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After becoming unhappy with the quality of information it is receiving from the CIA about detainee interrogations (see Summer 2003), the 9/11 Commission not only gives the CIA more questions for detainees, but also asks it how the interrogations are carried out. The Commission thinks the second set of questions is the most important, but the CIA only responds to them in a vague manner. They concern the translation process in the interrogations, the interrogators’ background, the way the interrogators handle inconsistencies in the detainees’ stories, the particular questions that were asked to elicit reported information, the way interrogators followed up on certain lines of questioning, the context of the interrogations so the Commission can assess the credibility and demeanor of the detainees when they made the reported statements, and the interrogators’ views or assessments. According to a later account by Commission chairman Tom Kean and vice-chairman Lee Hamilton, CIA general counsel Scott Muller writes back with “non-specific replies.” Muller also fails to inform the Commission that the CIA has videotapes of some of the interrogations (see Summer 2003-January 2004). Because the Commission is “not satisfied” with Muller’s response, it pushes for direct access to detainees, but this attempt fails (see November 5, 2003-January 2004 and After January 2004). [New York Times, 1/2/2008]
Since late 2002, Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, has been informing on a group of Islamist militants for the Spanish police and the intelligence agency UCI (see September 2002-October 2003). He is an imam and is highly trusted by the other members of the group. He attends all their secret meetings. In October 2003, he attends another meeting by this group that starts around 11:00 p.m. and ends at six in the morning. As usual, he starts the meeting by leading the group in prayer. Then Madrid train bombings mastermind Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet speaks for a long time. For the first time, Fakhet calls for martyrs. He says that it is not enough to just be a mujaheddin, but martyrs are needed for action in Madrid. All the people in the group, including Farssaoui, reply that they are ready to be martyrs. Farssaoui is so worried about this meeting that he immediately contacts his police handlers the next day and tells them what happened. But the police do not seem overly concerned. Farssaoui will later tell him that his handlers, led by police inspector Mariano Rayon, tell him that Fakhet’s group talks big, but will never actually do anything. (This is in spite of the fact that several members of the group were arrested several months earlier for alleged involvement in a series of bombings in Morocco (see Late May-June 19, 2003).) Farssaoui is told to immediately leave Madrid for another assignment. He does, thus ending his connection to the bombers. It is later believe that this meeting marks the moment the group begins to go operational with an attack plan, which will result in the bombing of trains in Madrid several months later (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Farssaoui says that his handlers forbid him to share what he learns with judge Baltasar Garzon, who is leading investigations into al-Qaeda related cases in Spain. The testimony Farssaoui will give in 2007 will contradict some details of earlier testimony he gave in the same trial, but he will claim that it took him time to find courage to tell the whole truth. [El Mundo (Madrid), 10/21/2004; El Mundo (Madrid), 2/13/2006; El Mundo (Madrid), 3/7/2007; ABC (Spain), 3/7/2007]
9/11 Commission staff director Philip Zelikow and several members of his staff embark on a fact-finding mission to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries. While in Pakistan, they interview at least two senior members of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Whether they are investigating a possible ISI role in the 9/11 plot remains unclear. [United Press International, 11/5/2003]
Iraqi farmers in central Iraq accuse the US occupation of bulldozing their crops as a form of collective punishment. The farmers say that the US soldiers blared messages through loudspeakers proclaiming that they were being punished for not informing the US forces of the insurgency. Several dozen Iraqi families are said to have lost their livelihoods from the incident. [Independent, 10/12/2003]
Senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson testifies to the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into the failures and possible misuse of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq invasion (see July 9, 2004). In 2007, Plame Wilson will write that she and her husband hope that the committee will “reveal how the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify going to war with Iraq [and] show that the decision to go to war was premature; the intelligence community simply did not have the hard evidence from current, reliable human sources to match the confident rhetoric coming from the White House and its supporters.” Plame Wilson is accompanied in her appearance before the committee by a CIA attorney, whose job is to represent the agency’s interests, not hers. She is not questioned by any senators, but by four young staffers, two Democrats and two Republicans. When the staffers begin asking her about the story of the Iraq-Niger uranium connection and how she learned about it, it becomes obvious to her, as she will recall in her 2007 book Fair Game, that they “knew very little about how CIA cover actually worked, yet they acted as if they were veterans of the intelligence community.” One aggressive Republican staffer asks why she recommended her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to go to Niger to investigate the uranium allegations (see February 13, 2002); Plame Wilson will recall, “In my desire to be as accurate and truthful as possible, I answered, stupidly, ‘I don’t believe that I recommended my husband, but I can’t recall who suggested him for the trip.” She fails to recall that a CIA records officer actually recommended her husband for the trip (see February 19, 2002). She also forgets during the interrogation that it was a phone call from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office that set the entire trip into motion (see (February 13, 2002)). And she forgets that it was her branch supervisor who asked that Wilson come in to the CIA to discuss the possibility of such a trip (see February 19, 2002). She does recall staying out of the initial CIA interview with her husband. In 2007, she will blame her memory failures on her own lack of composure, her lack of preparation for the interview, and her refusal to compare memories with her husband out of a sense of propriety. After 45 minutes or so, she leaves the interview, fairly sure that she handled herself well, but with “a little voice in my head [saying] it felt like a setup.” She will write: “In retrospect, it was clear they weren’t seeking information, but simply confirming their already closed conclusions. But in my naivete, my heart actually felt light because I believed in our democratic institutions. I believed that the truth would prevail, but I would soon find out that in Washington, the truth is not always enough.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 167-169]
Andrew Warren, a CIA agent who will later be accused of date rape (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008), is appointed to a senior position at the agency’s station in Cairo, Egypt. The exact position and timing of the appointment are unclear. However, it presumably occurs after Warren works at the CIA’s New York office (see (September 2003)) and before he is appointed chief of station in Algeria (see September 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 1/29/2009] According to the Congressional Quarterly, Warren accompanies Egyptian officials on a trip to Washington in late 2004 or early 2005 (see Late 2004 or Early 2005), and is working for the CIA in Egypt at that time. [Congressional Quarterly, 3/16/2009] It will later be reported that Warren “quickly learn[s] the value of sex in recruiting spies,” and it appears that he makes use of such techniques in Egypt. According to the Washington Post, colleagues will later say he makes “an early habit of taking informants to strip clubs, and that he later beg[ins] arranging out-of-town visits to brothels for his best recruits.” According to two colleagues who work with him for years, Warren often accompanies them. [Washington Post, 3/20/2009]
The media begins probing as to whether Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, was involved in the Plame Wilson leak. CBS correspondent John Roberts asks White House press secretary Scott McClellan: “You said the other day, emphatically, that you have received assurances from Karl Rove that he had nothing to do with this (see September 16, 2003, September 27, 2003, and September 29, 2003). Have you since received similar assurances from the vice president’s chief of staff?” McClellan attempts to finesse the question, replying, “I’m not going to go down a list of every single member of the staff of the White House.” Roberts retorts, “That’s just one name.” After the gaggle, McClellan runs into Libby, and warns him that his name is beginning to surface in connection with the leak. McClellan reiterates his answer to Roberts, and says: “Now that there’s an investigation under way, I can’t put myself in that position. I want you to know I’m not trying to leave you hanging out there to dry.” Libby says little in response. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 216-217]
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who publicly outed former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA officer in one of his columns three months earlier (see July 14, 2003), writes that he is now forced to revisit that column since “repercussions” from it “have reached the front pages of major newspapers and led off network news broadcasts.” Today’s column, he writes, is to clarify his actions and those of the Bush White House, which have been “distorted” in media reports. Novak says he “did not receive a planned leak” (see Late June 2003, July 8-10, 2003, and July 8, 2003). He asserts that “the CIA never warned me that the disclosure of Wilson’s wife working at the agency would endanger her or anybody else” (see Before July 14, 2003 and September 27, 2003). And, Plame Wilson’s identity “was not much of a secret” (see Before July 14, 2003).
