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In 2003, after reports began to surface that some detainees in US custody had been abused, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking records about the treatment of all detainees caught since 9/11 and held in US custody overseas. The ACLU eventually filed a lawsuit to get the records, and on September 15, 2004, judge Alvin Hellerstein orders the CIA and other government agencies to “produce or identify” all relevant documents by October 15, 2004. (Dean 12/14/2007) Hellerstein also rules that classified documents must be identified in a written log and the log must be submitted to him for review. In December 2004, the CIA and other agencies make public a huge amount of information but fail to inform the judge about the videotapes and other classified information (see December 21, 2004). Since that time, the case remains delayed with stays, extensions, and appeals. In December 2005, the CIA will destroy videotapes of the interrogations of at least two high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees (see November 2005). After the destruction of the videotapes is publicly revealed in December 2007, the New York Times will comment on the ACLU case, “Some legal experts [say] that the CIA would have great difficulty defending what seemed to be a decision not to identify the tapes to the judge, and the subsequent decision to destroy the tapes.” (Mazzetti 12/13/2007) Legal analyst John Dean will later comment, “It is difficult to see why the CIA is, in fact, not in contempt, given the nature of the [ACLU] request and the judge’s order.” He will suggest that the case may represent the best chance to find out why and how the CIA destroyed the videotapes. (Dean 12/14/2007)
The New York Times reports on the recent issuance of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq by the US intelligence community. It is the first NIE to be issued since before the invasion (see October 1, 2002). The report was leaked to the Times by unnamed government officials.
Civil War a Strong Possibility - The NIE’s findings are grim. Civil war is a strong possibility, the NIE finds. Even the best-case scenario is an Iraq whose political, economic, and national security stability is tenuous and fragile. One government official says of the report, “There’s a significant amount of pessimism.” This NIE was initiated by the National Intelligence Council under the aegis of then-CIA Director George Tenet, who has since resigned. Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin approved the final report. The NIE stands in contrast to recent pronouncements by White House officials, who have insisted that the situation in Iraq is improving daily.
Critics 'Pessimists and Hand-Wringers' - The day before the NIE was released, White House press secretary Scott McClellan called critics of the occupation “pessimists and hand-wringers” who are being “proven… wrong.” (Jehl 9/16/2004)
White House Ignores NIE - The NIE was prepared in July 2004 and not circulated until August, indicating that the White House had little use for the document. “It was finished in July, and not circulated by the intelligence community until the end of August,” one senior administration official says. “That’s not exactly what you do with an urgent document.” (Jehl and Sanger 9/28/2004)
This NIE Closer to CIA's Own Assessments than Earlier Report - Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar will later say that the agency’s own prewar assessments “foretold a long, difficult, and turbulent transition,” assessments more in line with the current NIE than with the 2002 estimate (see January 2003 and September 28, 2004). “It projected that a Marshall Plan-type effort would be required to restore the Iraqi economy, despite Iraq’s abundant oil resources. It forecast that in a deeply divided Iraqi society, with Sunnis resentful over the loss of their dominant position and Shi’ites seeking power commensurate with their majority status, there was a significant chance that the groups would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it. And it anticipated that a foreign occupying force would itself be the target of resentment and attacks—including by guerrilla warfare—unless it established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam” Hussein. The NIE, and the White House’s blase response to it (see September 21-23, 2004), will deepen the tension and distrust between the White House and the CIA. (Roberts 2008, pp. 153, 244)
Fourteen prisoners are transferred from Afghanistan to Guantanamo. They include Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a Yemeni security official who had foreknowledge of 9/11 and was seized in Egypt (see August 12, 2000 and September 2002), and Saifulla Paracha, a Pakistani citizen who was arrested and sent to Bagram in July 2003 (see July 2003). All the other twelve detainees had previously been transported to Afghanistan as a part of the CIA’s rendition program. (Knight Ridder 1/11/2005; Grey 2007, pp. 257)
Responding to the leaked National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) warning of a possible civil war in Iraq (see September 16, 2004), President Bush dismisses the report, saying the CIA in particular is “just guessing” about conditions in that country. Bush says that the report provides “several scenarios that said, life could be lousy, life could be okay, or life could be better, and they were just guessing as to what the conditions might be like.” Two days later, after senior CIA official Paul Pillar and others lambast Bush for his cavalier dismissal of the report, Bush backs away from his original description, calling it “unfortunate” and saying he should have used the word “estimate” rather than “guess.” The entire imbroglio prompts conservative columnist Robert Novak to write that the White House and the CIA “are at war with each other.” (Jehl and Sanger 9/28/2004; Roberts 2008, pp. 153) Novak also blasts Pillar and other intelligence officials for daring to criticize the Bush administration. (Jehl and Sanger 9/28/2004)
On a September 30, 2004, presidential debate with John Kerry, President Bush says, “75 percent of known al-Qaeda leaders have been brought to justice.” But there is no evidence to support such a number. He uses this same number in other speeches around this time. In 2003, Bush’s top advisers typically said that more than one-third of the most wanted leaders had been found. Prior to the Republican convention in early September, the White House had claimed that “two-thirds” of the “senior al-Qaeda and associated leaders, operational managers, and key facilitators” had been captured or killed. But while the White House numbers were increasing as the November 2004 presidential election drew closer, the number of top al-Qaeda figures captured or killed remained essentially unchanged - Hassan Ghul was captured in early 2004 (see January 23, 2004). In October 2004, the Washington Post learns 28 of the approximately 30 names on a classified and unpublished “high-value targets” list of al-Qaeda leaders. Only 14, or half, are known to be killed or captured. (Other al-Qaeda leaders captured in 2004, such as Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (see July 25-29, 2004), apparently are not considered important enough to be included in the list seen by the Washington Post.) (Gellman and Linzer 10/22/2004; Greenberg and Holmes 11/1/2004) In 2008, it will be reported that, of the 37 people the CIA deemed the most important al-Qaeda leaders in 2002, only 15 have been captured or killed. (Rashid 2008, pp. 280-281)
The fractious and contentious relationship between the White House and the CIA, never good since planning began for the Iraq war (see January 2003), has boiled over into the public eye in recent days, according to a New York Times report. James Pavitt, the former head of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, says he has never seen anything approaching “the viciousness and vindictiveness” of the relationship between the White House and the CIA. In recent days, numerous classified assessments have been leaked to the press by people sympathetic to the CIA (see September 16, 2004, September 28, 2004, and October 4, 2004), “to the considerable embarrassment of the White House.” The White House, in turn, has called the authors of the assessments “pessimists and naysayers,” and dismissed a recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq as based on guesswork (see September 21-23, 2004). Some Republican partisans claim that the CIA is waging an “insurgency” or “vendetta” against the White House, an idea that both White House and CIA officials officially reject. “Wars bring things out in people that sometimes other disputes don’t,” says James Woolsey, a neoconservative and former CIA director who is a strong supporter of the administration’s Iraq and terrorism policies. “But even with the passions of war, I think you ought to keep it within channels.” Another former intelligence official is more critical of the agency: “The agency’s role is to tell the administration what it thinks, not to criticize its policies.” CIA defenders say it is important to set the record straight by revealing the agency’s warnings about the possible dire consequences of an Iraq occupation, warnings which the White House either ignored or mocked. “There was nothing in the intelligence that was a casus belli for war,” Pavitt says, noting that while the CIA might have been wrong about Iraq and WMD, it was much closer to the mark in its prewar warnings about the obstacles that an American occupying force would face in postwar Iraq. But, Pavitt, notes, “[t]he agency is not out to undermine this president.” (Jehl 10/2/2004) Conservative defenders of the administration angrily attack the CIA for “insubordination” and betrayal, leaving liberals and progressives in the unusual position of defending the agency. (Roberts 2008, pp. 153)
Knight Ridder Newspapers reveals that a new CIA report released to top US officials the week before says there is no conclusive evidence linking Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the former Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. The CIA reviewed intelligence information at the request of Vice President Dick Cheney some months before. One official familiar with the report says it does not make clear judgments, and the evidence of a possible link is murky. For instance, the report claims that three of al-Zarqawi’s associates were arrested by the Iraqi government before the Iraq war, and Hussein ordered one of them released but not the other two. The report doubts that al-Zarqawi received medical treatment at a Baghdad hospital in May 2002, and flatly denies reports that al-Zarqawi had a leg amputated there or anywhere else (see January 26, 2003). One US official says, “The evidence is that Saddam never gave al-Zarqawi anything.” Several days after the report is given to top officials, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld backs away from previous claims he had made of a link between Hussein and al-Qaeda, saying, “To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.” It is widely acknowledged that al-Zarqawi spent time in Iraq before the start of the Iraq war, but he generally stayed in a border region outside of Hussein’s control. (Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/4/2004)
In a vice-presidential debate between Vice President Cheney and Senator John Edwards, Cheney says of Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: “We know he was running a terrorist camp, training terrorists in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. We know that when we went into Afghanistan that he then migrated to Baghdad. He set up shop in Baghdad, where he oversaw the poisons facility up at Khurmal, where the terrorists were developing ricin and other deadly substances to use.… He was, in fact, in Baghdad before the war, and he’s in Baghdad now after the war.” (Commission on Presidential Debates 10/5/2004) It is true that al-Zarqawi was running a camp in Afghanistan prior to 9/11 (see Early 2000-December 2001). But just days before this debate, the CIA gave Cheney a new report about possible links between al-Zarqawi and Saddam Hussein’s government, a report that Cheney himself had requested several months before (see October 4, 2004). The report doubts there were any such links, and also doubts that al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad getting medical treatment in the months before the Iraq war (see October 4, 2004). (Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/4/2004)
Four US soldiers are charged with murdering an Iraqi major general in their custody. Almost a year ago, Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush died during an interrogation at a base near Qaim, in western Iraq. Mowhoush was smothered to death (see November 26, 2003). The four soldiers are Chief Warrant Officers Jefferson L. Williams and Lewis E. Welshofer, Jr., Sergeant First Class William J. Sommer, and Specialist Jerry L. Loper. All are charged with murder and dereliction of duty. Williams, Welshofer, and Sommer were members of the 66th Military Company, a unit of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Loper was a member of the regiment’s Support Squadron, and assigned to helicopter maintenance. Only Welshofer has training in interrogation practices. Mowhoush, allegedly a high-ranking member of the anti-American insurgency, surrendered to US forces two weeks before his death. The Pentagon initially reported his death as due to “natural causes,” but now admits Mowhoush was tortured to death. “General Mowhoush was allegedly placed in a sleeping bag and then bound to prevent his movement,” a Pentagon report says. “One of the warrant officers [Welshofer] reportedly sat on his chest and continued the interrogation. General Mowhoush was then rolled over, and the warrant officer sat on his back.” Mowhoush died in that position. A medical examination proved that he had died of asphyxiation. Other documents later show that Mowhoush had a bag pulled over his head, the bag was wrapped tightly with electrical cords, and he was beaten and kicked by a crowd of interrogators and officials (see January 19, 2006). Regiment commander Colonel David Teeples says of the charges, “There is no evidence, there is no proof.” Much of the evidence presented in the case is classified and may not ever be made public. “If there are witnesses or documents that would disclose classified information, the trial is closed for those portions,” says retired Air Force Colonel Skip Morgan, a former military judge. (Roeder 10/5/2004) The murder charge against Sommer will later be dropped. Williams and Loper will make plea agreements in return for their testimony against Welshofer. (Foster 1/17/2006) Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
James Pavitt, the CIA’s Deputy Director of Operations, states, “Given what we now know, in all the hindsight of the year 2004, I still do not believe we could have stopped the [9/11] attacks.” (Jehl 10/27/2004) Pavitt is said to be heavily criticized in a still-classified CIA report about that agency’s failures to stop the 9/11 attacks (see January 7, 2005).
The CIA analyzes bin Laden’s new speech, which was released four days before the US presidential election (see October 29, 2004), and concludes that it improves George Bush’s reelection chances. According to author Ron Suskind, the CIA, which has “spent years… parsing each word of the al-Qaeda leader,” knows that “bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons—and those reasons are debated with often startling depth inside the organization’s leadership.” The analysts conclude that “bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the president’s reelection.” Deputy Director John McLaughlin says in a meeting analyzing the speech, “Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the president.” CIA deputy associate director Jami Miscik similarly comments, “Certainly, he would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years.” However, the CIA does not discuss why bin Laden wants Bush to stay. Suskind will write, “But an ocean of hard truths before them—such as what did it say about US policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected—remained untouched.” CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen will later say: “It was sad. We just sat there. We were dispirited.” Several National Security Council members have already reached the conclusion that bin Laden’s presence on the international stage helps Bush (see October 29, 2004). Both presidential candidates condemn bin Laden. John Kerry says, “As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden.” George Bush says, “Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 335-6) Several commentators believe the intervention will help Bush, for example:
Veteran journalist Walter Cronkite says, “I have a feeling that it could tilt the election a bit. In fact, I’m a little inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, he probably set up bin Laden to this thing.” (CNN 10/29/2004)
Roger Simon of US News and World Report says, “I don’t have any trouble parsing out who this helps. I think this is an enormous boost for George Bush.” (CNN 10/29/2004)
MSNBC host Chris Matthews says, “The big thing in politics, of course, is picking the right topic… This creates a terrible situation for the challenger, because it seems to me that Karl Rove has his finger on this.” (MSNBC 10/29/2004)
MSNBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell says, “It makes it harder for Kerry, and it shifts the subject matter back to what George Bush is strongest on. So the Bush people may not say that they are happy about this, but I’m sure that they could not be more pleased that this is the subject of the closing days. How do you say October surprise? This is one that could benefit the president.” (MSNBC 10/29/2004)
CNBC co-host Lawrence Kudlow says, “It will play into Bush’s hands.… it falls into Bush’s lap. And unlike 2000, I think it’s the kind of thing that will cause the remaining undecided voters in the next 72 hours or so to break for Bush.” (Luntz et al. 10/29/2004)
Weekly Standard staff writer Stephen Hayes says, “I think that, as most people have indicated, that is likely to help President Bush.” (Luntz et al. 10/29/2004)
Other commentators from across the political spectrum who suggest the speech will help Bush include Fox News correspondent Major Garrett, Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle, Time magazine correspondent Karen Tumulty, former plumber G. Gordon Liddy, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, the Cook Political Report editor and publisher Charlie Cook, Washington Post journalist Jeffery Birnhaum, and Roll Call executive editor Morton Kondracke. (Wilson et al. 10/29/2004; Wilson et al. 10/29/2004; CNN 10/29/2004; Luntz et al. 10/29/2004; Buchanan et al. 10/29/2004) Some right wing commentators suggest that the tape will help Kerry, including Fox News political commentator Dick Morris, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz, Fox News host Sean Hannity, and author Peggy Noonan. (Gibson 10/29/2004; Wilson et al. 10/29/2004; Fox News 10/29/2004; Fox News 10/29/2004) A Newsweek poll shows that Bush’s lead increases after the tape is released and, after the election, John Kerry, the losing Democratic candidate, will attribute his failure to bin Laden’s intervention: “We were rising in the polls until the last day the tape appeared. We flat-lined the day the tape appeared, and went down on Monday.” (Sherwell 11/1/2004; MSNBC 1/30/2005) George Bush will also agree that the tape helped, saying, “I thought it was going to help. I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the president, something must be right with Bush.” (Reuters 3/1/2006)
Roughly around 2004, the CIA suspects that Osama bin Laden has moved from the mountains of Pakistan or Afghanistan to an urban area in Pakistan. Marty Martin leads the CIA’s hunt for bin Laden from 2002 to 2004. After bin Laden’s death in 2011, he will say: “We could see from his videos what his circumstances were. In the immediate years [after bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora in late 2001] he looked battle fatigued and on the run. He didn’t look healthy. We knew he was moving. But where? We simply didn’t know. Then, he gained weight and looked healthy. I told my analysts, ‘He’s gone urban, moved somewhere stable and safe.’” (Cole 5/19/2011) The only publicly known video of bin Laden after December 2001 is one released in October 2004, so Martin presumably is referring to that (see December 26, 2001 and October 29, 2004).
