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CIA Director James Schlesinger orders an internal review of CIA surveillance operations against US citizens. The review finds dozens of instances of illegal CIA surveillance operations against US citizens dating back to the 1950s, including break-ins, wiretaps, and the surreptitious opening of personal mail. The earlier surveillance operations were not directly targeted at US citizens, but against “suspected foreign intelligence agents operating in the United States.” Schlesinger is disturbed to find that the CIA is currently mounting illegal surveillance operations against antiwar protesters, civil rights organizations, and political “enemies” of the Nixon administration. In the 1960s and early 1970s, CIA agents photographed participants in antiwar rallies and other demonstrations. The CIA also created a network of informants who were tasked to penetrate antiwar and civil rights groups and report back on their findings. At least one antiwar Congressman was placed under surveillance, and other members of Congress were included in the agency’s dossier of “dissident Americans.” As yet, neither Schlesinger nor his successor, current CIA Director William Colby, will be able to learn whether or not Schlesinger’s predecessor, Richard Helms, was asked by Nixon officials to perform such illegal surveillance, though both Schlesinger and Colby disapproved of the operations once they learned of them. Colby will privately inform the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees of the domestic spying engaged in by his agency. The domestic spying program was headed by James Angleton, who is still serving as the CIA’s head of counterintelligence operations, one of the most powerful and secretive bureaus inside the agency. It is Angleton’s job to maintain the CIA’s “sources and methods of intelligence,” including the prevention of foreign “moles” from penetrating the CIA. But to use counterintelligence as a justification for the domestic spying program is wrong, several sources with first-hand knowledge of the program will say in 1974. “Look, that’s how it started,” says one. “They were looking for evidence of foreign involvement in the antiwar movement. But that’s not how it ended up. This just grew and mushroomed internally.” The source continues, speaking hypothetically: “Maybe they began with a check on [Jane] Fonda. They began to check on her friends. They’d see her at an antiwar rally and take photographs. I think this was going on even before the Huston plan” (see July 26-27, 1970 and December 21, 1974). “This wasn’t a series of isolated events. It was highly coordinated. People were targeted, information was collected on them, and it was all put on [computer] tape, just like the agency does with information about KGB agents. Every one of these acts was blatantly illegal.” Schlesinger begins a round of reforms in the CIA, a program continued by Colby. (Hersh 12/22/1974 )
The first of three so-called “Boland amendments” becomes law. Named for Representative Edward Boland (D-MA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, the amendment is part of a larger appropriations bill. The amendment restricts US humanitarian aid to the Contras, and prohibits the use of US funds “for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Nicaragua.” The Reagan administration gets around the amendment by saying that its actions in support of the Contras are merely designed to force the Sandinistas to come to a peace agreement with the Contras, not to bring down the Nicaraguan government. (House Intelligence Committee 2005; Savage 2007, pp. 53)
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) testifies three times to Congress that the Contra resupply operation, exposed by the downing of a CIA transport plane (see October 5, 1986 and October 9, 1986), is not a US government operation. There is no coordination whatsoever from any government official (see Summer 1985, Mid-September 1985, October 1985, Late 1985 and After, February 7-8, 1986, May 16, 1986, July 1986 and After, September 19-20, 1986, September 25, 1986, and January 9, 1986), and no one in the government knows who organized or paid for the transport flight that was shot down.
'Not Our Supply System' - Abrams tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that while he and other government officials are aware of the Contra resupply operation, “[i]t is not our supply system. It is one that grew up after we were forbidden from supplying the resistance, and we have been kind of careful not to get closely involved with it and to stay away from it.… We do not encourage people to do this. We don’t round up people, we don’t write letters, we don’t have conversations, we don’t tell them to do this, we don’t ask them to do it. But I think it is quite clear, from the attitude of the administration, the attitude of the administration is that these people are doing a very good thing, and if they think they are doing something that we like, then, in a general sense, they are right.” In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Abrams is asked by Chairman Lee Hamilton (D-IN), “Can anybody assure us that the United States government was not involved, indirectly or directly, in any way in supply of the contras?” Abrams responds: “I believe we have already done that, that is, I think, the president has done it, the secretary has done it [Secretary of State George Shultz], and I have done it.… Now again, this normal intelligence monitoring is there, but the answer to your question is yes.” Abrams and CIA officials Clair George and Alan Fiers tell the same falsehoods to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. “We don’t know,” Abrams asserts, “because we don’t track this kind of activity.”
No Knowledge of 'Gomez' - He also claims under questioning not to know the identity of “Max Gomez,” who he well knows is former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985). Senator John Kerry (D-MA) asks, “You don’t know whether or not [Gomez] reports to the vice president of the United States?” (see October 10, 1986). Both George and Abrams deny any such knowledge, though Abrams is highly aware of Rodriguez’s activities in El Salvador (he does not inform the committee of those activities). During the Congressional sessions, media reports identify Gomez as Rodriguez. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
The Washington Post, having gotten wind of a secret fund transfer from a third-party nation to the Nicaraguan Contras (see August 9-19, 1986), reports that Saudi Arabia may be funding the Contras. (The Post’s sources are apparently unaware of the Brunei transaction.) Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who originated and facilitated the Brunei deal (see After May 16, 1986), is asked by Senator John Kerry (D-MA) during his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see October 10-15, 1986) if he or the CIA representatives accompanying him—Clair George and Alan Fiers—are aware of any third-party funding of the Contras, whether it be Saudi Arabia or anyone else. Abrams says, “No.” George, also aware of the Brunei transaction, says, “No.” Fiers, who was involved in discussions of the transactions, says, “No, sir.” Abrams adds, “I think I can say that while I have been assistant secretary, which is about 15 months, we have not received a dime from a foreign government, not a dime, from any foreign government.” He says that if the Contras have received funding from other nations, he is not aware of it. “The thing is I think I would know about it because if they went to a foreign government, a foreign government would want credit for helping the contras and they would come to us to say you want us to do this, do you, and I would know about that.” Abrams repeats the lie to the House Intelligence Committee. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
After the press identifies former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez as Contra liaison “Max Gomez” (see October 10-15, 1986), and learns that Rodriguez reports to Vice President Bush’s foreign policy adviser, Donald Gregg (see October 10, 1986), Bush denies any knowledge of Rodriguez’s involvement with the Contras. Bush admits to having met Rodriguez a few times, but refuses to clarify what relationship, if any, they may have. Bush tells one reporter that Rodriguez is a US counter-insurgency adviser working with the government of El Salvador, an assertion strongly denied by the Salvadoran government. Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who has lied repeatedly to Congress about the government’s role in supplying and supporting the Contras (see October 10-15, 1986), tells the House Intelligence Committee that he knows nothing of any link between Rodriguez and Bush that concerns the Contras. (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
The Reagan administration, reeling from the revelation that it has illegally armed the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 5, 1986), attempts to conceal its workings in Nicaragua. In a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, joined by CIA officials, assures committee members that the US government is not involved in supplying the Contras. According to the witnesses, the CIA claims it had nothing to do with Eugene Hasenfus, the cargo handler who survived the recent downing of a CIA transport plane and in doing so revealed the existence of the illegal arms deals. Supposedly, the only involvement by US officials was to offer public encouragement. The committee Democrats do not believe anything Abrams or the CIA officials say, but at least one committee member, Dick Cheney (R-WY) offers his support. According to the summary written by the administration staffer taking notes that day, “Mr. Cheney said he found our ignorance credible.” There is far more going on than the committee Democrats know—or than Cheney will tell them. For years, Cheney has been urging Congress to authorize aid to the Contras, but the majority Democrats have been inconsistent in their support. As authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later characterize the situation, Abrams, a self-described former socialist turned enthusiastic neoconservative, and others in the administration, such as National Security Council staffer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, have now taken matters into their own hands (see October 5, 1986), in direct violation of US law. Committee Democrats are as yet unaware that Reagan officials such as North have also been negotiating arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, in a covert three-way deal involving Iran, the US, and the Contras (see November 3, 1986). (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 65)
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams testifies to the House Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair (see Mid-October, 1986). Like CIA official Alan Fiers (see November 25, 1986), Abrams testifies that neither he nor his superiors at the State Department knew anything of the illegal diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986); like Fiers, Abrams is lying (see Late 1985 and After). Several days later, Abrams testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) accuses Abrams of lying during the first session, and Abrams replies, “You’ve heard my testimony.” Eagleton retorts, “I’ve heard it, and I want to puke.” (Lacayo, Beaty, and van Voorst 7/22/1991; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993) Abrams will later admit to lying to both the House and Senate (see October 7, 1991).
Former Lockheed software manager Margaret Newsham, who worked at the Menwith Hill facility of the NSA’s Echelon satellite surveillance operation in 1979, says she heard a real-time phone intercept of conversations involving senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC). She was shocked, she recalls, because she thought only foreign communications were being monitored. Newsham, who was fired from Lockheed after she filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging fraud and waste, tells the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Louis Stokes (D-OH), of the overheard conversations. In July, Capital Hill staffers will leak the story to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Thurmond says he doesn’t believe Newsham’s story, but his office admits that it has previously received reports that Thurmond had been a target of NSA surveillance. Thurmond will decline to press for an investigation, and the reason for the surveillance has never been revealed. (Kroft 2/27/2000; Poole 8/15/2000)
A group of Nicaraguan Contra leaders walks unexpectedly into the office of Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) and demands a meeting. They want to discuss prisoners being held by the Sandinista government. Wright is perplexed, but agrees to see them.
'Reagan-Wright' Peace Plan - Wright has engineered a peace program between the US and Nicaragua known as “Reagan-Wright,” a program very unpopular with right-wing Republicans both in the White House and in Congress. White House officials such as President Reagan’s national security affairs assistant Colin Powell and Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams have attempted to derail the program by trying to persuade other Central American leaders to come out against Nicaragua and thereby undermine the peace talks. But the program has progressed, largely because of Wright’s tireless efforts and the cooperation of Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez (who won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts). Wright had informed the leaders of the different factions in Nicaragua, Contras and Sandinistas alike, that his door was always open to them.
Enemy in House - Wright does not realize that he has an implacable enemy in powerful House member Dick Cheney (R-WY). Cheney is offended by what he sees as Wright’s encroachment on powers that should be reserved for the executive branch alone, and has devised a campaign to further undermine Wright.
Meeting between Wright and Contras - When the Contra leaders meet with Wright, the speaker has already informed the CIA that its agents who were fomenting civil unrest and provoking the Sandinistas were violating the law. He tells the Contras that they can no longer expect CIA agitators to work on their behalf. When news of the meeting gets back to Cheney and Abrams, they are, in Wright’s recollection, “furious.”
Washington Times Claims Wright Leaked Classified Information - The State Department steers the angry Contra delegation to the offices of the right-wing Washington Times, where they tell the editorial staff what Wright had told them—that the CIA is illegally provoking unrest in Nicaragua. A week later, Wright is floored when a Times reporter confronts him with accusations that he has leaked classified CIA information to foreign nationals.
Security Breach Allegation - Wright’s defense—he had told the Contras nothing they didn’t already know—does not placate Cheney, who immediately calls for a thorough investigation of Wright’s “security breach.” Speaking as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Cheney says Wright has raised serious “institutional questions that go to the integrity of the House, to the integrity of the oversight process in the area of intelligence, and to the operation of the Intelligence Committee.”
Set-Up - An investigative reporter from Newsday, Roy Gutman, learns from State Department sources that Wright had been set up by Cheney and Abrams. State Department officials sent the Contras to the Washington Times with specific instructions to leak the CIA content of their discussion with Wright to the editors. But Gutman’s discovery has little impact on the situation.
Ethics Complaint - Cheney, with House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IL), files a complaint with the House Ethics Committee and demands an investigation by the Intelligence Committee, claiming Wright has compromised US intelligence operations in Central America. Throughout the process, neither Michel nor Cheney give Wright any warning of the complaints before they are filed.
Pressure from Cheney - Looking back, Wright will be more disturbed by Michel’s actions than by Cheney’s. He considered Michel a friend, and was amazed that Michel went along with Cheney in blindsiding him. Michel will later apologize to Wright, and say that Cheney had pressured him so much that he went along with Cheney in filing the ethics complaint without telling Wright. One aspect that Michel does not explain is why, as House minority leader, he would put the stamp of approval of the House leadership on the complaint, raising it to a much higher level than a complaint from a rank-and-file representative like Cheney. (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 60-62)
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, facing multiple counts of lying under oath to Congress about, among other things, his knowledge of the US government’s involvement in the resupply operation to the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 10-15, 1986), his knowledge of the role played by former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez in the resupply (see December 17, 1986), and his knowledge of third-party funding of the Nicaraguan Contras (see November 25, 1986), agrees to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of withholding evidence from Congress. Abrams agrees to the plea after being confronted with reams of evidence about his duplicity by investigators for special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh as well as from testimony elicited during the House-Senate investigation of 1987 (see July 7-10, 1987) and the guilty plea and subsequent testimony of former CIA agent Alan Fiers (see July 17, 1991). Abrams pleads guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress, to unlawfully withholding information from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, and admits lying when he claimed that he knew nothing of former National Security Council official Oliver North’s illegal diversion of government funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985, April 4, 1986, and November 25-28, 1986). Abrams says that he lied because he believed “that disclosure of Lt. Col. [Oliver] North’s activities in the resupply of the Contras would jeopardize final enactment” of a $100 million appropriation pending in Congress at the time of his testimony, a request that was narrowly defeated (see March 1986). Abrams also admits to soliciting $10 million in aid for the Contras from the Sultan of Brunei (see June 11, 1986). (Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986 8/4/1993)
One of the few commercial media reports about Echelon, the NSA’s global surveillance network (see April 4, 2001), appears on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The report is disturbing in its portrayal of Echelon as a surveillance system capable of, in host Steve Kroft’s words, capturing “virtually every electronic conversation around the world.” Kroft continues, “[V]irtually every signal radiated across the electromagnetic spectrum is being collected and analyzed,” including land line and cell phone signals, ATM transactions, fax machines,public and private radio broadcasts, even baby monitors. Mike Frost, a former intelligence officer for the CSE, the Canadian equivalent of the National Security Agency which often works closely with the NSA, says, “The entire world, the whole planet” is being surveilled. “Echelon covers everything that’s radiated worldwide at any given instant.… Every square inch is covered.” Listening stations around the world transmit their data to the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where, as Kroft says, “acres of supercomputers scan millions of transmissions word by word, looking for key phrases and, some say, specific voices that may be of major significance.” Frost adds, “Everything is looked at. The entire take is looked at. And the computer sorts out what it is told to sort out, be it, say, by key words such as ‘bomb’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘blow up,’ to telephone numbers or—or a person’s name. And people are getting caught, and—and that’s great.” Echelon is so secret that even its successes are not publicly documented, though it is believed that, among other successes, it helped capture international terrorist “Carlos the Jackal,” and helped identify two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on PanAm Flight 103 (Kroft 2/27/2000) which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. (Cody 12/22/1988) “I say, never over-exaggerate the capacity of a system such as Echelon,” Frost noted in a 1999 interview with the Australian press. “Never ever over-exaggerate the power that these organizations have to abuse a system such as Echelon. Don’t think it can’t happen in Australia. Don’t think it can’t happen in Canada, because it does.” (Coulthart 5/23/1999)
Monitoring Legal Conversations - As successful as Echelon has been in capturing terrorists, international drug dealers, and various criminals, it has raised serious concerns for its capability of monitoring ordinary, innocent civilians. Frost says that such monitoring happens every day: “Not only possible, not only probable, but factual. While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a—a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, ‘Oh, Danny really bombed last night,’ just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w—was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.” Though the NSA has a long and checkered history of spying on American citizens, including extensive monitoring of antiwar and civil rights protesters during the 1970s, the agency refuses to provide any information about its activities—not to the public and not even to Congress. Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) has for years pressed for more information about the program, which he recently said “engages in the interception of literally millions of communications involving United States citizens.” Even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL) had trouble getting information when he requested it last year. At the time, Goss said, “[T]here was some information about procedures in how the NSA people would employ some safeguards, and I wanted to see all the correspondence on that to make sure that those safeguards were being completely honored. At that point, one of the counsels of the NSA said, ‘Well, we don’t think we need to share this information with the Oversight Committee.’ And we said, ‘Well, we’re sorry about that. We do have the oversight, and you will share the information with us,’ and they did.” Goss had to threaten to cut the NSA’s budget before the agency would share even limited information with him. When asked how he can be sure the NSA isn’t listening in on ordinary citizens’ communications, Goss merely says, “We do have methods for that, and I am relatively sure that those procedures are working very well.”
