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CIA Assistant Deputy Director for Operations (ADDO) Stephen Kappes coaches a CIA officer in the field on what to write in a cable about the death of a detainee at the agency’s Salt Pit prison. The detainee, Gul Rahman, had been doused with water and left in the cold, later being found dead (see November 20, 2002). Reporter Jeff Stein will say that Kappes coaches the “base chief” over the cable, so presumably this means the officer responsible for the prison. (Stein 3/25/2010) This officer’s full name is not known, but his last name is Zirbel. (Mahoney and Johnson 10/9/2009 ) According to two officials who read a report by the CIA’s inspector general on the killing, Kappes coaches Zirbel on how to deal with the incident. “The ADDO’s direction to the field officer anticipated that something worse had occurred and so gave him directions on how to report the situation in his cable,” one of the officials will say. “The ADDO basically told the officer, ‘Don’t put something in the report that can’t be proved or that you are going to have trouble explaining.’ In essence, the officer was told: Be careful what you put in your cable because the investigators are coming out there and they will pick your cable apart, and any discrepancies will be difficult to explain.” As a result, the official will say, Zirbel’s cable is “minimalist in its reporting” on what happened to Rahman. “It seems to me the ADDO should have been telling him, ‘Report the truth, don’t hold anything back, there’s an investigative team coming out, be honest and forthright. But that was not the message that was given to the chief of base by the ADDO.” CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano will later deny this, calling this account “pathetic,” but will not say exactly what is wrong with it. (Stein 3/25/2010)
A dispute breaks out at the CIA after a proposal is made to render an Islamist extremist named Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr from Italy to Egypt. Nasr had previously informed for the CIA (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After), but had been close to a senior al-Qaeda figure (see Summer 2000). Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA’s senior official in Milan, disagrees with the plan. The CIA and local Italian authorities are co-operating on surveillance of Nasr, and in a few months Lady thinks they will have enough evidence to arrest and convict him. In addition, kidnapping a man in Italy could endanger US-Italian relations. However, the rendition is supported by Jeff Castelli, the chief of the CIA station in Rome. (Cole 3/2007 ) Reporter Jeff Stein will even say that the rendition is Castelli’s “brainchild.” (Stein 4/19/2008) Opinion appears to be divided at CIA headquarters. According to one account, the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center is against the idea, but the plan is ultimately approved by unspecified CIA managers. (Cole 3/2007 ) According to another account, it is the Counterterrorist Center that approves the rendition. (Stein 4/19/2008) One of the CIA officials involved in the rendition is Stephen Kappes, assistant director of the Directorate of Operations. However, details of his opinions on it are unknown. (Donadio 11/4/2009) CIA Director George Tenet also agrees to the rendition. (Cole 3/2007 )
Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) becomes embroiled in a plot by Iranian arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar to contrive a secret uranium exchange between Iran and Iraq. According to Ghorbanifar’s story (see January 11, 2006), just before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, a team of Iranian intelligence agents infiltrated Iraq and stole enriched uranium for use in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The story is later proven to be false, and based on a desire for money and to embroil Iran and Iraq in a spurious WMD plot. After first being contacted by a mysterious Iranian source through a friend and a colleage on March 7, Weldon repeatedly flies to Paris to meet with the source he later calls “Ali,” who is later shown to be Fereidoun Mahdavi, a former minister in the Shah’s Iran who now works as a secretary for Ghorbanifar. Mahdavi has already tried, and failed, to interest several Western intelligence agencies in the stolen uranium tale. He finds Weldon to be far more credulous