Several months after the CIA receives an Iranian laptop computer supposedly containing top-secret information about Iran’s nuclear program (see Summer 2004), US officials admit they cannot confirm the reliability of the laptop’s documents (see November 17-18, 2004). (Jehl and Broad 11/20/2004) Under analysis, the documents begin to lose reliability. Nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis of the New America Foundation will later say that he and fellow experts began disparagingly referring to the computer as “the laptop of death.” One of the biggest warning flags, Lewis will say, is the crude manner in which the documents on the laptop were constructed: “What led many of us to have serious doubts about it was how utterly unconnected from reality some of the information seemed. Some of the reports indicated that some of the view graphs were done in Powerpoint, which suggested to me that the program was not terribly sophisticated.” (Akhavi 12/9/2006; Broad and Sanger 12/4/2007)
IAEA Response - Officials with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will say that the laptop evidence, like much of the US’s other intelligence on Iran, is unreliable. “Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us has proved to be wrong,” a senior diplomat at the IAEA will say. Another IAEA official will describe the agency’s intelligence stream as “very cold now” because “so little panned out.” IAEA officials are suspicious of the documents in part because most of the papers are written in English and not in Persian. “We don’t know. Are they genuine, are they real?” a senior UN official will ask. Another official who was briefed on the documents will describe himself as “very unconvinced.” Iran’s representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, will call the laptop documents nothing but “fabricated information” and “nonsense.” (Drogin and Murphy 2/25/2007)
A former CIA officer will tell New Yorker reporter Seymour Hersh that, in mid-2004, the White House began putting pressure on CIA analysts “to see more support for the administration’s political position.” But after Porter Goss becomes the new CIA director (see September 24, 2004) and the November 2004 election passes, a “political purge” of employees who have written papers that dissent with Bush policies begins. One former official notes that only “true believers” remain. (Hersh 1/24/2005)
'Creeping Politicization' - An anonymous former CIA official tells Newsday: “The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House. Goss was given instructions… to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats.” (Royce 11/14/2004) In 2007, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson will write, “Employees’ worst fears about the creeping politicization of the CIA” are confirmed when Goss issues the memo about the agency supporting the administration. She will observe: “Although a CIA spokesman explained the memo as a statement of the agency’s nonpartisan nature, it appeared to be just the opposite. It had a kind of creepy Orwellian Ministry of Truth ring to it—further dismaying CIA staffers who believed the agency was rapidly losing credibility and power as partisan politics began to degrade its work product.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 212) Days after the November 2004 presidential election, Goss circulates an internal memorandum to all CIA employees, telling them their job is to “support the administration and its policies in our work.” (Jehl 11/17/2004) The memo also contains a caveat that they should “let the facts alone speak to the policymaker.” However, an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times calls this mere “lip service,” and says the memo leaves “the impression that in the second Bush administration, the White House will run the CIA.… Goss has confirmed the worst fears of critics who warned he was too partisan when Bush appointed him.” (Wise 11/21/2004)
Morale 'Dangerously Low,' Many Senior Officials Leave - Plame Wilson will recall hearing from her colleagues throughout August, while she was on leave, “that morale was dangerously low, and there was a spirit of outright revolt towards Porter Goss and his ‘Gosslings.’ Everyone was calculating the benefits of staying or jumping from the fast-sinking ship.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 213) Such new policies inspire more employees to leave. By the time the purge is completed in early 2005, about 20 senior CIA officials will have resigned or retired. Only one member of the leadership team from George Tenet’s tenure will remain. (Pincus 1/6/2005) Newsweek says the “efforts at cleaning house may have only thrown the spy agency into deeper turmoil.” (Isikoff and Klaidman 2/21/2005) Plame Wilson will write: “At least one thousand years of hard-earned operational experience walked out when our country’s national security needs were greatest. It was devastating.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 213)
Hours after new CIA Director Porter Goss issues a memo telling agency officials that it must support the Bush administration (see November-December 2004 and November 17, 2004), Deputy Director of Operations Stephen Kappes becomes one of the first casualties of Goss’s White House-orchestrated “purge” of the agency. Kappes resigns after his deputy, Michael Sulick, criticizes Goss’s chief of staff, Pat Murray; in turn, Murray sends Sulick what the agency’s head of European operations, Tyler Drumheller, calls “a truly obnoxious e-mail” that “accused Sulick and Kappes, two of the most experienced, respected men in the building, of being fools and lacking integrity.” Murray then orders Kappes to fire Sulick; instead, Kappes and Sulick both submit their resignations. They are the first of over 20 senior CIA officials to leave the agency. (Wilson 2007, pp. 212-213) A former senior CIA official says that the White House “doesn’t want Steve Kappes to reconsider his resignation. That might be the spin they put on it, but they want him out.” Kappes’s job may be offered to Drumheller. (Royce 11/14/2004) In 2006, Kappes will return—after Goss’s abrupt resignation (see May 5, 2006)—as deputy director of the CIA (see June 1, 2006).
CIA Director Porter Goss, known for being dogmatically loyal to the White House (see September 25, 2003 and November-December 2004), responds to the recent spate of leaked CIA memos (see September 16, 2004, September 28, 2004, and October 4, 2004) by issuing a memo reminding agency staff that they should “scrupulously honor our secrecy oath.” The memo is leaked to the press the next day. Goss says, “Intelligence-related issues have become the fodder of partisan food fights and turf-power skirmishes.” Goss warns that agency officials must publicly support Bush administration policies: “As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies,” Goss writes. His intention is, he writes, “to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road.” Goss’s words may indicate that CIA employees must conform with administration policies and goals, but he also writes, “We provide the intelligence as we see it—and let the facts alone speak to the policymaker.” Many critics of the agency and its leadership say that Goss’s memo is part of his attempt to squelch dissent within the agency’s ranks. “If Goss is asking people to color their views and be a team player, that’s not what people at CIA signed up for,” says a former intelligence official. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that “on issue after issue, there’s a real question about whether the country and the Congress are going to get an unvarnished picture of our intelligence situation at a critical time.” (Jehl 11/17/2004; Roberts 2008, pp. 153)
The new director of the CIA, Porter Goss (see September 24, 2004), issues a memo to CIA employees that, in author Craig Unger’s words, “instantly confirm[s] his reputation as an administration loyalist.” The memo reads in part: “As agency employees we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration in its policies. [Our job is] to support the administration and its policies in our work.” While the CIA has been sensitive to the desires of previous administrations, it has always worked to keep at least some distance between itself and the political ebb and flow of Washington, and tried to preserve at least some degree of impartiality. Goss intends to change all that and make the CIA another arm of the White House. Unger will later write: “With [soon-to-be named Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice, [soon-to-be National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley, and Goss in key positions, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld had consolitated control over national security to an unprecedented degree. The notion that America’s $40 billion intelligence apparatus would speak truth to power had become a pipe dream.” (Unger 2007, pp. 326)
Congress expands the Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001) by approving an intelligence spending bill with a provision that gives the FBI the power to subpoena business documents and transactions from a broad range of businesses and entities—including libraries, travel agencies, and even eBay—without court warrants. This reduces oversight of the FBI and shifts power away from the judiciary. The Patriot Act already allows the FBI to acquire bank records and communications records by issuing a National Security Letter (NSL) affirming that the information it seeks is relevant to an open investigation; the targeted institution is legally “gagged,” unable to inform anyone, especially the subject of the investigation, of the subpoena. The new law expands the use of NSLs by redefining “financial institution” to include insurance companies, real estate agents, the US Postal Service, travel agencies, casinos, pawn shops, car dealers and any other business whose “cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax or regulatory matters.” The provision is one of the most controversial parts of the so-called “Patriot II” act (see February 7, 2003) that was withdrawn after the public learned of its elements. Like most intelligence spending bills, this one was drafted in secret and passed with little debate or public comment. Law professor Chris Schroeder, a former Justice Department assistant attorney general, says the insertion of the provision shows that “people who want to expand the powers of the FBI didn’t want to stop after Patriot II was leaked. They are going to insert these provisions on a stealth basis. It’s insidious.” James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology agrees: “On its face, it’s a cryptic and seemingly innocuous amendment. It wasn’t until after it passed both houses that we saw it. The FBI and CIA like to try to graft things like this into intelligence bills.” CIA Director Porter Goss, when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, defended the provision, saying it is necessary to keep pace with terrorists and the changing economy. “This provision brings the definition of ‘financial institution’ up to date with the reality of the financial industry,” Goss told House members. “This provision will allow those tracking terrorists and spies to ‘follow the money’ more effectively and thereby protect the people of the United States more effectively.” Timothy Edgar of the American Civil Liberties Union says the bill goes too far in expanding executive branch powers. “The more that checks and balances against government abuse are eroded, the greater that abuse,” Edgar says. “We’re going to regret these initiatives down the road.” (Singel 11/24/2003)
The chief of the CIA’s station in Baghdad, Iraq, leaves his post after the end of his one-year tour (see (January 2004)). According to Harper’s magazine, by the end of his tour he is a “pariah within the system” because he has filed a series of six pessimistic Aardwolf priority reports about the deteriorating situation in Iraq. One anonymous former intelligence official will say that the station chief is “treated like shit” and “farmed out,” although he is not fired. In addition, White House officials allegedly ask for “dirt” on him, including his political affiliation. (Silverstein 5/18/2006) After one of the pessimistic reports in late 2004, an official at the National Security Council even called US Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte to ask whether the chief is a Democrat or Republican. (Risen 2006) The station chief will also be investigated over allegations of detainee abuse (see (After January 2005)).
Andrew Warren, a CIA agent who will later be accused of date rape (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008), gets into a row in a hotel garage in Washington, DC. According to journalist Jeff Stein, “multiple sources” will say that Warren “flashed official credentials and claimed to be an FBI agent during the dispute.” At this time Warren is a senior official at the CIA’s station in Cairo, and he is back in Washington escorting Egyptian intelligence officials on a visit to the CIA. According to two sources, the row becomes so heated that the hotel manager later sends a security video of the incident to the FBI. However, FBI officials will say they cannot recall the incident. One CIA official will say that the agency occasionally uses the bureau for cover, although other intelligence professionals will say they have never heard of such practice. One former senior CIA official is incensed that Warren is allowed to return to duty in Cairo despite “such a shocking lack of judgment,” and will attribute Warren’s lenient treatment to his being an African American. (Stein 3/16/2009)
A treasure hunter suspected of being a CIA operative is discovered living in the US. In May 2002, US citizen Michael Meiring accidentally blew himself up in a Philippines hotel room, and ended up losing both of his legs. He was mysteriously whisked back to the US amidst media reports suggesting he was a CIA operative posing as a Muslim militant bomber (see May 16, 2002). On June 19, 2002, the chief of the Philippines’ National Bureau of Investigation vowed that Meiring would be brought back to the Philippines to face charges since he appeared to have returned to the US, and the Philippines and the US have an existing extradition treaty. (Arguillas 6/1/2003) On December 2, 2004, a Houston TV station will discover that Meiring is living in Houston, Texas. They examined court documents about him and learned that earlier in 2004 he changed his last name to Van De Meer. The Philippine government confirms that they issued an arrest warrant for Meiring and are still looking for him and an associate of his named Stephen Hughes, who is now said to be living in North Carolina. Counterterrorism expert Ron Hatchett asks, “How is he able to walk around freely within our society using the name that is on the arrest warrant for him?” Meiring is reached by phone in California. His only on the record comment to the reporter who discovered him is, “If this harms me in any way, you will find my power then, and you’ll find out who I am. But I will come for you. You harm me I will not let you off the hook.” (Greenblatt 12/2/2004; Filipino Reporter 12/30/2004) In early 2005, it will be reported that Meiring may not get extradited back to the Philippines because the Philippine government cannot produce a picture of him. (Mindanao Times 3/23/2005) However, previous media reports claimed that a picture ID of Meiring was found in his hotel room after the explosion there. The ID lists him as an officer in the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), a Muslim rebel militant group. (Greenblatt 12/2/2004) He appears to have ties to leaders of that group and other Philippine Muslim militant groups since 1992 (see 1992-1993). Since 2004, there have been no reports of Meiring being successfully extradited.
An extremist arrested and interrogated in Saudi Arabia appears to disclose details of an operation that is strikingly similar to the 7/7 London bombings that will occur in mid-2005 (see July 7, 2005). However, the intelligence does not yield any results before the attacks, even though it is shared with the US and Britain. It will later be unclear whether the arrested man, known as Adel, provided a truthful account or was a fabricator who just happened to predict some details of the plot. Adel is arrested in Buraydah, Saudi Arabia, in late 2004 for using a fraudulent passport, and a memo on his interrogation dated December 14 of that year, which is sent to the CIA and British intelligence, seems to reveal details of a multifaceted operation. Some details match those of the actual attack: it is to be carried out by four people in London in the middle of 2005, some of them British citizens, and will include a location around “Edgewood Road” (one of the bombs will explode at Edgeware Road tube station). The target is said to be a subway station or a nightclub. However, Adel, who is said to know Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also says the explosives will come from Bosnia and the plot will be coordinated by a Libyan businessman in London, who will help with safe houses and transport. In addition, one of the bombers is said to have tattoos on his fingers. The Saudis send Britain and the US a second report in February 2005, providing more details about the alleged bombers, who are supposed to be from different countries, although there are also apparently Caucasian British and Germans involved. The CIA checks a Syrian phone number mentioned in one of the memos, but finds nothing. (Woodward 2006, pp. 400-2; Barnett 2/5/2006) After the bombings, Saudi ambassador to London Prince Turki will say in a statement, “There was certainly close liaison between the Saudi Arabian intelligence authorities and the British intelligence authorities some months ago, when information was passed to Britain about a heightened terrorist threat to London,” although it is unclear whether this statement refers to this warning, another Saudi warning about a possible attack in Britain (see April 2005 or Shortly Before), or both. (Bright 11/1/2007) Interest in the detainee will be revived after the attack and even President Bush will become involved, but veteran reporter Bob Woodward, who examines the story in a 2006 book, will conclude that Adel is a fabricator. (Woodward 2006, pp. 400-2) However, a Saudi security adviser will later say that he is “convinced” the information passed on was “directly linked” to the 7/7 bombings. (Barnett 2/5/2006)
Five agencies, under an agreement worked out by US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, release approximately 9,000 pages of internal reports, investigations, and e-mails containing information about prisoner abuse in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The massive disclosure seemingly marks the end of a more than 13-month long effort (see October 7, 2003 and September 15, 2004) by five human rights groups to access the documents under the Freedom of Information Act. The documents demonstrate that the abuses were far more widespread and systemic than previously acknowledged by the government. The documents include information about numerous abuses, such as threatened and mocked executions, thefts of private property, physical assaults, shocking detainees with electric guns, the use of dogs to intimidate prisoners at Guantanamo, shackling detainees without food and water, and murder. In many of the cases, the Army chose to punish offenders with non-criminal punishments rather than court-martial them. Reporting on the disclosure, the Washington Post notes, “The variety of the abuse and the fact that it occurred over a three-year period undermine the Pentagon’s past insistence… that the abuse occurred largely during a few months at [Abu Ghraib], and that it mostly involved detainee humiliation or intimidation rather than the deliberate infliction of pain.” (Smith and Eggen 12/22/2004) However, these agencies continue to secret hold back some material and in late 2005 the CIA will destroy videotapes of interrogations relevant to these requests (see November 2005).
The Wall Street Journal reports that a government investigation into activities at Riggs Bank may be hampered because of its “longstanding relationship with the Central Intelligence Agency” (see July 2003). (Simpson 12/31/2004) Yet this story attracts almost no mention or follow up in the US media. For instance, the Washington Post, which covers Riggs Bank more than other newspapers because the bank is based in Washington, mentions the CIA connection only in one paragraph near the end of article in the newspaper’s business section two months after the Wall Street Journal article: “Another potential cloud for any acquirer is the bank’s long-standing relationship with the CIA. Sources familiar with the bank’s operations and sources in the intelligence community say that since the 1960s Riggs at least held funds related to CIA operations or agents, and several officers of Riggs had high-level security clearances. However, law enforcement authorities say Riggs’s CIA connections had nothing to do with the bank’s violations of anti-money-laundering laws. And the subject did not arise in the bank’s negotiations with the US attorney for the District over Riggs’s guilty plea, the sources said.” (Day 2/9/2005) Only Slate appears interested, publishing two stories highlighting the Riggs-CIA connection. In one, it is noted that the connection “invites speculation that the Justice Department might abort the prosecutions lest courtroom brawls reveal more about Riggs and the CIA than the government wants made public.” (Shafer 1/10/2005) The other Slate article will lament, “Where is the rest of the press on the Riggs-CIA connection? Spooks, sheiks, dictators, millions in laundered money, and a $766 million merger in the balance! What does it take to entice an assignment editor these days, a tsunami or something?” (Shafer 1/7/2005)
In 2005, the CIA gives President Bush a secret slide show updating him on the hunt for bin Laden. Bush is taken aback by the small number of CIA case officers posted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. A former intelligence officer will later tell Newsweek that Bush asks, “Is that all there are?” In fact, the CIA had recently doubled the number of officers in the area, but many are inexperienced and raw recruits. Most veteran officers are involved in the Iraq war instead. (Thomas 8/28/2007) However, rather than increase the staff working on bin Laden in response to Bush’s complaint, later in the year the CIA will close Alec Station, the unit hunting bin Laden (see Late 2005).
Veterans of the Iran-Contra scandal meet for a “lessons learned” discussion, led by Elliott Abrams. One of the conclusions drawn is that, had they done it right, they could have gotten away with it. For future covert operations, they reportedly agree that they should abide by the following axioms: “One, you can’t trust our friends. Two, the CIA has got to be totally out of it. Three, you can’t trust the uniformed military, and four, it’s got to be run out of the Vice-President’s office.” (Hersh 3/5/2007)
Blackwater stops work on a CIA program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders. Blackwater had been hired by the agency to work on the program at some time in 2004 (see 2004). However, according to the New York Times, its involvement ends “years before” Leon Panetta becomes CIA director in 2009 (see June 23, 2009). The reason for the termination is that CIA officials begin to question the wisdom of using outsiders in a targeted killing program. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009)
In an interview with Greg Palast, Robert Ebel, a former Department of Energy and and CIA oil analyst, acknowledges that the invasion of Iraq was driven by oil interests. “The thought was, ‘Why are you going into Iraq? It’s about oil isn’t it?’ And my response was, ‘No, It’s about getting rid of Saddam Hussein. The morning after, it’s about oil.’” (Palast 3/21/2005)
US intelligence learns through communications intercepts about a meeting of al-Qaeda leaders in Bajaur, in the remote border regions of Pakistan near Afghanistan (one account says the meeting is in nearby North Waziristan instead). Intelligence officials have an “80 percent confidence” that al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri and/or other top al-Qaeda leaders are attending the meeting. One intelligence official involved in the operation says, “This was the best intelligence picture we had ever seen” about a high-value target. (Mazzetti 7/8/2007; Thomas 8/28/2007; Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)
Size of US Force Grows - The original plan calls for cargo planes to carry 30 Navy Seals near the target, then they will use motorized hang gliders to come closer and capture or kill al-Zawahiri. The plan is enthusiastically endorsed by CIA Director Porter Goss and Joint Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his assistant Stephen Cambone are uncertain. They increase the size of the force to 150 to take care of contingencies. (Thomas 8/28/2007) One senior intelligence official involved later says for effect, “The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan.” (Mazzetti 7/8/2007)
"Frenzied" Debate - But even as US special forces are boarding C-130 cargo planes in Afghanistan, there are “frenzied exchanges between officials at the Pentagon, Central Command, and the CIA about whether the mission was too risky.” Some CIA officials in Washington even try to give orders to execute the raid without informing US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker, who apparently is often opposed to such missions. (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)
Rumsfeld Gives Up Without Asking - Having decided to increase the force, Rumsfeld then decides he couldn’t carry out such a large mission without Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s permission. But with the cargo planes circling and the team waiting for a green light, Rumsfeld decides that Musharraf would not approve. He cancels the mission without actually asking Musharraf about it. It is unclear whether President Bush is informed about the mission. The New York Times will later report that “some top intelligence officials and members of the military’s secret Special Operations units” are frustrated at the decision to cancel the operation, saying the US “missed a significant opportunity to try to capture senior members of al-Qaeda.” (Mazzetti 7/8/2007) It is not clear why the US does not hit the meeting with a missile fired from a Predator drone instead, as they will do to kill an al-Qaeda leader inside Pakistan a couple of months later (see May 8, 2005).