Princess Diana, Human Rights Organizations Monitored - Evidence presented in the broadcast also suggests the NSA was monitoring Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), as well as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and other groups (see February 27, 2000). (Kroft 2/27/2000)
British Ministers Monitored - Frost cites an instance where then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher monitored two of her own ministers (see 1983).
Americans Monitored - Former NSA contractor Margaret Newsham recalls hearing a monitored conversation featuring then-Senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). Frost is not surprised. “Oh, of course it goes on,” he says. “Been going on for years. Of course it goes on.” Kroft asks, “You mean the National Security Agency spying on politicians in… in the United States?” Frost replies, “Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Sounds like the world of fiction. It’s not; not the world of fiction. That’s the way it works. I’ve been there. I was trained by you guys” (see 1980s). Goss seems less concerned. He says that it is “[c]ertainly possible that something like that could happen. The question is: What happened next?… It is certainly possible that somebody overheard me in a conversation. I have just been in Europe. I have been talking to people on a telephone and elsewhere. So it’s very possible somebody could have heard me. But the question is: What do they do about it? I mean, I cannot stop the dust in the ether; it’s there. But what I can make sure is that it’s not abused—the capability’s not abused, and that’s what we do.”
Used for Corporate Advantage - In 2001, the European Parliament released a report listing many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world and detailing their capabilities (see July 11, 2001). Kroft notes, “The report says Echelon is not just being used to track spies and terrorists. It claims the United States is using it for corporate and industrial espionage as well, gathering sensitive information on European corporations, then turning it over to American competitors so they can gain an economic advantage.”
Encryption Effective? - European governments and corporations are encrypting more and more of their phone, fax, and e-mail transmissions to keep Echelon from listening in. In response, the US government is pressuring the Europeans to give US law enforcement and intelligence agencies software keys so that they can unlock the code in matters of national security. Parliament member Glyn Ford is not opposed to the idea in principle: “[I]f we are not assured that that is n—not going to be abused, then I’m afraid we may well take the view, ‘Sorry, no.’ In [Britain], it’s traditional for people to leave a key under the doormat if they want the neighbors to come in and—and do something in their house. Well, we’re neighbors, and we’re not going to leave the electronic key under the doormat if you’re going to come in and steal the family silver.” The NSA, CSE, and even Echelon are necessary evils, Ford acknowledges, but, “My concern is no accountability and nothing—no safety net in place for the innocent people that fall through the cracks. That’s my concern.” (Kroft 2/27/2000)
A deputy head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center warns a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee, “We’re on the verge of more attacks that are larger and more deadly.” Apparently this is based on the spike in “chatter” picked up by NSA and CIA monitors and the realization that a number of well-known al-Qaeda operatives have gone underground. (Zeman et al. 11/2004)
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA awards $64 million in research contracts for a program called Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD). (Markoff 5/21/2003; Harris 1/20/2006) NIMD is one of several cutting-edge data mining technologies that not only has the capability of finding keywords among millions of electronically monitored communications, but can find hidden relationships among data points, and even critique the thinking and biases of a particular analyst and suggest alternative hypotheses differing from the human analysts’ conclusion. Like other data-mining technologies, the NSA will steadfastly refuse to discuss whether NIMD is used to analyze data from domestic surveillance operations. NIMD is designed as an preliminary sort program, to keep human analysts from becoming overwhelmed by raw data. In essence, NIMD is an early-warning system. “NIMD funds research to…help analysts deal with information-overload, detect early indicators of strategic surprise, and avoid analytic errors,” according to the “Call for 2005 Challenge Workshop Proposals” released by the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA). ARDA was founded in 1998 to create, design, and field new technologies for US intelligence agencies, particularly the NSA. A selected few Congressional lawmakers (see January 18, 2006) were informed that the warrantless surveillance program authorized by President George W. Bush (see Early 2002) was designed to be an early-warning system for possible terrorist attacks or plans. Assistant Attorney General William Moschella will inform the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence committees in December 2002 that the “president determined that it was necessary following September 11 to create an early-warning detection system” to prevent more attacks. He will justify the use of programs such as NIMD by claiming, as NSA director Michael Hayden and other administration officials have repeatedly claimed, that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the government to obtain warrants to conduct domestic eavesdropping or wiretapping, “could not have provided the speed and agility required for the early-warning detection system.” Many experts outside of the Bush administration feel that NIMD and other programs do not have to operate outside of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) because of limitations in the law, but because of the fact that the programs cannot meet the law’s minimum requirements for surveillance. FISA requires that any such surveillance must have a probable cause that the target is a terrorist. NIMD has no such threshold. Steven Aftergood, an expert on intelligence and government secrecy with the Federation of American Scientists, will say in 2006, “Logistically speaking, the early-warning approach may involve a significant increase in the number of surveillance actions. It may be that neither the Justice Department nor the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves wiretapping warrants] is prepared to prepare and process several thousand additional FISA applications per year, beyond the 1,700 or so approved in 2004.” (Harris 1/20/2006) Some experts will later express the opinion that NIMD is the controversial Total Information Awareness program in a slightly different form (see February 2003 and September 2002).
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA expands surveillance operations, relying on its own authorities; some sources indicate this includes a massive domestic data mining and call tracking program, and some contend that it is illegal. In a 2006 public briefing, NSA Director Michael Hayden will say, “In the days after 9/11, NSA was using its authorities and its judgment to appropriately respond to the most catastrophic attack on the homeland in the history of the nation.” Following an October 1 briefing by Hayden to the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden on October 11, saying, “[Y]ou indicated that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance” (see October 11, 2001). Some evidence indicates NSA domestic surveillance began even before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). (Pelosi 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
No Connection to Bush-Authorized Warrantless Domestic Call Monitoring - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will clearly distinguish between the expansion he initiates under his own authorities, and the warrantless monitoring of calls with one end outside the US authorized later by President Bush (see October 4, 2001), saying, “[E]xcept that they involved NSA, these [Hayden-authorized] programs were not related… to the authorization that the president has recently spoken about.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
'Stellar Wind' Is Name of Hayden-Authorized Program - In 2012 interviews, former NSA official William Binney will indicate that “Stellar Wind” is the name of the surveillance program initiated by Hayden. (Bamford 2/15/2012; Binney 4/20/2012) Some sources will refer to the Bush-authorized eavesdropping as being part of the Stellar Wind program. (Isikoff 12/22/2008)
Differing Views on Authority for Surveillance - In his 2006 briefing, Hayden will say the Fourth Amendment only protects Americans against “unreasonable search and seizure,” and that 9/11 changed what was to be considered “reasonable.” Specifically, if communications are believed to have “[i]nherent foreign intelligence value,” interception of these communications is reasonable. In addition to referring to Hayden’s “view of [his] authorities” as “expansive,” Pelosi’s letter will give another indication that the NSA’s new standard is significantly broader than it was previously, stating, “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest.” Hayden will publicly clarify in 2006 that the authority for the NSA’s operational expansion exists under an Executive Order issued by President Reagan, saying, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” And, he will say, “I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities” (see October 1, 2001). In her October 11 letter, Pelosi will also write of having concerns about the program that haven’t been resolved due to restrictions on information-sharing with Congress imposed by Bush (see October 11, 2001). Binney, who pioneered the development of certain NSA data mining and surveillance technologies, will come to believe that what the NSA is doing is unconstitutional; he will first take his concerns to Congress (see Before October 31, 2001) and then resign on October 31 (see October 31, 2001). (Pelosi 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
Surveillance Involves Domestic Communications - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will not say the NSA is only targeting foreign communications under his post-9/11 authorization. Rather, the context of his remarks will indicate he is referring to domestic communications. More specifically, Hayden will state: “If the US person information isn’t relevant, the data is suppressed. It’s a technical term we use; we call it ‘minimized.’ The individual is not even mentioned. Or if he or she is, he or she is referred to as ‘US Person Number One’ or ‘US Person Number Two.’ Now, inherent intelligence value. If the US person is actually the named terrorist, well, that could be a different matter.” Hayden will also reveal that information is being passed to the FBI, an investigative agency with a primarily domestic jurisdiction, saying, “[A]s another part of our adjustment, we also turned on the spigot of NSA reporting to FBI in, frankly, an unprecedented way.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006) One of Pelosi’s statements in her letter to Hayden may indicate an aspect of the domestic component: “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest,” she will write. (Pelosi 1/6/2006) In a 2011 interview with Jane Mayer published in the New Yorker, Binney will say the NSA was obtaining “billing records on US citizens” and “putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country.” (Mayer 5/23/2011) And in a 2012 Wired article, NSA expert James Bamford will write that Binney “explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US.” Binney’s account is supported by other sources (see October 2001). (Bamford 2/15/2012)
Surveillance Program Is Massive - Bamford, citing Binney, will write: “Stellar Wind… included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” It is unclear exactly when this level of surveillance began. According to whistleblower AT&T employee Mark Klein, construction of secret rooms splitting communications traffic does not begin until Fall 2002 (see Fall 2002). Bamford will write that Binney says, “[T]he taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct ‘deep packet inspection,’ examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.” (Bamford 2/15/2012) Also, Binney’s remark to Jane Mayer that the NSA was “putting pen registers on everyone in the country” indicates the broad scope of the program. (Mayer 5/23/2011)
NSA Director Michael Hayden briefs the House Intelligence Committee on the NSA’s efforts to combat terrorism. Though the NSA is already working on a domestic wiretapping program to spy, without warrants, on US citizens (see Early 2002), Hayden does not mention the program to the committee members, but merely discusses the ramifications of President Reagan’s Executive Order 12333 (see December 4, 1981 and September 13, 2001) on NSA functions. He does not mention that Reagan’s executive order forbids warrantless surveillance of US citizens “unless the Attorney General has determined in each case that there is probable cause to believe that the technique is directed against a foreign power or an agent of a foreign power.” On October 11, committee member Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden expressing her concerns about the warrantless nature of the NSA wiretaps (see October 11, 2001). (Linzer 1/4/2006)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) writes to NSA Director Michael Hayden questioning the nature and extent of the apparently illegal warrantless wiretapping of US citizens by the agency. Pelosi and other members of the House Intelligence Committee were briefed on October 1, 2001, by Hayden, whose agency began conducting surveillance against US citizens after the 9/11 attacks (see After September 11, 2001). Pelosi will release the letter on January 6, 2006, three weeks after the New York Times revealed that the NSA had been conducting electronic surveillance of US citizens without warrants since at least 2002 (see December 15, 2005.) Pelosi’s office will also release Hayden’s response, but almost the entire letter from Hayden is redacted.
Letter to Hayden - Pelosi writes in part, “[Y]ou indicated [in the briefing] that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and related statutes, orders, regulations, and guidelines.… For several reasons, including what I consider to be an overly broad interpretation of President Bush’s directive of October 5 on sharing with Congress ‘classified or sensitive law enforcement information’ it has not been possible to get answers to my questions. Without those answers, the concerns I have about what you said on the First can not be resolved, and I wanted to bring them to your attention directly. You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted ] being of foreign intelligence interest. As a result, you were forwarding the intercepts, and any information [redacted ] without first receiving a request for that identifying information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although I may be persuaded by the strength of your analysis [redacted ] I believe you have a much more difficult case to make [redacted ] Therefore, I am concerned whether, and to what extent, the National Security Agency has received specific presidential authorization for the operations you are conducting. Until I understand better the legal analysis regarding the sufficiency of the authority which underlies your decision on the appropriate way to proceed on this matter, I will continue to be concerned.” The only portion of Hayden’s October 18 reply regarding Pelosi’s concerns that has not been redacted reads, “In my briefing, I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust NSA’s collection and reporting.” In January 2006, an NSA official will say that Pelosi’s concerns were adequately addressed in Hayden’s reply, and in a private briefing shortly thereafter. (Linzer 1/4/2006; Pelosi 1/6/2006)
Pelosi Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). Pelosi is apparently unaware of any of this.
NSA Director Michael Hayden responds to an October 11 letter from Representative Nancy Pelosi (see October 11, 2001), expressing concerns about the NSA’s post-9/11 surveillance expansion (see After September 11, 2001) that Hayden outlined for the House Intelligence Committee on October 1 (see October 1, 2001), and asking whether the president authorized it. The substance of Hayden’s October 18 reply will be redacted, except for this statement: “In my briefing, I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust NSA’s collection and reporting.” (Pelosi 1/6/2006) A January 4, 2006 report in the Washington Post will cite “intelligence official close to Hayden” as saying that “[Hayden’s] appearance on Oct. 1, 2001, before the House committee had been to discuss Executive Order 12333, and not the new NSA program,” and that “Pelosi’s concerns had been answered in writing and again several weeks later during a private briefing.” (Linzer 1/4/2006) In a January 23, 2006 public briefing, Hayden will say, “September 2001, I asked to update the Congress on what NSA had been doing, and I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities,” and, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
Nature of Hayden's EO 12333 Surveillance Program - The full scope of Hayden’s surveillance program is unclear, but some sources indicate it includes the wholesale collection and data-mining of phone records provided by telecom companies and placement of pen registers (call trackers) on domestic phone numbers (see After September 11, 2001, October 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Late September, 2001, October 2001), and October 31, 2001). Some sources indicate the NSA began large-scale domestic surveillance activities prior to the 9/11 attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
Vice President Dick Cheney summons the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to the White House for a classified briefing on the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Cheney makes it clear to the lawmakers that he is merely informing them about the program, and not seeking their approval. (Gellman and Linzer 12/18/2005) Officials later say that under any of the previous presidents, such a meeting of this import would involve the president. But the four lawmakers are hustled away from the Oval Office. Instead, “[w]e met in the vice president’s office,” Bob Graham (D-FL), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, later recalls. President Bush has already told Graham that “the vice president should be your point of contact in the White House.” Cheney, according to the president, “has the portfolio for intelligence activities.” (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007) The leaders are briefed by Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, and NSA Director Michael Hayden. The Congressional leaders will later mostly refuse to comment publicly about what they do and do not learn about the program, even after it is revealed to the public (see December 15, 2005). In 2003, when Senator John D. Rockefeller ascends to the Democratic leadership of the Senate committee, and is himself briefed on the program, he will write to Cheney expressing his concerns over it (see July 17, 2003). (Risen and Lichtblau 12/15/2005)
'No Discussion about Expanding' NSA Wiretapping - In December 2005, after the program is revealed to the public, one of the Congressmen present at the briefings, Graham, the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will discuss his knowledge of the program. In contradiction to the characterizations of Bush and other White House officials, Graham will say that he recalls “no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of US citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States,” and knew nothing of Bush’s intention to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the FISA court). “I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy,” Graham will recall, using new methodologies to intercept overseas calls that passed through US switches. He thought that NSA eavesdropping would continue to be limited to “calls that initiated outside the United States, had a destination outside the United States but that transferred through a US-based communications system.” Instead, Graham will say, it now seems that Bush decided to go “beyond foreign communications to using this as a pretext for listening to US citizens’ communications. There was no discussion of anything like that in the meeting with Cheney.” A senior intelligence official, who refuses to reveal his identity but says he is speaking with the permission of the White House, will accuse Graham of “misremembering the briefings,” which he will call “very, very comprehensive.” The official will refuse to discuss the briefings in any but the most general terms, but will say they were intended “to make sure the Hill knows this program in its entirety, in order to never, ever be faced with the circumstance that someone says, ‘I was briefed on this but I had no idea that—’ and you can fill in the rest.” Graham will characterize the official’s description as saying: “[W]e held a briefing to say that nothing is different.… Why would we have a meeting in the vice president’s office to talk about a change and then tell the members of Congress there is no change?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who was also present at the meeting as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, will say the briefing described “President Bush’s decision to provide authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities.” She will note that she “expressed my strong concerns” but did not go into detail. (Gellman and Linzer 12/18/2005)
Lawmakers Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). In the briefing, Cheney informs the lawmakers of none of this.
