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Profile: William H. Webster

Positions that William H. Webster has held:

  • Director of the CIA (5/26/1987-8/31/1991)

William H. Webster was a participant or observer in the following events:

Despite a well-documented pattern of escalating violence (see February 1977 or 1978, February 1978, 1979, January 1982, May 1982, August 1982, 1984, and 1984), FBI Director William Webster declares that the spate of clinic bombings and attacks by anti-abortionists does not conform to the federal definition of terrorism, and therefore is not a priority for federal investigation. [Kushner, 2003, pp. 38-39]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, William H. Webster

Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

The Justice Department issues a memo formally authorizing the use of rendition as a technique by the CIA and FBI to transport terrorist suspects from foreign countries. The terrorists are to be brought to the US, where they will face trial. This is the first known official use of the term rendition, although it is already in informal use. According to CIA Director William Webster, the technique is to be used in countries like Lebanon, due to the poor state of the judicial system there, and the other country’s government does not have to be informed or approve the operation. Webster will comment, “It seems to me that you have a different set of circumstances in a country like Lebanon which has no capacity to provide law enforcement or assistance than going to another neighbor such as Sweden or someplace and lifting somebody out of there.” Webster will point out that US courts will not consider seizing a terrorist in another country a bar to trying him in the US, as courts “do not much care how the defendant happened to come into America.” [Washington Post, 11/4/1989; Grey, 2007, pp. 133-134] At least one such rendition operation was carried out before the memo was issued (see September 18, 1987).

Entity Tags: William H. Webster, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

CIA director William Webster acknowledges to Congress that Iraq is the largest producer of chemical weapons in the world. [US Congress, 3/1989]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, William H. Webster

Timeline Tags: US-Iraq 1980s

The US briefs Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on Pakistan’s nuclear program, and says it has decided to cut off aid to Pakistan in 1990, because US law does not permit aid to nuclear proliferators (see August 1985 and June 1989). However, current President George Bush and his predecessor Ronald Reagan falsely certified that Pakistan did not have nuclear weapons during the Soviet-Afghan war (see August 1985-October 1990 and 1987-1989). The initial briefing is provided by CIA Director William Webster and contains new information for Bhutto, who receives only limited information about her own country’s nuclear program (see After November 16, 1988). To dramatize the extent of American knowledge, Webster arranges for Bhutto to be shown a mockup of a Pakistani nuclear bomb. Mark Siegel, an associate of Bhutto, will later say she experienced feelings of disbelief: “The briefing was more detailed” than any information she had received from her own military and “showed that the military was doing it behind her back.” The next day, President George Bush tells her that in order to continue to receive US aid, she must assure the White House that her government will not take the final step of producing nuclear-bomb cores. Bush says he will still allow the sale of sixty more F-16 planes needed by to Pakistan, even though Pakistan has fitted such planes with nuclear weapons in the recent past, despite promising not to do so (see 1983-7). Despite this, the sale will not go through. [New Yorker, 3/29/1993]

Entity Tags: William H. Webster, Central Intelligence Agency, Mark Siegel, Benazir Bhutto

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

According to CIA Director William Webster, the US considers mounting a rendition operation against the bombers of Pan Am Flight 103. The plane was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, causing 270 fatalities in December 1988. Nearly a year later, Webster tells the Washington Post that the administration hopes to locate, seize, and bring to the US for trial the terrorists responsible for the bombing. However, it is not known who committed the bombing at this point. Discussion of the US response to the bombing leads the Justice Department to issue a memo formally authorizing the technique of rendition (see June 1988). [Washington Post, 11/4/1989] As of fall 2008, the full list of operatives involved in the bombing is not known and there are no public records of any of the known alleged bombers being rendered to the US.