than the intelligence agencies. According to an intelligence source interviewed in 2006, “Ali provided information that indicated Iranian intelligence had sent a team to Baghdad to extract highly enriched uranium from a stockpile hidden by Saddam Hussein.” Ali tells Weldon that an Iranian intelligence team infiltrated Iraq and stole the uranium for Iran’s nuclear weapons program. According to the story, “the team successfully extracted the stockpile but on the way back to Iran contracted radiation poisoning.” Weldon immediately informs CIA Director George Tenet. Weldon will later write in his book Countdown to Terror: “Tenet appeared interested, even enthusiastic about evaluating Ali and establishing a working relationship with him. He agreed to send his top spy, Stephen Kappes, the deputy director of operations, along with me to Paris for another debriefing of Ali.… On the day of our scheduled second meeting with Ali in Paris, Kappes bowed out, claiming that ‘other commitments’ compelled him to cancel. Later, the CIA claimed to have met with Ali independently. But I discovered this to be untrue.… Incredibly, I learned that the CIA had apparently asked French intelligence to silence Ali.” Weldon is wrong; the CIA’s Paris station chief, Bill Murray, investigates the claims and finds Ghorbanifar (whom either he or the agency mistakenly believes to be “Ali”) to be what the agency calls a “fabricator.” Murray goes so far as to take either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi to Iraq to have them retrace the route of the Iranian intelligence mission. “Ali” is unable to do so, and Murray learns that the entire story was concocted in hopes of a large payoff: “Soon it became apparent that Ali and his sources were fabricators and were trying to extract large sums of money,” one intelligence source will say. (Murray will later deny going to Iraq with either Ghorbanifar or Mahdavi, but will call “the source” “not credible.… The sensational charges that the source made could not be substantiated.” Weldon, not to be denied, takes his story to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who pressures the CIA to investigate further. One former CIA officer later says, “CIA reluctantly, after pressure from Rumsfeld, followed up by detaching one of their weapons experts from the team that was hunting WMD in Iraq.” Again, this effort proves that Ghorbanifar’s story is completely false. In 2006, reporter Larisa Alexandrovna will call Weldon an “innocent bystander taken in by an internationally known con man and the lure of spook-like activities than an inside player with an agenda or material participant in these events. The Ali composite seems to have used Weldon as a conduit by which to provide the CIA with information.” One intelligence official will observe, “If you were going to launder intel to make up a war, you could easily send some fool on an errand.” (Alexandrovna 1/11/2006) Weldon will meet again with Mahdavi, and will write about a lurid Iranian terror plot, the “12th Imam” scheme, based on his tales (see June 8, 2005 and Mid-July 2005). He will claim that the CIA has “routinely” ignored “credible” information about these and other plots.
Hours after new CIA Director Porter Goss issues a memo telling agency officials that it must support the Bush administration (see November-December 2004 and November 17, 2004), Deputy Director of Operations Stephen Kappes becomes one of the first casualties of Goss’s White House-orchestrated “purge” of the agency. Kappes resigns after his deputy, Michael Sulick, criticizes Goss’s chief of staff, Pat Murray; in turn, Murray sends Sulick what the agency’s head of European operations, Tyler Drumheller, calls “a truly obnoxious e-mail” that “accused Sulick and Kappes, two of the most experienced, respected men in the building, of being fools and lacking integrity.” Murray then orders Kappes to fire Sulick; instead, Kappes and Sulick both submit their resignations. They are the first of over 20 senior CIA officials to leave the agency. (Wilson 2007, pp. 212-213) A former senior CIA official says that the White House “doesn’t want Steve Kappes to reconsider his resignation. That might be the spin they put on it, but they want him out.” Kappes’s job may be offered to Drumheller. (Royce 11/14/2004) In 2006, Kappes will return—after Goss’s abrupt resignation (see May 5, 2006)—as deputy director of the CIA (see June 1, 2006).
