Wilson will recall: “His round face was flushed and his eyes, behind glasses, looked close to tears. I had worked with him for the last two years, through many stressful days, and I had never seen him so emotional or distressed.” After she closes the door, he says tightly, “They twisted my testimony.” Plame Wilson is not sure what he is talking about. ”I recommended Joe for the trip, don’t you remember?” he continues. “I told the committee this, but they didn’t include it in the report.” Plame Wilson realizes that the officer is talking about the recently released report from the intelligence committee on the prewar intelligence used to justify the Iraq invasion (see July 9, 2004), and referring to her husband, Joseph Wilson. She will write: “So when… the reports officer came to my office a day after the [committee] report came out, he confirmed what I had felt to be true—that I had not suggested Joe at all—but was afraid to voice without knowing for sure. He also reminded me of how the phone call to [another CIA officer] had started this chain of events (see February 13, 2002). A wave of apprehension swept over me. I wanted to urge my colleague to come forward again with the truth, but I couldn’t tell him what to do—it would be witness tampering.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 192-193)
Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a young Pakistani, is arrested in Lahore after six weeks of surveillance by Pakistani authorities in conjunction with US intelligence agencies. The US and Pakistanis learned of Noor Khan after arresting another al-Qaeda suspect, Musaad Aruchi, a month before (see June 12, 2004), and they had been tracking him since then. Noor Khan is taken to a high-security prison by Pakistani authorities, who resisted pressure from the CIA to let them completely handle the operation. (Burke, Harris, and Bright 8/8/2004) American intelligence agents find what they later call a “treasure trove” of information in Noor Khan’s computers and documents. (CNN 8/2/2004) Khan is a communications hub of sorts for al-Qaeda. He is in frequent contact with dozens of other al-Qaeda terrorists around the world and passing messages back and forth from more senior al-Qaeda operatives. Former National Security Council official Gideon Rose will later say, “It is obviously a very serious victory. It is obvious that there is a real find here.” (Burke, Harris, and Bright 8/8/2004) Khan, who speaks fluent English, is not just a center for expediting clandestine communications between al-Qaeda leaders and their underlings, but also handles and collates documents, reports, maps, and other information, and sometimes performs his own intelligence-gathering, usually on trips to Britain. (Moreau, Hussain, and Yousafzai 8/8/2004) Khan’s computer contains detailed surveillance information about five US buildings—the Stock Exchange and Citigroup’s headquarters in New York City, the Prudential building in Newark, and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headquarters in Washington—all possible targets for future al-Qaeda attacks, though the information is all from 2000 and 2001. Other sites in New York City and San Francisco are mentioned, and meticulous information about London’s Heathrow Airport is also found. Pakistani intelligence officials believe that the information indicates a “present” threat, and so inform their US counterparts. Later in the month, the Pakistanis convince Khan to “turn,” or become a double agent. Khan will subsequently send e-mails to dozens of operatives all requesting that they contact him immediately (see July 24-25, 2004). (Burke, Harris, and Bright 8/8/2004)
Several days after CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s conversation with the junior records officer who confirmed that he was the one to suggest that Plame Wilson’s husband go to Niger (see After July 12, 2004), the officer shows Plame Wilson a crumpled copy of a memo he has written, stating that his Senate testimony had been twisted, and that he, not her, had suggested Joseph Wilson for the Niger trip. Plame Wilson will write, “I was filled with gratitude.” The officer says he had asked his supervisor if he could testify to the Senate a second time and was flatly turned down. Plame Wilson will write: “With the clear wisdom of hindsight, I should have immediately approached the senior management of CPD [the CIA’s counterproliferation division] and asked for their support to correct the report’s omission of the junior CPD’s testimony. I should have aggressively pushed for an investigation into how the report distorted the issue of how and why Joe was selected for the mission to Niger. I should have asked to make a photocopy of my colleague’s memo, and put it into a safety deposit box for safekeeping. I should have asked my former supervisor to clarify his role in Joe’s selection.… But I did none of these things. I was much too passive, feeling boxed in, afraid of repercussions. If I spoke out I would lose my job. If I didn’t, it might doom my marriage. It was a miserable time for me and Joe—both of us existing in separate but connected rooms in hell.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 193-194)