Entity Tags: William H. Webster, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

CIA Director William Webster meets with Kuwait’s head of security, Brigadier Fahd Ahmed al-Fahd. Iraq will claim after its invasion and occupation of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990) that it had located a Kuwaiti memorandum summarizing their conversation, a memo both the CIA and Kuwaiti government officials will claim is a forgery, though both sides will admit the meeting actually took place. Iraq will accuse the CIA and Kuwait of collaborating to destabilize Iraq’s economy and government (see Late August, 1990). The memo reads in part: “We agreed with the American side that it was important to take advantage of the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq in order to put pressure on that country’s government to delineate our common border. The Central Intelligence Agency gave us its view of appropriate means of pressure, saying that broad cooperation should be initiated between us on condition that such activities be coordinated at a high level.” [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]

Entity Tags: William H. Webster, Central Intelligence Agency, Fahd Ahmed al-Fahd

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Kuwait’s Director General of State Security sends a memo to the Minister of the Interior summarizing a meeting with CIA Director William Webster. He writes: “We agreed with the American side that it was important to take advantage of the deteriorating economic situation in Iraq in order to put pressure on that country’s government to delineate our common border. The Central Intelligence Agency gave us its view of appropriate means of pressure, saying that broad cooperation should be initiated between us on condition that such activities be coordinated at a high level.” When Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), Iraqi officials find this memo and confront the Kuwaiti foreign minister with it during an Arab summit meeting in mid-August 1990. Upon seeing the memo, the Kuwaiti official reportedly faints. [Ahmed, 10/2/2001] The US claims the memo is a forgery. [Office of Global Communications, 1/21/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: William H. Webster, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s

Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, CIA Director William Webster acknowledges the West’s increasing dependency on Middle East oil. “I want to mention two key Middle East related issues that will continue to have a major impact on US interests,” he tells senators. “[One] Oil. Western dependence on Persian Gulf oil will rise dramatically. By the year 2000, gulf states will supply an estimated 40 percent of Western oil, up from about 30 percent today. Meanwhile, US dependence is expected to rise from about 10 percent to roughly 25 percent by the end of the decade. [Two] The Arab-Israeli peace process. If the peace process does not advance over the next several years, the Intifadah is likely to become more violent, terrorism will probably rise, and Arab pressure on the United States to impose a settlement will increase.” [US Congress, 1/23/1990]

Entity Tags: William H. Webster

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Iraqi officials claim to have found a memorandum summarizing the November 1989 meeting between CIA Director William Webster and Kuwaiti head of security Brigadier Fahd Ahmed Al-Fahd (see November 1989). According to a Washington Post article, when Kuwait’s foreign minister is confronted with the document at an Arab summit, the minister faints. Iraq cites this memorandum as evidence of a CIA-Kuwaiti plot to destabilize Iraq both politically and economically (see May 28-30, 1990). Both CIA and Kuwaiti officials call the meeting between Webster and al-Fahd “routine,” and claim the memorandum is a forgery. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Fahd Ahmed al-Fahd, William H. Webster

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The CIA says that it does not have the PROMIS database and search application (see Mid-1970s). The statement is made in response to a letter sent to CIA Director William Webster by the House Judiciary Committee on November 20 asking him to help them “by determining whether the CIA has the PROMIS software.” In response the CIA states, “We have checked with Agency components that track data processing procurement or that would be likely users of PROMIS, and we have been unable to find any indication that the [CIA] ever obtained PROMIS software.” However, information contradicting this will subsequently emerge. For example, a retired CIA official whose job it is to investigate the Inslaw allegations internally will tell Wired magazine that the Justice Department gave PROMIS to the CIA: “Well, the Congressional committees were after us to look into allegations that somehow the agency had been culpable of what would have been, in essence, taking advantage of, like stealing, the technology [PROMIS]. We looked into it and there was enough to it, the agency had been involved.” However, the official will say that when the CIA accepted PROMIS, it did not know that there was a serious dispute about the Justice Department’s ownership of the software. [Wired News, 3/1993]