Almost two years after resigning from the CIA (see Early November, 2004), Stephen Kappes agrees to return as deputy director for the new agency head, General Michael Hayden. Kappes is leaving his position as the chief operating officer for ArmorGroup International, a British security firm, to take the position. He is a former Marine with 25 years of service in the CIA. He is fluent in Russian and Farsi, and took part in agency operations against Iran while serving in the Frankfurt, Germany, station. After the 1991 Gulf War, Kappes reopened the CIA’s Kuwait station. He also was a key participant in the agency’s attempts to find information on nuclear black marketeer A. Q. Khan. He was deputy director for operations under former CIA chief George Tenet before coming into conflict with Tenet’s replacement, Porter Goss (see September 24, 2004). Kappes was one of the first of many CIA officials to leave the agency under Goss’s tenure, either by resignation or by firing as Goss attempted to purge the agency of all but Bush administration loyalists (see November-December 2004). (Mazzetti 5/30/2006; Burger 6/1/2006) In May, CNN reported that Kappes was being offered the job in part to assuage concerns among members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who doubt Hayden’s ability to lead the agency and question whether he will run it in a nonpartisan fashion. Many observers see Kappes’s return both as a repudiation of Goss, who abruptly resigned over allegations of involvement with prostitutes and bribery schemes (see May 5, 2006), and as a potential brake on any possible instances of Hayden putting his loyalty to the Bush administration over his loyalties to the CIA and the nation. John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, said when Kappes’s nomination for the position was announced: “I believe that Mike’s appointment, and I think together if the appointment of Steve Kappes goes through, I think that’s going to be a boost for the morale out there. And I think they’re going to welcome this new leadership.” Hayden himself has said that Kappes’s return is a signal that “amateur hour” is over. Former clandestine CIA agent Milt Bearden says, “The simple fact is that he is a very solid choice to come to the agency at a time when it is extremely wobbly.” And a former top CIA official says: “The really good people are happy he’s coming back. The ones who are scared of him should be scared of him.” (CNN 5/9/2006; Mazzetti 5/30/2006)
In autumn 2006, President Bush declares in a White House news conference that al-Qaeda is “on the run,” but in fact intelligence reports are indicating that al-Qaeda is gaining strength in its safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region. The New York Times will later comment, “with senior Bush administration officials consumed for much of that year with the spiraling violence in Iraq, the al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan was not at the top of the White House agenda.” Frustrated, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top US commander in Afghanistan, orders military officers, CIA, and US special forces to assemble a dossier documenting the Pakistani government’s role in allowing militants to establish their safe haven in the tribal region. According to the Times, “Behind the general’s order was a broader feeling of outrage within the military—at a terrorist war that had been outsourced to an unreliable ally, and at the grim fact that America’s most deadly enemy had become stronger.” When Eikenberry finally presents his dossier to several members of Bush’s cabinet, some inside the State Department and the CIA dismiss his warning as exaggerated and simplistic. (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008) On February 13, 2007, Eikenberry states publicly before a Congressional committee that NATO cannot win in Afghanistan without addressing the safe haven across the border in Pakistan. He does not publicly discuss Pakistan’s support for the militants, but he does say, “A steady, direct attack against the command and control in Pakistan in sanctuary areas is essential for us to achieve success.” He also warns that the US is facing a “reconstituted enemy” and “growing narcotics trafficking” in Afghanistan, which could lead to “the loss of legitimacy” of the government there. Eikenberry is already due to be replaced as commander of US forces in Afghanistan by the time he makes these blunt comments. (Tyson 2/14/2007; Rashid 2008, pp. 383) The White House responds by sending Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes to Islamabad, Pakistan, later in February (see February 26, 2007). But there is little apparent change in Pakistan’s behavior. (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)
The US intelligence community begins plumbing the data they have compiled on Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attempt to shore up the Bush administration’s premature conclusion that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Instead, their conclusions are that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In the process, White House aides begin a program of “deep dives,” or special briefings for President Bush to meet with not only his advisers but the actual analysts who study Iranian intelligence data, in an attempt to allow Bush to “get his hands dirty” with real intelligence and not just pre-digested summaries. Bush is dismayed at the lack of solid intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and asks for more. When the intelligence community does provide more, it finds more and more evidence that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years before. Those conclusions will be released in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) a year later (see December 3, 2007).
Troubling Conclusions, White House Spin - Bush and his top officials don’t like the findings; if true, the reports disprove the entirety of the administration’s push to define Iran as an imminent threat to the Middle East. White House officials are initially skeptical, believing that the intelligence community might be a victim of Iranian disinformation. The intelligence agencies create a special “red team” of analysts to thoroughly test and, if possible, discredit the information. They are unable to do so. “They tried to figure out what exactly it would take to perpetrate that kind of deception, how many people would be involved, how they would go about doing it, when it would have been set up and so forth,” says one intelligence official. Analysts “scrubbed and rescrubbed” more than 1,000 pieces of evidence but conclude Iran’s program really had been shut down. Faced with that conclusion, the White House decides to focus on the findings that confirm their suspicions—that Iran did have a secret weapons program that could be restarted again. No one in the White House suggests that Bush tone down his rhetoric or change his policies towards Iran. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell decides to keep the new findings secret, the same position adopted by Vice President Cheney (see October 2006 and November 10, 2007). Only the Israelis are told of the new findings; Congress, the US’s European allies, and the UN’s monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are told nothing. McConnell will reluctantly change his mind out of a fear of leaks and possible charges of a coverup. That decision may come back to haunt the administration, particularly with the ill-will it will create among the US’s allies. Former State Department nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn says, “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date. The French had carried the administration’s water on this issue and really went out on a limb to get the European Union to adopt tough sanctions. And now the rug has been pulled out from under them.”