A new chief of the CIA’s Baghdad station is appointed. Possibly due to problems the previous two station chiefs are perceived to have experienced (see (Late December 2003) and December 2004), this new official files only one Aardwolf priority report during his one-year tour. An anonymous official will later say that this report is widely derided within the CIA as “a joke,” because it asserts that the United States is winning the war despite all evidence to the contrary. Harper’s journalist Ken Silverstein will comment, “It was garbage, but garbage that the Bush administration wanted to hear.” At the end of his tour, the station chief will be given what Silverstein calls a “plum assignment.” (Silverstein 5/18/2006)
White House counsel Alberto Gonzales testifies before the US Senate as part of his confirmation as the Bush administration’s new attorney general. Much of the seven hours of testimony focuses on Gonzales’s position on torturing terrorist suspects. He is specifically questioned on the August 2002 Justice Department memo requested by Gonzales that outlined how US officials could interrogate subjects without violating domestic and international laws against torture by setting unusually high standards for the definition of torture (see August 1, 2002). (Goodman and Gonzales 1/7/2005) Arlen Specter (R-PA) asks Gonzales if he approves of torture. Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not,” but refuses to be pinned down on specifics of exactly what constitutes torture.
Equivocating on the Definition of Torture - Gonzales says he “was sickened and outraged” by the photographs of tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), but refuses to say whether he believes any of that conduct is criminal, citing ongoing prosecutions. Joseph Biden (D-DE) retorts: “That’s malarkey. You are obliged to comment. That’s your judgment we’re looking at.… We’re looking for candor.” (CNN 1/7/2005) When asked whether he agrees with the August 2002 memo that said, “[F]or an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” Gonzales says: “We were trying to interpret the standard set by Congress. There was discussion between the White House and Department of Justice as well as other agencies about what does this statute mean? It was a very, very difficult—I don’t recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis, but I don’t have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the department.” He says that the standard “does not represent the position of the executive branch” today. Author and torture expert Mark Danner calls the standard “appalling… even worse the second time through.” Gonzales was obviously prepped for this line of questioning, Danner says: “He sat in front of the committee and asserted things, frankly, that we know not to be true.… He was essentially unwilling to say definitively there were no situations in which Americans could legally torture prisoners.… [T]here’s an assumption behind [this performance] that we have the votes. We’re going to get through. I just have to give them nothing on which to hang some sort of a contrary argument.”
Equivicating on Techniques - Edward Kennedy (D-MA) questions Gonzales about what techniques are defined as torture, including “live burial” (see February 4-5, 2004) and waterboarding. Kennedy says that, according to media reports, Gonzales never objected to these or other techniques. Gonzales does not have a “specific recollection” of the discussions or whether the CIA ever asked him to help define what is and is not torture. He also says that in “this new kind of” war against “this new kind of enemy, we realized there was a premium on receiving information” the US needs to defeat terrorists. Agencies such as the CIA requested guidance as to “[w]hat is lawful conduct” because they did not “want to do anything that violates the law.” Kennedy asks if Gonzales ever suggested that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) ever “lean forward on this issue about supporting the extreme uses of torture?” Gonzales focuses on Kennedy’s phrasing: “Sir, I don’t recall ever using the term sort of ‘leaning forward,’ in terms of stretching what the law is.” He refuses to admit giving any opinions or requesting any documents, but only wanted “to understand [the OLC’s] views about the interpretation” of torture. Danner notes that Justice Department officials have told reporters that Gonzales pushed for the expansive definition of torture in the memos, but Gonzales refuses to admit to any of that in the questioning.
Ignoring the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tells Gonzales that the Justice Department memo was “entirely wrong in its focus” because it excluded the Uniform Code Of Military Justice, and that it “put our troops at jeopardy.” Gonzales replies that he does not think that because of the memo the US has lost “the moral high ground” in the world. Danner says, “[Graham] is arguing that these steps weakened the United States, not only by putting troops at risk, but by undermining the US’s reputation in the world, undermining the ideological side of this war… Graham is saying very directly that by torturing, and by supplying images like that one, of… a hooded man, the man with the hood over his head and the wires coming out of his fingers and his genitals which is known far and wide in the Arab world in the Middle East it’s become highly recognizable by supplying that sort of ammunition, you’re giving very, very strong comfort and aid to the enemy in fact.” (Goodman and Gonzales 1/7/2005)
Details of an internal CIA report (see June-November 2004) investigating the CIA’s failure to stop the 9/11 attacks are leaked to the New York Times. The report by John Helgerson, the CIA’s inspector general, was completed in June 2004 but remains classified (see June-November 2004). It sharply criticizes former CIA Director George Tenet, as well as former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt. It says these two and others failed to meet an acceptable standard of performance, and recommends that an internal review board review their conduct for possible disciplinary action. Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center at the time of 9/11, is also criticized. However, the New York Times notes that, “It is not clear whether either the agency or the White House has the appetite to reprimand Mr. Tenet, Mr. Pavitt or others.… particularly since President Bush awarded a Medal of Freedom to Mr. Tenet last month.” It is unclear if any reprimands will occur, or even if the final version of the report will point blame at specific individuals. (Jehl 1/7/2005) In late October 2004, the new CIA Director, Porter Goss, had asked Helgerson to modify the report to avoid drawing conclusions about whether individual CIA officers should be held accountable. (Jehl 11/2/2004) Helgerson “appears to have accepted [Goss’s] recommendation” and will defer any final judgments to a CIA Accountability Review Board. The final version of the report is said to be completed within weeks. (Jehl 1/7/2005) However, months pass, and in October 2005, 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), although an executive summary will be released in 2007 (see August 21, 2007).
Newsweek reports that the Pentagon is considering a new approach to dealing with the insurgency in Iraq, one defense officials call the “Salvador Option.” During the 1980s, the US, primarily through the CIA, funded and supported paramilitary units, often called “death squads” by the citizenry and various human rights organizations which monitored their activities, in El Salvador and other Central American nations. These death squads carried out numerous assassinations and kidnappings, including the murder of four American nuns in 1980. Many US conservatives consider the Salvadoran operation a success, though many innocent Salvadorans died, some under torture, and the operation fomented the US government policies that became known collective as “Iran-Contra.” Now the Pentagon is debating whether the same tactics should be used in Iraq. “What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are,” says a senior military official. “We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing.” Another military source contends that Iraqis who sympathize with the insurgents need to be targeted: “The Sunni population is paying no price for the support it is giving to the terrorists. From their point of view, it is cost-free. We have to change that equation.” One proposal would “send [US] Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria.” Among the proposal’s supporters is Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. But other Pentagon officials are shy of running any operation that might contravene the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and prefer the CIA to run the proposed operation. And many lawmakers, Pentagon officials, and military experts are wary of expanding the role of US Special Forces operations in such a legally and morally dubious direction. They also worry about the ramifications of using Iraqi Kurds and Shi’ite militia members against Iraqi Sunnis in potential death squads, characterized by investigative reporter Robert Parry as “a prescription for civil war or genocide.” Some speculate that this operation might be one of the reasons John Negroponte was recently named US ambassador to Iraq. Negroponte served as US ambassador to Honduras during the 1980s, and many feel Negroponte was a key figure in the establishment and operations of the Central American death squads. Other Bush officials active in the Central America program include Elliott Abrams, who oversaw Central American policies at the State Department and who is now a Middle East adviser on Bush’s National Security Council staff, and Vice President Dick Cheney, who was a powerful defender of the Central American policies as a member of the House of Representatives. Negroponte denies any involvement in any such program operating in Iraq. (Hirsh and Barry 1/8/2005; Parry 1/11/2005) Christopher Dickey, a Newsweek reporter with personal experience in El Salvador during the time of the death squads, writes that he is “prepared to admit that building friendly democracies sometimes has to be a cold-blooded business in the shadowland of moral grays that is the real world,” but says that the idea of US-formed death squads in Iraq, and the corollary idea of sending US Special Forces teams into Syria and perhaps other Middle Eastern countries is not only potentially a mistake, but one that is little more than “a formalization of what’s already taking place.” Former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst and Middle East specialist Patrick Lang says, “We are, of course, already targeting enemy cadres for elimination whether by capture or death in various places including Afghanistan and Iraq.” So many Special Forces personnel are already involved in such operations, Lang says, that there is an actual shortage of Green Berets to perform their primary task: training regular Iraqi troops. The operation could benefit the US presence in two ways: helping win the hearts and minds of the ordinary citizenry by successfully eliminating insurgents, or just by making the citizenry “more frightened of [the US] than they are of the insurgents.” (Dickey 1/11/2005)
The National Intelligence Council, the center for midterm and long-term strategic thinking within the US intelligence community, issues a report concluding, “Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the training ground for the next generation of ‘professionalized’ terrorists.” (Priest 1/15/2005) In May, the CIA will report that Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in al-Qaeda’s early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban combat. (Jehl 6/22/2005)
A former chief of the CIA’s station in Baghdad, Iraq (see December 2004), reportedly brags about mistreating detainees. Details of the comments, including who they are made to, are unknown. However, they do lead to an investigation, which finds that the former chief’s statements are untrue and that he was exaggerating. (Strobel 8/25/2009)
The FBI office in New Haven, Connecticut receives an e-mail that looks like a terrorist threat. The agents there follow the normal routine: they ask the service provider, a group of Connecticut public libraries, for the real name, street address, and Internet logs of the sender. The agents have no search warrant, grand jury subpoena, or court order. What they do have is a National Security Letter (NSL) that describes the records needed. According to the expanded USA Patriot Act, the NSL is all the FBI needs, and the NSL statute bars the librarians from disclosing the request to anyone. The librarians will refuse to hand over the information, and will file a federal lawsuit challenging the NSL as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech (see July 13, 2005). The e-mailed threat will turn out to be a hoax. Kevin O’Connor, the US attorney in Connecticut, later says the FBI suspected that the threat was a hoax from the outset, but believed they had an “obligation” to pursue it. “We weren’t tying up librarians or reading through books,” he will say. “All we wanted was identifying information. God forbid it isn’t a hoax.” The librarians who challenge the NSL, however, feel differently. George Christian, the point man in the librarians’ legal challenge, will say, “The idea that the government can secretly investigate what the public is informing itself about is chilling.” A judge will strike down the NSL gag order, allowing Christian and his three colleagues (by now dubbed the “Connecticut Four” by the media) to disclose the fact that they had received an NSL, with a judge calling the NSL gag order “antithetical to democratic concepts”. In April 2006, the government will drop its NSL request (see August 2005-May 2006). Christian will be unmollified. “The fact that I can speak now is a little like being permitted to call the Fire Department only after a building has burned to the ground,” he will say. (Willing 7/6/2006)
The Justice Department issues a secret opinion that countermands and contradicts the administration’s official policy that torture is “abhorrent” and will not be practiced by US military or law enforcement officials (see December 30, 2004). The secret opinion is, the New York Times writes two years later while publicly revealing its existence, “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.” The opinion gives explicit authorization to abuse detainees with a combination of physical and psychological abuse, including head-slapping, stress positioning, simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), and prolonged exposure to intense cold. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales (see November 10, 2004) approves the memo over the objections of deputy attorney general James Comey, himself preparing to leave the Justice Department after a series of battles over the legality of torture and the domestic surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey says at the time that everyone at the department will be “ashamed” of the new opinion once the world learns of it. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
Senior defense officials say that a preliminary study commissioned by the Pentagon has concluded that authority over the CIA’s paramilitary units should not be transferred to the Pentagon. The study, conducted by the Booz Allen Hamilton law firm in McLean, Virginia, reviewed the 9/11 commission’s recommendation that CIA paramilitary operations be consolidated under Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida. Booz Allen Hamilton’s conclusions were based on a series of tabletop war games in which veteran CIA officers and Special Operations soldiers “explored how each agency’s paramilitary units would respond to different contingencies, including threats involving terrorists and weapons of mass destruction and missions to train indigenous fighters or gain control of ungoverned territory,” the Washington Post reports. A senior defense official familiar with the study tells the newspaper, “If you take the very small paramilitary capabilities away from the CIA, in my view, it would limit their ability to conduct foreign intelligence activities which they are required by law to do.” Furthermore, he adds, “we don’t have the legal authorities to be doing what the CIA does, so getting all those assets doesn’t make any sense.” (Tyson 2/5/2005)
In an op-ed piece published by the Washington Post, David Kay, formerly of the Iraq Survey Group, recommends five steps the US should follow in order to avoid making the same “mistake” it made in Iraq when it wrongly concluded that Iraq had an active illicit weapons program. Three of the points address the issue of politicized intelligence. He implies that the US should learn from the experience it had with the Iraqi National Congress (see 2001-2003), which supplied US intelligence with sources who made false statements about Iraq’s weapon program. “Dissidents and exiles have their own agenda—regime change—and that before being accepted as truth any ‘evidence’ they might supply concerning Iran’s nuclear program must be tested and confirmed by other sources,” he says. In his fourth point, Kay makes it clear that the motives of administration officials should also be considered. He says it is necessary to “understand that overheated rhetoric from policymakers and senior administration officials, unsupported by evidence that can stand international scrutiny, undermines the ability of the United States to halt Iran’s nuclear activities.” And recalling the CIA’s infamous 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), he says that an NIE on Iran “should not be a rushed and cooked document used to justify the threat of military action” and “should not be led by a team that is trying to prove a case for its boss.” (Kay 2/9/2005)
The New York Times reports that, according to current and former government officials, there is “widening unease within the Central Intelligence Agency over the possibility that career officers could be prosecuted or otherwise punished for their conduct during interrogations and detentions of terrorism suspects.” The conduct is questionable because it is said to amount to torture in some cases (see Mid-May 2002 and After, Shortly After September 6, 2006 and March 10-April 15, 2007). At this time, only one CIA contractor has been charged with a crime, after a prisoner died in Afghanistan. However, at least half a dozen other investigations by the Justice Department and the CIA’s Inspector General are ongoing, and involve actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly “black sites” in other countries. An official says, “There’s a lot more out there than has generally been recognized, and people at the agency are worried.” (Jehl and Johnston 2/27/2005) Apparently due to these fears, some officers purchase legal insurance policies. (Cochran 12/15/2007)
Italian anti-terrorist authorities issue a warrant for the arrest of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), a radical imam previously active in Milan who was kidnapped by the CIA (see Noon February 17, 2003). Nasr, who was under investigation as a suspected terrorist before he was abducted, is in custody in Egypt, where the CIA took him. He is not handed over to the Italians at this time or when released by Egyptian authorities (see February 11, 2007), as Italy and Egypt do not have an extradition treaty. (Nasrawi 2/12/2007)
Author Gerald Posner has claimed that shortly after al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida was captured in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), he was tricked into thinking he had been handed over to the Saudis and then confessed high-level cooperation between al-Qaeda and the Saudi and Pakistani governments. Posner’s account has since been corroborated by New York Times journalist James Risen (see Early April 2002). In a 2005 book, Posner further alleges: “From conversations with investigators familiar with the [9/11 Commission’s] probe, the portions of Zubaida’s interrogation in which he named [Saudi and Pakistani connections] were not provided to the Commission. The CIA has even withheld [them] from the FBI, which is supposed to have access to all terror suspects’ questioning.” (Posner 2005, pp. 14) There is some circumstantial evidence to support this. Aside from the alleged Saudi trickery, Zubaida reportedly confessed vital intelligence in late March and into April 2002, including the previously unknown fact that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks (see Late March through Early June, 2002). But footnotes from various 9/11 Commission reports indicate that the earliest Zubaida interrogation used by the Commission is from May 23, 2002, after a new CIA team had taken over his interrogation (see Mid-May 2002 and After). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 65 ) Hundreds of hours of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions have been videotaped by the CIA, but these videotapes will be destroyed by the CIA in 2005 under controversial circumstances (see November 2005).
Ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) requests “over a hundred documents” from the CIA’s Inspector General. The documents are referenced in or pertain to a report the Inspector General drafted in May 2004 about the CIA’s detention and interrogation activities. Rockefeller also requests a report drafted by the CIA’s Office of General Counsel (see 2003) on the examination of videotapes of detainee interrogations stating whether the techniques they show comply with an August 2002 Justice Department opinion on interrogation (see August 1, 2002). However, the CIA refuses to provide these documents, as well as others, even after a second request is sent to CIA Director Porter Goss in September 2005. (US Congress 12/7/2007) The videotapes Rockefeller is asking about will be destroyed by the CIA just two months after his second request (see November 2005).
Some time after he is captured in May 2005 (see May 2, 2005), al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi tells his CIA interrogators that he has never heard of Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. CIA analysts already strongly suspect that Ahmed is a trusted courier working for Osama bin Laden, but they only know him by his main alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.