Entity Tags: William H. Webster, House Judiciary Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Pete Smerick.Pete Smerick. [Source: University of Louisville]The siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas continues (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). FBI profilers Pete Smerick and Mark Young, who have warned that the authorities’ strategy of negotiation and intimidation may backfire (see March 3-4, 1993), predict that the siege will end with an all-out assault on the compound by federal authorities (see April 19, 1993). Smerick and Young also predict that most of the Davidians may well commit mass suicide (see March 5, 1993), and warn that a strong show of force is merely playing into Davidian leader David Koresh’s hands. In Washington, acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson talks FBI Director William Webster out of going to Waco to negotiate directly with Koresh. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] One of Smerick’s memos warns that aggressive measures would “draw David Koresh and his followers closer together in the ‘bunker mentality’ and they would rather die than surrender.” [USA Today, 12/30/1999] Tactical pressure, Smerick writes, “should be the absolute last option we should consider, and that the FBI might unintentionally make Koresh’s vision of a fiery end come true.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] On March 9, FBI officials will pressure Smerick and Young into issuing a memorandum that supports the increased harassment of the Davidians (see March 9, 1993). [Moore, 1995]

Entity Tags: Stuart Gerson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Koresh, Mark Young, Branch Davidians, William H. Webster, Peter Smerick

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Attorney General John Ashcroft announces that the Justice Department is now on what he calls a “wartime footing.” The agency is revamping its priorities to refocus its efforts on battling terrorism. According to Ashcroft, a plan, which he intends to submit to Congress, mandates a reorganization of the Justice Department, as well as component agencies such as the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), both of which will be overhauled to take a more aggressive stance in the effort to ward off terrorism. The plan will take five years to fully implement. Ashcroft is reticent about the details of the plans, but some proposals include:
bullet Allowing federal prison authorities to eavesdrop on prisoners conferring with their attorneys, effectively voiding the attorney-client privilege, if those prisoners are considered to be a threat to national security;
bullet Redirecting 10 percent of the Justice Department’s budget, or about $2.5 billion, to counterterrorism efforts;
bullet Restructuring the INS to focus on identifying, deporting, and prosecuting illegal aliens, with a special focus on potential terrorists.
The eavesdropping privilege causes an immediate stir among civil libertarians and Constitutional scholars. Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker notes that the order has already been published in the Federal Register and is, essentially, the law. Information gathered by authorities during such eavesdropping sessions would not be used in criminal prosecutions of the suspects, Tucker promises. “The team that listens is not involved in the criminal proceedings,” she says. “There’s a firewall there.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he agrees with the general idea of refocusing the agency on terrorism, but suggests Ashcroft’s plan be reviewed by an existing commission that is now examining the FBI’s counterintelligence operations. That commission is headed by former FBI Director William Webster. Leahy’s fellow senator, Charles Grassley (R-IA), says: “As with any reorganization, the devil will be in the details. I hope for new accountability measures, not just structural changes.” Ashcroft says: “Defending our nation and defending the citizens of America against terrorist attacks is now our first and overriding priority. To fulfill this mission, we are devoting all the resources necessary to eliminate terrorist networks, to prevent terrorist attacks, and to bring to justice all those who kill Americans in the name of murderous ideologies.” [New York Times, 11/3/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 35] “It is amazing to me that Ashcroft is essentially trying to dismantle the bureau,” says a former FBI executive director. “They don’t know their history and they are not listening to people who do.” [Harper's, 12/4/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mindy Tucker, John Ashcroft, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Patrick J. Leahy, Charles Grassley, US Department of Justice, William H. Webster

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former FBI director William Webster and eight former FBI officials publicly criticize Attorney General John Ashcroft’s post-9/11 policies (see Spring 2001, September 12, 2001, October 9, 2001, October 11, 2001, and November 9, 2001). The criticisms come less over Ashcroft’s civil liberties abrogations and more because Ashcroft’s policies violate law-enforcement common sense. By capturing suspected low-level terrorists in public sweeps, the Justice Department and the FBI lose the ability to track those suspects to their superiors in their organizations and groups. (None of the 900 or so suspects rounded up in the Ashcroft sweeps will be charged with any 9/11-related crimes—see October 20, 2001 and November 5, 2001.) [Rich, 2006, pp. 35-36] Webster says that long-term surveillance and undercover operations are much more effective than mass arrests. [Harper's, 12/4/2001] The former FBI officials also ridicule Ashcroft’s idea of interviewing 5,000 Middle Eastern men (none of whom will ever be convicted of a terrorism-related crime). Kenneth Walton, who founded the FBI’s first Joint Terrorism Task Force, says: “It’s the Perry Mason school of law enforcement, where you put them in there and they confess. Well, it just doesn’t work that way. You say, ‘Tell me everything you know,’ and they give you the recipe to Mom’s chicken soup.… It is ridiculous.” Most of those “invited” to interview never showed up, the officials note, and those who did merely answered “yes” or “no” to rote questions. [Time, 11/29/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 35-36] Many local police officers are reluctant to participate in Ashcroft’s public sweeps. Eugene, Oregon police spokeswoman Pam Alejandere tells reporters, “Give us some legitimate reason to talk to the people—other than that they’re from the Middle East—and we’ll be glad to.” [Time, 11/29/2001]