Husband the Real Issue, Novak Claims - Novak attempts to turn the issue around and make Joseph Wilson and the Democrats the focus of the controversy: “Wilson, after telling me in July that he would say nothing about his wife, has made investigation of the leak his life’s work—aided by the relentless Sen. Charles Schumer of New York. These efforts cannot be separated from the massive political assault on President Bush.” Novak points out that Wilson, whom he falsely describes as a former “high-ranking official in President Bill Clinton’s National Security Council,” is now “a vocal opponent of President Bush’s policies in Iraq after contributing to Al Gore in the last election cycle and John Kerry in this one.” (Novak fails to note that Wilson gave campaign contributions to both Republicans and Democrats—see September 30, 2003). Why, Novak asks, was such a “partisan Democrat” given the assignment to investigate the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003)?
Again Asserts Wife Sent Wilson to Niger - Novak says that according to “a senior administration official,” Wilson was sent to Niger “by the CIA’s counterproliferation section at the suggestion of one of its employees, his wife. It was an offhand revelation from this official [later revealed as Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage—see Late June 2003 and July 8, 2003], who is no partisan gunslinger.” Novak called a second official, later confirmed as White House political adviser Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003), who said, “Oh, you know about it.” Novak calls reports that White House officials “failed to plant this story with six reporters and finally found me as a willing pawn is simply untrue.” He acknowledges being asked not to reveal Plame Wilson’s identity by the CIA official “designated to talk to me,” but denies being told that others might be harmed or intelligence networks might be damaged by the revelation. As for Plame Wilson’s identity being “no big secret,” he asserts, falsely, that Republican activist Clifford May knew of her identity before his column appeared, and, according to May, her CIA status was “common knowledge” (see July 12, 2004). Novak also notes that “Valerie Plame” is listed as Joseph Wilson’s wife in her husband’s “Who’s Who in America” entry, though he fails to note that the entry does not identify her as a CIA employee. He goes on to say that the CIA did not describe her as an “operative,” but a mere “employee” who is “covered”—working under the auspices of another agency. He writes, again falsely, that Plame Wilson “has been an analyst, not in covert operations” (see Fall 1992 - 1996 and April 2001 and After). Finally, Novak writes that the Justice Department investigation was not, in fact, requested by CIA Director George Tenet (see September 26, 2003). The request for an investigation was routine, he claims, one of around one such request a week. [Town Hall (.com), 10/1/2003]
In the days after the Justice Department begins probing the Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003 and September 29, 2003), Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, finds a reference in his notes that indicates he learned from Cheney that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA agent. According to his later testimony, Libby immediately goes to Cheney with the notes, in defiance of instructions from the FBI and the White House counsel’s office not to discuss the matter with colleagues (see September 29-30, 2003). “It turns out that I have a note that I had heard about” Plame Wilson’s CIA identity “from you,” Libby tells Cheney. Libby will later testify that Cheney “didn’t say much” in response. “You know, he said something about, ‘From me?’ something like that, and tilted his head, something he does commonly, and that was that.” [National Journal, 2/19/2007; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Libby tells Cheney that his public story is that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC bureau chief Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Cheney knows that the Russert story is untrue, but does nothing to discourage Libby from telling that story to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and a grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Cheney also encourages White House press secretary Scott McClellan to publicly exonerate and defend Libby (see October 1, 2003, October 4, 2003, October 4, 2003, and October 5, 2003), who complains that the White House is not doing enough to protect him. In 2007, law professor and former federal prosecutor Dan Richman will say that any criminal interpretation of Cheney’s reaction to Libby’s story depends on the exact words the two men exchanged, and exactly what Cheney knew at the time. “Only Cheney and Libby know the import of their conversation, and as is often the case, each could have even come away with a different impression of what was meant” by what the other said, Richman will observe. “If Cheney was merely showing surprise and interest at what Libby [was] indicating to him he was going to tell investigators, then the vice president is innocent in the exchange. But if he had reason to believe, or personal knowledge, that what Libby was planning to say was untrue then there is good reason to view Cheney’s conduct in an entirely different light—an obstruction interpretation.” Libby knew that Plame Wilson was a CIA official a month before his discussion with Russert (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), and Cheney confirmed Plame Wilson’s CIA status to Libby around the same time (see (June 12, 2003)). [National Journal, 2/19/2007]
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, re-reading the July 14, 2003 column by conservative columnist Robert Novak that outed covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003) and Novak’s current column about the leak October 1, 2003), realizes that he was one of Novak’s sources (see July 8, 2003). In Armitage’s words, Novak wrote that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from “a non-partisan gun slinger.” Armitage calls his boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and says, “I’m sure that was me.” He tells the FBI investigators probing the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity of his role in outing the agent. “I told them that I was the inadvertent leak,” Armitage will admit in 2006. But he does not hire a lawyer. He will explain, “First of all, I felt so terrible about what I’d done that I felt I deserved whatever was coming to me. And secondarily, I didn’t need an attorney to tell me to tell the truth. I was already doing that. I was not intentionally outing anybody.” [CBS News, 9/7/2006] Within hours, William Howard Taft IV, the State Department’s legal adviser, notifies a senior Justice Department official that Armitage has information relevant to the Plame Wilson investigation (see September 26, 2003). Armitage will discuss the matter with FBI investigators the next day (see October 2, 2003). [Newsweek, 9/4/2006]