Al-Libbi's False Claims - Al-Libbi tells his interrogators that he does not know who “al-Kuwaiti” is. Instead, he admits that when 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) was captured in 2003 and al-Libbi was chosen to replace him as al-Qaeda’s operational chief, he was told the news of his selection by a courier. But he says the courier was someone named Maulawi Abd al-Kahliq Jan. CIA analysts never find anyone using this name, and eventually they will conclude that al-Libbi made it up to protect Ahmed (see Late 2005). Later, the CIA will learn Ahmed’s real name, and this fact will eventually lead to bin Laden’s location (see Summer 2009 and July 2010).
False Claims Made While Tortured? - The interrogation techniques used on al-Libbi are unknown. However, days after his capture, the CIA pressures the Justice Department for new legal memorandums approving the use of very brutal methods. (Goldman 5/2/2011; Shane and Savage 5/3/2011)
The CIA launches a missile from a remotely piloted Predator drone and kills al-Qaeda leader Haitham al-Yemeni. He is killed in a village in northwest Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. He had been tracked since attending a meeting with other al-Qaeda leaders a few months earlier (see Early 2005). (ABC News 5/13/2005; Mazzetti 7/8/2007) US intelligence officials say they were hoping al-Yemeni would lead them to bin Laden, but after al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi was captured in early May 2005, they worried al-Yemeni would go into hiding and decided to kill him instead. Officials claim that al-Yemeni was going to replace al-Libbi as al-Qaeda’s operations leader. However, little is known about him (including his real name since al-Yemeni means “from Yemen”), and he is not listed in either the FBI or Pakistani “Most Wanted” list. There are no prior media mentions of his name and no publicly released photographs of him either. (Priest 5/15/2005) One anonymous US intelligence source disputes claims that al-Yemeni was high-ranking. (Ensor 5/14/2005)
Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo to John Rizzo, the senior deputy counsel for the CIA, the second of two memos issued on the same day by Bradbury to Rizzo (see May 10, 2005). This memo, a supplement to the first, considers interrogation techniques used in combination. Bradbury concludes, “Subject to the conditions and limitations set out here and in [the previous memo], we conclude that the authorized combined use of these specific techniques by adequately trained interrogators would not violate” US statutory law. The memo will not be released to the public for almost four years (see April 16, 2009).
Emergency Tracheotomy Procedures at Ready - The memo finds that, even though an earlier OLC memo had declared waterboarding to be a safe procedure (see August 1, 2002), a medical practicioner with a tracheotomy kit must be present to ensure the detainee is not injured or killed during the procedure. Bradbury writes: “[A] detainee could suffer spasms of the larynx that would prevent him from breathing even when the application of water is stopped and the detainee is returned to an upright position. In the event of such spasms, a qualified physician would immediately intervene to address the problem, and, if necessary, the intervening physician would perform a tracheotomy… we are informed that the necessary emergency medical equipment is always present—although not visible to the detainee—during any application of the waterboard.” In a heavily redacted section, the memo states: “In our limited experience, extensive use of the waterboard can introduce new risks. Most seriously, for reasons of physical fatigue or psychological resignation, the subject may simply give up, allowing excessive filling of the airways and loss of consciousness. An unresponsive subject should be righted immediately and the interrogator should deliver a sub-xyphoid thrust to expel the water. If this fails to restore normal breathing, aggressive medical intervention is required. Any subject who has reached this degree of compromise is not [REDACTED].” (Office of Legal Counsel 5/10/2005 )
'Last-Resort Procedure' - According to the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine: “A tracheotomy is a surgical procedure in which a cut or opening is made in the windpipe (trachea). The surgeon inserts a tube into the opening to bypass an obstruction, allow air to get to the lungs, or remove secretions.… A tracheotomy is performed if enough air is not getting to the lungs, if the person cannot breathe without help, or is having problems with mucus and other secretions getting into the windpipe because of difficulty swallowing.… Doctors perform emergency tracheotomies as last-resort procedures. They are done only if the patient’s windpipe is obstructed and the situation is life-threatening.” (Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine 2009)
Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issues a classified memo to John Rizzo, the senior deputy counsel for the CIA. The memo will remain classified for nearly four years (see April 16, 2009). It addresses, in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “whether CIA interrogation methods violate the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment standards under federal and international law.” Bradbury concludes that neither past nor present CIA interrogation methods violate such standards. (Office of Legal Counsel 5/10/2005 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 )
CIA Techniques Not Torture, Bradbury Explains - Bradbury calls torture “abhorrent” and “universally repudiated,” and says the US will never condone it. Afterwards, he spends a great deal of effort explaining why the various techniques used by the CIA do not constitute torture. Bradbury goes into numerous details about varieties of “harsh interrogation techniques” that can be used on prisoners, often restating details from an August 2002 OLC memo (see August 1, 2002) and elaborating on those descriptions. One technique he details is forced nudity. “Detainees subject to sleep deprivation who are also subject to nudity as a separate interrogation technique will at times be nude and wearing a diaper,” he writes, and notes that the diaper is “for sanitary and health purposes of the detainee; it is not used for the purpose of humiliating the detainee and it is not considered to be an interrogation technique.… The detainee’s skin condition is monitored, and diapers are changed as needed so that the detainee does not remain in a soiled diaper.” He cites “walling,” a technique involving slamming a detainee into a “false wall,” and writes, “Depending on the extent of the detainee’s lack of cooperation, he may be walled one time during an interrogation session (one impact with the wall) or many times (perhaps 20 or 30 times) consecutively.” Other techniques Bradbury cites include waterboarding, “abdominal slaps,” and “water dousing.” For water dousing, Bradbury gives specific restrictions: “For example, in employing this technique:
“For water temperarure of 41°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 20 minutes without drying and rewarming.
“For water temperarure of 50°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 40 minutes without drying and rewarming.
“For water tempetarure of 59°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 60 minutes without drying and rewarming.
“The minimum permissible temperature of the water used in water dousing is 41°F, though you have informed us that in practice the water temperature is generally not below 50°F, since tap water rather than refrigerated water is generally used.” (Office of Legal Counsel 5/10/2005 ; CNN 4/17/2009)
Waterboarding Used More Frequently than Authorized - Bradbury also notes that waterboarding is sometimes used more times than authorized or indicated. Referring to an as-yet-unreleased 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general on torture and abuse of detainees, he writes: “The IG report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated.… (‘[T]he waterboard technique… was different from the technique described in the DoJ [Department of Justice] opinion and used in the SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002). The difference was the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the [CIA] interrogator… applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is ‘for real—and is more poignant and convincing.’)… The inspector general further reported that ‘OMS [the CIA’s Office of Medical Services] contends that the expertise of the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant. Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe.‘… We have carefully considered the IG report and discussed it with OMS personnel. As noted, OMS input has resulted in a number of changes in the application of the waterboard, including limits on frequency and cumulative use of the technique. Moreover, OMS personnel are carefully instructed in monitoring this technique and are personally present whenever it is used.… Indeed, although physician assistants can be present when other enhanced techniques are applied, ‘use of the waterboard requires the presence of the physician.’” (Office of Legal Counsel 5/10/2005 )
Ali Soufan resigns from the FBI. As an Arabic-speaking Muslim who joined the FBI long before 9/11 (see November 1997), Soufan has become one of the FBI’s best interrogators and experts on al-Qaeda. However, in a 2011 book, he will claim that he grew increasingly frustrated due to the CIA’s opposition to his work. “It was… clear that some high-level people at the time were specifically targeting me—I was told that by more than a few FBI executives and CIA colleagues,” he will write. “Ever since I had been interviewed by the 9/11 Commission, I was a marked man.” In 2004, Soufan gave information to the 9/11 Commission that made the CIA look bad. He will claim there were instances when the FBI wanted him to go overseas as part of an investigation but the CIA tried to prevent him from doing so. (Soufan 2011, pp. 515-517, 522-523)
Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte meets CIA Director Porter Goss to discuss what to do with tapes of CIA interrogations that apparently show controversial techniques (see Spring-Late 2002). Negroponte “strongly advise[s]” Goss that the tapes should not be destroyed and this opinion is documented in a memo drafted about the meeting. Despite this and warnings from other legislators and officials not to destroy the tapes (see November 2005), the CIA will destroy them a few months later (see November 2005). It is unclear whether the CIA manager that orders their destruction, Jose Rodriguez, is aware of this meeting and the memo. (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/24/2007)
A revised version of the CIA inspector general’s report into some of the agency’s failings before 9/11 is finished and sent to CIA management. A version of the report had been completed a year earlier, but it had to be revised due to criticism (see June-November 2004). It recommends accountability boards be convened to assess the performance of several officers. Although not all the officers are named, it is sometimes possible to deduce who they are based on the circumstances. The convening of accountability boards is recommended for:
CIA Director George Tenet, for failing to personally resolve differences between the CIA and NSA that impeded counterterrorism efforts;
CIA Executive Director David Carey (July 1997-March 2001), CIA Executive Director A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard (March 2001-9/11), CIA Deputy Director for Operations Jack Downing (1997-1999), and CIA Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt (1999-9/11) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001);
CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief Jeff O’Connell (1997-1999) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001), for staffing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, with officers lacking experience, expertise and training, for failing to ensure units under him coordinated coverage of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), for poor leadership of the CIA’s watchlisting program, for poor management of a program where officers were loaned between the CIA and other agencies, and for failing to send officers to the NSA to review its material;
CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief Cofer Black (Summer 1999-9/11) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001), for staffing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, with officers lacking experience, expertise and training, for failing to ensure units under him coordinated coverage of KSM, for poor leadership of the CIA’s watchlisting program, possibly for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, possibly for failing to do anything about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in 2001, for poor management of a program where officers were loaned between the CIA and other agencies, and for failing to send officers to the NSA to review its material;
Chief of Alec Station Richard Blee. Some sections of the report appear to refer to Blee, but are redacted. It seems to criticize him for failing to properly oversee operations related to KSM, failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
Deputy Chief of Alec Station Tom Wilshire. Some sections of the report appear to refer to Tom Wilshire, but are redacted. It seems to criticize him for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and for failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
Unnamed officer, possibly head of the CIA’s renditions branch, for failing to properly oversee operations related to KSM;
Unnamed officer, for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and for failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
Unnamed officer(s), for failure to produce any coverage of KSM from 1997 to 2001. The type of coverage that should have been provided is redacted in the publicly released executive summary of the report.
The report may recommend accountability boards for other officers, but this is not known due to redactions and the publication of only the executive summary. CIA Director Porter Goss will decide not to convene any accountability boards (see October 10, 2005), and the report will remain secret until the executive summary is released in 2007 (see August 21, 2007). (Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005 )
Philip Zelikow, the chief adviser to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (see February 28, 2005) and the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), writes a classified memo challenging the Justice Department’s legal justifications for its authorizations of torture. Zelikow writes his memo after gaining access to four secret memos from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see April 16, 2009), in his role as Rice’s policy representative to the National Security Council’s Deputies Committee. Rice and her legal adviser, John Bellinger, are the only others besides Zelikow to have been briefed on the memos. Zelikow was aware of what many of the suspected terrorists did, or were alleged to have done, through his experience on the 9/11 Commission. The evidence against most of them is “damning,” he will later write: “But the issue is not about who or what they are. It is about who or what we are.” In the memo, which he will publicly discuss four years later (see April 21, 2009), Zelikow focuses on three main areas of contention.
First, the question should not be whether waterboarding (or any other particular technique) is torture, but on the idea of a program of authorized torture. The program used numerous well-planned, carefully considered methods of physical coercion to gain information from detainees, or as Zelikow will write, “to disorient, abuse, dehumanize, and torment individuals over time.” Waterboarding is only one of many objectionable, and illegal, techniques being used against prisoners.
Second, the question of torture should not first be settled by lawyers. The moral and professional aspects of such an issue should be dealt with before asking lawyers to justify such actions. Better questions would be: Are these methods reliable in getting important information? And does the garnering of such information, even if such can be proven, justify the moral position of using torture? In 2009, Zelikow will write: “There is an elementary distinction, too often lost, between the moral (and policy) question—‘What should we do?’—and the legal question: ‘What can we do?’ We live in a policy world too inclined to turn lawyers into surrogate priests granting a form of absolution. ‘The lawyers say it’s OK.’ Well, not really. They say it might be legal. They don’t know about OK.”
Finally, the legal opinions themselves have what Zelikow calls “grave weaknesses.” Many of the OLC opinions, particularly the May 30, 2005 opinion (see May 30, 2005), “presented the US government with a distorted rendering of relevant US law.” He goes on: “The case law on the ‘shocks the conscience’ standard for interrogations would proscribe the CIA’s methods,” in his view. Moreover, the OLC position ignores “standard 8th Amendment ‘conditions of confinement’ analysis (long incorporated into the 5th Amendment as a matter of substantive due process and thus applicable to detentions like these). That case law would regard the conditions of confinement in the CIA facilities as unlawful.” And, while “the use of a balancing test to measure constitutional validity (national security gain vs. harm to individuals) is lawful for some techniques… other kinds of cruel treatment should be barred categorically under US law—whatever the alleged gain.” The logical extension of the OLC’s position is that since the “substantive standard is the same as it is in analogous US constitutional law… the OLC must argue, in effect, that the methods and the conditions of confinement in the CIA program could constitutionally be inflicted on American citizens in a county jail. In other words, Americans in any town of this country could constitutionally be hung from the ceiling naked, sleep deprived, waterboarded, and all the rest—if the alleged national security justification was compelling. I did not believe our federal courts could reasonably be expected to agree with such a reading of the Constitution.”
White House Orders Copies Destroyed - Zelikow will admit he has no standing to offer a legal opinion. However, he will write: “I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo.” Zelikow will say he believes that copies still exist in State Department archives. (Zelikow 4/21/2009; Politico 4/21/2009)
Steven Bradbury is nominated by President Bush to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). He will continue in that position on an acting basis into 2008, even though Congressional Democrats refuse to confirm him for the job, and even though his continuation in the post violates the Vacancies Reform Act, which precludes non-confirmed appointees for holding their positions for over 210 days (see October 16, 2007). (Ward 9/20/2007; Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007; Ackerman 10/19/2007) Bradbury takes over from Jack Goldsmith, who resigned the position under fire (see June 17, 2004).
Arm of the White House - Bradbury has a long history of supporting the White House’s agenda of expansive executive power. He came to the Justice Department after clerking with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and mentoring under former Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007) A co-founder of the Federalist Society (Shenon 10/15/2007) , he is as staunchly conservative as any Bush appointee, but unlike some of the more outspoken of his colleagues, he comes across as low-key, pragmatic, and non-confrontational. As a Justice Department lawyer, Bradbury proved himself in line with the neoconservative views of Vice President Dick Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington. Former State Department senior official Philip Zelikow recalls Bradbury as being “fundamentally sympathetic to what the White House and the CIA wanted to do.” Bradbury was brought in to the OLC in part to rein in that office, which under its previous head Jack Goldsmith became the hub of the internal opposition to Bush’s policies of “enhanced interrogation” and domestic surveillance (see Late 2003-2005). In 2005, Bradbury signs two secret Justice Department memos giving broad authorization and legal justification for the CIA’s torture of terrorist suspects (see February 2005 and Late 2005),. Bradbury works closely with then-White House counsel and current attorney general Alberto Gonzales to bring the Justice Department back into line with White House demands. Conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, who headed the OLC under former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, says he believes the intense pressures from the current administration’s campaign against terrorism has warped the OLC’s proper role. “The office was designed to insulate against any need to be an advocate,” Kmiec says. Now the OLC has “lost its ability to say no.… The approach changed dramatically with opinions on the war on terror. The office became an advocate for the president’s policies.”
Probation - Bradbury was first considered for the job after Gonzales, newly confirmed as attorney general, rejected the idea of promoting Daniel Levin, the acting head of the OLC after Goldsmith’s departure. Gonzales considered Levin unsuitable for the job because of his independence and support for Goldsmith’s dissents. Instead, Gonzales chose Bradbury for the job. But the White House was uncertain of Bradbury’s reliability, and so placed him on a sort of “internal trial,” monitored by Gonzales’s replacement at the White House, Harriet Miers. Miers judged Bradbury’s loyalty to the president and his willingness to work with Gonzales in justifying White House policy decisions. Bradbury reportedly understands that his “probation” is intended for him to show just how compliant and supportive he is of the White House, and he soon wins the confidence of the White House by completely aligning himself with Addington. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
'Sordid criminal conspiracy' - Harper’s Magazine commentator and lawyer Scott Horton will write in November 2007 that it is obvious “Bradbury was picked for one reason: to provide continuing OLC cover for the torture conspirators.… The Justice Department’s strategy has been to cloak Bradbury’s torture memoranda in secrecy classifications and then to lie aggressively about their very existence.… This episode demonstrates once more the intimate interrelationship between the policies of torture, secrecy, and the right to lie to the public and the courts in the interests of shielding the Bush administration from public embarrassment. And once more the Justice Department is enlisted not in the enforcement of the law, but rather in a sordid criminal conspiracy.” (Horton 11/7/2007)
Italian authorities issue arrest warrants for nine Italians and 26 Americans, including former CIA Milan substation chief Robert Seldon Lady, over the kidnapping of an Islamic extremist in Italy (see Noon February 17, 2003) (Whitlock 12/6/2005; Barry 1/26/2007; CNN 2/16/2007) The kidnapped person, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar), had previously informed for the CIA (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After and Summer 2000), but was held hostage at two US airbases, Aviano in Italy and Ramstein in Germany, and then reportedly tortured in Egypt. This is the first time a foreign government files criminal charges against the CIA for an overseas counterterrorism mission. The Washington Post will comment, “Coming from a longtime ally, Italy, which has worked closely with the US government to fight terrorism and has sent troops to Iraq, the charges reflect growing unease in Europe about some US tactics against suspected Islamic terrorists.” The 13 are not in Italy to be arrested and many appear to have been using fake names. Court documents show they spent over $100,000 staying in luxury hotels in Milan, Florence, and Venice before and after the kidnapping. Nasr is released temporarily after being held for about a year, and Italian authorities monitor a call in which he says he has been tortured with electric shocks in Egypt. The operation is so badly planned and executed that former CIA bin Laden unit chief Michael Scheuer has difficultly believing the CIA could have done it, saying, “The agency might be sloppy, but not that sloppy.” (Whitlock and Linzer 6/24/2005)
It will later be reported that Haroon Rashid Aswat, the possible mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), talks on the phone about 20 times with two of the suicide bombers involved in the attack in the days before the bombings (see Late June-July 7, 2005). The Sunday Times will later note, “It is likely that the American National Security Agency—which has a powerful eavesdropping network—was monitoring the calls.” British investigators will not deny the phone calls took place, but will “caution that the calls may have been made to a phone linked to Aswat, rather than the man himself.” (Woods, Leppard, and Smith 7/31/2005) A book about the Mossad by Gordon Thomas will later claim that the Mossad learns by the early afternoon of the day of the 7/7 bombings that the CIA has a “strong supposition” Aswat made a number of calls to the bombers in the days before the bombings. (Thomas 2007, pp. 519) This would support the theory that the NSA was tracking the calls. US intelligence had discovered Aswat’s location several weeks before the bombings, but then supposedly lost track of him again (see Early June 2005). If these calls were tracked, it is not clear why action was not taken against the bombers.