Shortly before the 9/11 Commission is due to release its final report (see July 22, 2004), Commission Chairman Thomas Kean says, “We believe.… that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, [between al-Qaeda and] Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq.” (Zagorin and Klein 7/16/2004) This is based on a review of NSA material performed by one commission staffer (see January-June 2004) and a day trip to NSA headquarters by a group of staffers to examine material there (see Between July 1 and July 17, 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 155-7, 370-373) The US media immediately runs prominent stories on the Commission’s evidence regarding Iran and nearly completely ignores evidence regarding Pakistan. The Commission’s final report mentions that around ten of the hijackers passed through Iran in late 2000 and early 2001. At least some Iranian officials turned a blind eye to the passage of al-Qaeda agents, but there was no evidence that the Iranian government had any foreknowledge or involvement in the 9/11 plot (see Mid-July 2004). (Zagorin and Klein 7/16/2004; Reuters 7/18/2004) In the wake of these findings, President Bush states of Iran, “As to direct connections with September 11, we’re digging into the facts to determine if there was one.” This puts Bush at odds with his own CIA, which has seen no Iran-9/11 ties. (Chen and Miller 7/20/2004) Bush has long considered Iran part of his “axis of evil,” and there has been talk of the US attacking or overthrowing the Iranian government. (Reuters 7/18/2004) Provocative articles appear, such as one in the Daily Telegraph titled, “Now America Accuses Iran of Complicity in World Trade Center Attack.” (Coman 7/18/2004) Yet, while this information on Iran makes front page news in most major newspapers, evidence of a much stronger connection between Pakistan and 9/11 is nearly completely ignored. For instance, only UPI reports on a document suggesting high-level Pakistani involvement in the 9/11 attacks that is revealed this same week. (de Borchgrave 7/22/2004) Furthermore, the 9/11 Commission’s final report will contain almost nothing on Pakistan’s ties to al-Qaeda, despite evidence given to the Commission that, according to one commissioner speaking to the Los Angeles Times, showed that Pakistan was “up to their eyeballs” in intrigue with al-Qaeda. (Meyer 7/16/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004)
The Wall Street Journal publishes an op-ed declaring that since the Senate Intelligence Committee has “exposed” former ambassor Joseph Wilson’s “falsehoods” about his trip to Niger to explore the allegations that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 9, 2004), it is time for Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to “close up shop” and stop his investigation into who outed Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. The Journal declares that if “an administration official cited nepotism truthfully in order to explain the oddity of Mr. Wilson’s selection for the Niger mission, then there was no underlying crime” in outing Plame Wilson. “[T]he entire leak probe now looks like a familiar Beltway case of criminalizing political differences. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald should fold up his tent.” The Journal also repeats the baseless conclusion of the Republican authors of the committee report that stated Wilson’s findings in Niger actually provided “some confirmation” of the Iraq-Niger deal. (Wall Street Journal 7/20/2004) In 2007, Plame Wilson will write that she is in her CIA office when she reads the op-ed. She recalls realizing that the entire thrust of the attempt to smear her husband is “to derail the leak investigation, which was sniffing dangerously close to the White House. Now I understood the ferocity of the attacks on Joe.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 192)
Michael Meacher, a British member of Parliament, and a cabinet minister in Tony Blair’s government until 2003, writes in the Guardian, “Significantly, [Saeed] Sheikh is… the man who, on the instructions of General Mahmood Ahmed, the then head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), wired $100,000 before the 9/11 attacks to Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker. It is extraordinary that neither Ahmed nor Sheikh have been charged and brought to trial on this count. Why not?” Daniel Ellsberg, the “Pentagon Papers” whistleblower during the Nixon presidency, states in the same article, “It seems to me quite plausible that Pakistan was quite involved in [9/11]… To say Pakistan is, to me, to say CIA because… it’s hard to say that the ISI knew something that the CIA had no knowledge of.” (Meacher 7/22/2004)