David Kay, head of the Iraq Survey Group, tells Congress that his investigation has found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Nor has he uncovered anything to support the theory that two trailers discovered in Iraq (see April 19, 2003; May 9, 2003) were mobile biological weapons factories. [US Congress, 10/2/2003; Washington Post, 4/12/2006] After Kay’s testimony, White House officials call George Tenet and John McLaughlin and ask why Kay included such a blunt statement that the Iraq Survey Group had not found any weapons of mass destruction in the beginning of his report. Couldn’t he have buried that statement elsewhere in the report they ask. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 329]
Members of staff at the National Archives find that Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser to Bill Clinton, has stolen copies of an after-action report drafted by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke from the archives. Their suspicions were aroused on a previous visit by Berger (see September 2, 2003), but before his fourth visit to view 9/11-related documents at the archives, they surreptitiously number the papers he is to be given in pencil, and he initially takes another two copies of the report, which he thinks could be damaging to him. Berger makes frequent trips to the toilet to conceal the stolen papers. During one of the trips, the archives’ staff examines the pile of documents and realizes what he has stolen. They print another copy of the stolen report and hand it to him, saying they think they forgot to give it to him in the first place. He says he needs time alone to make a private call—although a staff member monitors the phones and finds that no call is made from the office phone—and then makes another suspicious trip to the toilet to hide the document. Berger then goes outside the archives for a walk and, worried about taking the stolen papers and notes about other documents he should not have removed back inside the building, he hides them under a trailer on a nearby construction site. He returns to the construction site later that night to retrieve what he has hidden, then destroys three copies of the stolen memo, leaving himself with two copies and his own notes. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 250-252] The archives will confront Berger about the missing documents two days later (see October 4, 2003).
A Pakistani attack helicopter fires at Ahmed Said Khadr’s safe house. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]Al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Said Khadr is killed in a shootout with the Pakistani army. The police received reports that senior members of al-Qaeda were hiding in South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal region near Afghanistan. The army attacks their safe house. After several hours of shooting, eight people in the safe house are killed and 18 are taken prisoner. One of the killed is later identified as Khadr. He is a long time Canadian citizen who ran a Canadian charity front called Human Concern International. After his death, a sympathetic jihadist group will refer to him as a “founding member” of al-Qaeda. [National Post, 10/14/2003; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 4/20/2006] In fact, thousands of al-Qaeda-linked militants have been hiding out in South Waziristan since early 2002, with the assistance of some in the Pakistani government (see Late 2002-Late 2003). The attack comes as Pakistan is under increasing international pressure to do something about the al-Qaeda safe haven, and takes place just days before Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage is due to visit Pakistan. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “Buying time by carrying out an attack just before the visit of a senior US official became a pattern for [Pakistan].” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 270]
Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who has already outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), now outs the CIA front firm that was her cover. In a column reporting that Plame Wilson and her husband Joseph Wilson made campaign donations of $1,000 each to Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in 1999, Novak notes that Plame Wilson, under her married name of Valerie E. Wilson, “identified herself as an ‘analyst’ with ‘Brewster Jennings & Associates.’ No such firm is listed anywhere, but the late Brewster Jennings was president of Socony-Vacuum oil company a half-century ago. Any CIA employee working under ‘non-official cover’ always is listed with a real firm, but never an imaginary one. Sort of adds to the little mystery.” Novak fails to mention that Joseph Wilson also donated $1,000 to the campaign of George W. Bush. He also fails to note that he has indirectly admitted that he knew Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA agent. [Town Hall (.com), 10/4/2003; Washington Post, 10/4/2003] In 2005, Joseph Wilson will tell a reporter that Novak’s outing of Brewster Jennings indicates a “pattern of disclosure,” presumably indicating that Novak’s revealing of state secrets may rise to the level of criminal behavior. [Raw Story, 7/13/2005]
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, having told State Department officials that he was one of the sources for Robert Novak’s July 2003 outing of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see October 1, 2003), is questioned by FBI agents investigating the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity. Armitage admits to passing along classified information to columnist Robert Novak that identified Plame Wilson as a CIA official working on WMD issues (see June 10, 2003). According to a 2006 Newsweek article, the three State Department officials who know of Armitage’s involvement—Secretary of State Colin Powell, State Department counsel William Howard Taft IV, and Armitage himself—do not take the story public, and Armitage’s role remains secret. [Newsweek, 9/4/2006]
A memo is distributed inside the 9/11 Commission discussing the problem of government minders attending 9/11 Commission interviews. The memo, entitled “Executive Branch Minders’ Intimidation of Witnesses,” is written by three staffers on the Commission’s Team 2, which reviewed the overall structure of the US intelligence community. The authors are Kevin Scheid, a senior staffer who led the team; Lorry Fenner, an Air Force intelligence officer; and lawyer Gordon Lederman. The complaint is sent to the Commission’s counsels, Daniel Marcus and Steven Dunne, about halfway through the Commission’s 19-month life. [9/11 Commission, 2003; 9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003; Shenon, 2008, pp. 87-88, 156]
Minder Interference - Typically, if a witness to be interviewed is from a government agency, such as the FBI, then one or more FBI “minders” also attend the interview. But the Team 2 memo makes clear that these minders are not simply passive observers. The memo complains: “When we have asked witnesses about certain roles and responsibilities within the intelligence community, minders have preempted witnesses’ responses by referencing formal policies and procedures. As a result, witnesses have not responded to our questions and have deprived us from understanding the intelligence community’s actual functioning and witnesses’ view of their roles and responsibilities.”