Former State Department official Marc Grossman, who has testified that he is one of the officials who divulged former CIA covert official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to former White House aide Lewis Libby (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), tells reporters that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see March 4-5, 2002) had nothing to do with Plame Wilson being Wilson’s wife, as many of Libby’s defenders assert. Grossman wrote a memo detailing Wilson’s trip to Niger (see June 10, 2003) that was given to Libby and other White House officials. Grossman, speaking anonymously, says: “It wasn’t a Wilson-Wilson wife memo. It was a memo on uranium in Niger and focused principally on our [the State Department’s] disagreement” with the White House. The memo noted, erroneously, that Plame Wilson helped engineer Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003), but Grossman says it did not identify her as an undercover CIA agent, nor did it identify her as Valerie Plame, which was her maiden name and cover name at the CIA. Grossman says the fact that the CIA official and Wilson were a married couple was largely an incidental reference. (Associated Press 7/20/2005) Grossman will be revealed as the anonymous source who speaks to reporters at this time in April 2006. (Leopold 4/14/2006)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduces an amendment to the annual legislation to fund the Defense Department. McCain’s amendment, co-sponsored by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner (R-VA) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a former military lawyer, states that military interrogators cannot exceed the limits on detainee treatment set forth in the US Army Field Manual. In essence, the amendment would prohibit the use of harsh interrogation techniques that many, including McCain, feel constitute torture. The Field Manual limits were specifically written to comply with the Geneva Conventions. The amendment also prohibits US officials, including CIA agents, from inflicting not just torture but any form of “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” on anyone in their custody, no matter where in the world the prisoner is being kept. The amendment, later known as the McCain Amendment or the McCain Torture Ban, becomes the subject of fierce, largely private negotiations between McCain and the White House. Vice President Cheney quickly lobbies friendly Republicans in Congress to oppose the amendment, and has private meetings with Warner and McCain. At Cheney’s behest, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) withdraws the entire bill from consideration rather than allow it to pass with the McCain amendment attached. (Savage 2007, pp. 220-221)
CIA official Robert Grenier, who in 2003 was the agency’s Iraq mission manager and who informed former White House official Lewis Libby that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA official (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), testifies about his knowledge of the Plame Wilson identity leak to the grand jury investigating it. (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007) Grenier has already testified to the FBI about his conversation with Libby (see December 10, 2003).
After media begin to report on the CIA’s rendition from Italy of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (see Noon February 17, 2003 and June 23, 2005 and After), the agency’s Director Porter Goss asks its inspector general to review the case. According to the New York Times, the review is to focus on the “amateurish tradecraft in the case, like operatives staying in five-star hotels and using traceable credit cards and cellphones.” However, CIA Deputy Director for Operations Jose Rodriguez says that there is no need for a review by the inspector general and that the directorate of operations, which is soon to be renamed the National Clandestine Service, will investigate itself. (Mazzetti and Shane 2/20/2008) Rodriguez was the head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center at the time of the rendition (see May 2002), but his role in approving the operation is unclear.
The FBI begins to build cases against high value detainees held by the US in Guantanamo Bay, due to Defense Department fears that evidence obtained from the detainees by the CIA will be inadmissible or too controversial to present at their upcoming war crimes tribunals. The investigation, which involves up to 300 agents in a “Guantanamo task force,” runs for at least two years and FBI agents travel widely to collect evidence. According to former officials and legal experts, “The [FBI] process is an embarrassment for the Bush administration, which for years held the men incommunicado overseas and allowed the CIA to use coercive means to extract information from them that would not be admissible in a US court of law—and might not be allowed in their military commissions….” In fact, the techniques used to extract the confessions even cause some CIA officials to question whether they are believable, much less sustainable in court, particularly as CIA officers are not trained to obtain evidence that can be used in such a setting. In addition, if the information is used, this may focus the trials on the actions of the CIA and not the accused. The detainees will be designated enemy combatants in 2007 in preparation for military commissions (see March 9-April 28, 2007 and August 9, 2007), but this process will be questioned by a judge (see June 4, 2007). The Los Angeles Times will also comment, “The FBI’s efforts appear in part to be a hedge in case the commissions are ruled unconstitutional or never occur, or the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay is closed. Under those scenarios, authorities would have to free the detainees, transfer them to military custody elsewhere, send them to another country, or have enough evidence gathered by law enforcement officials to charge them with terrorism in US federal courts.” (Meyer 10/21/2007)
Rob Richer, the second-ranking official in the CIA’s directorate of operations (DO), announces his retirement from the agency at a meeting of senior DO officials. The apparent reason for his departure is that he lacks confidence in the agency’s leadership, and is not getting his way in the debate over how to improve human intelligence in the wake of the establishment of the position of director of national intelligence. According to an account in the Washington Post, Richer complains that he and his boss have been frustrated by CIA Director Porter Goss and his staff in their efforts to implement certain measures. Richer had been in his position for less than a year. A few days later, Goss sends what the Post calls “an unusual worldwide message” to all CIA employees praising Richer for his nearly 35 years of service. The Post will comment that this “only fuel[s] the belief among some former intelligence officials that Richer’s resignation reflects ongoing problems at the agency.” (Priest and Pincus 9/9/2005)
Rob Richer, the deputy head of the CIA’s directorate of operations, meets with CIA Director Porter Goss to explain the reasons for his recently announced resignation (see September 2, 2005). Reportedly, the central problem is that Richer wants to reform and expand operations conducted by the agency’s clandestine service, while reducing the side of the agency that conducts analysis, some of which would pass over to the director of national intelligence. In the private session, Richer is “blunt” about Goss’s leadership, according to sources the Washington Post will say are close to both men. He also advises Goss to, according to the Post, “communicate a vision for the agency and demonstrate leadership that senior career officials could rally behind.” An official will say: “Rob laid at his doorstep, in a collegial way, that Goss is out of touch.… It fell on deaf ears.” Richer apparently leaves the meeting angry, telling others he is disappointed with Goss’s response to his ideas. (Pincus and Linzer 9/22/2005)
Rob Richer, the outgoing deputy chief of the CIA’s directorate of operations (see September 2, 2005), appears before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to talk about the reasons for his departure from the agency. Richer is apparently unhappy over what he perceives as a lack of leadership by CIA Director Porter Goss and wants to expand the agency’s clandestine capability, while reducing analysis. The Washington Post will say that the appearance, at a closed session of the committee, is “unusual.” The session is not publicly announced; neither senators nor staff members who attend will officially confirm Richer’s presence. Nevertheless, one participant at the meeting will say that Richer is “impressive.” (Pincus and Linzer 9/22/2005) Richer has also previously met with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to explain his decision. (Priest and Pincus 9/9/2005)
The Washington Post publishes an article, written by Susan Schmidt and Jim VanderHei, that reveals details of White House official Lewis Libby’s conversations with New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Miller has just been released from jail (see September 29, 2005) after receiving a confidentiality waiver from Libby (see September 15, 2005). The details of the Libby-Miller conversations come from a source the reporters call “familiar with Libby’s account of his conversations with Miller in July 2003.” According to the source, Libby told Miller he heard that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, “had something to do with sending him” to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), “but he did not know who she was or where she worked, the source said.” The reporters then write that during his second conversation with Miller, Libby said he had learned that Plame Wilson “had a role in sending him on the trip and that she worked for the CIA. Libby never knew Plame’s name or that she was a covert operative, the source said.” The source also told the reporters that Libby never spoke with columnist Robert Novak about Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). (Schmidt and VandeHei 9/30/2009) The source “familiar with Libby’s” testimony was repeating the same falsehoods that Libby told the Plame Wilson grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Miller will testify that in their first conversation, Libby told her that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA’s Weapons, Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control office (see September 30, 2005, October 7, 2005, and October 12, 2005). (Waas 10/18/2005) Author and blogger Marcy Wheeler will later write that she believes Libby used the Post story to attempt to “coach” Miller’s testimony. Both Wheeler and reporter Murray Waas will note that the same anonymous source quoted in the Schmidt/VandeHei story attempted, and failed, to get articles based on the same information published in two other newspapers. Waas will write: “Journalists at two news organizations declined to publish stories. Among their concerns was that they had only a single source for the story and that that source had such a strong bias on behalf of Libby that the account of his grand jury testimony might possibly be incomplete or misleading in some way. But more important were concerns that a leak of an account of Libby’s grand jury testimony, on the eve of Miller’s own testimony, might be an effort—using the media—to let Miller know what Libby had said, if she wanted to give testimony beneficial to him, or similar to his. (There is no evidence that Miller did not testify truthfully to the grand jury.)” Wheeler accuses Schmidt of being Libby’s “stenographer,” a reporter all too willing to publish whatever a person wishes without investigating the possible motives behind the provision of the information. Wheeler also believes Libby may have attempted to coach or influence Miller’s testimony in his letter releasing the reporter from their confidentiality agreement (see September 15, 2005). (Waas 10/18/2005; Marcy Wheeler 11/3/2005) The Schmidt/VandeHei article is dated September 30, but appears on the Post’s Web site on September 29, well before Miller’s testimony. (Waas 10/18/2005)
A CIA report completed this month concludes that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq government “did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward [Islamist leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi and his associates.” The report will be made public one year later as part of a bipartisan Senate investigation. That investigation will conclude that Hussein regarded al-Qaeda as a threat rather as a potential ally, and that the Iraqi intelligence service “actively attempted to locate and capture al-Zarqawi without success.” The New York Times will later report that “The disclosure undercuts continuing claims by the Bush administration that such ties existed, and that they provided evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda.” But despite this report, President Bush will continue to allege such a link existed. For instance, in August 2006, he will claim in a news conference that Hussein “had relations with Zarqawi.” (Mazzetti 9/8/2006)
In their book The Next Attack, Daniel Benjamin, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and co-author Steven Simon write that neoconservative Laurie Mylroie’s theories about Iraq being behind every terrorist attack on the US since 1993 (see October 2000 and September 12, 2001) are simply unbelievable. They write: “Mylroie’s work has been carefully investigated by the CIA and the FBI.… The more knowledgeable analysts and investigators at the CIA and FBI believe that their work conclusively disproves Mylroie’s claims.” (Unger 2007, pp. 216)
The CIA shuts down 10 of its 12 “black stations”—agency bases located not in embassies, but under the cover of ficticious companies. The program to establish the stations began after 9/11 and cost hundreds of millions of dollars (see 2002-2004). However, at some point around 2005 the agency decides to start closing the network. Its establishment had been the source of significant dispute at the agency leading to a “very bitter fight,” according to one CIA official. One problem is that the stations are large, with six to nine officers. Therefore, if the cover of one is blown, this will affect all his colleagues. To deal with this problem the officers were not to operate in the country where their front company was based, but were to take on a second alias before traveling to their target. Critics inside the agency said this arrangement was convoluted, and argued the CIA should focus on creating covers on platforms that can get US spies close to their most important targets, such as student aid organizations that work with Muslim students. The timing of the closures is unclear. They result from a review of the program instigated by CIA Director Porter Goss, who arrived at the agency in September 2004 (see September 24, 2004). The review is conducted by Rolf Mowatt-Larseen, head of the CIA’s European division, who leaves the agency in November 2005 (see November 2005) and begins the closures himself before departing. However, the closures will be first reported in February 2008. (Miller 2/17/2008)
CIA Director Porter Goss announces that the agency will not pursue disciplinary action against any current or former CIA officials who have been severely criticized in an internal report produced by John Helgerson, the CIA’s inspector general. 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 (see June 2005). Tenet in particular is faulted for focusing too little attention on combating al-Qaeda as a whole in the years prior to 9/11. However, he and others who are singled out strongly object to the report’s conclusions, and have prepared lengthy rebuttals. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, of which Goss was ironically the co-chairman, had formally requested the report in November 2002, as it was finishing its investigation. The 400-page document was completed in June 2004, but its release was delayed (see June-November 2004). John Helgerson finally delivered it to Congress in August 2005, and had urged Goss to convene “accountability boards” to assess the performance of officers it criticized. However, Goss says he has decided not to do this. He says the report in no way suggests “that any one person or group of people could have prevented 9/11,” and that “[o]f the officers named in [Helgerson’s] report, about half have retired from the Agency, and those who are still with us are amongst the finest we have.” Goss also claims the report “unveiled no mysteries,” and states that it will remain classified. (Jehl 10/5/2005; Miller 10/6/2005; Linzer and Pincus 10/6/2005) In response to Goss’s statement, Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the senior Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, asks, “What failures in performance, if not these, warrant the convening of an accountability board at the CIA?” 9/11 victim’s relative Kristen Breitweiser comments, “No one has been held accountable for the failures on 9/11.” (Reuters 10/5/2005)
White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove testifies for a fourth time before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/15/2005; Washington Post 7/3/2007) Rove amends and clarifies his earlier testimony, most notably his failure to remember outing Plame Wilson to Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald spends a large portion of Rove’s session focusing on the omission. In earlier testimony, Rove attempted to claim that he had only a “hazy recollection” of hearing Plame Wilson’s name (see October 15, 2004) before reading Robert Novak’s column which publicly outed her as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003). He now testifies that he informed Cooper of her status as a CIA agent days before the article appeared, and his memory apparently failed him during his earlier statements to the grand jury. Rove testifies that his recollection was prompted by the discovery of an e-mail message to Stephen Hadley, then the deputy national security adviser, that he wrote after talking to Cooper (see March 1, 2004). (Waas 10/7/2005; Johnston and Stevenson 10/15/2005) He insists that he never identified Plame Wilson by her name, but “merely” as the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, and did not intentionally reveal her as a covert CIA official because he did not know of her clandestine status. (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/15/2005) He says he may have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from fellow White House official Lewis Libby, and says that both he and Libby learned of her CIA employment status from reporters. He says someone else outside the White House also told him of Plame Wilson’s identity, but he cannot remember who that was. (VandeHei and Leonnig 10/20/2005) Previously, Rove insisted that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from reporters, and not the other way around, as many reporters and others have already testified. Rove has said that one of the reporters who told him that Plame Wilson was a CIA official was Novak, a statement Novak has contradicted (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004). Rove also testified that he never told Cooper Plame Wilson’s name, but merely identified her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson. (Solomon 7/15/2005)
Rove's Testimony No Distraction, White House Officials Claim - White House spokesman Scott McClellan says Rove’s testimony has not distracted the administration from its usual affairs: “[W]hile there are other things going on, the White House doesn’t have time to let those things distract from the important work at hand.” (Johnston and Stevenson 10/15/2005) White House chief of staff Andrew Card concurs. “Well, obviously we’re all human beings and we know that there are external activities that impact the environment you’re working in,” he says. “It is something that is there, but it is something that we don’t talk about because it would be inappropriate.… I haven’t found anyone that is distracted because of the ongoing investigation, but we all know that it’s taking place and we’re all working to cooperate with the investigators.” (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/15/2005)
Lawyer: Rove 'Always Honest' with FBI, Jury, President - Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, says that his client “has always attempted to be honest and fully forthcoming” to anyone “he has spoken to about this matter, whether that be the special prosecutor or the president of the United States. My client would not hide anything, because he has nothing to hide. It would not be to his benefit to do so.” Previously, Rove had failed to disclose his discussion with Cooper to either the FBI or to President Bush (see After September 26, 2003). (Waas 10/7/2005) “The special counsel has not advised Mr. Rove that he is a target of the investigation and affirmed that he has made no decision concerning charges.” (Leonnig and VandeHei 10/15/2005)
Fitzgerald Mulling Criminal Charges against Rove - Sources close to the Fitzgerald investigation say Rove’s statements to Bush and to the FBI are at the heart of the decision whether or not to charge him with making false statements to investigators, or with obstruction of justice. Lying to the president could in itself be worthy of charges. Law professor Rory Little, a former federal prosecutor and assistant attorney general in the Clinton administration, says: “The president is the top law enforcement official of the executive branch. It is a crime to make a false statement to a federal agent. If the president was asking in that capacity, and the statement was purposely false, then you might have a violation of law.” However, if Bush had discussed the matter with Rove in a more informal capacity, then, Little says, a case for making false statements to a federal agent would be more difficult to prove. Law professor Randall Eliason says that if Rove deliberately lied to the president, a prosecutor could construe the lie as an “overt act… in furtherance of a criminal plan.” Law professor Stephen Gillers notes: “Misleading the president, other officials of the executive branch, or even the FBI might not, in and of themselves, constitute criminal acts. But a prosecutor investigating other crimes—such as obstruction of justice or perjury—might use evidence of any such deception to establish criminal intent. And a lack of candor might also negate a claim of good faith or inadvertent error in providing misleading information to prosecutors.” (Waas 10/7/2005)
The Justice Department decides not to prosecute in most cases where detainees were abused and killed by the CIA. The cases, of which there are apparently eight, had been referred to the department by the CIA’s inspector general (see (August 2004)) and were investigated primarily by the US Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, although officials at department headquarters in Washington are also involved in the decision not to prosecute. Although some of the cases are still technically under review at this time, the department indicates it does not intend to bring charges. (Jehl and Golden 10/23/2005) The cases include:
The death of Iraqi prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi in CIA custody in November 2003 (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003 and (7:00 a.m.) November 4, 2003);
The asphyxiation of Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush in Iraq, also in November 2003 (see November 24 or 25, 2003 and November 26, 2003). This incident involved the military, as well as at least one CIA contractor; (Jehl and Golden 10/23/2005)
The intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a gun and drill (see September 11, 2003).