New NIE Draft Sparks Controversy - An NIE the year before (see August 2, 2005) had led the US to conclude that Iran was actively working on a nuclear weapons program. Congressional Democrats, not entirely convinced by the NIE’s conclusions and increasingly resistant to Bush’s push for confrontation with Iran, asks for a new NIE. Bush wants the new NIE to confirm his accusations and, in one official’s words, “get more information on Iran so we know what they’re up to.” The 2005 NIE had been based largely on information about Iran’s “Project 1-11,” a program that Iran is apparently pursuing to retrofit a ballistic missile to carry nuclear warheads (see Summer 2004). But no new information on Project 1-11 has been secured in three years, and the administration insists on new confirmations. “They just wouldn’t budge,” one agency official recalls. A new draft is completed in June, provoking heated discussions among agency and administration officials. CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Keith Alexander begin directing their agencies to closely monitor Iranians who were involved in their country’s nuclear program. Soon, communications intercepts from key Iranian officials indicate that the program had been mothballed in 2003. Some of the officials discuss their belief that the program may never be restarted.
Evolving NIE - As the draft NIE evolves, McConnell, with the assistance of his deputies Thomas Fingar and Donald Kerr, both national security veterans, lay down ground rules. One official later says that McConnell “quickly got the mantra down: ‘We must make a clear distinction between what we know and don’t know and what we judge to be the case.’” The internal debate over the NIE is sharp and often contentious. McConnell will finally inform Bush of the new conclusions—that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003—in August (see December 5, 2007 and December 3-4, 2007). In September, House and Senate intelligence committee members are informed as well. A September draft radically differs from the June version, based in large part on the communications intercepts and the exhaustive analysis on the data possessed by the CIA and NIE. The chief analysts are grilled by Hayden and his deputy Stephen Kappes, but the analyses stand up. Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and other key officials will be given a preliminary briefing on the new NIE on November 15; Bush, finalizing a Middle East peace conference in which he will try to rally Middle Eastern countries against Iran, is not officially told of the new NIE until November 28. Bush immediately tells Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (see November 26-28, 2007), and Cheney appraises Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak. Discussions about whether or not to keep the NIE secret lead to McConnell’s decision to make a declassified version public. A top intelligence official says, “We knew it would leak, so honesty required that we get this out ahead, to prevent it from appearing to be cherry picking.” (Baker and Linzer 12/8/2007)
President-elect Barack Obama orders two days of secret briefings with the CIA on interrogation policies and procedures. He sends his chief counsel, Gregory Craig; his nominated National Security Adviser, James Jones; foreign policy adviser Denis McDonough; former senators David Boren (D-OK) and Chuck Hagel (R-NE); and former CIA general counsel Jeffrey H. Smith to Langley. They meet with CIA Director Michael Hayden, his deputy Stephen Kappes, and about 20 senior CIA officials, who brief Obama’s team on the agency’s counterterrorism and rendition programs. In the briefings, Hayden and his colleagues argue for the preservation of the agency’s secret prison and torture programs. Hayden acknowledges that the agency stopped using the secret prisons in 2006, and says that agency operatives stopped using waterboarding as an interrogation method in 2003. He wants the CIA to retain its option to use other “harsh methods” as needed. During the briefings, CIA officials acknowledge that some foreign intelligence agencies have begun withholding information about suspected terrorists from the agency for fear that they might become implicated in the eventual torture of those suspects. As Boren and Smith will later recall, the group is not convinced that whatever useful intelligence those methods may have garnered warrants keeping them as an option. “They said that they had produced valuable intelligence,” Smith will recall. “We took them at their word.” However, the group decides that “whatever utility it had at the outset… the secret prisons and enhanced techniques were no longer playing a useful role—the costs outweighed the gains.” Those costs include the palpable damage to America’s identity and values, and the lost credibility and prestige among many of its closest allies. Boren will later call attending the briefings “one of the most deeply disturbing experiences I have had.… I wanted to take a bath when I heard it. I was ashamed of it.” He believes that “fear was used to justify the use of techniques that violate our values and weaken our intelligence,” and that the agency did not prove those methods “are particularly effective at getting the truth.” (Smith, Shear, and Pincus 4/24/2009)
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