Minder Intimidation - Furthermore: “[M]inders have positioned themselves physically and have conducted themselves in a manner that we believe intimidates witnesses from giving full and candid responses to our questions. Minders generally have sat next to witnesses at the table and across from Commission staff, conveying to witnesses that minders are participants in interviews and are of equal status to witnesses.” Sometimes, minders simply “answer questions directed at witnesses.” The memo also registers concern that minders take “verbatim notes of witnesses’ statements,” and this “conveys to witnesses that their superiors will review their statements and may engage in retribution.” Furthermore, the verbatim note-taking “facilitates agencies in alerting future witnesses to the Commission’s lines of inquiry and permits agencies to prepare future witnesses either explicitly or implicitly.” The memo states that “the net effect of minders’ conduct, whether intentionally or not, is to intimidate witnesses and to interfere with witnesses providing full and candid responses.”
Not Just Team 2 - The memo makes clear that the problems are not occurring only with witnesses talking to Team 2, but also in “other teams’ interviews.” A hand-written note on a draft of the memo says, “not one agency or minder—also where we’ve sat in on other teams’ interviews.” [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003]
Trip to Canada Provides Example - Minders are mentioned in passing in many other 9/11 Commission documents. One memo entitled “Canada Trip Lessons Learned” provides more details about how minders behave. The memo is undated, but appears to have been written by staffer Gordon Lederman in the autumn of 2003. The memo complains that one minder “acted as a participant,” “responded to inquiries,” and “consulted with” the witnesses during several interviews. This minder took verbatim notes while sitting next to witnesses, and in one interview, “sighed heavily repeatedly.” The memo further notes that the minder “had an opportunity to coach/poison the well with” the witness “at dinner the night before and with others before they arrived.” It is unclear which agency this minder is from, although she is an intelligence community attorney. The memo also complains about another minder: “He sat next to the subjects in at least two [interviews]. He responded to questions and even asked a question.” Furthermore, “He sought to describe Canadian system/organization while there were three Canadians there to talk to us.” He even invited another minder to attend a later interview; the memo notes that it should have been the 9/11 Commission staff inviting the minders. [9/11 Commission, 2003]
Proposed Action - The memo does not propose that minders should be banned from interviews, but instead suggests a set of rules governing minder conduct. For example, minders should keep a “low profile,” sit out of witnesses’ sight, not take verbatim notes, and not answer any questions directed at the witnesses. The memo also proposes that there should be only one minder per witness, which reveals that witnesses being outnumbered by minders is a common problem. [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003]
9/11 Commissioners Ignorant or Dishonest about Minders - It is not known if any of the proposals are implemented. However, no documentary evidence will emerge to suggest they are implemented. Furthermore, the heads of the Commission appear to be either oblivious or dishonest regarding the role of minders. In early July 2003, Commission chairman Tom Kean, a Republican, discussed minders in a press briefing, saying: “I think the Commission feels unanimously that it’s some intimidation to have somebody sitting behind you all the time who you either work for or works for your agency. You might get less testimony than you would” (see July 7, 2003). [New York Times, 7/8/2003] But at a later press briefing on September 23, 2003, Kean no longer saw minders as intimidating. Instead, he said: “Talking to staff, what they have told me is that as they’ve done these interviews, that the interviewees are encouragingly frank; that they by and large have not seemed to be intimidated in any way in their answers.… I’m glad to hear that it’s—from the staff that they don’t feel it’s inhibiting the process of the interviews.” In the same press briefing, vice chairman Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, commented, “it is our feeling that thus far, the minders have not been an impediment, in almost all cases.” He added that there were “one or two instances where the question has arisen,” but, “neither are we aware at this point that the presence of a minder has substantially impeded our inquiry. And nor have we run into a situation where we think a witness has refrained from speaking their minds” (see September 23, 2003). These comments were made just nine days before the previously discussed memo entitled “Executive Branch Minders’ Intimidation of Witnesses” is sent. [9/11 Commission, 9/23/2003 ] It is unclear if Kean and Hamilton were lying or were just oblivious. 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow generally controls and limits the flow of information between commissioners and staffers to such a degree that even near the end of the Commission’s tenure, one staffer will confront a commissioner in a bathroom in an attempt to get a complaint to her (see March 2, 2003 and July 2004).
No Press Coverage - The issue of minder intimidation will not be made public until 2009, when some of the 9/11 Commission’s source documents are made public. Even then, there will be no mainstream media coverage of the issue.
The leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA officer by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) has resulted in the exposure of a CIA front company, potentially causing widespread damage to overseas intelligence gathering. Yesterday, Novak revealed the name of the firm in another column (see October 2, 2003). The fictitious Boston firm, Brewster Jennings & Associates, appears in Federal Election Commission records on a 1999 form filled out by Plame Wilson when she donated $1,000 to the presidential campaign of Al Gore (D-TN). Once the Novak column was published, CIA officials admitted that it is a front. Brewster Jennings is listed as Plame Wilson’s employer on her 1999 tax forms, though she was working as an undercover CIA officer at the time. A former diplomat says that since Brewster Jennings and Plame Wilson have been exposed, every foreign intelligence service is running the names through their own databases to determine whether she ever visited their countries and what kinds of contacts she made there. “That’s why the agency is so sensitive about just publishing her name,” the former diplomat says. [Washington Post, 10/4/2003]
Plame's NOC Status, 'Legend' - As one of a very small, select number of “nonofficial cover” officers, Plame Wilson would have enjoyed little or no government protection had her cover been blown while she was overseas. Training officers such as her cost millions of dollars and require elaborate constructions of fictional background, called “legends,” including the creation of CIA front companies such as Brewster Jennings. The amount of damage caused by the outing of Plame Wilson and Brewster Jennings is incalculable. Former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro says many other CIA agents and foreign assets are now endangered, and future attempts to convince foreign citizens to share information with US intelligence agencies will be hampered. Former CIA and State Department official Larry Johnson, who trained with Plame Wilson in 1985, says that when the damage is fully assessed, “at the end of the day, [the harm] will be huge and some people potentially may have lost their lives.” Johnson describes himself as “furious, absolutely furious” at the breach. “We feel like the peasants with torches and pitchforks,” he says. “The robber barons aren’t going to be allowed to get away with this.” Former CIA officer Jim Marcinkowski, who also trained with Plame Wilson, agrees: “This is not just another leak. This is an unprecedented exposing of an agent’s identity.” While the CIA continues to keep details of Plame Wilson’s career secret, it is known that she was attached to a US embassy in Europe in 1990 and 1991 (more information on her overseas postings will later be revealed—see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, and April 2001 and After). It is known that when Novak blew her cover, she was a senior case officer for the CIA’s counterproliferation division, working with intelligence about hostile countries and WMD. “All the people who had innocent lunches with her overseas or went shopping or played tennis with her, I’m sure they are having heart attacks right now,” says one former colleague who was also in covert operations. “I would be in hiding now if I were them.” [Washington Post, 10/8/2003; Knight Ridder, 10/11/2003]
Brewster Jennings Just One of Plame Wilson's Cover Firms - Former intelligence officials confirm that Brewster Jennings was just one of several cover affiliations that Plame Wilson used when she was operating overseas. “All it was was a telephone and a post office box,” says one former intelligence officer. “When she was abroad she had a more viable cover.” [Boston Globe, 10/10/2003] Cannistraro will later add that when Plame Wilson was operating undercover outside the US, she would have had a real job with a more legitimate company. The Boston company “is not an indicator of what she did overseas.” Now, those firms are themselves in jeopardy of exposure for working with US intelligence. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 343-344] In 2007, former CIA and National Security Council official Bruce Riedel will say: “I have looked at the part of her CV that is in the open domain. The agency spent an awful lot of effort building a really good cover for this person. A lot of effort. People who say this was not a covert operative don’t understand what they’re saying. This was intended to be a nonofficial cover person who would have the credentials to be a very serious operative. The damage done to the mission of the organization by exposing her, and how cover is built, is pretty serious.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 343]
Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak, Vincent Cannistraro, Jim Marcinkowski, Central Intelligence Agency, Brewster Jennings, Counterproliferation Division, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Federal Election Commission, Larry C. Johnson, Bruce Riedel
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Sandy Berger, a former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, is phoned by a staffer from the National Archives, from which he has stolen copies of a document (see September 2, 2003 and October 2, 2003). The staffer says that three of the documents Berger reviewed are missing and, after Berger pretends to be indignant, threatens to call the National Security Council. Berger, who has stolen five copies of the document and destroyed three, then goes to his office to look for the remains of the destroyed copies, but cannot find them. He calls the archives and says that he has found two copies of the memo, trying to pass off his taking them as an innocent mistake. However, the archives then calls the National Security Council and the Justice Department, which launches an investigation into the theft. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 252-253]
At his home, White House press secretary Scott McClellan receives a call from White House chief of staff Andrew Card. Card makes a request that shocks McClellan: “The president and vice president spoke this morning. They want you to give the press the same assurance for Scooter [Lewis Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff] that you gave for [White House deputy chief of staff] Karl [Rove]” (see September 29, 2003). According to McClellan’s 2008 book What Happened, he acquiesces, “not really indicating my instinctive disinclination to do what he was directing me to do.” McClellan doesn’t want to begin absolving one official after another to the press. He has already refused to absolve Libby for the press once (see October 1, 2003), and knows “if other names started to surface… the press would be curious why I’d asked Scooter about his involvement, and why the White House wasn’t asking every staff member the same question.” However, he will write: “this was an order coming from on high. As a result, I was about to cross the line I’d drawn publicly once the investigation had gotten underway earlier in the week.” McClellan will write that he is sure President Bush had no knowledge of Libby, Rove, or anyone else being involved in leaking Plame Wilson’s identity. “I wish I could say the same about the vice president,” he will add. “I simply don’t know for sure.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 217-218] Card makes his request shortly after Vice President Cheney writes a memo demanding Libby’s public exoneration (see October 4, 2003).
Through White House spokesmen, two senior Bush officials deny being involved in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 14, 2003 and July 17, 2003). Neither Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, nor Elliott Abrams, the director of Middle East affairs for the National Security Council, were involved in the leak, according to spokesmen; the same claim has been made for White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove. According to press secretary Scott McClellan, Libby “neither leaked the classified information, nor would he condone it.” The disclaimers are in response to reporters’ questions. [New York Times, 10/5/2003] In 2007, the prosecution in the Libby perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007) will enter into evidence a page of undated notes taken by Libby around this time. The notes are talking points for McClellan, and indicate that McClellan should use lines such as “I’ve talked to Libby. I’ve said it was ridiculous about Karl and it is ridiculous about Libby. Libby was not the source of the Novak story. And he did not leak classified information.” Libby’s notes also advise McClellan to say something like, “Not going to protect one staffer & sacrifice the guy the Pres that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.” Cheney has crossed out the words “the Pres,” obviously not wanting McClellan to reference President Bush (see October 4, 2003). [Office of the Vice President, 9/2003 ; National Public Radio, 3/7/2007]