The death of detainee Gul Rahman, who froze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002). The case was examined by prosecutors, but, in the end, a recommendation not to prosecute the officer who caused the detainee to die is made. (Johnson, Markon, and Tate 9/19/2009) The officer’s first name is not known, although his last name is Zirbel. (Mahoney and Johnson 10/9/2009, pp. 29 ) The decision is made because prosecutors conclude that the prison was outside the reach of US law; although the CIA funded it and vetted its Afghan guards, it was technically an Afghan prison. In addition, it is unclear whether Rahman, who was captured in Pakistan and then taken to Afghanistan, would have died from injuries sustained during his capture, rather than by freezing. Although hypothermia was listed as the cause of death in the autopsy, the body was not available to investigators. According to the Washington Post, “questions remain whether hypothermia was used as a cover story in part to protect people who had beaten the captive.” However, according to a “senior official who took part in the review,” the decision not to prosecute in this case is not initially that clear, and an indictment is considered. However, the prosecutors decide not to press charges against Zirbel and a memo explaining this decision is drafted. An official involved in the review will later say there is “absolutely no pressure” from the Justice Department’s management to decide not to prosecute. However, a later report by the Post will indicate there may be a split among prosecutors over the decision, and that a political appointee, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Paul McNulty, assesses the case. McNulty will be nominated for the position of deputy attorney general around this time (see October 21, 2005). (Johnson, Markon, and Tate 9/19/2009)
However, one CIA employee, a contractor named David Passaro, has been charged with detainee abuse (see June 18-21, 2003). (Jehl and Golden 10/23/2005) The department will begin a second review of some or all of these cases in 2009 (see August 24, 2009).
The US and Britain send a team to search for the body of Osama bin Laden in the rubble of the Pakistani town of Balakot, according to the British Sunday Express newspaper. The al-Qaeda leader is thought to have been buried there following a recent earthquake. The British component comprises members of the foreign intelligence service MI6 and the SAS Special Forces unit; the Americans are US Special Forces. The team, whose deployment is approved by President Bush, is flown in from Afghanistan equipped with imagery and eavesdropping technology, high-tech weapons systems, and linguists. The search is motivated by the fact that, days before the earthquake happened, an American satellite spotted an al-Qaeda training camp in a nearby area and obtained high-resolution close-ups. A senior intelligence officer in Washington says: “One of those photos bore a remarkable resemblance to bin Laden. His face looked thinner, which is in keeping with our reports that his kidney condition has worsened.” This is a reference to the rumor that bin Laden has kidney problems (see November 23, 1996). The Sunday Express will report: “In recent weeks, both MI6 and the CIA have established that bin Laden has received a portable kidney dialysis machine from China but it requires electricity to power it. Drones, unmanned aircraft that US Special Forces launched from Afghanistan last week, have reported that the area along the border has lost all power supplies.” However, the state of bin Laden’s kidneys will still be shrouded in mystery two years later (see Late 2007). According to the report, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has agreed to keep other rescue teams working to locate survivors away from the border area where the search for bin Laden is concentrated. (Daily Times (Lahore) 10/20/2005) There are no reports that the search is a success. A man thought to be bin Laden will continue to release audio messages (see, for example, January 19, 2006).
The White House continues to fight against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss meet privately with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, for 45 minutes to push a change in the language that would exempt CIA interrogators from the amendment’s restrictions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write on the remarkable aspects of Cheney’s requests. For the first time, the CIA would be “clearly authorize[d] to engage in abusive interrogations. In effect, it would legalize the abuse of detainees in CIA prisons, a matter that had previously been a gray area at best.” McCain flatly rejects Cheney’s proposal, and later says: “I don’t see how you could possibly agree to legitimizing an agent of the government engaging in torture. No amendment at all would be better than that.” (Savage 2007, pp. 220)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases a report that documents the death of 44 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan while in US custody. Most died during interrogation. The report, based on government reports (including autopsy reports, death reports, and other documents turned over to the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request), finds that “detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation, and to hot and cold environmental conditions.” ACLU director Anthony Romero says: “There is no question that US interrogations have resulted in deaths. High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military.” The detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy SEALs, military intelligence officials, and “OGA” (Other Governmental Agency) personnel, a designation the ACLU says is usually used to refer to the CIA. Twenty-one of the 44 deaths were homicides, the ACLU says. Eight died from abusive techniques; autopsy reports show the causes of death were “strangulation,” “asphyxiation,” and “blunt force injuries.” Most of the “natural deaths” were attributed to what government doctors termed “Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.” The ACLU notes that the report proves that detainees died not only at the hands of CIA personnel, but from abuse and maltreatment by Navy SEALs and military intelligence officials as well. The report cites, among other deaths, an Iraqi prisoner who died from hypothermia (see April 5, 2004), an Iraqi prisoner who was strangled and beaten to death (see January 9, 2004), an Iraqi general who died from smothering and “chest compressions” (see November 26, 2003), an Iraqi prisoner beaten and smothered to death (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003), two Afghani civilians beaten to death by US soldiers (see November 6, 2003 and December 10, 2002), and an older Iraqi man strangled to death while in US custody (see June 5, 2003). ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents present irrefutable evidence that US operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogations. The public has a right to know who authorized the use of torture techniques and why these deaths have been covered up.” (American Civil Liberties Union 10/24/2005)
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes that the Fitzgerald investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak is running the risk of moving too far, too fast, and may end up jailing Bush administration officials without good cause. Kristof cites two Republican-driven investigations from the 1990s—the “fanatical” Kenneth Starr investigation of former President Clinton and the “appalling” 10-year pursuit of former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros—to warn that the Fitzgerald investigation, like those he cites from the 1990s, may be moving into murkier areas than originally warranted, i.e. the investigation into who leaked the name of a clandestine CIA agent. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald may be “considering mushier kinds of indictments,” Kristof writes, “for perjury, obstruction of justice, or revealing classified information. Sure, flat-out perjury must be punished. But if the evidence is more equivocal, then indictments would mark just the kind of overzealous breach of prosecutorial discretion that was a disgrace when Democrats were targeted. And it would be just as disgraceful if Republicans are the targets.” Kristof acknowledges that White House officials “behaved abominably in this affair,” and says, “the idea of a government official secretly using the news media… to attack former Ambassador Joseph Wilson [is] sleazy and outrageous. But a crime? I’m skeptical, even though there seems to have been a coordinated White House campaign against Mr. Wilson” (see October 1, 2003). “My guess is that the participants in a White House senior staff meeting discussed Mr. Wilson’s trip and the charges that the administration had knowingly broadcast false information about uranium in Niger—and then decided to take the offensive. The leak of Mrs. Wilson’s identity resulted from that offensive, but it may well have been negligence rather than vengeance.” Kristof doubts that anyone in the White House knew that Plame Wilson was an undercover agent, and believes that “some official spread the word of Mrs. Wilson’s work at the CIA to make her husband’s trip look like a nepotistic junket.” He calls such behavior “appalling,” and says that columnist Robert Novak “was absolutely wrong to print the disclosure” (see July 14, 2003). “But there’s also no need to exaggerate it,” he concludes. The entire Plame Wilson affair is an example of “backstabbing politics,” he writes, “but not… obvious criminality.” Therefore, Fitzgerald should be wary of handing down indictments, both in the interest of legal restraint and for fear that indicting “White House officials on vague charges of revealing classified information… will have a chilling effect on the reporting of national security issues.” (Kristof 10/25/2005)
Washington Post investigative reporter Bob Woodward slams ‘Plamegate’ special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. In an interview on CNN’s Larry King Live, he calls Fitzgerald’s investigation “disgraceful.” When asked if he knew who might have leaked CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s name to the press, Woodward claims—falsely—that he has no idea. “I wish I did have a bombshell,” he says. “I don’t even have a firecracker.” The leak, he says, is merely “gossip and chatter” of interest only to “a junkyard-dog prosecutor” like Fitzgerald who “goes everywhere and asks every question and turns over rocks and rocks under rocks and so forth.” Woodward also claims that the CIA’s assessment of the damage likely to have been done by the leak is “minimal.” Woodward says: “They did not have to pull anyone out undercover abroad. They didn’t have to resettle anyone. There was no physical danger to anyone, and there was just some embarrassment. So people have kind of compared—somebody was saying this was [similar to the cases of convicted spies] Aldrich Ames or Bob Hanssen, big spies. This didn’t cause damage.” Woodward is ignoring reports that the damage caused by the leak may well have been severe and widespread (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006); he also fails to note an upcoming report by his own newspaper that notes the CIA has not yet completed its assessment of the damage, but speculates as to just how severe the damage is believed to be (see October 29, 2005). (CNN 10/27/2005; Media Matters 10/31/2005; Media Matters 11/16/2005; Gibbs and Novak 11/20/2005) Woodward does not mention that he is one of the reporters who was contacted by a Bush administration official about Plame Wilson being a CIA agent (see June 13, 2003). He has also withheld his knowledge of the case from Fitzgerald and his own editors (see November 16-17, 2005).
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, is indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice. Libby is accused of “outing” Valerie Plame Wilson, an undercover CIA agent, to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003), and then lying about it to the FBI and to a grand jury empaneled by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see December 30, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). Libby immediately resigns his position as Cheney’s chief of staff. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ; CNN 5/14/2006; MSNBC 2/21/2007; Washington Post 7/3/2007)
Five Counts of Obstruction, Two Counts of Perjury - Libby is indicted on five counts of obstruction of justice and two counts of perjury. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ; MSNBC 2/21/2007) Though the original investigation was of the Plame Wilson leak, Fitzgerald says it is important to understand that Libby’s crimes, though not the prime focus of the initial investigation, should be prosecuted as well. “Investigators do not set out to investigate the statute, they set out to gather the facts,” he says. The indictment does not charge Libby with knowingly disclosing the identity of a covert agent. (New York Times 10/28/2005)
Confirms that CIA Agent's Status Classified; Important to National Security - Fitzgerald confirms that the fact of Plame Wilson’s employment at the CIA was in and of itself classified information, and not to be shared to the media or the public. He says: “The fact that she was a CIA officer was not well known, for her protection or for the benefit of all us. It’s important that a CIA officer’s identity be protected, that it be protected not just for the officer, but for the nation’s security.… [T]he damage wasn’t to one person. It wasn’t just Valerie Wilson. It was done to all of us” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006). (New York Times 10/28/2005; Corn 3/16/2007)
Libby Lied about Knowledge of Plame Wilson's Status, Indictment Charges - The indictment charges that Libby lied when he claimed that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from NBC reporter Tim Russert (see November 24, 2003, March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004, and August 7, 2004). Instead, the indictment charges, Libby learned about Plame Wilson and her possible role in sending her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate claims of Iraqi attempts to buy uranium (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) from a number of people, including an undersecretary of state (see June 10, 2003), a CIA officer who regularly briefed him on national security issues (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), an unidentified “senior CIA officer,” and from his superior, Cheney (see (June 12, 2003)). In his turn, Libby shared that information with several officials in the Office of the Vice President, including Cheney’s senior counsel David Addington (see July 8, 2003), Cheney’s national security adviser John Hannah (see May 29, 2003), and Cheney’s press secretary at the time, Cathie Martin (who may have actually informed Libby—see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003). “In fact, Mr. Libby was the first official known to have told a reporter when he talked to Judith Miller in June of 2003 about Valerie Wilson” (see June 23, 2003), Fitzgerald says. “[T]o be frank, Mr. Libby gave the FBI a compelling story,” he adds. “It would be a compelling story that will lead the FBI to go away if only it were true. It is not true, according to the indictment.” (New York Times 10/28/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ; Waas and Singer 10/30/2005) (The unidentified “senior CIA officer” is later revealed to be Frederick Fleitz, who served both as a senior officer at the Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) desk and as Undersecretary of State John Bolton’s chief of staff—see (June 11, 2003).) (Alexandrovna and Leopold 11/2/2005) Jeralyn Merritt, a criminal defense attorney who writes for the progressive blog TalkLeft, notes that according to the indictment, the phrases used by Libby in his denials to the grand jury were nearly verbatim echoes of Cheney’s own denials as told to NBC’s Tim Russert in September 2003 (see September 14, 2003). (Jeralyn Merritt 10/31/2005)
Sought Information on Plame Wilson's CIA Status - The indictment also charges that Libby sought information from the CIA and the State Department about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, and tried to determine whether she had been responsible for sending her husband to Niger. According to the indictment, Libby asked David Addington, the chief counsel to Cheney, “in sum and substance, what paperwork there would be at the CIA if an employee’s spouse undertook an overseas trip.” The court papers do not say what action, if any, Addington may have taken in response to Libby’s request. (New York Times 10/28/2005; US District Court for the District of Columbia 10/28/2005 ; Waas 12/16/2005)
Discussed with Multiple Officials before Leaking to Reporters - In a press conference, Fitzgerald walks reporters and listeners through the indictment: from Libby’s learning of Plame Wilson’s identity from State Department and CIA sources and from Cheney, through his discussing it with at least three White House officials, all before the supposed “disclosure” from Russert. Libby subsequently lied to the FBI and to Fitzgerald’s grand jury about those discussions with government officials and again with Miller and Time reporter Matthew Cooper. “[H]e lied about it afterwards,” Fitzgerald says, “under oath and repeatedly.… [A]nyone who would go into a grand jury and lie, obstruct, and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime.” (New York Times 10/28/2005)
Leak Seriously Jeopardized National Security - Fitzgerald tells reporters that the leaking of a CIA officer’s identity is a serious breach of national security. “This is a very serious matter and compromising national security information is a very serious matter,” he says. “But the need to get to the bottom of what happened and whether national security was compromised by inadvertence, by recklessness, by maliciousness is extremely important.” Fitzgerald continues: “At a time when we need our spy agencies to have people work there, I think just the notion that someone’s identity could be compromised lightly… [discourages] our ability to recruit people and say, ‘Come work for us… come be trained… come work anonymously here or wherever else, go do jobs for the benefit of the country for which people will not thank you.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, says: “Revealing the identity of a covert agent is the type of leak that gets people killed. Not only does it end the person’s career… it puts that person in grave personal danger as well as their colleagues and all the people they have had contact with.” (New York Times 10/28/2005; Waas and Singer 10/30/2005)
Charges Are Serious, Not 'Technicalities' - Responding to a question about Republican charges that Libby is being charged as a “technicality,” and Fitzgerald “overreached” his authority in filing the indictment, Fitzgerald says: “That talking point won’t fly. If you’re doing a national security investigation, if you’re trying to find out who compromised the identity of a CIA officer and you go before a grand jury and if the charges are proven… that the chief of staff to the vice president went before a federal grand jury and lied under oath repeatedly and fabricated a story about how he learned this information, how he passed it on, and we prove obstruction of justice, perjury, and false statements to the FBI, that is a very, very serious matter.… [T]he truth is the engine of our judicial system. And if you compromise the truth, the whole process is lost.… Any notion that anyone might have that there’s a different standard for a high official, that this is somehow singling out obstruction of justice and perjury, is upside down.… If these facts are true, if we were to walk away from this and not charge obstruction of justice and perjury, we might as well just hand in our jobs. Because our jobs, the criminal justice system, is to make sure people tell us the truth. And when it’s a high-level official and a very sensitive investigation, it is a very, very serious matter that no one should take lightly.” (New York Times 10/28/2005)
Explanation for Delay in Filing Indicitment - Fitzgerald gives one reason for the delay in filing the indictment against Libby. When asked why he went to such lengths to compel the testimony of reporters such as Miller (see September 30, 2005) and Cooper (see July 13, 2005), Fitzgerald replies that the rights of the accused are paramount in his mind. The testimony of Miller, Cooper, and other journalists could bolster the case against Libby, or could help exonerate him. The possibility that he might charge someone, only to learn later that one of the journalists who had declined to testify had information to clear the person, was something that “frightens me,” Fitzgerald says. “I think the only way you can do an investigation like this is to hear all eyewitnesses.” (New York Times 10/28/2005; Waas 11/12/2005)
No Charges against Cheney - Asked whether the investigation found evidence of criminal acts by Cheney, Fitzgerald answers: “We make no allegation that the vice president committed any criminal act. We make no allegation that any other people who provided or discussed with Mr. Libby committed any criminal act. But as to any person you asked me a question about other than Mr. Libby, I’m not going to comment on anything.” Fitzgerald refuses to comment on whether White House political strategist Karl Rove or anyone else will be named as co-conspirators, charged, or even named in court. (New York Times 10/28/2005)
The Washington Post publishes an article about the severity of the damage done by the Plame Wilson CIA identity leak. The Post notes that the CIA has not yet completed its damage assessment, because it usually waits until criminal investigations have concluded. But when Plame Wilson and her front company, Brewster Jennings, were exposed as clandestine CIA entities, the damage was believed to have been widespread (see October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). CIA officials have compiled a long list of Plame Wilson’s contacts and friends both in the US and overseas who may have been exposed as her contacts. Current and former intelligence officials say there is no way to know if the leak has cost anyone their life as yet. Former CIA division chief Arthur Brown says: “Cover and tradecraft are the only forms of protection one has and to have that stripped away because of political scheming is the moral equivalent to exposing forward deployed military units. In the case of the military, they can pack up and go elsewhere. In the case of a serving clandestine officer, it’s the end of that officer’s ability to function in that role.” Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “Blowing the cover of a CIA officer is the cardinal sin in the intelligence business: It could wipe out information networks and put lives at risk.” Certainly Plame Wilson’s ability to function as a clandestine CIA agent has forever been destroyed. Former senior CIA manager Mark Lowenthal says: “It’s possible that no damage was done [to national security] but she can never [work] overseas again.… You can only speculate that if she had foreign contacts, those contacts might be nervous and their relationships with her put them at risk. It also makes it harder for other CIA officers to recruit sources.” Ultimately, the public will never know just how extensive the damage may be. One intelligence official says, “You’ll never get a straight answer about how valuable she was or how valuable her sources were.” (Linzer 10/29/2005) The press is not yet aware of an in-house CIA assessment of the “severe” damage caused to the agency by the leak (see Before September 16, 2003).