Bill Gertz, a columnist for the conservative Washington Times, writes that CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity was compromised twice before it was publicly exposed by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003). If true, neither exposure was made publicly, as Novak’s was. Anonymous government officials told Gertz that Plame Wilson’s identity was disclosed to Russian intelligence agents in the mid-1990s. Her identity was again revealed in what Gertz calls “a more recent inadvertent disclosure,” references identifying Plame Wilson as a CIA official in confidential documents sent by the agency to the US interests section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana. The anonymous officials told Gertz that Cuban officials read the documents and could have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. The officials did not state when the alleged Cuban exposure took place. “The law says that to be covered by the act the intelligence community has to take steps to affirmatively protect someone’s cover,” one official told Gertz. “In this case, the CIA failed to do that.” Another official told Gertz that the compromises before the news column were not publicized and thus should not affect the investigation of Plame Wilson’s exposure. (Getz 7/22/2004)
On July 13, 2004, a young Pakistani al-Qaeda operative named Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan was arrested in Pakistan (see July 13, 2004). US intelligence agents find what they later call a “treasure trove” of information in Noor Khan’s computers and documents. (CNN 8/2/2004) They realize that Khan has served as a communications hub of sorts for al-Qaeda. He is in frequent contact with dozens of other al-Qaeda terrorists around the world and passing messages back and forth from more senior al-Qaeda operatives. Intelligence agents quickly realize that, through Khan, they can penetrate deep into the core of al-Qaeda’s current operations. Around the weekend of July 24-25, the Pakistanis convince Khan to “turn,” or become a double agent. Khan sends e-mails to dozens of activists in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and other countries. He requests that they contact him immediately and reveal where they are. As the emails come back, intelligence agents all over the world go into action to monitor those who have replied to Khan. (Burke, Harris, and Bright 8/8/2004) Newsweek later reports that he sends e-mails to at least six contacts in the US, but the results of this are unknown. A senior US intelligence official confirms that Khan contacted people in the US, but believes number is less than six. (Moreau, Hussain, and Yousafzai 8/8/2004) Some of Khan’s contacts are quickly arrested, including Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian wanted since 1998 for his role in the bombing of the US embassy in his home country (see July 25-29, 2004). (Suskind 2006) Some communications take time to reach him. He is sometimes sent handwritten notes or computer discs from the mountains where bin Laden and other top leaders are hiding out. These are delivered by secretive relays of couriers who never see each other, using dead drops to avoid being traced. Other messages come from far-flung intermediaries who forward e-mail without knowing what it means, where it is going, or who is sending it. (Moreau, Hussain, and Yousafzai 8/8/2004) However, on August 1, Bush administration officials leak Noor Khan’s name to the press and the New York Times prints his name one day later. This only gives one week for the sting operation to work. Intelligence officials are crushed the operation has to end before it could expose many more al-Qaeda operatives (see August 2, 2004).
US News and World Report writes, “Since 9/11, the worldwide war on terrorism has stretched those officers [at the CIA] thin, but the Iraq war is now putting them at a breaking point, say insiders.” Longtime CIA officer Jack Devine says, “The notion that you could support a military initiative in Iraq, combat worldwide terrorism, and cover other critical issues was wrong.” About a quarter of the CIA’s overseas staff is said to be in Iraq. One unnamed CIA officer says that CIA stations are “standing empty all over the world where there’s stuff to do. You’re either in Iraq, going to Iraq, or just back.” As a result, the CIA is turning more frequently to private contractors to make up shortfalls, including even in operational work. (US News and World Report 7/25/2004)
Officials at the CIA refer a case in which a detainee named Gul Rahman apparently froze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002) to the Justice Department for examination. (Johnson, Markon, and Tate 9/19/2009) The full name of the CIA officer who caused the detainee to die is not known, although his last name is Zirbel. (Mahoney and Johnson 10/9/2009, pp. 29 ) The case is reviewed with an eye to prosecution by the US Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, where one of the office’s top prosecutors works on it. (Johnson, Markon, and Tate 9/19/2009) This is apparently one of eight such referrals around this time. (Jehl and Golden 10/23/2005) According to the New York Times, the Justice Department will be “reviewing its jurisdiction” in the case in May 2005. (Jehl and Schmitt 5/22/2004) The department will decide not to prosecute in October 2005 (see Mid-October 2005), but will re-examine the case in 2009 (see August 24, 2009).