Jack Goldsmith succeeds Jay Bybee as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The OLC essentially performs two functions: advising the executive branch on the legal limits of presidential power, and crafts legal justifications for the actions of the president and the executive branch. Goldsmith, who along with fellow Justice Department counsel and law professor John Yoo, is seen as one of the department’s newest and brightest conservative stars. But instead of aiding the Bush administration in expanding the power of the executive branch, Goldsmith will spend nine tumultuous months battling the White House on issues such as the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, the administration’s advocacy of torture in the interrogation of terrorism suspects, and the extralegal detention and military tribunals of “enemy combatants.” Goldsmith will find himself at odds with Yoo, the author of two controversial OLC memos that grant the US government wide latitude in torturing terror suspects (see January 9, 2002 and August 1, 2002), with White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, and with the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, David Addington, who along with Cheney is one of the strongest advocates of the so-called “unitary executive” theory of governance, which says the president has virtually unlimited powers, especially in the areas of national security and foreign policy, and is not always subject to Congressional or judicial oversight. Within hours of Goldsmith’s swearing-in, Goldsmith receives a phone call from Gonzales asking if the Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects civilians in war zones such as Iraq, covers terrorists and insurgents as well. Goldsmith, after intensive review with other lawyers in and out of the Justice Department, concludes that the conventions do indeed apply. Ashcroft concurs. The White House does not. Goldsmith’s deputy, Patrick Philbin, says to Goldsmith as they drive to the White House to meet with Gonzales and Addington, “They’re going to be really mad. They’re not going to understand our decision. They’ve never been told no.” Philbin’s prediction is accurate; Addington is, Goldsmith recalls, “livid.” The physically and intellectually imposing Addington thunders, “The president has already decided that terrorists do not receive Geneva Convention protections. You cannot question his decision.” Addington refuses to accept Goldsmith’s explanations. Months later, an unmollified Addington will tell Goldsmith in an argument about another presidential decision, “If you rule that way, the blood of the hundred thousand people who die in the next attack will be on your hands.” These initial encounters set the tone for Goldsmith’s stormy tenure as head of the OLC. Goldsmith will lead a small group of administration lawyers in what New York Times Magazine reporter Jeffrey Rosen calls a “behind-the-scenes revolt against what [Goldsmith] considered the constitutional excesses of the legal policies embraced by his White House superiors in the war on terror,” Goldsmith will resign in June of 2004 (see June 17, 2004). [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, Jack Goldsmith, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, National Security Agency, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, Jeffrey Rosen
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July (see July 14, 2003), is interviewed by FBI agents regarding the Plame Wilson leak. The interview takes place in the offices of Swidler Berlin, a law firm that is representing Novak. Novak’s attorneys, Lester Hyman and James Hamilton, have advised Novak that he has no certain constitutional basis to refuse to obey a grand jury subpoena, and that to do so could mean imprisonment and, Novak will later write, “inevitably result in court decisions that would diminish press freedom, all at heavy personal legal costs.” Novak discloses how he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 8, 2003), but, he will write, “the FBI did not press me to disclose my sources.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006]
Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, writes a letter to committee chairman Tom Davis (R-VA), asking that the committee open an investigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak. Waxman’s letter will not receive a response. Davis has already ignored one such request (see September 29, 2003). [Waxman, 12/2005]
White House political strategist Karl Rove testifies under oath to FBI investigators probing the Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 26, 2003). Rove says he did not speak to any journalists about Valerie Plame Wilson until after columnist Robert Novak outed her in his column (see July 14, 2003). Instead, Rove says, he circulated and discussed potentially damaging information about Plame Wilson with his colleagues within the White House as well as with outside political consultants and journalists. But he insists he was not the official who leaked Plame Wilson’s name to Novak. He only circulated that information about her after Novak’s column appeared, he says. He also claims that such dissemination was a legitimate means to counter criticism from Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson.
Lying under Oath - Rove is lying about his role in the exposure of Plame Wilson to Novak and other journalists (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove and his lawyer, Robert Luskin, will later claim that Rove “forgot” about his discussions with at least one of the above journalists, Time’s Matthew Cooper, until he found an e-mail confirming their conversation (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003 and March 1, 2004). For reasons that are unclear, the e-mail in question does not turn up in an initial search for all documents and materials pertaining to the FBI investigation (see September 29-30, 2003). Additionally, Rove’s assistant, Susan Ralston, will later testify that Rove asked her not to log the call from Cooper (see July 29, 2005). [American Prospect, 3/8/2004; Raw Story, 10/31/2005; CounterPunch, 12/9/2005; National Journal, 5/25/2006]
Fails to Disclose 'Protection' Conversation with Reporter - Rove also fails to disclose a conversation with Novak, in which Novak promised to “protect” him during the investigation (see September 29, 2003). Rove was a source for Novak, who revealed Plame Wilson’s identity in his column (see July 14, 2003). [National Journal, 5/25/2006]
Claims to Have Learned Plame Wilson Identity from Reporter - During his testimony, Rove claims that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from a reporter, though he cannot remember who that reporter was. [American Prospect, 7/19/2005]
Discloses Names of Six White House Participants in Wilson Smear Campaign - Rove tells the FBI the names of at least six other White House officials involved in the smear campaign against Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). He says he and his fellow White House officials believed the campaign was justified by Wilson’s “partisan” attacks on the White House’s Iraq policies. [American Prospect, 3/8/2004]
On camera, PBS producer Martin Smith asks Iraqi National Congress chief Ahmed Chalabi to produce “documentary evidence of any kind” that proves his contention that Iraq and al-Qaeda have ties (see November 6-8, 2001 and February 5, 2003). Chalabi promises to deliver a document showing “money changing hands between Saddam Hussein’s government and al-Qaeda,” but never produces such a document. [Rich, 2006, pp. 106]
Knight Ridder reporter Warren Strobel publishes an analysis of the potential damage the Plame Wilson identity leak (see Fall 1992 - 1996 and July 14, 2003) has caused to the CIA and to US national security. According to current and former CIA officials interviewed by Strobel, revealing Plame Wilson’s identity “may have damaged US national security to a much greater extent than generally realized.” Former CIA and State Department official Larry Johnson says flatly, “At the end of the day, [the harm] will be huge and some people potentially may have lost their lives.” Strobel notes that Plame Wilson’s training cost the US “millions of dollars and requires the time-consuming establishment of elaborate fictions, called ‘legends,’ including in this case the creation of a CIA front company that helped lend plausibility to her trips overseas.” Conservative columnist Robert Novak not only outed Plame Wilson, but her front company, Brewster Jennings (see October 2, 2003), a revelation that former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro says puts other CIA officers at risk as well (see October 3, 2003). Plame Wilson’s career, as a specialist in Iraqi WMD, is now over, costing the agency her expertise, knowledge, and, perhaps most irreplaceably, the network of operatives and sources she has built up over the years. Former CIA agent Jim Marcinkowski, now a prosecutor in Michigan, says: “This is not just another leak. This is an unprecedented exposing of an agent’s identity.” Johnson calls himself “furious, absolutely furious” at the security breach. [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2003] According to anonymous intelligence officials, the CIA performed an “aggressive,” in-house assessment of the damage done by her exposure, and found it to have been “severe” (see Before September 16, 2003). It is unlikely that Strobel is aware of this assessment.
Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, said to be an important operative for both al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, is shot and killed by government forces in the Philippines. Al-Ghozi had escaped from a high-security prison in July 2003, along with two Abu Sayyaf militants. There are many questions about the escape, including suggestions that both of his fellow escapees, Omar Opik Lasal and Abdulmukim Edris, were long-time government informants (see July 14, 2003). Edris was killed in early August 2003. Supposedly he was arrested and then volunteered to show soldiers where al-Ghozi was hiding out. Along the way, he attempted to grab a weapon from a soldier and was shot. [BBC, 8/7/2003] His death came about two weeks after it was reported that he was a government informant. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7/23/2003] Lasal was rearrested on October 8, 2003. He will later admit that he was an informant and helped the government keep tabs on where al-Ghozi was hiding. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 10/15/2003] Al-Ghozi is said to be shot while attempting to evade soldiers on a highway near a town in the southern Philippines, a heavily Muslim area. However, police officers and residents in the area say there is no sign of a firefight. The Sydney Morning Herald will later says this “fuel[s] rumors that al-Ghozi had already been captured and then killed at the best time to boost [the Philippines]‘s anti-terrorism image.” The governor of the area, said residents say they didn’t hear any shootout. “There were only two shots heard. There was no firefight.” Al-Ghozi’s death comes just six days before President Bush is scheduled to visit the Philippines, causing some to claim that the killing was timed for maximum political effect. [Sydney Morning Herald, 10/14/2003] Aquilino Pimentel, president of the Philippines Senate, will suggest that both Edris and al-Ghozi were summarily executed after being arrested in order to silence them from potentially revealing their confederates in their prison escape. [Manila Bulletin, 10/18/2003]
The Washington Post publishes the second of its “1x2x6” articles (see September 28, 2003), based on the idea that one anonymous whistleblower says two White House officials have leaked the identity of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson to six journalists. (The “1x2x6” moniker will be coined in 2006 by, among others, author and blogger Marcy Wheeler.) The article focuses on the FBI’s scrutiny of the events of June 2003, “when the CIA, the White House, and Vice President Cheney’s office first were asked about former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV’s CIA-sponsored trip to Niger” (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The FBI “investigators are examining not just who passed the information to [conservative columnist Robert] Novak (see July 14, 2003) and other reporters but also how Plame [Wilson]‘s name may have first become linked with Wilson and his mission, who did it, and how the information made its way around the government.” Administration sources tell the Post that the officials who discussed Plame Wilson with reporters (see 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) were not trying to expose her as a CIA official so much as they were trying to imply that she sent her husband on a “junket” to Niger and thusly discredit Wilson. “The officials wanted to convince the reporters that he had benefited from nepotism in being chosen for the mission,” the Post reports. The administration tried well before the Novak column to convince journalists that Wilson’s findings in Niger (see July 6, 2003) were not important (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, and April 5, 2006). The anonymous “1x2x6” source stands by the claims he or she made for the previous Post article. [Washington Post, 10/12/2003; Marcy Wheeler, 8/29/2006] Three years later, Novak will identify White House press aide Adam Levine as the “1x2x6” source (see October 16, 2006).
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) asks CIA Director George Tenet to conduct a damage assessment for the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005] According to anonymous intelligence officials, the CIA has already performed an “aggressive,” in-house assessment of the damage done by her exposure, and found the damage to have been “severe” (see Before September 16, 2003). It is unclear if Daschle knows about the CIA assessment.
Following nine months of haggling over access to Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items related to the 9/11 Commission’s work (see Late January 2003, June 2003, and Late Summer 2003), White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees to provide the Commission with a briefing about them.
No Details Provided - Gonzales says the briefing will be about the “contents” of the PDBs, although the Commission is unsure what this means and thinks it may include verbal information about what is written in items relevant to its investigation. However, at the briefing, lawyers simply tell the Commission about how the documents are prepared. They also say that there are approximately 300 PDB items relevant to the Commission’s work, but they will not provide any details of what the items actually say.
Briefing Is 'Ridiculous' - The commissioners are very frustrated, and Republican Commissioner Jim Thompson, for example, complains, “This is ridiculous.” Author Philip Shenon will comment: “The commissioners were seething. If the briefing was meant to placate them, it had done the opposite; it was one more bit of proof of Gonzales’s ham-handed strategy in dealing with the investigation. If anything, the commissioners were now more anxious to see the actual PDBs.” Thompson will add, “We were not going to take no for an answer.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 215-216]
Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) speaking to the US Senate. [Source: Life magazine]Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), a longtime critic of the Bush administration’s push for war with Iraq, delivers a blistering rebuke from the floor of the US Senate to President Bush and the White House over what he calls “lie after lie after lie” it has given to the American people to justify the Iraq invasion. Kennedy calls the war “unnecessary… based on unreliable and inaccurate intelligence,” and notes that the US occupation of Iraq “has not brought an end to danger. Instead, it has brought new dangers, imposed new costs, and taken more and more American lives each week.” Iraq “was not a breeding ground for terrorism,” Kennedy asserts. “Our invasion has made it one.”
'Trumped-Up' 'Double Talk' - He accuses the administration of taking the nation to war on the basis of “trumped-up reasons” and “double-talk,” saying: “The American people were told Saddam Hussein was building nuclear weapons. He was not. We were told he had stockpiles of other weapons of mass destruction. He did not. We were told he was involved in 9/11. He was not. We were told Iraq was attracting terrorists from al-Qaeda. It was not. We were told our soldiers would be viewed as liberators. They are not. We were told Iraq could pay for its own reconstruction. It cannot. We were told the war would make America safer. It has not. Before the war, week after week after week after week, we were told lie after lie after lie after lie.”
Getting out of Iraq - But, Kennedy notes, now that the US is in Iraq, it cannot just withdraw and leave the country “to chaos or civil war [and risk it] becoming a danger to us far greater than it did before. The misguided policy of the past is no excuse for a misguided policy for the future. We need a realistic and specific plan to bring stability to Iraq, to bring genuine self-government to Iraq, to bring our soldiers home with dignity and honor.” Kennedy says he will vote against the administration’s $87 billion “emergency funding” bill for the occupation, and will continue to vote against future bills until the administration outlines a plan for withdrawing from Iraq. “A no vote is not a vote against supporting our troops,” he says. “It is a vote to send the administration back to the drawing board. It is a vote for a new policy—a policy worthy of the sacrifice our soldiers are making, a policy that restores America as a respected member of the family of nations, a policy that will make it easier, not far more difficult, to win the war against terrorism.”