A senior NSA official, having learned of the NSA’s post-9/11 domestic surveillance program and believing it to be illegal, takes his concerns to a staff member of the House Intelligence Committee. In a 2012 interview for Democracy Now!, William Binney, a former NSA technical director who served in the NSA for 36 years, will say that some of his staff had been recruited to work on the new program and told him of some of the things that were being done, which he believed were illegal. Binney will tell co-host Juan Gonzalez: “I immediately went to the Intelligence Committee, because… the intelligence committees were formed to have oversight over the intelligence community to make sure they didn’t monitor US citizens.… And the member of the staff that I went to went to Porter Goss, who was chairman of that committee at the time, and he referred her to General Hayden for any further. When it was the job of that committee to do the oversight on all this domestic spying, they weren’t doing it.” Soon after this, Binney retires from the NSA, due to his belief the NSA is violating the Constitution (see October 31, 2001). (Binney 4/20/2012)
Concerned that NSA post-9/11 surveillance operations violated the US Constitution, a senior NSA official reports on the program to House Intelligence Committee staff (see Before October 31, 2001), then retires. William Binney, a crypto-mathematician, had served in the NSA for 36 years. In 1997 he was made technical director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group, a 6000-employee unit that focused on signals intelligence (SIGINT) reporting and analysis. In the last part of his NSA career, Binney focused on dealing with the NSA’s problem of information overload, co-founding the Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center (SARC) and leading a 20-member team to develop a data-mining and analysis program called ThinThread. This program made it possible to “correlate data from financial transactions, travel records, Web searches, GPS equipment, and any other ‘attributes’ that an analyst might find useful,” and “could chart relationships among people in real time.” Unlike the NSA’s existing centralized data processing systems, ThinThread was able to identify useful or useless data as it was collected, reducing the overload problem. However, though it targeted foreign communications, ThinThread also intercepted those of Americans, and “continued documenting signals when a trail crossed into the US.” Binney incorporated measures to protect privacy, but NSA lawyers still considered the program too invasive, according to a 2011 article by Jane Mayer based on interviews with Binney and another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake. In 1999, NSA Director General Michael Hayden decided to fund a rival program, Trailblazer, which would be developed by defense contractors (see Late 1999). Trailblazer will be abandoned in 2006 as unworkable, after costing $1.2 billion (see January 2006). (Mayer 5/23/2011; Bamford 2/15/2012; Binney 4/20/2012) In 2002, three NSA whistleblowers—Edward Loomis, J. Kirk Wiebe, and Binney—will ask the Pentagon to investigate the NSA for wasting “millions and millions of dollars” on Trailblazer. (Shorrock 3/26/2013)
Post-9/11 NSA Surveillance Expansion - Binney will tell Mayer that, after the 9/11 attacks, his people began coming to him, saying things like: “They’re getting billing records on US citizens! They’re putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country!” James Bamford will interview Binney in 2012 and write, “At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, [Binney] says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” Binney has not been personally “read in” to this domestic surveillance program, but some members of his SARC team have, as their knowledge of ThinThread code was needed to set it up. Binney became convinced elements of ThinThread were being used, but without privacy protections, meaning US persons could be targeted. Soon after learning these things, Binney takes his concerns to the House Intelligence Committee (see Before October 31, 2001), and retires on October 31. He will tell Mayer, “I couldn’t be an accessory to subverting the Constitution.” Other sources support Binney’s account of this NSA data-mining and monitoring program (see After September 11, 2001, October 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Late September, 2001, and October 2001). However, the claim that NSA domestic surveillance was initiated only after, and in response to, 9/11 is contradicted by information indicating that domestic monitoring programs and activities were established and conducted prior to 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). (Mayer 5/23/2011; Bamford 2/15/2012; Binney 4/20/2012)
ThinThread 'Would Likely Have Prevented 9/11' - Despite ThinThread’s capacity to collect actionable intelligence, Hayden vetoed the idea of deploying the system three weeks before 9/11, in August 2001. According to the Loomis, Wiebe, and Binney, this decision “left the NSA without a system to analyze the trillions of bits of foreign SIGINT flowing over the Internet at warp speed, as ThinThread could do.” During the summer of 2001, when “the system was blinking red,” according to CIA Director George Tenet, the NSA “failed to detect critical phone and e-mail communications that could have tipped US intelligence to al-Qaeda’s plans to attack.” (Shorrock 3/26/2013)
Vice President Dick Cheney tells the CIA not to brief Congress about an agency program to kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). Two reasons will be given for withholding the information. One is that the program never becomes operational. (Shane 7/12/2009; Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009; Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009) The other is that the agency already has legal authority to kill al-Qaeda leaders (see September 17, 2001). (Mazzetti 8/20/2009) According to the New York Times, Cheney’s instruction to keep the program secret suggests “that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy.” (Shane 7/12/2009) The fact that the program is never briefed to Congress until it is cancelled in 2009 (see June 24, 2009) will cause controversy after it becomes public knowledge, and the House Intelligence Committee will investigate whether it was a breach of the law (see Before August 20, 2009). The law is apparently unclear on whether this program should be briefed, as it requires the president to make sure the House and Senate intelligence committees “are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.” However, such briefings should be done “to the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters.” House Intelligence Committee member Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) will later say that Congress would have approved of the program only in what the New York Times calls “the angry and panicky days after 9/11, on 9/12,” but not later, after fears and tempers had begun to cool. (Shane 7/12/2009)
Vice President Dick Cheney phones Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-FL). Cheney’s call comes early in the morning, and Graham takes it while still shaving. Cheney is agitated; he has just read in the newspaper that telephone calls intercepted by the NSA on September 10, 2001 warned of an imminent al-Qaeda attack. But, the story continues, the intercepts were not translated until September 12, the day after the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Cheney is enraged that someone leaked the classified information from the NSA intercepts to the press. As a result, Cheney says, the Bush administration is considering terminating all cooperation with the joint inquiry by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on the government’s failure to predict and prevent the attacks (see September 18, 2002). (Graham co-chairs the inquiry.) Classified records would no longer be made available to the committees, and administration witnesses would not be available for interviews or testimony. Furthermore, Cheney says, unless the committee leaders take action to find out who leaked the information, and more importantly, take steps to ensure that such leaks never happen again, President Bush will tell the citizenry that Congress cannot be trusted with vital national security secrets. “Take control of the situation,” Cheney tells Graham. The senator responds that he, too, is frustrated with the leaks, but Cheney is unwilling to be mollified.
Quick Capitulation - At 7:30 a.m., Graham meets with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL), and the ranking members of the committees, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL, who will later be accused of leaking the information) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). They decide to request that the Justice Department conduct a criminal inquiry into whether anyone on either committee, member or staffer, leaked the information to the press. One participant in the meeting later says, “It was a hastily made decision, made out of a sense of panic… and by people with bleary eyes.” Another person involved in the decision later recalls: “There was a real concern that any meaningful oversight by Congress was very much at stake. The political dynamic back then—not that long after September 11—was completely different. They took Cheney’s threats very seriously.” In 2007, reporter Murray Waas will observe that Cheney and other administration officials saw the leak “as an opportunity to undercut Congressional oversight and possibly restrict the flow of classified information to Capitol Hill.”
Graham: Congress Victimized by White House 'Set Up' - In 2007, after his retirement from politics, Graham will say: “Looking back at it, I think we were clearly set up by Dick Cheney and the White House. They wanted to shut us down. And they wanted to shut down a legitimate Congressional inquiry that might raise questions in part about whether their own people had aggressively pursued al-Qaeda in the days prior to the September 11 attacks. The vice president attempted to manipulate the situation, and he attempted to manipulate us.… But if his goal was to get us to back off, he was unsuccessful.” Graham will add that Goss shared his concerns, and say that in 2003, he speculates to Goss that the White House had set them up in order to sabotage the joint inquiry; according to Graham, Goss will respond, “I often wondered that myself.” Graham will go on to say that he believes the NSA leak was not only promulgated by a member of Congress, but by White House officials as well; he will base his belief on the fact that Washington Post and USA Today reports contain information not disclosed during the joint committee hearing. “That would lead a reasonable person to infer the administration leaked as well,” he will say, “or what they were doing was trying to set us up… to make this an issue which they could come after us with.”
White House Goes Public - The same day, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells reporters, “The president [has] very deep concerns about anything that would be inappropriately leaked that could… harm our ability to maintain sources and methods and anything else that could interfere with America’s ability to fight the war on terrorism.”
Investigation Will Point to Senate Republican - An investigation by the Justice Department will determine that the leak most likely came from Shelby, but Shelby will deny leaking the intercepts, and the Senate Ethics Committee will decline to pursue the matter (see August 5, 2004). (Waas 2/15/2007)
The Washington Post reveals that FBI agents have questioned nearly all 37 senators and congresspeople making up the 9/1 Congressional Inquiry about 9/11-related information leaks. In particular, in June 2002 the media reported that the day before 9/11 the NSA intercepted the messages “The match is about to begin” and “Tomorrow is zero hour”(see September 10, 2001). The FBI has asked the members to submit to lie detector tests but most have refused. Congresspeople express “grave concern” for this historically unprecedented move. A law professor states: “Now the FBI can open dossiers on every member and staffer and develop full information on them. It creates a great chilling effect on those who would be critical of the FBI.” (Priest 8/2/2002) Senator John McCain (R-AZ) suggests that “the constitutional separation of powers is being violated in spirit if not in the letter. ‘What you have here is an organization compiling dossiers on people who are investigating the same organization. The administration bitterly complains about some leaks out of a committee, but meanwhile leaks abound about secret war plans for fighting a war against Saddam Hussein. What’s that about? There’s a bit of a contradiction here, if not a double standard.’” (Priest and Dewar 8/3/2002) Later the search for the source of the leak intensifies to unprecedented levels as the FBI asks 17 senators to turn over phone records, appointment calendars, and schedules that would reveal their possible contact with reporters. (Priest 8/24/2002) Most, if not all, turn over the records, even as some complain that the request breaches the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. One senator says the FBI is “trying to put a damper on our activities and I think they will be successful.” (Guggenheim 8/29/2002) In January 2004, it will be reported that the probe is focusing on Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). He will not be charged with any crime relating to the leak. (Priest and Lengel 1/22/2004) In November 2005, the Senate Ethics Committee will announce it has dropped a probe of Shelby, citing insufficient evidence. (Reuters 11/13/2005) Inquiry co-chair Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) will write in a book in late 2004 that, at the time, he guessed “the leak was intended to sabotage [the inquiry’s] efforts. I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but the fact that we were hit with this disclosure at the moment we began to make things uncomfortable for the Bush administration has stuck with me. Over a year later, I asked [inquiry co-chair] Congressman [Porter] Goss (R-FL) whether he thought we had been set up. Nodding, he replied, ‘I often wonder that myself.’” (Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 140) Author Philip Shenon will observe that this tactic of intimidation worked, as “Members of the joint committee and their staffs were frightened into silence about the investigation.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 55)
Although some members of both the House and Senate intelligence committees are briefed about a CIA detainee interrogation program around this time (see September 2002), the briefing is not received by all committee members. Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-FL) will later say that the information is not shared with all committee members because the activities are regarded as covert. Within the intelligence committees, the information is restricted to the “gang of four”—the two top members from each committee. Graham will later complain about this: “Not only should I have been briefed [about the CIA interrogation program] but the entire committee [should have] been briefed. The only basis for what they called these covert gang of four briefings is where the president has indicated there’s an action that’s being undertaken for which the United States wants to have deniability. It’s not a blanket for every subject that the intelligence community might be involved with. In my judgment, this was not a covert operation and should have been briefed to the entire intelligence committee.” (CNN 12/13/2007) However, President Bush, who would usually be briefed on activities like the interrogation program, is not briefed on it, precisely because it is not regarded as a covert activity, but is classified as a normal part of “intelligence collection” (see April 2002 and After).
Some congressional leaders are reportedly briefed on the CIA’s detainee interrogation program, but what is actually said will later be disputed. The briefing is described as “a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk,” and apparently mentions waterboarding and information gleaned from detainees, according to two unnamed officials who are present and will later talk to the Washington Post.
Few, if Any, Objections Raised - Due to the feeling of “panic” following 9/11, the legislators’ attitude is described as, “We don’t care what you do to those guys as long as you get the information you need to protect the American people,” and two even ask if the methods are “tough enough.” The briefing, apparently one of the first of a series of around 30 private briefings on the CIA’s interrogation program, is for the “Gang of Eight,” the four top congressional leaders and the senior member from each party on the House and Senate intelligence committees. However, the methods used are only described in some of the briefings, and some of the meetings are just for the “gang of four”—intelligence committee members only. The groups are said to be so small because they concern highly secret covert activities, although it will later be suggested that the administration’s motivation is “partly to hide from view an embarrassing practice that the CIA considered vital but outsiders would almost certainly condemn as abhorrent.” One of the committee members present is Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and other officials that receive such briefings are reported to include Jane Harman (D-CA), Bob Graham (D-FL), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Porter Goss (R-FL) and Pat Roberts (R-KS). Harman is said to be the only one to object at any point. The attendees’ recollections of the meeting will later vary greatly. Goss will say, “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing… And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement,” although this may not be a reference to this specific meeting. Graham, who will leave the Senate Intelligence Committee in January 2003, will later say he has no memory of being told about waterboarding, “Personally, I was unaware of it, so I couldn’t object.” A “source familiar with Pelosi’s position” will say that she participates in a discussion of enhanced interrogation techniques, but understands they are at the planning stage at this time and are not in use. (Warrick and Eggen 12/9/2007)
Restrictions on Information - Graham will later describe the limitations placed on legislators who receive such briefings: “In addition to the fact that the full members of the committee can’t hear what’s happening, those who are in the room are very restricted. You can’t take any notes. You can’t bring anyone with you and after the meeting, you cannot discuss what you’ve heard. So that if, for instance, there’s an issue about, is this legal under the Geneva Convention, you can’t go to someone who’s an expert on that subject and get their opinion. It’s a very limiting situation.” (CNN 12/13/2007)
Secret Interrogations Already Underway - The CIA has been conducting aggressive interrogations since at least May 2002 (see Mid-May 2002 and After), but is has no firm legal basis to perform them until the Justice Department gives approval in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). CIA Director George Tenet will later comment in a 2007 book, “After we received the written Department of Justice guidance on the interrogation issue, we briefed the chairmen and ranking members of our oversight committees. While they were not asked to formally approve the program as it was done under the President’s unilateral authorities, I can recall no objections being raised.” (Windrem 9/13/2007)
Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet give a classified briefing to some members of Congress in an attempt to persuade them of the immediate need to invade Iraq (see September 19, 2002 and September 24, 2002). After the briefing, several Democrats say they are unconvinced that Saddam Hussein poses an imminent threat to the US; some intimate that the White House is trying to “politicize” the debate on the resolution in order to impact the elections. Minority Whip Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I know of no information that the threat is so imminent from Iraq” that Congress cannot wait until January to vote on a resolution. “I did not hear anything today that was different about [Saddam Hussein’s] capabilities,” save a few “embellishments.” She is joined by Tom Lantos (D-CA), a hawkish Democrat who supports the overthrow of the current Iraq regime, but who wants a special session of Congress after the November 5 elections to debate a war resolution. “I do not believe the decision should be made in the frenzy of an election year,” he says. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) agrees: “It would be a severe mistake for us to vote on Iraq with as little information as we have. This would be a rash and hasty decision” because the administration has provided “no groundbreaking news” on Iraq’s ability to strike the United States or other enemies with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Durbin’s fellow senator, Evan Bayh (D-IN) adds that while he agrees Iraq is a valid threat, the White House must do more to convince lawmakers and the American people of that threat before asking Congress to approve military action. “If the president wants to have a vote before the election, he needs to give the military threat, or he risks looking political. With that timing, he will run the risk of looking brazenly political,” Bayh says. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) agrees with Pelosi and Durbin, saying, “What was described as new is not new. It was not compelling enough” to justify war. “Did I see a clear and present danger to the United States? No.” Senate Majority Whip Harry Reid (D-NV) favors delaying the vote as well, but Daschle says he will likely allow the Senate to vote on the resolution if Bush meets several criteria, including obtaining more international support for a military campaign and providing senators a more detailed explanation of how the war would be conducted and how Iraq would be rebuilt. House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-TX) is one of the very few Republicans to oppose the resolution coming up for a vote before the elections. Most Republicans agree with Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS), who wants the White House to submit a specific war resolution by September 23 so it can be voted on before the October adjournment. But an unnamed House Republican leader also seems to believe the case Tenet and Rice presented is weak: he says, “Daschle will want to delay this and he can make a credible case for delay.” (VandeHei and Eilperin 9/10/2002; Snow and Barrett 9/10/2002; Bash 9/11/2002)
The CIA releases a more complete review of the Iraq-Niger documents (see Afternoon October 7, 2002 and October 9, 2002) in a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB). The briefing notes the new intelligence on the documents, but adds what Washington Post reporter Peter Eisner will call “important caveats,” including the fact that there is no corroboration for the claims made in the documents, and that Iraq has “no known facilities for processing or enriching” uranium. The SEIB is classified and is distributed only to senior policymakers, as well as the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. (Eisner 4/3/2007)
An Afghan detainee dies of hypothermia while being brutalized by CIA interrogators at a secret prison north of Kabul code-named the “Salt Pit” (see After October 2001). The detainee, whose name is Gul Rahman, is considered uncooperative (see November 2002). (Priest 3/3/2005; Ross and Esposito 11/18/2005; Goldman and Gannon 3/28/2010) He had originally been arrested in Pakistan, and then brought to Afghanistan. (Johnson, Markon, and Tate 9/19/2009) An inexperienced junior CIA case officer named Matthew Zirbel, who is in charge of the Salt Pit, orders Rahman to be stripped semi-naked, chained to the concrete floor, and left overnight without blankets. (Priest 3/3/2005; Ross and Esposito 11/18/2005; Mahoney and Johnson 10/9/2009, pp. 29 ) The incident will later be confirmed by four government officials. Afghan guards paid by the CIA and working under agency supervision take Rahman to an abandoned warehouse, drag him around on the concrete floor, causing bruising and lacerations, before chaining him in his cell. When night falls, the temperature plummets. Rahman is found in the morning, frozen to death. A CIA medic quickly autopsies him and states that “hypothermia” is the cause of death, and guards bury the body in an unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery used by Afghan forces. The man’s family is not notified, and his remains are never returned for a proper burial. The man is not listed on any registry of captives, not even as a so-called “ghost detainee.” One government official says simply, “He just disappeared from the face of the earth.” Zirbel will later be promoted. (Priest 3/3/2005; Ross and Esposito 11/18/2005) Zirbel’s supervisor, the CIA chief of station in Afghanistan known only as Paul P., will go on to play a role in incidents of detainee abuse in Iraq, although details about this are unknown. (Johnson, Markon, and Tate 9/19/2009; Horton 3/28/2010) Colleagues later describe Zirbel as “bright… eager, [and] full of energy,” and say that he was placed in charge of the facility because “there were not enough senior-level volunteers,” according to one senior intelligence officer. “It’s not a job just anyone would want. More senior people said, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ There was a real notable absence of high-ranking people” in Afghanistan. Moreover, the officer will add: “[T]he CIA did not have a deep cadre of people who knew how to run prisons. It was a new discipline. There’s a lot of room to get in trouble.” The CIA will brief the chairmen and vice chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the death, but at least one official will say the briefing is incomplete. Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will ask the committee chairman, Pat Roberts (R-KS), to investigate Rahman’s death, but Roberts will refuse. No one is sure if Rahman had any real connection to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. “He was probably associated with people who were associated with al-Qaeda,” one US government official will say. (Priest 3/3/2005; Ross and Esposito 11/18/2005)
Assistant Attorney General William Moschella informs the ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence committees of the administration’s use of potentially unconstitutional data mining and electronic surveillance programs after the 9/11 attacks. Moschella tells the lawmakers, “The president determined that it was necessary following September 11 to create an early-warning detection system” to prevent more attacks. One such program is the Novel Intelligence from Massive Data (NIMD) initiative (see After September 11, 2001). Moschella echoes the claims of National Security Agency director Michael Hayden and other administration officials, saying that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allows the government to obtain warrants to conduct domestic eavesdropping or wiretapping, “could not have provided the speed and agility required for the early-warning detection system.” (Harris 1/20/2006)
Domestic Surveillance Began Before 9/11? - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002). Moschella informs the lawmakers of none of this.