Guidance is issued by CIA lawyers Robert Eatinger and Steven Hermes to the CIA’s National Clandestine Service (NCS) on the preservation of videotapes of detainee interrogations made by the CIA. (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) The guidance is apparently used as justification for the tapes’ destruction (see November 2005), but its content is unclear. According to one account, “Lawyers within the clandestine branch of the Central Intelligence Agency gave written approval in advance to the destruction in 2005 of hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting interrogations of two lieutenants from al-Qaeda.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007) Another account supports this, saying the lawyers give “written guidance to [CIA manager Jose] Rodriguez that he had the authority to destroy the tapes and that the destruction would violate no laws.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) However, according to another account: “[The guidance] advises that there is no explicit legal reason why the Clandestine Service had to preserve the tapes… The document does not, however, directly authorize the tapes’ destruction or offer advice on the wisdom or folly of such a course of action.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007) Some CIA videotapes have been requested for court proceedings, meaning such tapes should not be destroyed, but it is unclear if the tapes that are destroyed in November 2005 have been requested by courts or not (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, is not asked for an opinion, although he has been involved in discussions about what to do with the tapes for years and several high-ranking officials and legislators are of the opinion that the tapes should not be destroyed (see November 2005). (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007) Eatinger and Hermes apparently inform Rizzo they have issued the guidance and expect Rodriguez will consult him before destroying the tapes, but Rodriguez does not do so. (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) The New York Times will comment, “It is unclear what weight an opinion from a lawyer within the clandestine service would have if it were not formally approved by Mr. Rizzo. But [an anonymous former official] said Mr. Rodriguez and others in the clandestine branch believed the legal judgment gave them the blessing to destroy the tapes.” The former official will also say they “didn’t need to ask Rizzo’s permission.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007) A lawyer acting for Rodriguez will later say, “He had a green light to destroy them.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/19/2007) However, other former CIA officers will express surprise that a lawyer junior to Rizzo would approve such a controversial decision without asking for his input. Former CIA lawyer John Radsan will say, “I’d be surprised that even the chief [NCS] lawyer made a decision of that magnitude without bringing the General Counsel’s front office into the loop.” He adds, “Although unlikely, it is conceivable that once a CIA officer got the answer he wanted from a [NCS] lawyer, he acted on that advice… But a streamlined process like that would have been risky for both the officer and the [NCS] lawyer.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007)
By November 2005, when the CIA destroys videotapes of the interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November 2005), there are numerous reasons to not destroy them, some of them possibly legal requirements. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007)
In February 2003, Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, Congressperson Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the committee, requested that the videotapes be preserved (see February 2003).
Beginning in 2003 and continuing through 2005, White House officials, including White House deputy chief of staff Harriet Miers, requested that the videotapes be preserved (see Between 2003-Late 2005).
In 2003, Justice Department lawyers also advised the CIA to preserve the videotapes (see 2003).
Beginning in 2003, lawyers in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial have requested access to evidence of interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders like Zubaida. The CIA twice misinformed the judge in the trial about the existence of the videotapes (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The trial will not be concluded until mid-2006 (see May 3, 2006).
In September 2004, a judge rules the CIA has to preserve all records about the treatment of detainees overseas, as part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The videotapes of Zubaida and al-Nashiri would clearly qualify, since both are held overseas (see September 15, 2004).
Beginning in May 2005, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the CIA to preserve over 100 documents about the CIA interrogation program. One of the documents requested is a report about the videotapes of interrogations and their possible illegality (see May-September 2005).
In June and July 2005, two judges ordered the CIA to preserve all evidence relevant to detainees being held in Guantanamo prison. The interrogation videotapes are indirectly relevant because the cases of some detainees hinge on their alleged ties to Zubaida (see June-July 2005).
In the summer of 2005, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte met with CIA Director Porter Goss and “strongly advised” him not to allow the videotapes to be destroyed (see Summer 2005).
The videotapes are also needed for a trial of Jose Padilla, who is indicted in November 2005 (see November 22, 2005).
An unnamed official familiar with the case will comment, “Everybody from the top on down told them not to do it and still they went ahead and did it anyway.” (Meyer 12/9/2007) Despite this, many later reports will indicate that the National Clandestine Service (NCS), the CIA unit that takes the decision to destroy the tapes, believes the advice about their destruction is ambiguous. NCS head Jose Rodriguez will be said to feel he never gets a straight answer to the question of whether the tapes should be destroyed, despite extensive correspondence about the issue at the CIA. (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007; Isikoff and Hosenball 12/24/2007) A former intelligence official will say, “They never told us, ‘Hell, no.’ If somebody had said, ‘You cannot destroy them,’ we would not have destroyed them.” (Mazzetti and Shane 12/11/2007)
Rolf Mowatt-Larssen leaves the CIA and joins the Department of Energy, where he becomes director of the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. He will remain with the department until January 2009. (US Department of Energy 12/2/2008)
The chief of the CIA’s station in Bangkok, Michael Winograd, submits a request that he be allowed to destroy tapes of detainee interrogations. The tapes were made in 2002 in Thailand and show “enhanced techniques,” including waterboarding, being used on high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see Spring-Late 2002). The tapes have been in Winograd’s safe for the last three years, and it is reported that Winograd wants to resolve the matter now, because he is to retire. However, the story of the CIA’s “black sites” and possible torture of detainees breaks this month (see November 2-18, 2005). The request is submitted to CIA counterterrorism manager Jose Rodriguez, who will agree to it (see November 2005), despite the CIA being advised to the contrary (see November 2005). (Warrick and Pincus 1/16/2008; Goldman and Apuzzo 7/26/2010)
The Central Intelligence Agency destroys videotapes of the interrogations of two high-ranking detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, which were made in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002). One anonymous senior intelligence official later claims that “Several hundred hours” of videotapes are destroyed. (Eggen and Pincus 12/18/2007) The tapes are destroyed at the CIA station in Thailand by station chief Michael Winograd, as Zubaida and al-Nashiri apparently were tortured at a secret CIA prison in that country. (Hosenball 6/28/2008; Goldman and Apuzzo 7/26/2010) The decision to destroy the tapes is apparently made by Jose Rodriguez, chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, despite previous advice not to destroy them (see November 2005). However, some accounts will suggest that Rodriguez received clearance to destroy the tapes (see December 7, 2007). (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) The CIA’s treatment of detainees has recently come under increased scrutiny. As the Wall Street Journal will later remark, “the Abu Ghraib prison pictures were still fresh, the existence of secret CIA prisons had just been revealed, and politicians on Capitol Hill were talking about curtailing ‘extreme techniques,’ including the Central Intelligence Agency’s own interrogation tactics.” (Gorman 12/10/2007) Beginning on November 2, 2005, there are some pivotal articles revealing details about the CIA’s handling of detainees, suggesting that some of them were illegally tortured (see November 2-18, 2005). According to a 2007 statement by future CIA Director Michael Hayden, the tapes are destroyed “in the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them” and because they apparently pose “a serious security risk”; if they were leaked, they could be used for retaliation by al-Qaeda and its sympathizers. (Central Intelligence Agency 12/6/2007) However, this rationale will be questioned when the destruction is revealed in late 2007 (see December 6, 2007). Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will call this “a pathetic excuse.… You’d have to burn every document at the CIA that has the identity of an agent on it under that theory.” CBS News will offer an alternative explanation, saying that the tapes are destroyed “to protect CIA officers from criminal prosecution.” (CBS News 12/7/2007) CIA Director Porter Goss and the CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, are allegedly not notified of the destruction in advance, and Rizzo will reportedly be angry at this failure. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) But Newsweek will later claim that Goss and Rizzo were involved in extensive discussions with the White House over what to do with the tapes. Goss supposedly thought there was an understanding the tapes would be saved and is upset to learn they have been destroyed (see Between 2003-Late 2005 and Before November 2005). (Isikoff and Hosenball 12/11/2007) Congressional officials responsible for oversight are not informed for a year (see March 14, 2007). A White House spokeswoman will say that President Bush has “no recollection” of being made aware of the tapes’ destruction before 2007 (see December 11, 2007). It is also unclear whether the Justice Department is notified in advance or not. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) The CIA still retains tapes of interrogations of at least one detainee (see September 19 and October 18, 2007).
Most top al-Qaeda leaders being held by the US has been in a secret CIA prison in Poland. But after the nonprofit watchdog group Human Rights Watch discloses the existence of the prisons, the prisoners are moved to a new CIA prison located in the North African nation of Mauritania. The New Yorker will report that “After a new government friendly to the US took power, in a bloodless coup d’état in August, 2005… it was much easier for the intelligence community to mask secret flights there.” (Hersh 6/17/2007) A Mauritanian newspaper places the prison at Ichemmimène, a town deep in the Sahara desert. (Le RÃ©novateur Quotidien 6/29/2007) ABC News lists eleven prisoners making the move:
Abu Zubaida (held in Thailand then Poland).
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (held in Poland).
Ramzi bin al-Shibh (held in Poland).
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (held in Poland).
Khallad bin Attash (held in Poland).
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (held in Poland).
Hassan Ghul (held in Poland).
Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi (held in Poland).
Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman (held in Poland).
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (held in Pakistan then Poland).
Further, Hambali is a high level prisoner in US custody but he is being held elsewhere. (Ross and Esposito 12/5/2005; ABC News 12/5/2005) In 2007 Council of Europe, the European human rights monitoring agency, will reveal that the main CIA prison for high-level prisoners was in a Soviet-era military compound at Stare Kjekuty, in northeastern Poland. Lower-level prisoners from Afghanistan and Iraq were held in a military base near the Black Sea in Romania. The governments of Poland and Romania will continue to deny the existence of the prisons even after the US government admits to their existence. (Grey and Carvajal 6/8/2007) Eleven of the twelve prisoners mentioned above were subjected to the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” called torture by many. In 2006, Bush will announce that the CIA prisons are being emptied and high level prisoners will be transferred to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (see September 2-3, 2006).
Some 'Ghost' Prisoners - But the list of prisoners being transferred will include some other names and will not include al-Shaykh al-Libi, Ghul, al-Sharqawi, or Abdul-Rahman. It will later come out that al-Sharqawi was probably sent to Guantanamo in late 2004 after being held in a Jordanian prison (see February 7, 2002). Ghul is a ‘ghost’ prisoner until he is turned over to the Pakistani government in 2006 (see (Mid-2006)). Al-Libi is similarly turned over to Libya (see Between November 2005 and September 2006). The fate of Abdul-Rahman remains unknown. (Ross and Esposito 12/5/2005)
Armando Spataro, the Italian prosecutor investigating the CIA’s rendition from Italy of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003), offers a deal to Robert Seldon Lady, one of the agency officers involved in the operation. Spataro wants Lady to testify against the CIA for the prosecution. In return, Lady will not be sentenced to prison in Italy, and half of a villa he owns there will not be confiscated. However, Lady declines the offer, later saying that doing so would cause him to “lose respect for 24 years of my life”—the length of time he worked for the CIA. (Cole 3/2007 )
Philip Agee, the former CIA officer who publicly exposed a number of CIA agents in the 1970s and whose actions led to the enactment of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, says he now opposes such activities and condemns the disclosure of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity by senior White House officials. “I had my reasons for revealing the identities of agents and the White House had different ones,” Agee says. “However, I am now categorically opposed to making their names public.” Agee is quoted in the Greek newspaper To Vima tis Kiriakis and is later translated by the CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service. (FAS Project on Government Secrecy 11/4/2005)
Following a request that the CIA be exempted from a US ban on torture, claims about alleged CIA mistreatment of prisoners begin to appear in the media, apparently fueled by CIA employees unhappy with the practices the CIA is employing. On November 2, the Washington Post reveals information about the CIA’s network of secret prisons, including facilities in Europe, which is kept secret from “nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA’s covert actions.” The rationale for the policy is that the CIA apparently needs to hold people without the restrictions imposed by the US legal system, in order to keep the country safe. Detainees are said to be tortured, and this is not only questionable under US law, but, in some cases, against the law of the host country. (Priest 11/2/2005) On November 9, the New York Times reveals that in 2004, the CIA’s Inspector General secretly concluded that the CIA’s aggressive interrogation techniques in use up until that time were likely in violation of a 1994 international treaty against torture signed by the US (see May 7, 2004). (Jehl 11/9/2005) After the network is revealed, there is much interest in what actually goes on in it and more important details are uncovered by ABC News on November 18. Apparently, the CIA’s interrogation techniques have led to the death of one detainee and include sleep deprivation, physical violence, waterboarding, and leaving prisoners in cold cells (see Mid-March 2002). The intelligence generated by these techniques is said to be questionable, and one source says: “This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear.” (Ross and Esposito 11/18/2005) Some videotapes of CIA interrogations of detainees are destroyed this same month, although what date this happens exactly is unclear (see November 2005). The CIA is also so alarmed by these revelations that it immediately closes its secret prisons in Eastern Europe and opens a new one in a remote section of the Sahara desert (see November 2005).
Retired Army General Paul Vallely, a military analyst employed by Fox News (see Early 2002 and Beyond, Late September 2003, April 14-16, 2006, and April 18, 2006), says that former ambassador Joseph Wilson revealed his wife’s status as a CIA official over a year before she was exposed by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003). Vallely’s claims are published by WorldNetDaily (WND), an online conservative news site, after Vallely makes the claims on an ABC Radio talk show hosted by conservative commentator and blogger John Batchelor. Fox News has described Vallely as an expert on psychological warfare (see April 21, 2003). Vallely says Wilson openly discussed his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA official between three and five times in 2002, while the two waited to appear on various Fox News broadcasts. Both Vallely and Wilson served as analysts for Fox News during the US’s run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Vallely says the first time Wilson discussed his wife’s CIA status was in the spring of 2002. “He was rather open about his wife working at the CIA,” Vallely says. “He was a total self promoter,” Vallely continues. “I don’t know if it was out of insecurity, to make him feel important, but he’s created so much turmoil, he needs to be investigated and put under oath.” Vallely also says that several acquaintances of his at the CIA have said Wilson routinely introduced his wife as a CIA official at Washington cocktail parties and social events. “That was pretty common knowledge,” he says. “She’s been out there on the Washington scene many years.” If she were a covert agent, Valley says (see Fall 1992 - 1996), “he would not have paraded her around as he did.” Vallely concludes, “This whole thing has become the biggest non-story I know, and all created by Joe Wilson.” Conservative lawyer Victoria Toensing agrees that Plame Wilson is most likely not a covert agent for the agency. WND does not report Wilson’s response to Vallely’s charges, and in several critical references to a Vanity Fair interview given by the Wilsons (see January 2004) the blog misidentifies the date of the interview publication as 2005, not 2004. (Moore 11/5/2005)
CIA Confirmed Plame Wilson's Covert Status - The CIA has repeatedly confirmed Plame Wilson as a covert official, and many observers both inside and outside the agency have noted the extensive damage caused by her exposure (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006).
Fox News, Conservative Blogs Report Claims - Three days after Vallely’s claims appear on WND, Fox News reports Vallely’s statements. (Hume 11/8/2005) And a day after the WND article, Batchelor announces on prominent conservative blog RedState that another analyst will confirm Vallely’s claims. Batchelor says that on November 7, Vallely and retired Air Force General Thomas McInerney will “repeat and expand upon Vallely’s memory that Joe Wilson more than once in 2002 in the green room at Fox New Channel in Washington, DC, boasted about his wife the ‘CIA desk officer.’ McInerney has the same memory and more, since both he and Vallely were on FNC between 150 and 200 times in 2002 each.” (John Batchelor 11/6/2005)
Wilson Demands Retraction, Counters Claim - Wilson’s attorney, Christopher Wolf, e-mails both Vallely and WND demanding that they retract Vallely’s statements, writing that “the claim that Ambassador Wilson revealed to you or to anyone that his wife worked for the CIA is patently false.” In the e-mail, Wolf includes a message Wilson sent him: “This is slanderous. I never appeared on [TV] before at least July 2002 and only saw him maybe twice in the green room at Fox. Vallely is a retired general and this is a bald faced lie. Can we sue? This is not he said/he said, since I never laid eyes on him till several months after he alleges I spoke to him about my wife.”
