Profile: Operation Copper Green
Operation Copper Green was a participant or observer in the following events:
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld authorizes the creation of a “special-access program,” or SAP, with “blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate ‘high value’ targets in the Bush administration’s war on terror.” The operation, known as “Copper Green,” is approved by Condoleezza Rice and known to President Bush. A SAP is an ultra secret project, the contents of which are known by very few officials. “We’re not going to read more people than necessary into our heart of darkness,” a former senior intelligence official tells investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. The SAP is brought up occasionally within the National Security Council (NSC), chaired by the president and members of which are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Powell. The former intelligence official tells Hersh, “There was a periodic briefing to the National Security Council giving updates on results, but not on the methods.” He also says he believes NSC members know about the process by which these results are acquired. This official claims that fewer than two hundred operatives and officials, including Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers were “completely read into the program.” Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone is generally in charge of running such operations. Motive for the SAP comes from an initial freeze in the results obtained by US agents from their hunt for al-Qaeda. Friendly foreign intelligence services on the other hand, from countries in the Middle East and South-East Asia, which employ more aggressive tactics on prisoners, are giving up much better information by the end of 2001. By authorizing the SAP, Rumsfeld, according to Hersh, desires to adopt these tactics and thus increase intelligence results. “Rumsfeld’s goal was to get a capability in place to take on a high-value target—a stand-up group to hit quickly,” the former intelligence official tells Hersh. The program’s operatives were recruited from among Delta Force, Navy Seals, and CIA’s paramilitary experts. They are permitted to carry out “instant interrogations—using force if necessary—at secret CIA detention centers scattered around the world.” Information obtained through the program is sent to the Pentagon in real-time. The former intelligence official tells Hersh: “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’” The operation, according to Seymour Hersh, “encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation.” [New Yorker, 5/24/2004; Guardian, 9/13/2004] Both the Defense Department and CIA deny the existence of Copper Green. One Pentagon spokesman says of Hersh’s article about it, “This is the most hysterical piece of journalist malpractice I have ever observed.” [CNN, 5/17/2004]
In late 2001 or early 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld creates Operation Copper Green, which is a “special access program” with “blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate ‘high value’ targets.” especially al-Qaeda leaders (see Late 2001-Early 2002). According to a Pentagon counterterrorism consultant involved in the operation, the authorizations are “very calibrated” and vague in order to minimize political risk. “The CIA never got the exact language it wanted.” According to a high-level CIA official involved in the operation, the White House would hint to the CIA that the CIA should operate outside official guidelines to do what it wants to do. The CIA will later deny this, but CIA Director George Tenet will later acknowledge that there had been a struggle “to get clear guidance” in terms of how far to go during detainee interrogations. Slowly, official authorizations are expanded, and according to journalist Seymour Hersh, they turn “several nations in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia into free-fire zones with regard to high-value targets.” But Copper Green has top-level secrecy and runs outside normal bureaucracies and rules. According to Hersh, “In special cases, the task forces could bypass the chain of command and deal directly with Rumsfeld’s office.” One CIA officer tells Hersh that the task-force teams “had full authority to whack—to go in and conduct ‘executive action,’” meaning political assassination. The officer adds, “It was surrealistic what these guys were doing. They were running around the world without clearing their operations with the ambassador or the chief of station.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007] Another former intelligence official tells Hersh, “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’” [Guardian, 9/13/2004] The above-mentioned high-level CIA official will claim, “The dirt and secrets are in the back channel. All this open business—sitting in staff meetings, etc…, etc…—is the Potemkin Village stuff.” Over time, people with reservations about the program get weeded out. The official claims that by 2006, “the good guys… are gone.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]
According to journalist Seymour Hersh, by the summer of 2003, US-led forces have conquered Iraq but it becomes increasingly obvious that there is a growing insurgency movement. However, the US knows very little about the insurgency. A secret military report from the time states, “Human intelligence is poor or lacking… due to the dearth of competence and expertise.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his close assistant Under-Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Steven Cambone try to solve this problem by authorizing increasingly aggressive interrogation of detainees in Iraq prisons. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, commander of the Guantanamo (or “Gitmo”) prison in Cuba, comes to Iraq with a plan to “Gitmoize” the prisons in Iraq to make them more geared towards interrogation (see August 31, 2003-September 9, 2003). A former intelligence official will later tell Hersh, “They weren’t getting anything substantive from the detainees in Iraq. No names. Nothing that they could hang their hat on. Cambone says, I’ve got to crack this thing and I’m tired of working through the normal chain of command. I’ve got this apparatus set up—the black special-access program—and I’m going in hot.” The program mentioned is Operation Copper Green, which allows secret task forces to capture and interrogate wanted figures with very little oversight, and which is expanded to Iraq around this time. This official continues, “And it’s working. We’re getting a picture of the insurgency in Iraq and the intelligence is flowing into the white world. We’re getting good stuff. But we’ve got more targets” - meaning Iraqi detainees -“than people who can handle them.” As a result, Cambone decides to include some of the military intelligence officers working in the Iraqi prisons in the special access programs that are a part of Operation Copper Green. “So here are fundamentally good soldiers—military-intelligence guys—being told that no rules apply. And, as far as they’re concerned, this is a covert operation, and its’ to be kept within Defense Department channels.” As a result, more and more people, including the MPs (military police) pictured in the later Abu Ghraib abuse photographs, get involved in these covert programs that have almost no accountability and the stage is set for abuses to occur. The official says, “as soon as you enlarge the secret program beyond the oversight capability of experienced people, you lose control.” By the end of 2003, this official claims that senior CIA officials were complaining. “They said, ‘No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistan—pre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targets—and now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streets.’” The CIA supposedly ends its involvement with the covert programs in Iraqi prisons, although exactly when this happens is not clear. [New Yorker, 5/24/2004]