Entity Tags: William H. Webster, John Ashcroft, Pam Alejandere, Kenneth Walton, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Seven former directors of the CIA urge President Obama to end the investigation of claims that the CIA tortured detainees to obtain intelligence (see August 24, 2009). The investigation was triggered by the release of an internal CIA report from 2004 (see August 24, 2009). The directors say that all the cases in the 2004 report have already been adequately investigated, and to reopen those investigations would make it difficult for intelligence agents to believe they can safely follow legal guidance. In a letter signed by the seven former directors, they write: “Attorney General Holder’s decision to re-open the criminal investigation creates an atmosphere of continuous jeopardy for those whose cases the Department of Justice had previously declined to prosecute. Those men and women who undertake difficult intelligence assignments in the aftermath of an attack such as September 11 must believe there is permanence in the legal rules that govern their actions.… [T]his approach will seriously damage the willingness of many other intelligence officers to take risks to protect the country.” The letter is signed by former CIA directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss, George Tenet, John Deutch, James Woolsey, William Webster, and James Schlesinger. Current CIA Director Leon Panetta opposed the investigation, but says that he will cooperate with it (see Before August 24, 2009). [Fox News, 9/18/2009]
ACLU: Letter 'Self-Serving' and Wrong - The American Civil Liberties Union’s Jameel Jaffer calls the letter “self-serving,” writing: “Attorney General Holder initiated a criminal investigation because the available evidence shows that prisoners were abused and tortured in CIA custody. The suggestion that President Obama should order Attorney General Holder to abort the investigation betrays a misunderstanding of the role of the attorney general as well as the relationship between the attorney general and the president. Where there is evidence of criminal conduct, the attorney general has not just the authority but the duty to investigate. The attorney general is the people’s lawyer, not the president’s lawyer, and it would be profoundly inappropriate for President Obama to interfere with his work. The attorney general’s investigation should be allowed to proceed without interference, and it certainly should not be derailed by the self-serving protests of former CIA officials who oversaw the very crimes that are being investigated. If there is a problem with the unfolding criminal investigation, it is that its focus is too narrow. There is abundant evidence that torture was authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration, and the Justice Department’s investigation should be broad enough to encompass Bush administration lawyers and senior officials—including the CIA officials—who authorized torture.” [TPM Muckraker, 9/18/2009]
Justice Department Responds - The Justice Department counters the letter with its own statement: “The attorney general works closely with the men and the women of intelligence community to keep the American people safe and he does not believe their commitment to conduct that important work will waver in any way. Given the recommendation from the Office of Professional Responsibility as well as other available information, he believed the appropriate course of action was to ask John Durham to conduct a preliminary review. That review will be narrowly focused and will be conducted by a career prosecutor who has shown an ability to handle cases involving classified information. Durham has not been appointed as a special prosecutor; he will be supervised by senior managers at the [Justice] Department. The attorney general’s decision to order a preliminary review into this matter was made in line with his duty to examine the facts and to follow the law. As he has made clear, the Department of Justice will not prosecute anyone who acted in good faith and within the scope of the legal guidance given by the Office of Legal Counsel regarding the interrogation of detainees.” [Washington Independent, 9/18/2009]

Entity Tags: Jameel Jaffer, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Barack Obama, William H. Webster, US Department of Justice, Office of Professional Responsibility, Eric Holder, Porter J. Goss, John Deutch, James R. Schlesinger, Leon Panetta, Michael Hayden, James Woolsey

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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