Vallely Modifies Original Claim, Others Refuse to Confirm - Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that in subsequent days, Vallely modifies his original claims, backing down to claim that Wilson revealed his wife’s CIA status on “only one occasion,” which “probably was in that summer, early fall” of 2002. And promises that two other military analysts, retired generals McInerney and Barry McCaffrey, will back up his claims go unfulfilled, as neither is willing to publicly state that Wilson ever spoke to them about his wife. Vallely later says he has not spoken to the FBI about his claims, and tells conservative talk show host Sean Hannity that he waited two years to make the claims because “I figured Joe Wilson would self-destruct at some point in time.” He tells Hannity that he has been “upset” by Wilson’s opposition to the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq. (Media Matters 11/9/2005) Batchelor’s promise that fellow conservative commentator Victor Davis Hansen will also confirm the claim also goes unfulfilled. (John Batchelor 11/6/2005) WND notes, “But contrary to a report, Hanson said Wilson did not disclose his wife’s CIA employment” during their conversations. (Moore 11/8/2005)
Fox News Schedule Shows Vallely, Wilson Never Appeared Together - Progressive blogger John Amato and former CIA agent Larry Johnson pore through the Fox News schedule for the time period Vallely cites—the spring of 2002—and find that Vallely and Wilson never appeared together during that time. Johnson writes: “They were never in the studio on the same day, much less the same program. Vallely is lying or maybe having a senior moment.” (John Amato 11/7/2005)
Italian lawmaker Senator Massimo Brutti states that in January 2003 (see November 20, 2005) Italy’s military intelligence service, SISMI, warned the United States that its reporting (see March 25, 2002) (see October 15, 2001) (see February 5, 2002) on Iraq’s purported attempts to procure uranium from Niger were wrong. Brutti says he is not sure whether this warning was sent before or after President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “At about the same time as the State of the Union address, they (Italy’s SISMI secret services) said that the dossier doesn’t correspond to the truth,” Sen. Massimo Brutti tells journalists after he and other lawmakers on a parliamentary commission were briefed by SISMI’s head, Nicolo Pollari, and Gianni Letta, a top aide to Premier Silvio Berlusconi. (David 11/3/2005) Shortly after making the statement, Brutti calls the Associated Press and says these comments were made in error. There was no warning in January 2003, he says. He also says lawmakers were told during the briefing that Italian intelligence did not have “a role in the dossier that was supposed to have demonstrated that Iraq was in an advanced phase of possession of enriched uranium.” (David 11/3/2005; Stewart 11/3/2005)
Victoria Toensing, a former deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, writes a guest editorial for the Wall Street Journal that demands the Plame Wilson investigation, as it stands, be closed. Instead, she says, the CIA should be investigated for causing Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to become public knowledge. Toensing blames the CIA’s “bizarre conduct” for Plame Wilson’s exposure. The CIA is responsible for Plame Wilson’s exposure, Toensing states, by allowing her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to go to Niger to look into claims that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Toensing writes that Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the trip (see February 13, 2002, February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). The CIA did not have Wilson write a report, but instead conducted an oral debriefing (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), and March 8, 2002) that, Toensing writes, was never sent to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office (see March 5, 2002). Wilson’s subsequent New York Times op-ed (see July 6, 2003) was not approved or vetted with the CIA’s Prepublication Review Board, something Toensing finds puzzling even though she notes that Wilson was not asked to sign a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement. She also alleges, without giving specifics, that the statements in Wilson’s op-ed do not jibe with the information in the CIA’s report on his trip, though that report is classified and not available for her inspection. For the CIA to allow Wilson to write the op-ed was, Toensing says, tantamount to giving a green light for Plame Wilson’s exposure as a CIA official. Conservative colunnist Robert Novak, who publicly exposed Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), was told by “a still-unnamed administration source” (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003) that Wilson’s wife “suggested him for the assignment,” leading Novak to uncover Plame Wilson’s identity. Toensing also claims that Novak was never asked not to publish Plame Wilson’s name in anything but the most “perfunctory” fashion (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003). Toensing defends her allegation by writing: “Every experienced Washington journalist knows that when the CIA really does not want something public, there are serious requests from the top, usually the director. Only the press office talked to Mr. Novak.” Toensing goes on to note that the CIA permitted Plame Wilson to make political contributions under the name “Wilson, Valerie E.,” contributions recorded by the Federal Elections Commission. Toensing concludes, “The CIA conduct in this matter is either a brilliant covert action against the White House or inept intelligence tradecraft,” and demands that Congress conduct an investigation into the CIA’s conduct. (Toensing 11/3/2005) The Journal does not inform its readers that Toensing was one of a group of lawyers and conservative activists who filed an amici curiae brief with the court asking that it overturn its decision to compel the testimony of two lawyers in the Plame Wilson investigation (see March 23, 2005).
On November 3, 2005, Leonie Brinkema, the judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, asks the CIA about recordings of interrogations of detainees who are related to the Moussaoui case. Eleven days later, the CIA again incorrectly claims to prosecutors in that trial that it has no such recordings. The CIA made a similar claim in 2003 (see May 7-9, 2003), but in fact the CIA secretly videotaped detainee interrogations in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002). Some of these videotapes are destroyed this month (see November 2005), however it is unknown if the destruction takes place before or after this date. In late 2007, the CIA will reveal that it did have some videotapes after all and prosecutors will finally be able to view some of them (see September 19 and October 18, 2007). But it will also be revealed that most of the videotapes were destroyed (see December 6, 2007). Prosecutors will later claim that neither the video nor the audio recordings contained material relevant to the Moussaoui trial, and some of the content of the interrogations was provided during discovery. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 10/25/2007 ; Vicini 11/13/2007)
New York Post editorial writer Deborah Orin echoes charges made by previous columnists in the Wall Street Journal that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is conducting a partisan political prosecution of former White House official Lewis Libby (see October 29, 2005 and October 31, 2005), and repeats charges by former Reagan Justice Department official Victoria Toensing that the CIA is behind the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity (see November 3, 2005). Orin repeats previously made assertions that the CIA allowed Plame Wilson’s exposure by allowing her to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger (see February 13, 2002, February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005), failed to have Wilson sign “the usual confidentiality agreement,” and failed to require him to write a written report (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), and March 8, 2002). Orin accuses Wilson of only voicing his public criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraq invasion after he “joined” the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA) in May 2003, even though he began publicly criticizing the administration a year earlier (see May 2002, October 13, 2002, November 2002, December 9, 2002, January 28-29, 2003, February 13, 2003, February 28, 2003, March 3, 2003, March 5, 2003, and March 8, 2003), and the White House began its retaliatory attack against his criticisms in March 2003 (see March 9, 2003 and After). Orin also repeats Toensing’s sourceless assertion that Wilson’s New York Times op-ed about his findings in Niger (see July 6, 2003) “sharply conflicted with what he’d told the CIA.” It was the CIA’s actions, not the White House’s, that led to Plame Wilson’s exposure, Orin avers (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). Orin quotes Toensing, who said: “It [the Plame Wilson exposure] was a planned CIA covert action against the White House. It was too clever by half.” The reason, Orin says, was to divert attention from its intelligence failures surrounding the US failure to find WMD in Iraq: “Having Wilson go public was very useful to the CIA, especially the division where his wife worked—because it served to shift blame for failed ‘slam dunk’ intelligence claims away from the agency. To say that Bush ‘twisted’ intelligence was to presume—falsely—that the CIA had gotten it right.” The White House was merely defending itself from the CIA’s propaganda onslaught, Orin writes, adding that since Plame Wilson was not a covert agent (see Fall 1992 - 1996), the agency was “dishonest” in claiming that its intelligence operations had been damaged by her exposure (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006). (Orin 11/7/2005)
The Defense Department admits to having detained over 80,000 people in facilities from Afghanistan to Guantanamo since the 9/11 attacks. At least 14,500 people are currently in US custody in connection with the war on terror; around 13,814 are being held in Iraq and some 500 detainees are at the Guantanamo detention facility. An unknown number are being held in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Bush administration has defended its incarceration of so many detainees, many without charge or legal representation, from criticism by human rights organizations, civil liberties groups, and political opponents. What many find indefensible is the CIA’s practice of “rendering” terror suspects to foreign countries for interrogation and torture, as well as making some prisoners “disappear” into secret prisons in foreign countries. Currently, the Bush administration is attempting to counter reports that the CIA has used private jets to transport suspects to at least six countries, either in Europe or through European countries’ airspace. “If these allegations turn out to be true, the crucial thing is whether these flights landed in the member states with or without the knowledge and approval of the authorities,” says Terry Davis, the Council of Europe’s secretary general. The CIA has refused to comment on this or other reports. (Goldenberg 11/18/2005)
Jose Padilla, a US citizen and “enemy combatant” alleged to be an al-Qaeda terrorist (see May 8, 2002) and held without charges for over three years (see October 9, 2005), is charged with being part of a North American terrorist cell that sent money and recruits overseas to, as the indictment reads, “murder, maim, and kidnap.” The indictment contains none of the sensational allegations that the US government has made against Padilla (see June 10, 2002), including his supposed plan to detonate a “dirty bomb” inside the US (see Early 2002) and his plans to blow up US hotel and apartment buildings (see March 2002). Nor does the indictment accuse Padilla of being a member of al-Qaeda. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says, “The indictment alleges that Padilla traveled overseas to train as a terrorist (see September-October 2000) with the intention of fighting a violent jihad.” He refuses to say why the more serious charges were not filed. Some provisions of the Patriot Act helped the investigation, Gonzales adds: “By tearing down the artificial wall that would have prevented this kind of investigation in the past, we’re able to bring these terrorists to justice,” he says. The Padilla case has become a central part of the dispute over holding prisoners such as Padilla without charge; by charging Padilla with lesser crimes, the Bush administration avoids the possibility of the Supreme Court ruling that he and other “enemy combatants,” particularly American citizens, must either be tried or released. Law professor Eric Freedman says the Padilla indictment is an effort by the administration “to avoid an adverse decision of the Supreme Court.” Law professor Jenny Martinez, who represents Padilla, says: “There’s no guarantee the government won’t do this again to Mr. Padilla or others. The Supreme Court needs to review this case on the merits so the lower court decision is not left lying like a loaded gun for the government to use whenever it wants.” Padilla’s lawyers say the government’s case against their client is based on little more than “double and triple hearsay from secret witnesses, along with information allegedly obtained from Padilla himself during his two years of incommunicado interrogation.” Padilla will be transferred from military custody to the Justice Department, where he will await trial in a federal prison in Miami. He faces life in prison if convicted of conspiracy to murder, maim, and kidnap overseas. The lesser charges—providing material support to terrorists and conspiracy—carry maximum prison terms of 15 years each. (Associated Press 11/22/2005; Fox News 11/23/2005)
'Dirty Bomb' Allegations 'Not Credible,' Says Former FBI Agent - Retired FBI agent Jack Cloonan, an expert on al-Qaeda, later says: “The dirty bomb plot was simply not credible. The government would never have given up that case if there was any hint of credibility to it. Padilla didn’t stand trial for it, because there was no evidence to support it.” (Rose 12/16/2008)
Issue with CIA Videotapes - In 2002, captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida identified Padilla as an al-Qaeda operative (see Mid-April 2002) and the government cited Zubaida as a source of information about Padilla after Padilla’s arrest. Yet, sometime this same month, the CIA destroys the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogations from the time period where he allegedly identified Padilla (see November 2005). The Nation’s Aziz Huq will later comment: “Given the [Bush] administration’s reliance on Zubaida’s statements as evidence of Padilla’s guilt, tapes of Zubaida’s interrogation were clearly relevant to the Padilla trial.… A federal criminal statute prevents the destruction of any record for a foreseeable proceeding, even if the evidence is not admissible.… [I]t seems almost certain that preservation of the tapes was legally required by the Jose Padilla prosecution.” (Huq 12/11/2007)
As Congress debates legislation that will outlaw “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” treatment of terrorist suspects and detainees in US custody, the Justice Department issues a secret opinion, one that few lawmakers even know exists, ruling that none of the CIA’s interrogation methods violate that standard. The Justice Department has already issued one secret opinion countermanding the Bush administration’s stated position that torture is “abhorrent” (see February 2005). Both rulings are efforts by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House officials to realign the Justice Department with the White House after an in-house revolt by many Justice officials threw administration policies on torture and domestic surveillance into doubt (see Late 2003-2005). Though the public debate on torture becomes ever more pervasive during President Bush’s second term, the two rulings will remain in effect through the end of 2007 and beyond, helping the White House give US officials the broadest possible legal latitude for abusing and torturing prisoners. As late as October 2007, the White House will insist that it has always followed US and international law in its authorization of interrogation practices. Those assurances will be countered by an array of current and former officials involved in counterterrorism (see October 3, 2007). (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007) In 2007, Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will say in conjunction with a lawsuit filed against the Justice Department’s interrogation practices, “These torture memos should never have been written, and it is utterly unacceptable that the administration continues to suppress them while at the same time declaring publicly that it abhors torture. It is now obvious that senior administration officials worked in concert over a period of several years to evade and violate the laws that prohibit cruelty and torture. Some degree of accountability is long overdue.” The ACLU will also note that the administration had failed to disclose the existence of the two opinions in its court filings, a failure characterized by the administration as an accidental oversight. (Horton 11/7/2007)
The CIA closes its unit that had been in charge of hunting bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders. Analysts in the unit, known as Alec Station, are reassigned to other parts of the CIA Counterterrorist Center. CIA officials explain the change by saying the agency can better deal with high-level threats by focusing on regional trends rather than on specific organizations or individuals. Michael Scheuer, who headed the unit when if formed in 1996 (see February 1996), says the move reflects a view within the CIA that bin Laden is no longer the threat he once was, and complains, “This will clearly denigrate our operations against al-Qaeda.” Robert Grenier, head of the Counterterrorist Center in 2005, is said to have instigated the closure. (Mazzetti 7/4/2006; Goldenberg 7/4/2006) The White House denies the search for bin Laden has slackened, calling the move merely a “reallocation of resources” within the CIA. (Reuters 8/17/2006)
By late 2005, many inside CIA headquarters has concluded that the hunt for Osama bin Laden has made little progress in recent years. Jose Rodriguez Jr., head of the CIA’s clandestine operations branch, implements some changes. Robert Grenier, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center since late 2004, is replaced by someone whose name has yet to be made public. Grenier had just closed Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, as part of a reorganization (see Late 2005), and Rodriguez and Grenier had barely spoken to each other for months. Dozens of new CIA operatives are sent to Pakistan as part of a new push to get bin Laden called Operation Cannonball. But most of the operatives assigned to the task have been newly hired and have little experience. One former senior CIA official says: “We had to put people out in the field who had less than ideal levels of experience. But there wasn’t much to choose from.” Two other former officials say this is because the experienced personnel have generally been assigned to the Iraq war. One of them says, “You had a very finite number” of experienced officers. “Those people all went to Iraq. We were all hurting because of Iraq.” The New York Times will later comment, “The increase had little impact in Pakistan, where militants only continued to gain strength.” (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)
US intelligence analysts decide conflicting prisoner accounts about courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed must mean Ahmed is someone very important in al-Qaeda, and they increase their efforts to find out who he really is. At the time, analysts only know Ahmed by his alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, and they have a good idea that he is a courier between al-Qaeda leaders. The most important question is if Ahmed could lead to someone like Osama bin Laden.
9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) told his US interrogators that Ahmed was not important (see Autumn 2003).
Al-Qaeda operations chief Abu Faraj al-Libbi also told interrogators Ahmed was not important (see Shortly After May 2, 2005).
But al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul said Ahmed was an important courier who was close to bin Laden, and that he was close to both KSM and al-Libbi also (see Shortly After January 23, 2004).
Other important prisoners also gave wildly conflicting accounts on who Ahmed is.
The CIA concludes that KSM and al-Libbi are deliberately trying to deflect attention from Ahmed to keep some important secret, most likely bin Laden’s secret location. A US official aware of the CIA’s analysis will later say: “Think about circles of information—there’s an inner circle they would protect with their lives. The crown jewels of al-Qaeda were the whereabouts of bin Laden and his operational security.” (Isikoff 5/4/2011)
Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden learns that the CIA has videotaped some detainee interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). Hayden will later say he finds this out towards the end of his time as deputy director of national intelligence, a position he leaves in May 2006. Although the tapes were destroyed several months previously (see November 2005), Hayden will later say he is not aware of their destruction at this point: “I did not personally know before they were destroyed, not at all… I was aware of the existence of the tapes but really didn’t become focused on it until the summer of ‘06.” It appears that Hayden does not inform any congressional oversight committees of the destruction until 2007 (see March 14, 2007 and December 7, 2007), even though he becomes CIA director in the summer of 2006 (see May 5, 2006). (Associated Press 12/12/2007; Fox News 12/13/2007)
In November 2005, CIA officer Jose Rodriguez will destroy videotapes of interrogations of at least two high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees (see November 2005), despite numerous court orders and commands from superiors and oversight agencies to keep them. The CIA will later claim that Rodriguez acted on his own without notifying CIA lawyers or his bosses, yet there is no evidence that he was ever punished in any way. The New York Times will later comment, “Some in Congress are curious to know why, if Mr. Rodriguez had really ignored White House advice not to destroy the tapes, he was apparently never reprimanded.” (Mazzetti 12/13/2007)
Following the destruction of videotapes made by the CIA showing the interrogation of al-Qaeda detainees (see Spring-Late 2002 and November 2005), the CIA’s Office of General Counsel conducts a review of the circumstances of destruction, as well as any other investigations and preservation obligations at the time the tapes were destroyed. Although the review’s conclusions are not known, the existence of the review is made public in a Justice Department letter obtained by the Associated Press after news of the tapes’ destruction breaks in 2007 (see December 6, 2007). (Associated Press 12/8/2007) There is no indication that any action is taken against Jose Rodriguez, who will later be said to be the CIA officer responsible for the tapes’ destruction (see After November 2005).
Khalid el-Masri and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) file a lawsuit against former CIA director George Tenet and three corporations. The suit alleges that all of the defendants were complicit in el-Masri’s abduction transfer to to a secret prison, and subsequent mistreatment (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004, January 23 - March 2004, and March-April 2004 ). Tenet is said to have known that the CIA had mistakenly detained an innocent man, but allowed el-Masri to remain in detention for two months. The three corporations are accused of owning and operating airplanes that transported el-Masri to a secret prison in Afghanistan known as the “Salt Pit.” (American Civil Liberties Union 12/6/2005; Beeson, Wizner, and Goodman 12/6/2005 )
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