CIA General Counsel Scott Muller briefs a small group of legislators on the CIA’s detainee interrogation program, and indicates that it has made videotapes of the interrogations. Muller says that the CIA is now thinking about destroying the tapes, because they put the officers shown on them at risk. Although four to eight legislators have already been briefed about the program (see September 2002), this is apparently the first mention that videotapes of interrogations have been made. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) According to House Intelligence Committee member Jane Harman (D-CA), the briefing raises “a number of serious concerns.” (The Gavel 12/9/2007) Both Harman and another of those present, Porter Goss (R-FL), advise the CIA that they think destroying the tapes is a bad idea (see November 2005). Harman is apparently supported by fellow Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who is said to “concur” with Harman’s objections to the tapes’ destruction. (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) Harman writes a follow-up letter to Muller asking about legal opinions on interrogation techniques and urging the CIA to reconsider its decision to destroy the tapes (see February 28, 2003).
CIA general counsel Scott Muller writes to Jane Harman (D-CA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, but fails to respond fully to questions about the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques. (Central Intelligence Agency 2/28/2003 ) Following a briefing earlier in the month about the legality of the techniques (see February 2003), Harman had written to Muller and CIA Director George Tenet asking whether using the techniques was good policy for the US: “I would like to know whether the most senior levels of the White House have determined that these practices are consistent with the principles and policies of the United States. Have the enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the President?” She also urges the CIA not to destroy videotapes of detainee interrogations because they are “the best proof that the written record is accurate,” and their destruction “would reflect badly on the Agency.” (US Congress 2/10/2003 ) In his reply, Muller completely fails to mention the tapes or say whether Bush has been consulted. He also says it would be inappropriate for him to comment on policy issues, merely that “it would be fair to assume that policy as well as legal matters have been addressed within the Executive Branch.” (Central Intelligence Agency 2/28/2003 )
The day after CIA Director George Tenet received a CIA assessment finding the Iraq-Niger uranium claims specious (see June 17, 2003), CIA official Robert Walpole, the national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, briefs members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on the assessment. The next day, Walpole briefs members of the House Intelligence Committee. (Waas 2/2/2006)
The Senate Intelligence Committee releases the 511-page Senate Report on Iraqi WMD intelligence, formally titled the “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” (US Congress 7/7/2004; CNN 7/9/2004) All nine Republicans and eight Democrats signed off on the report without dissent, which, as reporter Murray Waas will write, is “a rarity for any such report in Washington, especially during an election year.” (Waas 10/27/2005)
Report Redacted by White House - About 20 percent of the report was redacted by the White House before its release, over the objections of both Republicans and Democrats on the committee. Some of the redactions include caveats and warnings about the reliability of key CIA informants, one code-named “Red River” and another code-named “Curveball” (see Mid- and Late 2001). The source called “Red River” failed polygraph tests given to him by CIA officers to assess his reliability, but portions of the report detailing these and other caveats were redacted at the behest of Bush administration officials. (Jehl 7/12/2004; Rosenthal 7/18/2004)
Widespread Failures of US Intelligence - The report identifies multiple, widespread failures by the US intelligence community in its gathering and analysis of intelligence about Iraq WMD, which led to gross misunderstandings and misrepresentations about Iraq’s WMD programs to the American public by government officials. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), who has previously attempted to shift blame for the intelligence misrepresentations away from the Bush administration and onto the CIA (see July 11, 2003 and After), says that intelligence used to support the invasion of Iraq was based on assessments that were “unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence.” He continues: “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and if left unchecked would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Today we know these assessments were wrong.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the 18-member panel that created the report, says “bad information” was used to bolster the case for war. “We in Congress would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now,” he says (see October 10, 2002). “Leading up to September 11, our government didn’t connect the dots. In Iraq, we are even more culpable because the dots themselves never existed.” Numerous assertions in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002) were “overstated” or “not supported by the raw intelligence reporting,” including:
Claims that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program;
Claims that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons;
Claims that Iraq was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle that could be used to deliver chemical and/or biological weapons payloads onto distant targets;
The so-called “layering effect,” where “assessments were based on previous judgments, without considering the uncertainties of those judgments” (Roberts calls it an “assumption train”);
The failure to explain adequately the uncertainties in the October 2002 NIE to White House officials and Congressional lawmakers;
Reliance on claims by “Curveball,” noting that the use of those claims “demonstrated serious lapses in handling such an important source”;
Use of “overstated, misleading, or incorrect” information in helping then-Secretary of State Colin Powell present the administration’s case to the United Nations in February 2003 (see February 5, 2003); and
The failure of the CIA to share significant intelligence with other agencies. (CNN 7/9/2004; Jones 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
“One fact is now clear,” Roberts says. “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and if left unchecked, would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Well, today we know these assessments were wrong.” (Jones 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004) Rockefeller says the intelligence community failed to “accurately or adequately explain the uncertainties behind the judgments in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to policymakers.” The community’s “intelligence failures” will haunt America’s national security “for generations to come,” he says. “Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower,” he says. “We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before.” (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
'Group Think' and 'Corporate Culture' - Roberts says the report finds that the “flawed” information used to send the nation to war was the result of “what we call a collective group think, which led analysts and collectors and managers to presume that Iraq had active and growing WMD programs.” He says this “group think caused the community to interpret ambiguous evidence, such as the procurement of dual-use technology, as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs.” Roberts blames “group think” and a “broken corporate culture and poor management,” which “cannot be solved by simply adding funding and also personnel.” (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
Lack of Human Intelligence in Iraq - Perhaps the most troubling finding, Roberts says, is the intelligence community’s near-total lack of human intelligence in Iraq. “Most alarmingly, after 1998 and the exit of the UN inspectors, the CIA had no human intelligence sources inside Iraq who were collecting against the WMD target,” he says. (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
No Connection between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Rockefeller says that the administration’s claims of an alliance between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda had no basis in fact: “[N]o evidence existed of Iraq’s complicity or assistance in al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, including 9/11.” The report says that intelligence claims of connections between Iraq and some terrorist activities were accurate, though the contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq from the 1990s “did not add up to an established formal relationship.” (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
Divided Opinion on Pressure from Bush Administration - Republicans and Democrats on the committee differ as to whether they believe the CIA and other intelligence agencies groomed or distorted their findings as a result of political pressure from the White House. “The committee found no evidence that the intelligence community’s mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure,” Roberts says. However, Rockefeller notes that the report fails to explain fully the pressures on the intelligence community “when the most senior officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly. It was clear to all of us in this room who were watching that—and to many others—that they had made up their mind that they were going to go to war.” The analysts were subjected to a “cascade of ominous statements,” Rockefeller says, that may have pushed them to slant their analyses in the direction the White House indicated it wanted. The report finds that Vice President Dick Cheney and others who repeatedly visited intelligence agencies (see 2002-Early 2003) pressured intelligence analysts or officials to present particular findings or change their views. However, the report notes repeated instances of analysts exaggerating what they knew, and leaving out, glossing over, or omitting dissenting views. According to the report, the intelligence community released a misleading public version of the October 2002 NIE (see October 4, 2002) that eliminated caveats and dissenting opinions, thus misrepresenting “their judgments to the public which did not have access to the classified National Intelligence Estimate containing the more carefully worded assessments.” (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004; Jones 7/9/2004) In an interview the evening after the report’s release, Rockefeller is asked if the report documents “a failure of a system or is this a failure of a bunch of individuals who just did their jobs poorly?” Rockefeller responds: “This is a failure of a system.… It is not fair to simply dump all of this on the Central Intelligence Agency. The Central Intelligence Agency does not make the decision, and [former Director] George Tenet does not make the decision to go to war. That decision is made at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.… So we went to war under false pretenses, and I think that is a very serious subject for Americans to think about for our future.” Asked “if the president had known then what he knows now, he would have still taken us to war?” Rockefeller answers: “I can’t answer that question. I just ask—the question I ask is, why isn’t he, and maybe he is, why isn’t he as angry about his decision, so to speak his vote on this, as I am about mine?” (Lehrer 7/9/2004)
Supporting the Claim of Iraq's Attempt to Purchase Nigerien Uranium - The report states flatly that senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson made the decision to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The CIA has demonstrated that Plame Wilson did not make that decision (see February 19, 2002). However, as well as claiming that Plame Wilson sent Wilson to Niger, it claims that Wilson’s report, far from disproving the assertion of an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium, actually bolstered that assertion. The report states that the question of Iraq’s attempt to buy Nigerien uranium remains “open.” It also says Wilson lied to the Washington Post in June 2004 by claiming that the documents used to support the claim were forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). “Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’ when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports,” the report states. Wilson told committee members he may have been confused and may have “misspoken” to some reporters (see May 2, 2004). The committee did not examine the documents themselves. (Schmidt 7/10/2009) The committee made similar claims a year before (see June 11, 2003 and July 11, 2003 and After). Progressive reporter and columnist Joshua Micah Marshall disputes the report’s claim that Wilson’s trip to Niger actually helped prove the assertion that Iraq tried to buy Nigerien uranium. The intelligence reports making the assertion are “fruits of the same poison tree” that produced so many other false and misleading claims, Marshall writes, and were based on the assumption that the forged documents were genuine. (Joshua Micah Marshall 7/10/2004) In 2007, Plame Wilson will write, “What was missing from the [committee] report was just as telling as the distortions it contained. The ‘Additional Views’ section… had concluded” that she was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. Yet that was contradicted by a senior CIA official over a year before. Plame Wilson will call the “Additional Views” section “a political smear if there ever was one,” crammed with “distortions and outright lies. Yet it continues to be cited today by Joe’s critics as proof of his lack of credibility.” The Wilsons learn months later that committee Democrats decided not to fight against the attacks on Wilson’s integrity; according to one of the senior Democratic senators on the panel, there was simply too much “incoming” from the Republicans for them to fight every issue. There were “far too many serious substantial disputes” that needed solving, and the Democrats chose to allow the attacks on Wilson to proceed without comment. (Wilson 2007, pp. 187-190)
Portion of the Report Delayed - Roberts and other Republican majority committee members were successful in blocking Democrats’ attempts to complete the second portion of the report, which delineates the Bush administration’s use of the intelligence findings. That report will not be released until after the November 2004 presidential election. Rockefeller says he feels “genuine frustration… that virtually everything that has to do with the administration” has been “relegated to phase two” and will be discussed at another time. The second part of the committee’s investigation will focus on the “interaction or the pressure or the shaping of intelligence” by the Bush administration, Rockefeller says. “It was clear to all of us that the Bush administration had made up its mind to go to war,” he says, and he believes that such a “predetermination” influenced the intelligence community. Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says she hopes a similar House investigation would address some of those issues. However, she notes, she has been stymied by House Republicans in even launching that investigation. “There has not been the cooperation that there apparently has been on the Senate side,” she says. She has just now managed to wangle a meeting with House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL), who is being touted as the next director of the CIA (see September 24, 2004). Harman says, “I would hope we could address [the issues] factually and on a bipartisan basis, but at the moment I don’t have a lot of confidence in it.” (CNN 7/9/2004; Jones 7/9/2004) Roberts’s spokeswoman Sarah Little later says that the committee has not yet decided whether the second portion of the report will be fully classified, declassified, or even if it will hold hearings. (Waas 10/27/2005)
Cheney, Roberts Colluded in Interfering with Report - Over a year later, the media will find that Roberts allowed Cheney and members of his staff to interfere with the committee’s investigation and dramatically limit its scope (see October 27, 2005). Rockefeller will say that he made three separate requests for White House documents during the committee’s investigation, but never received the documents he asked for. “The fact is,” Rockefeller will say, “that throughout the Iraq investigation any line of questioning that brought us too close to the White House was thwarted.” Rockefeller’s spokesperson, Wendy Morigi, will say that Rockefeller will “sadly come to the conclusion that the Intelligence Committee is not capable of doing the job of investigating the fundamental question as to whether the administration has misused intelligence to go to war.” (Waas and Singer 10/30/2005) Plame Wilson will write: “In the coming months, many reliable sources told us that before the report was issued, there was considerable collusion between the vice president’s office and… Roberts on how to craft the report and its content. So much for checks and balances and the separation of powers.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 192)
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 FBI and Justice Department quietly open an investigation into whether Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, improperly colluded with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to win reappointment as the committee’s ranking member. The investigation is not revealed to the public until October 2006 (see October 20, 2006). The investigation centers on allegations that Harman and AIPAC arranged for wealthy supporters to lobby House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Harman’s behalf. The case is an outgrowth of a probe that has already led to the felony conviction of former DIA official Larry Franklin, who pled guilty to giving classified information to two AIPAC lobbyists (see October 5, 2005), and the lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, who still face charges of passing that information on to Israel (see April 13, 1999-2004). The investigation has now expanded to determine if Harman’s campaign to persuade Pelosi to reappoint her to the committee may have involved AIPAC, and whether Harman promised to return the favor by using her influence to persuade the Justice Department to ease up on the AIPAC lobbyists. Reporter Timothy Burger will write: “If that happened, it might be construed as an illegal quid pro quo, depending on the context of the situation. But the sources caution that there has been no decision to charge anyone and that it is unclear whether Harman and AIPAC acted on the idea.” Both Harman and Pelosi are outspoken supporters of Israel, and have praised AIPAC for its efforts to further cement ties between Israel and the US. However, Congressional sources will say that Pelosi is furious at attempts by major donors to lobby on behalf of Harman. The LA Weekly reported in May that Harman “had some major contributors call Pelosi to impress upon her the importance of keeping Jane in place. According to these members, this tactic, too, hasn’t endeared Harman to Pelosi.” Another powerful figure has lobbied for Harman: entertainment industry billionaire Haim Saban, who made his fortune through the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers children’s entertainment franchise. It is unclear whether Saban had any contact with AIPAC, and if his efforts to lobby on Harman’s behalf were part of a larger, more orchestrated plan. (Burger 10/20/2006) When the story becomes public in October 2006, Harman will deny any improper or illegal conduct (see October 20, 2006). The investigation will eventually be dropped, supposedly for “lack of evidence.” In April 2009, evidence will surface that the NSA wiretapped Harman discussing a quid pro quo with a suspected Israeli agent, and that the investigation was not dropped because of lack of evidence, but because of the intervention of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see October 2005, Late 2005, and April 19, 2009). (Stein 4/19/2009)