CIA official Michael Scheuer says that the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, is still effectively less than 30 people strong. Scheuer was head of the unit until 1999 (see June 1999, and he says this was about the size of the unit when he left. Technically, the unit has hundreds of employees, but Scheuer claims this is not really true. He says: “The numbers are big, but it’s a shell game. It’s people they move in for four or five months at a time and then bring in a new bunch. But the hard core of expertise, of experience, of savvy really hasn’t expanded at all since 9/11.” (Border 8/20/2004) There were about 35 to 40 people in the unit at the time of the 9/11 attacks (see Just Before September 11, 2001). The unit will be closed down altogether one year later (see Late 2005).
The 9/11 Commission releases a report on terrorism financing. Its conclusions generally stand in complete contrast to a great body of material reported by the mainstream media, before and after this report. For instance, while the report does mention some terrorism-supporting organizations in great detail, such as the Global Relief Foundation or Al Barakaat, many seemingly important organizations are not mentioned a single time in either this report or the 9/11 Commission Final Report. The Commission fails to ever mention: BMI, Inc., Ptech, Al Taqwa Bank, Holy Land Foundation, InfoCom, International Islamic Relief Organization, Muslim World League, Muwafaq (Blessed Relief) Foundation, Quranic Literacy Institute, and the SAAR network or any entity within it. Additionally, important efforts to track terrorist financing such as Vulgar Betrayal and Operation Greenquest are not mentioned a single time. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 61; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 ) Some select quotes from the report:
“While the drug trade was an important source of income for the Taliban before 9/11, it did not serve the same purpose for al-Qaeda. Although there is some fragmentary reporting alleging that bin Laden may have been an investor, or even had an operational role, in drug trafficking before 9/11, this intelligence cannot be substantiated and the sourcing is probably suspect.” Additionally, there is “no evidence of [al-Qaeda] drug funding after 9/11.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 22-23 )
“[C]ontrary to some public reports, we have not seen substantial evidence that al-Qaeda shares a fund-raising infrastructure in the United States with Hamas, Hezbollah, or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 24 )
“The United States is not, and has not been, a substantial source of al-Qaeda funding, but some funds raised in the United States may have made their way to al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups. A murky US network of jihadist (holy war) supporters has plainly provided funds to foreign mujaheddin with al-Qaeda links. Still, there is little hard evidence of substantial funds from the United States actually going to al-Qaeda. A CIA expert on al-Qaeda financing believes that any money coming out of the United States for al-Qaeda is ‘minuscule.’” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 24 )
The notion “that bin Laden was a financier with a fortune of several hundred million dollars” is an “urban legend.” “[S]ome within the government continued to cite the $300 million figure well after 9/11, and the general public still [incorrectly] gives credence to the notion of a ‘multimillionaire bin Laden.’” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 20, 34 ) (A few months after this report, it will be reported that in 2000 over $250 million passed through a bank account jointly controlled by bin Laden and another man (see 2000).)