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone decide that they will extend the scope of “Copper Green,” originally created for Afghanistan (see Late 2001-Early 2002), to Abu Ghraib. According to Seymour Hersh, “The male prisoners could [now] be treated roughly, and exposed to sexual humiliation.” A former intelligence official will tell Hersh: “They weren’t getting anything substantive from the detainees in Iraq. No names. Nothing that they could hang their hat on. Cambone says, I’ve got to crack this thing and I’m tired of working through the normal chain of command. I’ve got this apparatus set up—the black special access program—and I’m going in hot. So he pulls the switch, and the electricity begins flowing… . And it’s working. We’re getting a picture of the insurgency in Iraq and the intelligence is flowing into the white world. We’re getting good stuff. But we’ve got more targets [prisoners in Iraqi jails] than people who can handle them.” In addition to bringing SAP rules into the Iraqi prisons, Cambone decides that Army military intelligence officers working inside Iraqi prisons will be brought under the SAP’s auspices, and in fact allowed the use of more aggressive interrogation techniques. “So here are fundamentally good soldiers—military intelligence guys—being told that no rules apply,” Hersh’s source also says. [New Yorker, 5/24/2004; Guardian, 9/13/2004] Knowledge of aggressive interrogation techniques may also have slipped inside the walls of Abu Ghraib via Special Forces soldiers delivering and interrogating prisoners and private contractors who used to be members of Special Forces. Many of Special Forces soldiers have gained this knowledge inter alia because they have been taught how to resist these techniques if subjected to them. Such training is given to both British and US Special Forces. An anonymous former British officer later recognizes the techniques used at Abu Ghraib as the type of tactics used for these trainings. The characterizing feature of the techniques they are trained to withstand is sexual humiliation through nudity and degrading poses. During training sessions, female soldiers mocked naked detainees and forced cruel sexual jokes on them to “prolong the shock of capture,” according to the British officer. The techniques included hooding, sleep deprivation, time disorientation, and lack of warmth, food, and water. “[T]he whole experience is horrible,” according to the British ex-officer. “Two of my colleagues couldn’t cope with the training at the time. One walked out saying ‘I’ve had enough,’ and the other had a breakdown. It’s exceedingly disturbing.” [Guardian, 5/8/2004]
The interrogations at Abu Ghraib are taken over by the special access program, “Copper Green”
(see Late 2001-Early 2002).
“Hard-core special operatives, some of them with aliases,” are sent to the prison. SAP operatives, CIA operatives, civilian contractors, and officers from the 205th Military Brigade are now in charge. At their request, MPs of the 372nd Military Police Brigade “soften up” prisoners by subjecting them to intense physical, mental, and sexual abuse. Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, the commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade, who is presumably in charge of Iraq’s prisons and detention camps, does not understand what is going on at Abu Ghraib. “I thought most of the civilians there were interpreters, but there were some civilians that I didn’t know,” Karpinski will later explain to Seymour Hersh. “I called them the disappearing ghosts. I’d seen them once in a while at Abu Ghraib and then I’d see them months later. They were nice—they’d always call out to me and say, ‘Hey, remember me? How are you doing?’ [They were] always bringing in somebody for interrogation or waiting to collect somebody going out.” But the CIA quickly grows weary of the program. A former intelligence official will later explain to Hersh: “They said, ‘No way. We signed up for the core program in Afghanistan—pre-approved for operations against high-value terrorist targets—and now you want to use it for cabdrivers, brothers-in-law, and people pulled off the streets.’… The CIA’s legal people objected” and ended the SAP program at Abu Ghraib. [New Yorker, 5/24/2004]
Shortly after 9/11, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld authorized the creation of Special Access Program (SAP) task forces that are given blanket authority in advance to kill or interrogate high-value targets anywhere in the world (see Late 2001-Early 2002). In April, 2005, an unnamed US Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) officer complains in a memo to CIA headquarters that it is impossible to investigate members of a SAP force suspected of prisoner abuse. “[We have been] unable to thoroughly investigate… due to the suspects and witnesses involvement in Special Access Programs (SAP) and/or the security classification of the unit they were assigned to during the offense under investigation.” Attempts by investigators to be given security clearance to understand the programs have been unsuccessful. Furthermore, the officer writes that “fake names were used” by members of the task force, and the force claims they had a “major computer malfunction which resulted in them losing 70 per cent of their files; therefore, they can’t find the cases we need to review.” The officer concludes that the investigation “does not need to be reopened. Hell, even if we reopened it we wouldn’t get any more information than we already have.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]
A New Yorker article by journalist Seymour Hersh claims that the abuses committed at Abu Ghraib in 2003 were covered up at a high political level in order to protect a clandestine operation called Copper Green where Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) task forces were given virtually unlimited preapproved authority to capture and interrogate high ranking al-Qaeda figures (see Late 2001-Early 2002). JSOC interrogation techniques were brought to Abu Ghraib prison right when the worst documented abuses began taking place (see (Late August 2003 or September 2003)). One anonymous former senior intelligence official tells Hersh that when photographs of the Abu Ghraib abuses were published, some in the Pentagon and the White House “didn’t think the photographs were that bad” because they put the focus on low ranking soldiers instead of on the secret task force operations. A Pentagon counterterrorism consultant also tells Hersh that the “basic strategy was ‘prosecute the kids in the photographs but protect the big picture.’” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]
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