In his new book, “Countdown to Terror,” Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA), the vice chairman of the House Homeland Security and Armed Services Committees, accuses the CIA of dismissing an informant who he says has valuable information on Iran. Weldon’s source claims to have knowledge that Osama Bin Laden is in Iran and that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ordered a terrorist assault on the US called the “12th Imam attack.” But according to Bill Murray, a former CIA Station Chief in Paris who met with Weldon’s source on four occasions, the information provided by the informant was believed to have originated with Iranian gunrunner Manucher Ghorbanifar, a “known fabricator,” familiar to the CIA since the 1980s (see December 9, 2001 and December 2003). Murray compares Ghorbanifar to Ahmed Chalabi, whose false claims about Iraqi WMD were fed to US intelligence, Congress, and the public during the lead-up to war with Iraq. (Rozen and Heer 4/1/2005; Shane 6/8/2005) Murray later identifies Weldon’s source, whom Weldon nicknames “Ali,” as Ghorbanifar’s associate Fereidoun Mahdavi. According to Murray, Mahdavi is a complete liar. “Mahdavi works for Ghorbanifar,” Murray will say. “The two are inseparable. Ghorbanifar put Mahdavi out to meet with Weldon.” Weldon was accompanied on at least one visit to “Ali” by Peter Hoekstra, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. (Rozen 6/10/2005; Unger 3/2007)
Months after the Bush administration successfully convinced the New York Times to hold off publishing its report on the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early November 2004, December 6, 2005, and December 15, 2005), one of the reporters on the story, Eric Lichtblau, attempts to get a response on the program from one of the few Democrats briefed on it, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA). In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau will write about covering a House hearing where Harman launches into a passionate call for stronger civil liberties safeguards in the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act (see March 9, 2006). According to his recollection, Lichtblau approaches Harman and says, “I’m trying to square what I heard in there with what we know about that program.” He will write: “Harman’s golden California tan turned a brighter shade of red. She knew exactly what I was talking about. Shooing away her aides, she grabbed me by the arm and drew me a few feet away to a more remote section of the Capitol corridor. ‘You should not be talking about that here,’ she scolded me in a whisper. ’ They don’t even know about that,’ she said, gesturing to her aides, who were now looking on at the conversation with obvious befuddlement.” Harman tells Lichtblau, “The Times did the right thing by not publishing that story,” but will not discuss the details. When asked what intelligence capabilities would be lost by informing the public about something the terrorists already knew—that the government was listening to them—she simply replies, “This is a valuable program, and it would be compromised.” Lichtblau will add: “This was clearly as far as she was willing to take the conversation, and we didn’t speak again until months later, after the NSA story had already run. By then, Harman’s position had undergone a dramatic transformation. When the story broke publicly, she was among the first in line on Capitol Hill to denounce the administration’s handling of the wiretapping program, declaring that what the NSA was doing could have been done under the existing FISA law.” (Kiel 3/19/2008)
President Bush says he is withholding judgment on whether senior political adviser Karl Rove was one of the administration officials who leaked the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to the press. Rove has been identified in court testimony as having disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity to two separate journalists, Robert Novak (see July 14, 2005) and Matthew Cooper (see July 6, 2005). Bush has said repeatedly that anyone identified as leaking Plame Wilson’s identity would be fired (see September 29, 2003 and June 10, 2004). He now says it would be wrong for him to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation. “I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation,” he says. “I also will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports.” Bush makes these statements with Rove literally sitting at his elbow. Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin indicates that Rove already told the grand jury of his conversation with Cooper (see July 17, 2003). “Rove has cooperated completely with the special prosecutor, and he has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of the investigation,” Luskin says. “Rove has done nothing wrong. We’re confident that he will not become a target after the special prosecutor has reviewed all evidence.” Rove’s supporters inside and outside the administration emphasize that Rove never told the reporter Plame Wilson’s actual name, nor mentioned her undercover status, but merely told Cooper that “Joseph Wilson’s wife” worked at the CIA. Critics note that it would take anyone a matter of moments to identify Plame Wilson as Wilson’s wife. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have asked Bush to revoke Rove’s security clearance. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says the issue of whether Rove actually broke the law is not the only issue. “We just don’t hold those working at the closest and highest levels to the president to a criminal standard and say, ‘If you have not committed a crime, show up for work tomorrow morning,’” he says. (Stevenson 7/14/2005) Days later, Bush will modify his earlier statements, saying that someone who has committed a crime would no longer work in his administration (see July 18, 2005).
House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) and committee member Curt Weldon (R-PA) meet secretly in Paris with an Iranian exile calling himself “Ali.” The purpose of the meeting is unknown, but is soon disclosed by current and former US officials who request anonymity because they do not want to risk angering either of the congressmen. (Strobel 7/20/2005) Weldon has just published a book, Countdown to Terror, which alleges that the CIA routinely ignores intelligence about Iranian-sponsored terror plots against US targets, and that Iran is planning a spectacular terrorist strike against the US, which he calls the “12th Imam plot.” Weldon also writes that Iran is very close to producing nuclear weapons, and that Osama bin Laden is hiding inside Iran. “Ali” is one of Weldon’s primary sources of information; much of Weldon’s book is composed of “intelligence memos” “Ali” sent him in 2003 and 2004.
'Ali' an Associate of Iranian Disinformation Peddler - Unfortunately, according to CIA station chief Bill Murray, “Ali” is really Fereidoun Mahdavi, a former minister of commerce for the long-deposed Shah of Iran, and a longtime business associate of discredited arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar. Like Ghorbanifar, Mahdavi is a known fabricator and source of disinformation. “The two are inseparable,” Murray says. “Ghorbanifar put Mahdavi out to meet with Weldon.” Murray also says Weldon broke government regulations by not informing the US ambassador to France of his 2003 and 2004 meetings with Mahdavi. Worse, Weldon denied having any meetings planned with Mahdavi, then proceeded to meet with Mahdavi in a hotel just around the corner from the US embassy. When asked by reporter Laura Rozen about the meetings between himself and Weldon, Mahdavi says he is stunned and perplexed to learn that Weldon wrote a book, and that the congressman never told him about any book plans. Mahdavi confirms that much of the information he gave Weldon came from Ghorbanifar, who was the subject of a CIA “burn notice” almost 20 years ago. In halting English, Mahdavi says: “Many information that I have given to Weldon is coming from Ghorbanifar. Because Ghorbanifar used me, in fact, to pass that stuff because I know he has problems in Washington.… I am well known in Tehran. How can I call Tehran? But Ghorbanifar is something else. He has all the contacts within Iran. Nobody has so many information and contacts that he has. Now if he is using that information through me to try to buy power indirectly, that is his business. I do it because I have known him for many years.” In Weldon’s book, one memo he receives from “Ali” reads: “Dear Curt. An attack against an atomic plant by a plane, the name mentioned, but not clear it begins with ‘SEA’,” perhaps indicating Seattle. Another memo reads: “Dear Curt:… I confirm again a terrorist attack within the United States is planned before the American elections.” Rozen calls the memos “comically overwrought.”
Interfering with Real Intelligence Work - Murray is less than impressed with Weldon’s literary effort. “Most of us [CIA officers] have been consumed with preventing real terrorist threats to the US for the past four years,” he says. “And virtually everything Ghorbanifar and his people come up with diverts us. I have hard-working people working for me, and they don’t have time for this bullsh_t.” (Rozen 6/10/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 336)
Ongoing Disinformation Campaign against Iran - CIA analysts have examined Mahdavi’s “intelligence” and deemed it worthless. They do believe, however, that Mahdavi is engaged in an effort to destabilize the Iranian government, and is using Weldon and perhaps Hoekstra for those ends. Former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro says Mahdavi “is just part and parcel of the longest-running, ongoing fabrication in US history.” (Strobel 7/20/2005) In October 2006, one intelligence source will say that the Paris meeting was part of a larger intelligence disinformation campaign designed to plant propaganda in foreign news sources with the hope that it will filter into American news reporting and be presented as legitimate reporting. The idea is to promote the need for military action against Iran, and perhaps the overthrow of the Iranian government by the US military. (Alexandrovna 10/16/2006)
Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) introduces a resolution that would request the Bush administration to divulge the name, or names, of the White House officials responsible for leaking the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson to the press (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). The resolutions are referred to four House committees: Judiciary, International Relations, Armed Services, and Intelligence. The Republican leadership votes the resolution down in each committee, arguing in each case that to make such a request would interfere with the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal investigation. In December 2005, the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee will write, “This argument would seem to be disingenuous given that there are numerous precedents for Congressional committees investigating concurrently with the Justice Department and with other matters under criminal review by the executive branch, most notably many concurrent investigations by the Republican Congress involving the Clinton administration.” (Waxman 12/2005)
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).
An FBI investigation into Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee, is halted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, according to three former top national security officials. The investigation was to determine whether she agreed to use her influence on behalf of accused Israeli spies in return for Israeli support in being named chairman of the committee (see Summer 2005, October 2005 and December 2, 2006). In contrast to the former officials’ claims, the media will report that the investigation is ended due to “lack of evidence” of impropriety or illegal behavior on Harman’s part. However, according to the former officials, Gonzales wants Harman to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which is about to be revealed by a long-simmering New York Times story (see December 15, 2005). The evidence against Harman includes NSA wiretaps of a conversation between her and an Israeli agent. Reporter Jeff Stein will write, “As for there being ‘no evidence’ to support the FBI probe, a source with first-hand knowledge of the wiretaps called that ‘bull****.’” Another former national security officer will confirm Harman’s presence on the wiretaps. “It’s true,” the official will say. “She was on there.” Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units have concluded that Harman had committed what they called a “completed crime,” meaning there was evidence to show that she had attempted to complete it; they were prepared to open a case on her that would include wiretaps approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). CIA Director Porter Goss certified the FISA wiretapping request, and decided to inform House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and ranking House Democrat Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of the impending FBI investigation. At this point, say Stein’s sources, Gonzales intervenes to stop the investigation. Two officials with knowledge of the events will say that, in Gonzales’s words, he “needed Jane” to help support the warrantless wiretapping program once it became public knowledge. Gonzales tells Goss that Harman had helped persuade the Times to refrain from publishing the story in late 2004 (see Early November 2004, December 6, 2005, and Mid-2005), and although the Times would no longer wait on the story, Harman could be counted on to help defend the program. She will do just that (see December 21, 2005 and February 8-12, 2006). Hastert and Pelosi are never told of the FBI investigation. Stein will also learn that Goss’s successor, Michael Hayden, will later be informed of the potential investigation, but choose to take no action. Likewise, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will oppose any such investigation. Former officials who will pursue the Israeli espionage case for years will say, in Stein’s words, that “Harman dodged a bullet… [s]he was protected by an administration desperate for help.” A recently retired national security official closely involved in the investigation will add: “It’s the deepest kind of corruption. It’s a story about the corruption of government—not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.” (Stein 4/19/2009)
In the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005, December 18, 2005, and December 21, 2005), Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, issues a statement defending the operation and slamming the New York Times for revealing the program’s existence. Harman says, “I believe the program is essential to US national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.” (Time 1/3/2006) Evidence will later show that Harman may be defending the program in return for a quid pro quo from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who will quash an FBI investigation into Harman’s alleged improprieties involving Israeli lobbyists charged with felonies (see Late 2005 and April 19, 2009).
The Justice Department opens an investigation into the leak of classified information about the Bush domestic surveillance program. The investigation focuses on disclosures to the New York Times about the secret warrantless wiretapping program conducted by the National Security Agency since shortly after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002). The White House claims that the Justice Department initiated the investigation on its own after receiving a request from the NSA, and that it was not even informed of the investigation until the decision had already been made. But White House spokesman Trent Duffy hails the investigation, and implicitly accuses the Times of aiding and abetting terrorists by printing its stories. “The leaking of classified information is a serious issue,” Duffy says. “The fact is that al-Qaeda’s playbook is not printed on Page One, and when America’s is, it has serious ramifications.” (Associated Press 12/30/2005) President Bush fuels the attack on the Times when he says, “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.” (Shane 12/30/2005) Many outside of the administration have accused the wiretapping program, which functions without external oversight or court warrants, of being illegal, and Bush of breaking the law by authorizing it. Administration officials insist that Bush has the power to make such a decision, both under the Constitution’s war powers provision and under the post-9/11 Congressional authorization to use military force against terrorism, even though, as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle recalls, Congress explicitly refused to give Bush the authority to take military action inside the US itself (see December 21-22, 2005). And, in a recent letter to the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, the White House claimed that the nation’s security needs outweigh the needs of the citizenry to be secure from secret government surveillance. (Associated Press 12/30/2005) Others disagree. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Anthony Romero says, “President Bush broke the law and lied to the American people when he unilaterally authorized secret wiretaps of US citizens. But rather than focus on this constitutional crisis, Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales is cracking down on critics of his friend and boss. Our nation is strengthened, not weakened, by those whistle-blowers who are courageous enough to speak out on violations of the law.” And Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the NSA should be the focus of an investigation to determine if it broke federal surveillance laws. Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project suggests a middle course. His group does not object to a limited investigation into the leak of classified information, but, he says, if the administration does “a blanket witch hunt, which I fear, it would trample all over good government laws” designed to protect government workers who expose wrongdoing. “The whole reason we have whistle-blower laws is so that government workers can act as the public’s eyes and ears to expose illegality or abuse of power.” (Shane 12/30/2005) Ultimately, this leak investigation may not achieve much, according to law professor Carl Tobias. “It doesn’t seem to me that this leak investigation will take on the importance of the Plame case,” Tobias says. “The bigger story here is still the one about domestic spying and whether the president intends, as he said, to continue doing it.” (Eggen 12/31/2005)
Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, tells President Bush that his administration’s practice of only briefing a select few Congressional leaders on highly classified programs violates the National Security Act of 1947. Harman is referring to Bush’s practice of briefing the so-called “Gang of Eight,” comprised of the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House, the Majority and Minority Leaders of the Senate, and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, about the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. Harman, a member of the Gang of Eight since 2003, says that she has found, she writes, “that the practice of briefing only certain Members of the intelligence committees violates the specific requirements of the National Security Act of 1947. The National Security Act requires that ‘The President shall ensure that the congressional intelligence committees are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States….‘…The Act makes clear that the requirement to keep the committees informed may not be evaded on the grounds that ‘providing the information to the congressional intelligence committees would constitute the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.’” Harman notes that the one exception to the president’s duty to keep all committee members informed, covert action that entails “extraordinary circumstances affecting vital interests of the United States” and thereby limits notification to the Gang of Eight, applies only “to covert actions, not intelligence collection activities.” Harman adds, “For all intelligence activities that are not covert actions, the Executive Branch’s duty is clear: the ‘heads of all…entities involved in intelligence activities shall…keep the congressional intelligence committees fully and currently informed of all intelligence activities.” Harman says that merely briefing the Gang of Eight does not provide “effective oversight,” especially in light of the restrictions on the lawmakers: “Members of the Gang of Eight cannot take notes, seek the advice of their counsel, or even discuss the issues raised with their committee colleagues.… As you know, both congressional intelligence committees are select committees, formed of Members who hold the highest security clearances and have a proven ability to safeguard classified information.” Harman concludes, “In my view, failure to provide briefings to the full congressional intelligence committees is a continuing violation of the National Security Act.” (US House of Representatives 1/4/2006) Two weeks later, the Congressional Research Service will issue a report on the requirements of the Act agreeing with Harman’s conclusion (see January 18, 2006).