“To date, the US government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks.… Ultimately the question of the origin of the funds is of little practical significance.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 144 )
“The US intelligence community has attacked the problem [of terrorist funding] with imagination and vigor” since 9/11. (Shenon 8/22/2004)
According to the New York Times, the report “largely exonerate[s] the Saudi government and its senior officials of long-standing accusations that they were involved in financing al-Qaeda terrorists.” (Shenon 8/22/2004) Author Douglas Farah comments on the Commission’s report, “The biggest hole is the complete lack of attention to the role the Muslim Brotherhood has played in the financing of al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups. While the ties are extensive on a personal level, they also pervade the financial structure of al-Qaeda.… According to sources who provided classified briefing to the Commission staff, most of the information that was provided was ignored.… [T]he Commission staff simply did not include any information that was at odds with the official line of different agencies.” (Farah 8/27/2004)
Haji Bashir Noorzai, reputedly Afghanistan’s biggest drug kingpin with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, was arrested by US forces then inexplicably released in late 2001 (see Late 2001). He lives in Pakistan with the protection of the ISI, but in June 2004, the Bush administration adds his name to a US government list of wanted drug figures. Concerned that he may eventually be arrested again, he agrees to hold secret talks with a FBI team to discuss a deal. According to author James Risen, “The message the Americans delivered to Noorzai was a simple one: you can keep on running, or you can come work with us. Cooperate, and tell us what you know about the Afghan drug business, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their financiers.” Arrangements are made for Noorzai to meet the FBI team in a hotel in the United Arab Emirates to finalize a deal. But the FBI team never arrives. According to Risen, “American sources add that the local CIA station in the UAE was so preoccupied with the war in Iraq that it was unable to devote any attention to the Noorzai case.” Noorzai eventually tires of waiting and returns to Pakistan. One US official familiar with the case says, “We let one of the big drug kingpins go, someone who was a key financier for al-Qaeda, someone who could help us identify al-Qaeda’s key financiers in the Gulf. It was a real missed opportunity. If the American people knew what was going on, they would go nuts.” (Risen 2006, pp. 152-162; Blanchard 1/25/2006)
Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, complains, “In the CIA’s core, US-based bin Laden operational unit today there are fewer [operational] officers with substantive expertise on al-Qaeda than there were on 11 September 2001. There has been no systematic effort to groom al-Qaeda expertise among [operational] officers since 11 September… The excellent management team now running operations against al-Qaeda has made repeated, detailed, and on-paper pleas for more officers to work against the al-Qaeda—and have done so for years, not weeks or months—but have been ignored…” (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004)
The Los Angeles Times reports that US officials claim, “Despite its fervent denials, Israel secretly maintains a large and active intelligence-gathering operation in the United States that has long attempted to recruit US officials as spies and to procure classified documents….” In turn, US agents have long monitored Israeli diplomats and agents in the US. An intelligence official who had recently left government says, “There is a huge, aggressive, ongoing set of Israeli activities directed against the United States.… Anybody who worked in counterintelligence in a professional capacity will tell you the Israelis are among the most aggressive and active countries targeting the United States.… The denials are laughable.” The Times adds, “Current and former officials involved with Israel at the White House, CIA, State Department, and in Congress had similar appraisals, although not all were as harsh in their assessments.” Officials note that Israel is considered a very close ally and is frequently given highly classified information. But it is also noted that US and Israeli intelligence agencies do not completely trust each other. (Drogin and Miller 9/3/2004)
The Washington Post reports that “Some federal agents worry that the Muslim Brotherhood has dangerous links to terrorism. But some US diplomats and intelligence officials believe its influence offers an opportunity for political engagement that could help isolate violent jihadists.” The Post describes the Brotherhood as “a sprawling and secretive society with followers in more than 70 countries.… In some nations—Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Sudan—the Brotherhood has fomented Islamic revolution. In the Palestinian territories, the Brotherhood created… Hamas, which has become known for its suicide bombings of Israelis. Yet it is also a sophisticated and diverse organization that appeals to many Muslims worldwide and sometimes advocates peaceful persuasion, not violent revolt. Some of its supporters went on to help found al-Qaeda, while others launched one of the largest college student groups in the United States.” A top FBI counterterrorism official says, “We see some sort of nexus, direct or indirect, to the Brotherhood, in ongoing [terrorism] cases.” A number of people connected to al-Qaeda, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and Mohamed Atta, were members of the Brotherhood. Reportedly, “pockets” of US the government “have quietly advocated that the government reach out to the Brotherhood and its allies.” For instance, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA officer working with the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, says, “Bin Laden-ism can only be gutted by fundamentalists.” But former CIA officer Graham Fuller says, “At high levels of the government, there’s no desire to go in the direction of dialogue. It’s still seen as fairly way out.” (Mintz and Fatah 9/11/2004) In 2005, it will be reported that some Muslim Brotherhood leaders created a plan in 1982 to infiltrate the West with the ultimate goal of subverting it and conquering it (see December 1982).
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