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) finds that the Bush administration broke the law when it refused to provide timely and complete briefings to the appropriate members of Congress on the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program. The CRS’s legal analysis concludes that the administration’s limited briefings are “inconsistent with the law.” The CRS performed the analysis at the request of Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the eight members of Congress that Bush allows to receive limited information on the NSA program. Harman, who calls the CRS report “a solid piece of work,” wrote to Bush on January 4, 2006, to inform him that she believes the information should be provided to all the members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. The briefings, which are intentionally limited in scope, are provided only to eight members of Congress: the Speaker of the House, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders, and the ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Harman says that an upcoming briefing, scheduled for February 6, should include all members of the intelligence committees. The briefings on the NSA program are held through the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Though Harman is in agreement with the CRS that the briefings are legally inadequate, House Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) has said he believes the briefings are adequate for Congressional oversight.
The CRS finding is based on the requirements of the 1947 National Security Act, that mandates that all of the members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees be “fully and currently informed” of intelligence activities. The Act says that “covert actions” can only be revealed to the “Gang of Eight,” but, the CRS finds, since the NSA’s domestic surveillance program does not appear to be covert, limiting the briefings to just eight members of Congress “would appear to be inconsistent with the law.” The memo gives several options for the administration to bring itself into compliance with the law, noting, for example, that “[t]he executive branch may assert that the mere discussion of the NSA program generally could expose certain intelligence sources and methods to disclosure.” (Shane 1/18/2006; Eggen 1/19/2006)
A memo from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (CRS) finds that President Bush appears to be in violation of the National Security Act of 1947 in his practice of briefing only select members of Congress on the National Security Agency’s warrantless wiretapping program. Bush has provided only limited briefings to the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the four Congressional leaders and the four ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. But the 1947 law requires the US intelligence community to brief the full membership of both committees on the program. The memo is the result of a request by Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), who wrote Bush a letter saying that she believes he is required under the Act to brief both committees, and not just the Gang of Eight (see January 4, 2006). The White House claims that it has briefed Congressional leaders about the program over a dozen times, but refuses to provide details; the Congressional members so briefed are forbidden by law to discuss the content or nature of those classified briefings, even with their own staff members. “We believe that Congress was appropriately briefed,” says White House spokeswoman Dana Perino. The CRS agrees with Harman that the single exception to such full briefings under the law, covert actions taken under extraordinary threats to national security, is not applicable in this instance. Unless the White House contends the program is a covert action, the memo says, “limiting congressional notification of the NSA program to the Gang of Eight…would appear to be inconsistent with the law.” (US House of Representatives 1/4/2006; Congressional Research Service 1/18/2006 ; Eggen 1/19/2006) The day after the CRS memo is released, Senate Democrats John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) and Harry Reid (D-NV), along with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Harman, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, write to Vice President Dick Cheney demanding that the full committees be briefed on such intelligence matters in the future. (Leonnig 1/20/2006) On February 9, Bush will allow Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former NSA chief Michael Hayden to brief the full House Intelligence Committee on the program (see February 8-17, 2006).
In an interview with PBS’s Gwen Ifill, Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says she supports the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2001), a position that places her at odds with most Congressional Democrats. “Well, I said then and I say now that I support the program,” she tells Ifill. Harman is critical of the insider leaks that led to the public divulgance of the program (see December 15, 2005), saying, “Well, I think the leaks have done a lot of damage, and I deplore the leaks of this critical program.” She goes on to complain that the administration “says it adequately oversees this program,” but “the system of checks and balances that we have… requires that Congress as an independent branch of government pass the laws, fund the programs, and oversee how all that works.” In addition to requesting greater cooperation on oversight with Congress, she adds that “the courts need to be cut back in,” and thinks the “entire program” should be brought under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. (PBS 2/8/2006) Four days later, Harman reiterates her position on NBC’s Meet the Press. She tells moderator Tim Russert, “If the press was part of the process of delivering classified information, there have to be some limits on press immunity.” Russert asks, “But if [the NSA leak] came from a whistleblower, should the New York Times reporter be prosecuted?” Harman answers: “Well, it’s not clear it was a whistleblower. You have to prove that first. If it’s protected by the whistleblower statute, then it’s protected.… By the way, I deplore that leak. This is a very valuable foreign [intelligence] collection program. I think it is tragic that a lot of our capabilities are now [spread] across the pages of the newspapers.” (Harman 2/12/2006; NewsMax 2/12/2006)
The White House twice convinces Congressional leaders to derail or water down upcoming Congressional hearings into its warrantless wiretapping program, dodging potentially embarrassing public revelations about its surveillance of US citizens. Some observers praise the Bush administration for accepting more Congressional oversight, but some lawmakers feel the concessions made by the White House in return for Congress’s back down from full hearings mean little. Privately, some Republicans say that the White House came far closer to suffering large public setbacks than is generally known, and that President Bush must be more forthcoming about the warrantless wiretapping program if he wants to retain the good will of Congress. On February 8, a day before the House Intelligence Committee is to begin its hearings on the program, some lawmakers are complaining that the administration is trying to dodge any real discussion of the program; two days before, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales had defended the program without providing any details, and the White House intended to send Gonzales and former NSA head Michael Hayden to the hearings to give the same limited briefing. Instead, the White House agrees to have Gonzales and Hayden provide more details about the program’s “procedural aspects,” the first time a full Congressional committee has received a briefing about the program (see January 4, 2006 and January 18, 2006). Many committee members are placated by the briefing. In return, committee leaders agree to stymie Democrats’ attempts to hold more expansive hearings into the program. On February 17, the Senate Intelligence Committee deals with a motion by ranking Democrat Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) to open a broad inquiry into the program. But White House chief of staff Andrew Card has, two days before, spoken with committee member Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Snowe had expressed her own concerns about the program’s legality, and its infringement on constitutional civil liberties, and she is, according to Senate sources briefed on the call, “taken aback” by Card’s intransigence about restricting Congressional oversight of the program. Snowe and fellow senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), another Republican who has voiced his own doubts about the program, speak with committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS). Roberts thinks he has the votes to defeat Rockefeller’s motion, but he learns Snowe and Hagel will support it, thus ensuring its passage. Thus informed, Roberts blocks passage of the motion by arranging a party-line vote to adjourn the committee until March 9, a move that infuriates Rockefeller. “The White House has applied heavy pressure in recent weeks to prevent the committee from doing its job,” he says after the adjournment. Both Hagel and Snowe deny folding under administration pressure. The White House is supportive of a proposal by Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) that would exempt the NSA program from FISA, while providing for limited congressional oversight. (Babington 2/19/2006)
The House Intelligence Committee, led by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), releases a 29-page report entitled “Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States” that blasts the CIA and other US intelligence agencies for lacking “the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgments” on Iran’s nuclear program, its intentions, or its ties to terrorism. (House Intelligence Committee 8/23/2006)
Democrats Excluded From Report - The report is generated strictly by the Republicans on the committee; input from Democratic members was quite limited. The author of the report is ex-CIA officer Frederick Fleitz, a former special assistant to Undersecretary of Defense John Bolton and a hardliner on Iran. Not surprisingly, Fleitz’s report fully supports the Bush administration’s position that Iran is moving aggressively to acquire nuclear weapons, and thusly poses an significant threat to the US. It also claims that the US intelligence community has not tried to collect or collate evidence to prove Fleitz’s assertion that Iran, a majority-Shi’ite nation, has close and sinister ties to al-Qaeda, a Sunni organization, as well as some responsibility for the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Fleitz and his researchers used nothing more than publicly available documents for his report, and did not interview any intelligence officials. Hoesktra, who publicly releases the report before it is approved by the full committee, says his purpose is to avoid the intelligence “mistakes” that led the US to conclude that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. It is widely believed that Hoekstra’s decision to release the report is part of a larger effort by the Bush administration to pressure Iran to suspend its nuclear program, a push supported by few US allies. Democrats on the committee have little confidence that the report is complete and accurate; ranking subcommittee member Rush Holt (D-NJ) says the report is not “prepared and reviewed in a way that we can rely on.” (Linzer 8/24/2006)
Cherrypicking - The report will never be voted on or discussed by the entire committee, in essence short-circuiting Democrats from the review and approval process. Ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA) says the report “took a number of analytical shortcuts that present the Iran threat as more dire—and the Intelligence Community’s assessments as more certain—than they are.” It is not long before the report is thoroughly debunked. Further analysis shows the report to be riddled with errors; additionally, it fails to include key information, mostly from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that disproves the report’s claims about Iran’s nuclear program. When the report is officially presented in September 2006, IAEA officials and others will term the report “outrageous and dishonest,” and provide evidence refuting its major claims (see September 14, 2006). Gary Sick, an Iran expert and a former National Security Council under Jimmy Carter, notes that the report’s claim that Iran has “the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East” entirely ignores the far larger arsenals possessed by Israel and Saudi Arabia. “If you are going to take on the entire US intelligence community, it is a very good idea to at least get your basic facts straight,” Sick says. “It is a sloppy attempt to lay the ground for another ‘slam-dunk’ judgement and a potential rush to war. It deserves to be recognized for what it is.” David Albright agrees: “This is like prewar Iraq all over again.” Albright, a former UN weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, says, “You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that’s cherry-picked and a report that trashes the [IAEA] inspectors.” Weeks after the November 2006 elections, the CIA will report that it can find no evidence supporting Fleitz’s contention that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. (Lobe 8/25/2006; Linzer 9/14/2006; Unger 3/2007)
An Attempt to Undermine Rice and Diplomatic Outreach? - Many committee Democrats believe that the report is an attempt by hardline Republicans to undermine Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has agreed to talk with the Iranians under certain conditions. Bolton, Fleitz, and others oppose any diplomacy or discussion with Iran. Bolton is now the US ambassador to the UN; he and Fleitz worked diligently during President Bush’s first term to undermine the efforts of Rice’s predecessor, Colin Powell, to engage Iran, North Korea, and Syria in diplomatic talks. Many Washington neoconservatives have denounced the Bush administration’s tentative move towards diplomatic talks with Iran as nothing more than “appeasement.” (Perhaps in the same vein, Fleitz is now working on a similar report on North Korea’s weapons program; a draft leaked to the Washington Post contains allegations about the North Korean program that also cannot be substantiated.) (Lobe 8/25/2006; Linzer 9/14/2006)
'Unusually Slick' Hoax - Former CIA official Ray McGovern calls the report an “unusually slick” hoax that is nothing more than an attempt to frighten Congress and the American people into supporting the Bush administration’s more aggressive posture towards Iran. McGovern notes that in recent weeks Hoekstra told a Fox News audience that weapons of mass destruction were indeed found in Iraq—“We were right all the time!”—and observes that the entire report is a calculated public relations effort based on overzealous falsehoods and not on verifiable fact. The cover of the report depicts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad giving a suspiciously Nazi-like salute, and the first page repeats Ahmadinejad’s assertion that Israel “must be wiped off the face of the map.” He also notes that Fleitz, whom he describes as Bolton’s “chief enforcer” when Bolton was at the State Department, once told State Department intelligence analysts Christian Westermann that it was “a political judgment as to how to interpret” data on Cuba’s biological weapons program (a program that only existed in Bolton’s imagination) and that the intelligence community “should do as we asked” in making its reports. McGovern concludes, “Hoekstra’s release of this paper is another sign pointing in the direction of a US attack on Iran. Tehran is now being blamed not only for inciting Hezbollah but also for sending improvised explosive devices [IEDs] into Iraq to kill or maim US forces. There is yet another, if more subtle, disquieting note about the paper. It bears the earmarks of a rushed job, with very little editorial scrubbing.… It seems to me possible that the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal told Hoekstra to get the paper out sooner rather than later, as an aid to Americans in ‘recognizing Iran as a strategic threat.’” (McGovern 8/26/2007)
Replay of Flawed Iraqi Intelligence - Many observers agree with McGovern that the report is a replay of the dangerously flawed intelligence estimates that pushed Congress to approve military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Gary Sick goes even further back to draw a comparison between Hoekstra’s report and the mid-1970s effort by Ford aides Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s so-called “Team B” to provide an “alternative” intelligence assessment on the threat posed by the then-Soviet Union. The report “is really intended as a sort of Team B report of what at least one [Congressional] staffer believes the intelligence community should be reporting on Iran.” (Lobe 8/25/2006) Author and national security expert John Prados takes an even grimmer view: “The fact that this act has been perpetrated by a congressional committee whose job it is to oversee US intelligence is further evidence that intelligence oversight has become part of the problem, not the solution.” (Prados 8/25/2006)
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) responds to a recently released report by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee on Iran’s nuclear program (see August 23, 2006). The IAEA terms the report “outrageous and dishonest,” and says that the report contains “erroneous, misleading and unsubstantiated statements,” according to a letter from IAEA officials to Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the chairman of the committee who released the report before it could be voted on by the full committee. Among the numerous errors is the report’s assertion that Iran is producing weapons-grade uranium at its Natanz nuclear facility. Weapons-grade uranium must be enriched to 90% or more to be effective; the Natanz facility is producing uranium enriched to only 3.5%. Intelligence officials point to at least a dozen claims in the report that are either flatly wrong or impossible to substantiate; one such error is the report’s claim that IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei removed a senior weapons inspector because of that inspector’s concerns over Iranian deception. In fact, that inspector is still working on the inspection process. The report also accuses ElBaradei of having an “unstated” policy preventing inspectors from telling the truth about Iran’s program; this allegation will provoke particular outrage from IAEA officials. (Linzer 9/14/2006)
The US is receiving false and misleading information about Iran’s nuclear capabilities from an Iranian dissident group labeled as a terrorist organization, says a former UN weapons inspector. The Mujahedeen-e Khalq, or MEK (see 1970s), is an exile group labeled by the US State Department as a terrorist organization, but embraced by many Washington neoconservatives, including a key group of White House officials operating inside Vice President Dick Cheney’s office and another working with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says, “We should be very suspicious about what our leaders or the exile groups say about Iran’s nuclear capacity. There’s a drumbeat of allegations, but there’s not a whole lot of solid information. It may be that Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons. We have to be very careful not to overstate the intelligence.” Albright says the information from MEK is somewhat more believable than the extravagantly false information provided by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraq National Congress, which was used to bolster Bush administration allegations that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq posed a grave and imminent threat to world peace and US security (see (1994). In 2002, MEK provided critical information about Iran’s nuclear-enrichment complex at Natanz and a heavy-water production facility at Arak (see August 2002). It is unclear if Iran is pursuing a nuclear-weapons program; one UN official says of the information gleaned by the IAEA, “It’s a mixed bag.” Of MEK, he says, “The Mujahedeen Khalq appears to have some real sources inside Iran, but you can’t trust them all the time.” Iran has not been fully compliant with IAEA attempts to determine the nature and extent of its nuclear program. Nevertheless, some Congressional lawmakers say that, in light of the misinformation surrounding the claims of Iraq’s weapons programs, policy makers need to be doubly cautious about making claims and pursuing aggressive deterrence operations against Iran. Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “In Iran, as well as North Korea, Syria, and so on, we need accurate, unbiased and timely intelligence. Iraq has shown that our intelligence products have a credibility problem and improvements are critically needed.” Iranian journalist Emadeddin Baghi, a columnist for the liberal Sharq newspaper who served two years in prison for criticizing the religious establishment, says that in Iran, skepticism runs deep. “Many Iranians instinctively disbelieve anything their own government says, but they also disbelieve the Americans, and what has happened in Iraq has strengthened that,” Baghi says. “Iranians see the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and they see the American accusations about nuclear weapons as just another pretext for other hidden aims.” (Collier 10/26/2006)
After an investigation into whether an Israeli lobbying organization improperly tried to influence House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) into naming Jane Harman (D-CA) as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005 and October 2005) becomes public knowledge, Harman calls the allegations “irresponsible, laughable, and scurrilous.” Former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, a Republican just hired by Harman to represent her in the matter, tells Time reporter Timothy Burger: “Congresswoman Harman has asked me to follow up on calls you’ve had. She is not aware of any such investigation, does not believe that it is occurring, and wanted to make sure that you and your editors knew that as far as she knows, that’s not true.… No one from the Justice Department has contacted her.” Burger notes that “[i]t is not, however, a given that Harman would know that she is under investigation.” Olson confirms that Harman hired him because even though she doesn’t believe the media reports of the investigation, she takes the possibility seriously. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), allegedly Harman’s partner in the scheme, also denies any wrongdoing, and says it takes no position on the question of who wins the committee assignment, which was perceived to be a contest between Harman and fellow committee member Alcee Hastings (D-FL). AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton says: “Both Congressman Hastings and Congresswoman Harman are strong leaders on issues of importance to the pro-Israel community and would be exemplary Democratic leaders for the House intelligence committee. AIPAC would never engage in a quid pro quo in relation to a federal investigation or any federal matter and the notion that it would do so is preposterous. AIPAC is not aware that the Justice Department is looking into issues involving the intelligence committee, and has not been asked any questions or contacted by the government on this matter, but certainly would cooperate with any inquiry.” Dorton adds that AIPAC has previously been assured that the organization and its current employees are not being investigated. (Burger 10/20/2006)
Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), slated to become the new speaker of the House when the Democrats take over leadership of the House in January 2007, names Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) as the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Reyes, a former soldier and Border Patrol chief before being elected to Congress, is named to the chairmanship over two other Intelligence Committee Democrats, Jane Harman (D-CA) and Alcee Hastings (D-FL), both of whom outrank him on the committee. Generally an advocate for the military, Reyes supports withdrawing from Iraq, and voted against the original war resolution. He has accused the Bush administration of using “cherry-picked” and “manipulated” intelligence to justify invading Iraq. He is also a strong critic of the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). (Gamboa 12/2/2006) Evidence will later show that Harman may have improperly accepted assistance from an Israeli agent, who promised to lobby Pelosi on Harman’s behalf for the chairmanship (see October 2005 and April 19, 2009).
In response to a question asked at a briefing, CIA Director Michael Hayden makes an “offhand comment” to the House Intelligence Committee indicating that tapes the CIA has made of detainee interrogations have been destroyed (see Spring-Late 2002). Although some committee members have been aware of the tapes’ existence since 2003 (see February 2003), this is apparently the first time they learn of their destruction, which occurred over year ago (see November 2005). The destruction is again “briefly mentioned” in a letter to a member of the committee in mid-April. Leading committee members Silvestre Reyes and Peter Hoekstra will later write to Hayden, “We do not consider this to be sufficient notification. Moreover, these brief mentions were certainly not contemporaneous with the decision to destroy the videotapes.” (US Congress 12/7/2007) The Senate Intelligence Committee is apparently not informed until later (see December 7, 2007).
Justice Department official Patrick Philbin testifies in a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee on the subject of interrogation tactics. Philbin testifies that each of the 24 approved interrogation tactics used by US personnel to interrogate terrorist suspects are “plainly lawful.” He notes that laws such as the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and the Uniform Code of Military Justice define, to an extent, what is and is not torture, and prohibit excessive interrogation methods that might come under that rubric. He also notes that the US is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994), which defines torture broadly as the intentional infliction of “severe pain or suffering” by anyone acting in an official capacity. He insists the US has done nothing to violate this treaty, nor the War Crimes Act, the Geneva Conventions, or Fifth and the Eighth Amendments to the US Constitution. Although terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda and “extragovernmental” organizations such as the Taliban do not fall under the protection of the Geneva Conventions, Philbin argues that the US continues to follow its guidelines in its treatment of prisoners from those groups “to the extent consistent with military necessity…” (House Intelligence Committee 7/14/2007 ) However, in 2004, a classified report by the CIA’s Inspector General concluded that some of the interrogation techniques used by the CIA probably did violate the Convention Against Torture (see May 7, 2004).
Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV) disputes Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s characterization of the March 10, 2004 Congressional briefing (see March 10, 2004) regarding the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002) as about other surveillance programs, and not the NSA program now referred to as the Terrorist Surveillance Program (TSP). Gonzales testified earlier today (see July 24, 2007) that the briefing did not cover the NSA program, but Rockefeller says that it did. Rockefeller was at that meeting, then serving as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. Rockefeller confirms that the Congressional leaders at the briefing, known colloquially as the “Gang of Eight,” had no idea about the tremendous dispute over the legality of the wiretapping program. He also says, again in contradiction to Gonzales’s testimony, that they were never asked to draft legislation that would make the wiretapping program legal. As to the topic of discussion, Rockefeller says, “As far as I’m concerned, there’s only one” intelligence program. Rockefeller says at the end of the briefing, most of the lawmakers were still unclear about the nature and extent of the program, nor were they clear as to the White House’s plans for the program. “They were not telling us what was really going on,” Rockefeller says. Asked if he believed that Gonzales had purposely misled the Judiciary Committee today, Rockefeller replies, “I would have to say yes.” (Bresnahan 7/24/2007) He calls Gonzales’s testimony “untruthful.” (Johnston and Shane 7/24/2007)
Other Democrats Bolster Rockefeller's Recollections - Other Democrats present at the briefing add their voices to Rockefeller’s. Jane Harman (D-CA), then the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says Gonzales is inaccurate in his characterizations of the briefing, and that the program under discussion could have only been the NSA wiretapping operation. “That doesn’t make any sense to me,” Harman says. The NSA program was “the only program we were ever briefed about.” Harman and Rockefeller both say that this and later briefings about the program were quite limited in scope. “We were briefed on the operational details—period—not the legal underpinnings,” Harman says. (Roll Call 7/25/2007) Harman adds that Gonzales was apparently being deliberately deceptive in trying to characterize the program as something other than the NSA operation. “The program had different parts, but there was only one program,” she says. Gonzales was, she says, “selectively declassifying information to defend his own conduct,” an action Harman calls improper. (Johnston and Shane 7/24/2007) Harman says that Gonzales should not even have revealed that there had been such a classified briefing, especially revealing such a meeting in order to defend his own contradictory testimonies. “He doesn’t have the authority to do that,” she says. (Menaker 7/25/2007)
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell asks Congress to allow the government to monitor overseas phone calls without warrants. In a letter to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), McConnell says that Congress must “act immediately” to change the law, which he says now requires burdensome court orders that hinder the administration’s efforts to combat terrorism. McConnell is advocating a raft of changes in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) proposed by the Bush administration; Congress is studying the law pending any possible amendments. McConnell writes that “clarifications are urgently needed” in the law to enable the use of “our capabilities to collect foreign intelligence about foreign targets overseas without requirements imposed by an out-of-date FISA statute,” and says he has “deep concern[s]” about the nation’s ability to counter terrorist threats. At issue are overseas phone calls between two international sources, but which travel through US-based terminals or switches. Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the committee, is also pushing for the changes in FISA, calling the proposals “simple fix[es]” that would expedite the US’s ability to monitor terrorist organizations without adversely affecting US civil liberties. But fellow committee member John Tierney (D-MI) disagrees, saying that FISA “already allows for foreign-to-foreign communications to be intercepted” but that the administration “has chosen to say that it wants a warrant nonetheless.” (Pincus 7/28/2007)
The Protect America Act (PAA) (see August 5, 2007), an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA—see 1978), is introduced in Congress. With limited debate and no committee hearings, it passes both houses with substantial majorities. (US Senate 8/5/2007; Savage 8/6/2007; House Judiciary Committee 9/18/2007 ) Congressional Democrats quickly capitulate on the bill, submitting to what the Washington Post later calls “a high-pressure campaign by the White House to change the nation’s wiretap law, in which the administration capitalized on Democrats’ fears of being branded weak on terrorism and on Congress’s desire to act on the issue before its August recess.” (Nakashima and Warrick 8/5/2007) Indeed, one Republican senator, Trent Lott, warns during the initial debate that lawmakers should pass the law quickly and get out of Washington before they could be killed in a terrorist attack (see August 2, 2007). McConnell tells the Senate, “Al-Qaeda is not going on vacation this month.” And Democrat Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), a supporter of the bill, told his colleagues: “We’re at war. The enemy wants to attack us. This is not the time to strive for legislative perfection.” (Keefe 8/6/2007)
Some Democrats Unhappy - One Democratic lawmaker responds angrily: “There are a lot of people who felt we had to pass something. It was tantamount to being railroaded.” Many House Democrats feel betrayed by the White House; Democratic leaders had reached what they believed was a deal on the bill with the Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, only to have the White House throw out the deal and present a new list of conditions at the last minute. Both McConnell and the White House deny that any such deal was reached. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says, “I think the White House didn’t want to take ‘yes’ for an answer from the Democrats.” Representative Jerrold Nadler (R-NY) says lawmakers were “stampeded by fear-mongering and deception” into voting for the bill. Fellow House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) warns that the PAA will lead to “potential unprecedented abuse of innocent Americans’ privacy.” (Nakashima and Warrick 8/5/2007) The ACLU’s Caroline Fredrickson has a succinct explanation of why the Democrats folded so quickly: “Whenever the president says the word terrorism, they roll over and play dead.” (Keefe 8/6/2007)
AT&T Whistleblower: Democratic Leadership Colluded in Passing PAA - AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and December 15-31, 2005) will later write that the Democrats played a far more active role in getting the PAA passed than others acknowledge. He will quote a 2008 column by liberal civil liberties advocate Glenn Greenwald, who will write: “[I]n 2006, when the Congress was controlled by [then-Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-TN] and [then-House Speaker] Denny Hastert [R-IL], the administration tried to get a bill passed legalizing warrantless eavesdropping and telecom amnesty, but was unable. They had to wait until the Congress was controlled by [House Majority Leader] Steny Hoyer [D-MD], [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid [D-NV] to accomplish that.” According to Klein, once the Democrats took control of Congress in January 2007, they engaged in “pure theater, posturing as opponents of the illegal NSA program while seeking a way to protect the president.” The few principled Democrats to actively oppose the legislation, such as Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), were, Klein will write, “hamstrung by their own leadership.” The PAA passage was accompanied by refusals from the Democratic leaders of “the relevant Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, which were now led by Democrats such as [John D.] Rockefeller, [Dianne] Feinstein (see February 1-6, 2006), and [Patrick] Leahy in the Senate, and John Conyers and Sylvestre Reyes in the House,” who “quickly decided not to launch any serious investigations into the NSA spying.” Klein will later add that at the time of the PAA passage, he was unaware of how thoroughly Democrats had been briefed on the NSA program (see October 1, 2001, October 11, 2001, October 25, 2001 and November 14, 2001, July 17, 2003, and March 10, 2004), “and thus were in on the secret but took no action to stop it.” (Greenwald 6/19/2008; Klein 2009, pp. 86-87)
Eleven US veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan demand that Congress open hearings on the pro-war rhetoric of the Bush administration in light of the recently released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran that concluded Iran stopped work on its nuclear weapons program in 2003 (see December 3, 2007). The veterans, leaders and members of the antiwar group VoteVets, write a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX). The letter reads in part, “[W]e are extremely concerned about news that has emerged over the past few days regarding the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran, what it says, and when the President knew about it. We believe the mass confusion over when the President knew of the report’s findings, and whether he continued to ramp up Iran war rhetoric anyway, warrants an immediate investigation by your committees. Our concern, primarily, is that such rhetoric only serves to stoke hostility towards our troops currently in Iraq, and that, if military action against Iran is launched, it has serious repercussions on the lives of our troops and our very military.… Despite the White House having [the information behind the NIE] administration officials continued to use rhetoric designed to sell the American public on the idea of taking military action against Iran.” The veterans note that President Bush apparently lied about when he became aware of the intelligence behind the NIE (see December 3-4, 2007). The veterans ask that the two committees find out the truth behind what Bush knew and when he knew it, and if Bush was aware that the rhetoric from himself and his officials could increase the danger faced by US troops in Iraq. “These questions must be examined and a determination must be made as to why comments such as the ones above were made. If not for legitimate security reasons, did the administration put our troops at increased risk for domestic political reasons?” (VetVoice 12/4/2007)
Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) says that he did not know about the destruction of CIA videos of detainee interrogations (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007). (US Congress 12/7/2007) This contradicts a statement by CIA Director Michael Hayden saying that, “Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed.” (Central Intelligence Agency 12/6/2007) The CIA says that the committee was informed of the destruction in November 2006, but, “A review of the November 2006 hearing transcript finds no mention of tapes being destroyed.” (US Congress 12/7/2007) The House Intelligence Committee was apparently informed in March 2007. (CBS News 12/7/2007) However, the committee will say to Hayden that, “The notification came in the form of an offhand comment you made in response to a question,” and, “We do not consider this to be sufficient notification.” (US Congress 12/7/2007) There is also a dispute over what happened when the committees were first informed of the videos’ existence. Hayden says, “The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material.” (Central Intelligence Agency 12/6/2007) Some political leaders were informed of the tapes in 2003, but urged that they not be destroyed (see November 2005).
Several inquiries are launched into the destruction by the CIA of videotapes showing detainee interrogations.
The Justice Department begins a preliminary inquiry. It writes to the CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, noting he has undertaken to ensure all currently existing records are preserved. (Associated Press 12/8/2007)
The CIA’s Inspector General begins an inquiry. One of the questions it will address is whether the destruction was obstruction of justice. (Jordan 12/11/2007) However, some Democratic lawmakers raise questions about the propriety of inquiries run by the Justice Department, as its lawyers offered advice about the tapes, and the CIA Inspector General, who reviewed the tapes before they were destroyed. (Eggen and Warrick 12/15/2007)
The House Intelligence Committee starts an inquiry. Committee chairman Silvestre Reyes says it is planning a “broad review” of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, but adds, “I’m not looking for scapegoats.” (Mazzetti 12/8/2007) The committee requests all cables, memos and e-mails related to the videotapes, as well as legal advice given to CIA officials before the tapes were destroyed. (Johnston and Mazzetti 12/15/2007)
The Senate Intelligence Committee also begins an inquiry. (Dean 12/14/2007)
The House Judiciary Committee sends letters to CIA Director Michael Hayden and Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking whether the Justice Department provided the CIA with legal advice. (Hess 12/7/2007)
The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigates whether the Federal Records Act has been violated. (Dean 12/14/2007)
There is a debate in a court case involving 11 Guantanamo detainees about whether the tapes were subject to a preservation order issued by the judge in that case (see December 14, 2007).
Several current and former members of Congress have varying recollections of being given a classified briefing in the months after the 9/11 attacks on the interrogation methods being used by the CIA on terror suspects, including waterboarding (see September 2002). Former House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss recalls: “Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing. And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement.” Former Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-FL) says he does not recall ever being briefed about waterboarding or other extreme interrogation methods, “Personally, I was unaware of it, so I couldn’t object.” Graham says he believes waterboarding and many of the other interrogation techniques used by the CIA are illegal and constitute torture. Then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) refuses to comment on the briefings, but a source familiar with her position on the matter says she recalls some discussions of enhanced interrogation, and that she was told the techniques described to her were in the planning stages at the time of the briefings. The source acknowledges that Pelosi raised no objections at the time. Former ranking House Intelligence Committee member Jane Harman (D-CA) says that in the months after the briefing, she filed a classified letter with the CIA officially protesting the interrogation program. Harman says that she had been prevented from publicly revealing the letter, or the CIA interrogation program, because of strict rules of secrecy. “When you serve on intelligence committee you sign a second oath—one of secrecy,” she says. “I was briefed, but the information was closely held to just the Gang of Four. I was not free to disclose anything.” The “Gang of Four” consists of the ranking Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate intelligence committees. Pat Roberts (R-KS), then the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, refuses to discuss his participation in the briefings, as does the then-ranking Democrat on that committee, John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Since 2005, Rockefeller has pushed for expanded Congressional oversight and an investigation of CIA practices. “I proposed without success, both in committee and on the Senate floor, that the committee undertake an investigation of the CIA’s detention and interrogation activities,” Rockefeller says. (Warrick and Eggen 12/9/2007)
Following appearances before the Senate and then House Intelligence Committees, CIA Director Michael Hayden takes a different line than the previous week over the CIA’s destruction of videotapes showing detainee interrogations. When the scandal first broke, he had said: “The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material. Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed.” (Central Intelligence Agency 12/6/2007) However, the committees protested (see December 7, 2007) and, after his closed-door meeting with the House committee on December 12, he says, “particularly at the time of the destruction we could have done an awful lot better at keeping the committee alerted and informed.” (Fox News 12/13/2007) His private explanation to the Senate committee leaves many questions unanswered, but chairman Jay Rockefeller calls it “a useful and not yet complete hearing.” (Hess 12/11/2007) House committee chairman Silvestre Reyes, who expresses the committee’s “frustration” at not being kept informed about the tapes, calls the meeting “the first step in what we feel is going to be a long-term investigation,” and says some parts of Hayden’s briefing are “stunning.” (Fox News 12/13/2007) Hayden points out to both committees that he arrived at the CIA after the tapes had been destroyed, so “Other people in the agency know about this far better than I.” (Hess 12/11/2007)
The Justice Department attempts to delay probes by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees into the destruction of CIA tapes showing detainee interrogations, saying the administration cannot provide the witnesses or documents the committees want, as this may jeopardize its own investigations. Kenneth Wainstein, assistant attorney general for national security, and CIA Inspector General John Helgerson write to congressional intelligence committee leaders saying, “We fully appreciate the committee’s oversight interest in this matter, but want to advise you of concerns that actions responsive to your request would represent significant risk to our preliminary inquiry.” However, Wainstein and Helgerson are unable to say when they will have results. Attorney General Michael Mukasey also rejects a request for details about the Justice Department-CIA inquiry (see December 14, 2007). (Eggen and Warrick 12/15/2007; Johnston and Mazzetti 12/15/2007) House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and Vice Chairman Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) threaten to issue subpoenas and respond in a joint statement: “We are stunned that the Justice Department would move to block our investigation… Parallel investigations occur all of the time, and there is no basis upon which the Attorney General can stand in the way of our work.” (Eggen and Warrick 12/15/2007) They add: “It’s clear that there’s more to this story than we have been told, and it is unfortunate that we are being prevented from learning the facts. The executive branch can’t be trusted to oversee itself.” (Apuzzo 12/15/2007) The New York Times comments, “The inquiry by the House committee had been shaping up as the most aggressive investigation into the destruction of the tapes.” The intelligence committee inquiries are similar to those of the Justice Department and CIA Inspector General, but also aim to determine whether anyone in the executive branch had sought to have the tapes destroyed to eliminate possible evidence that CIA officers had used banned interrogation techniques. (Johnston and Mazzetti 12/15/2007) A CIA spokesman says, “Director Hayden has said the Agency will cooperate fully with both the preliminary inquiry conducted by [Justice Department] and CIA’s Office of Inspector General, and with the Congress. That has been, and certainly still is, the case.” (Eggen and Warrick 12/15/2007) However, the CIA fails to provide documents the House committee has requested. (Johnston and Mazzetti 12/15/2007) Commentator Scott Horton will call this “a conscious decision to shield criminal conduct from exposure before the watchdog appointed by the Constitution: Congress.” (Horton 12/15/2007)
Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and Attorney General Michael Mukasey pen a letter to Silvestre Reyes (D-TX, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, claiming that because the Democratically led Congress has allowed the Protect America Act (PAA) to expire (see February 16, 2008), the government is losing critically needed intelligence on potential terrorist threats. McConnell and Mukasey do not include any evidence of the claim in their letter. In the six days since the PAA expired, the two write, some of the government’s “partners” in intelligence operations—US telecommunications firms—have “reduced [their] cooperation” in the government’s warrantless wiretapping program. The two officials do not name which firms they say have cut back on their cooperation. The telecom firms are more reluctant to continue their cooperation with the government because they do not have retroactive legal immunity from civil and criminal charges for their cooperation in the past. The Bush administration and Congressional Republicans allowed the PAA to expire rather than approve an extension of the law that did not include an immunity clause (see February 23, 2008). In their letter, McConnell and Mukasey claim that since the Protect America Act lapsed, telecom firms “have delayed or refused compliance with our requests to initiate new surveillances of terrorist and other foreign intelligence targets under existing directives issued pursuant to the Protect America Act.” They add, “Although most partners intend to cooperate for the time being, they have expressed deep misgivings about doing so in light of the uncertainty and have indicated that they may well cease to cooperate if the uncertainty persists.” McConnell and Mukasey write that if Congress does not extend immunity to the telecom firms, the firms will continue to be reluctant to cooperate with the surveillance program: “This uncertainty may well continue to cause us to miss information that we otherwise would be collecting.” A day later, the two retract their claim (see February 23, 2008). Reyes and other Democrats have accused the administration of exaggerating the claims of threats to national security because of their refusal to grant the telecoms immunity; some have accused the administration of “fearmongering” and employing “scare tactics.” (Newsweek 2/22/2008; Newsweek 2/22/2008; Allen 2/22/2008)
Democrats Take 'Strong Offense' to Charges - In a joint statement, Reyes, Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), and other Democrats respond to McConnell and Mukasey’s letter: “Further politicizing the debate, the administration today announced that they believe there have been gaps in security since the Protect America Act expired. They cannot have it both ways; if it is true that the expiration of the PAA has caused gaps in intelligence, then it was irresponsible for the president and congressional Republicans to openly oppose an extension of the law. Accordingly, they should join Democrats in extending it until we can resolve our differences.” (Newsweek 2/22/2008) Reyes says: “President Bush has just been spoiled dealing with the Republican-controlled Congress before. I take strong offense at the president’s comments that somehow we’re less safe because the Protect America Act expired.” (Allen 2/22/2008)
Republicans Refuse to Discuss Legislation - Democratic staffers in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees meet today to discuss how to iron out difference between the two chambers’ version of the proposed extension of the PAA; Republican aides refuse to attend. (Hess 2/23/2008) Democrats also charge that, contrary to administration claims of wanting to work with Congress to pass an acceptable update to the law, the White House has refused to supply lawmakers with documents they have requested pertaining to the extension. (Allen 2/22/2008)
Fifty-six Democratic members of the House of Representatives send a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey, asking him to appoint a special counsel to investigate whether top Bush administration officials committed crimes in authorizing the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics against suspected terrorists (see April 2002 and After). The lawmakers, who include John Conyers (D-MI), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and House Intelligence Committee members Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), cite “mounting evidence” that senior officials personally sanctioned the use of such extreme interrogation methods. An independent investigation is needed to determine whether such actions violated US or international law, the letter states. “This information indicates that the Bush administration may have systematically implemented, from the top down, detainee interrogation policies that constitute torture or otherwise violate the law,” the letter says. It adds that a broad inquiry is needed to examine the consequences of administration decisions at US detention sites in Iraq, at Guantanamo, and in secret prisons operated by the CIA. The interrogation methods have resulted in “abuse, sexual exploitation and torture” that may have violated the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the American Anti-Torture Act of 2007. “Despite the seriousness of the evidence, the Justice Department has brought prosecution against only one civilian for an interrogation-related crime,” the letter reads. “Given that record, we believe it is necessary to appoint a special counsel in order to ensure that a thorough and impartial investigation occurs.” Conyers tells reporters after sending the letter, “We need an impartial criminal investigation.” The entire detainee controversy is “a truly shameful episode” in US history, he says. “Because these apparent ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ were used under cover of Justice Department legal opinions, the need for an outside special prosecutor is obvious.” The Justice Department refuses to comment on the letter. Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch says that the letter is significant even if Mukasey refuses to appoint a special counsel. “The fact that so many representatives have called for the investigation helps lay the groundwork for the inevitable reckoning and accounting that the next administration is going to have to do regarding this administration’s practices,” she says. (US House of Representatives 6/6/2008; Warrick 6/7/2008; United Press International 6/7/2008)
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair says the Guantanamo detention facility needs to be closed (see January 22, 2009) because its existence has done serious damage to the US’s reputation and its ability to achieve foreign policy goals. “Countries won’t deal with us,” Blair tells the House Intelligence Committee. “Our popularity’s down. We don’t have blue chips to trade.” (Barrett 2/25/2009; Associated Press 2/25/2009)
Congressional Quarterly reporter Jeff Stein publishes an article alleging that House Democrat Jane Harman (D-CA) was captured on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department to reduce espionage charges against two officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see October 2005). The offer was allegedly made in return for AIPAC’s help in Harman’s attempt to gain the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee (see Summer 2005). Stein’s sources say the wiretap was approved by a federal court as part of an FBI investigation into illegal Israeli covert actions in Washington. Stein also reports on accusations that the FBI investigation into Harman’s activities was halted by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in return for Harman’s support for the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Late 2005). In a statement, Harman says the allegations are false. “These claims are an outrageous and recycled canard, and have no basis in fact,” she says through a spokesman. “I never engaged in any such activity. Those who are peddling these false accusations should be ashamed of themselves.” (Stein 4/19/2009) Harman’s chief of staff, John Hess, later tells reporters that Stein’s story “recycles three-year-old discredited reporting of largely unsourced material to manufacture a ‘scoop’ out of widely known and unremarkable facts—that Congresswoman Jane Harman is and has long been a supporter of AIPAC, and that some members of AIPAC regarded her as well qualified to chair the House Intelligence Committee following the 2006 elections.” Hess adds, “If there is anything about this story that should arouse concern, it is that the Bush administration may have been engaged in electronic surveillance of members of the Congressional intelligence committees.” (Newmyer 4/21/2009)
Explanation of Harman's Failure to Ascend - According to Stein, “[s]uch accounts go a long way toward explaining not only why Harman was denied the gavel of the House Intelligence Committee (see December 2, 2006), but failed to land a top job at the CIA or Homeland Security Department in the Obama administration.” (Stein 4/19/2009)
Bipartisan Corruption - Both Congressional Democrats and their Republican colleagues are remarkably silent on the charges, which, if true, would taint both a high-ranking Congressional Democrat and a former Republican attorney general. “The whole thing smells, and nobody’s hands are clean,” says an aide to a senior Democratic lawmaker. Conservative scholar Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute says, “I don’t think anybody wants to touch it.” Ornstein, who says he knows Harman “very well,” calls the charges a “big embarrassment,” but notes that he would be “very surprised” if the charges proved to be true. The political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is calling for an investigation. CREW executive director Melanie Sloan says, “If Rep. Harman agreed to try to influence an ongoing criminal investigation in return for help securing a committee chairmanship, her conduct not only violates federal law and House rules, but also her oath to uphold the Constitution.” (Newmyer 4/21/2009)
At an emergency meeting, CIA Director Leon Panetta tells the House and Senate intelligence committees of a CIA program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). (Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009; Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009) Panetta learned of the program the previous day and immediately canceled it (see June 23, 2009). The lawmakers had not previously received information about the program, apparently at the direction of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002). Panetta says he thinks the lawmakers should have been told earlier, because the program had moved beyond the planning stage and therefore deserved Congressional scrutiny. (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009)
The House Intelligence Committee launches an investigation into whether the CIA broke the law by failing to notify Congress about an agency program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders. The program was initiated shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001), but Congress was not notified of it, apparently at the instruction of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002), until it was shut down in July 2009 (see June 23, 2009 and June 24, 2009). (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009) Congressional Democrats are furious that the program was not shared with the House Committee and with its Senate counterpart. However, some Congressional Republicans say that as Congress had already approved broad authorities for the CIA after 9/11, the CIA was not required to brief lawmakers on specifics about the program, which never became operational. (Shane 7/12/2009; Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009)
Both the New York Times and Washington Post report that in 2004, the CIA hired outside contractors from Blackwater USA, a private security firm, to take part in a secret program to find and kill top al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere (see 2004). Both stories highlight the fact that a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders that began around September 2001 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) was terminated and then revived and outsourced to Blackwater in 2004 (see 2004 and (2005-2006)). CIA Director Leon Panetta alerted Congress to the secret program in June 2009 (see June 24, 2009), but the public is just now learning of its existence. Government officials say that bringing contractors into a program that has the authority to kill raises serious concerns about accountability in covert operations. Blackwater’s role in the program ended years before Panetta took over the agency, but senior CIA officials have long questioned the propriety and the wisdom of using outside contractors—in essence, mercenaries—in a targeted killing program. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009; Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009) A retired intelligence officer described as “intimately familiar with the assassination program” says, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” (Scahill 8/20/2009) The assassination program is just one of a number of contracted services Blackwater provided for the CIA, and may still provide, including guarding CIA prisons and loading missiles on Predator drones. The agency “has always used contractors,” says a former CIA official familiar with the Predator operations. “You have to be an explosives expert,” and the CIA has never sought to use its own personnel for the highly specialized task. “We didn’t care who put on the munitions as long as it wasn’t CIA case officers.” (Miller 8/21/2009)
No Laws Broken? - Former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith says that Blackwater may not have broken any laws even by attempting to assassinate foreign nationals on the CIA’s orders. “The use of force has been traditionally thought of as inherently governmental,” he says. “The use of a contractor actually employing lethal force is clearly troublesome, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily illegal.” (Miller 8/21/2009)
Mixed Reactions from Congress - Some Congressional Democrats say that the secret assassination program is just one of many secret programs conducted by the Bush administration, and have called for more intensive investigations into Bush-era counterterrorism activities. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says: “I have believed for a long time that the intelligence community is over-reliant on contractors to carry out its work. This is especially a problem when contractors are used to carry out activities that are inherently governmental.” Conversely, some Congressional Republicans are critical of Panetta’s decision to terminate the program, with Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, accusing Panetta of indulging in too much “drama and intrigue than was warranted.” Officials say that the program was conceived as an alternative to the CIA’s primary assassination method of missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have killed many innocent civilians and cannot be used in heavily populated urban areas. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009; Miller 8/21/2009) Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says that she cannot confirm or deny that Congress was informed of Blackwater’s involvement in the program before the New York Times broke the story. However, she notes: “What we know now, if this is true, is that Blackwater was part of the highest level, the innermost circle strategizing and exercising strategy within the Bush administration. [Blackwater CEO] Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because Vice President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress. This shows that there was absolutely no space whatsoever between the Bush administration and Blackwater.” Schakowsky says the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the CIA assassination program and will probe alleged links to Blackwater. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern says: “The presidential memos (often referred to as ‘findings’) authorizing covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced. They will, in due course, if knowledgeable sources continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths.” (Scahill 8/20/2009)
Blackwater Employs Many Former CIA Officials - Author and reporter Jeremy Scahill notes that many former Bush-era CIA officials now work at Blackwater, including former CIA executive director Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard; former CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black, who now operates Prince’s private intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS); the CEO of TIS, Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations; and Enrique “Ric” Prado, a former senior executive officer in the Directorate of Operations. (Scahill 8/20/2009)
Loss of Control, Deniability - Former CIA field agent Jack Rice, who worked on covert paramilitary operations for the agency, says, “What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me.” He explains: “When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly they lose control and don’t understand what’s going on. That makes it even worse is that you then can turn around and have deniability. They can say, ‘It wasn’t us, we weren’t the ones making the decisions.’ That’s the best of both worlds. It’s analogous to what we hear about torture that was being done in the name of Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to the Syrians or the Egyptians or others and then we turn around and say, ‘We’re not torturing people.’” (Scahill 8/20/2009)
Negative Publicity Led to Name Change, Prohibition from Operating in Iraq - Blackwater has since changed its name to Xe Services, in part because of a raft of negative publicity it has garnered surrounding allegations of its employees murdering Iraqi civilians; Iraq has denied the firm a license to operate within its borders. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009) However, Blackwater continues to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has contracts with the State Department and Defense Department. The CIA refuses to acknowledge whether it still contracts with Blackwater. (Scahill 8/20/2009)
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