'Huge' Spending Outlay - Kennedy gives examples of what the $87 billion is not being spent on:
“It is 87 times what the federal government spends annually on after-school programs.”
“It is seven times what President Bush proposed to spend on education for low-income schools in 2004.”
“It is nine times what the federal government spends on special education each year.”
The World's Next 'Failed Empire?' - Kennedy warns that for the US to continue to be “an occupier of other lands,” to “have to re-learn the lesson that every colonial power in history has learned,” risks making the US “the next failed empire in the world.” The Bush administration ignores the lessons of history, Kennedy says: “The most basic of those lessons is that we cannot rely primarily on military means as a solution to politically-inspired violence. In those circumstances, the tide of history rises squarely against military occupation. The British learned that lesson in Northern Ireland. The French learned it in Algeria. The Russians learned it in Afghanistan and are re-learning it every day in Chechnya. America learned it in Vietnam, and we must not re-learn it in Iraq.”
Protecting the US Military - The Bush administration is sacrificing the lives, the health, and the safety of the US soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere to its dreams of empire, Kennedy says. “Even with the best forces in the history of the world, our military cannot succeed if the mission is not achievable, if they are viewed as occupiers, and if we do not have a clearly defined and realistic strategy.… I am profoundly moved by the price they pay to serve our country, and profoundly impressed by their professionalism and commitment.… They tell me that far too many in Iraq believe we are there to take their oil, and that we will stay forever. They have no clear sense about their post-war mission. Some see it as winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. Some believe it is security. Some feel it is to obtain intelligence about opposition forces and weapons caches. Others think it is to prevent sabotage of the oil pipelines and other vital infrastructure. Still others say it is to build sidewalks and soccer fields and schools and hospitals, and other local facilities. Not one of the soldiers told me their mission was to achieve Iraq’s transition to democracy.”
Supporting the Contractors at the Expense of Supporting the Iraqi People - The administration is far more interested in supporting large private contractors such as Halliburton and KBR, Kennedy says, than it is in actively helping the Iraqi people. “The administration’s policy of rushing to put large multibillion-dollar contracts in the hands of American firms ignores not only the lesson of history but also the lesson of human nature—the Iraqi people need to be the real partners in the reconstruction effort.” While private firms make enormous profits from government contracts, the most basic functions in Iraq remain unrestored. “Why not scale back the lavish resources being provided to US contractors and consultants and provide larger sums directly to the Iraqi people?” he asks.
Ignoring Iraq's History of Conflict and Dissension - The administration has flatly ignored a century of history in Iraq, Kennedy says, a century of division and dissension between warring religious, cultural, and ethnic groups. Since the British carved Iraq from the remnants of the collapsing Ottoman Empire after World War I, Kennedy says, the nation has been embroiled in conflict. “Iraq had no history of unity. In the words of one tribal chieftain, ‘History did not die; the tribes and notables who emerged in 1920 and created our modern state in 1921 are here to stay with all the others who came into being thereafter.’ Instead of learning from this painful history, we condemned ourselves to repeat it. Instead of anticipating the obviously similar and predictable divisions and demands when Saddam’s regime fell, the Bush administration believed that a few favored Iraqi exile leaders, many of them in exile for years, could return to Iraq, rally the population, and lead the new government. That was another failure. The Iraqi people rejected them from the start and resisted their domination.”
Working with the United Nations - The Bush administration seems unwilling to work with the United Nations to help bring peace and stability to Iraq, Kennedy says—in his view, a critical error. In January 2000, before becoming Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice wrote of the importance of the UN in the US’s foreign relations. Kennedy says: “Condi Rice’s words indict the administration’s own policy now. It is essential to involve the international community as an active and equal partner in the political transition of Iraq. We need to give the UN a central role.… No one doubts that the United States should remain in charge of the military operation. But internationalizing the reconstruction is not a luxury; it is an imperative.”
Conclusion - Kennedy concludes by quoting from a book by former President George Herbert Walker Bush and his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, reflecting on their experiences with Iraq and the 1991 Gulf War (see September 1998). Overthrow and occupation was the wrong goal in 1991, Bush and Scowcroft wrote, and, Kennedy says, was the wrong goal in 2003. “It is time for this administration to admit that it was wrong, and turn in a new direction.… We need to actively engage the Iraqi people in governing and rebuilding their country. Our soldiers now risking their lives in Iraq deserve no less. Here at home, all Americans are being asked to bear the burden too—and they deserve more than a phony summons to support our troops by pursuing policies that will only condemn them to greater and greater danger. Yes, we must stay the course—but not the wrong course.” [CommonDreams, 10/16/2003]
An internal CIA memo detailing the January 2002 meeting in which former ambassador Joseph Wilson was chosen to go to Niger to find out the truth behind the Iraq-Niger uranium allegations (see February 13, 2002) is published by the Wall Street Journal. The memo is due to be turned over to the Department of Justice along with thousands of other documents as part of its investigation into the outing of Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 26, 2003). The document shows that while Plame Wilson was involved in the decision to send her husband to Niger, she was not responsible for making the final decision, a conclusion already verified by CIA officials (see July 22, 2003). [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/2003]
Secretary of State Colin Powell is asked by CBS anchor Bob Schieffer whether Senator Edward Kennedy’s assessment that “the American people were told lie after lie after lie in the buildup before the war and in those days after” is accurate (see October 16, 2003). Powell responds: “I have to disagree strongly with Senator Kennedy. The American people were not told lie after lie after lie. The American people were told that we have a dangerous situation in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein was ignoring 12 years of UN resolutions, that he had and was developing weapons of mass destruction.” Powell insists that Iraq may well have had “programs for the development of weapons of mass destruction” even if the actual weapons did not exist, “but let there be no doubt about what Saddam Hussein’s intentions always were. He had weapons of mass destruction, he has used weapons of mass destruction, and the president determined that it was not a risk the world should have to face any longer.” The question is essentially moot now, Powell adds, because Hussein has been overthrown. [US Department of State, 10/19/2003]
Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald testifies before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary about post-9/11 legislative changes, and says that the removal of the “wall” was a significant step forward for US counterintelligence. The wall was a set of procedures which regulated the passage of intelligence information within the FBI and from the FBI to prosecutors (see July 19, 1995). Fitzgerald says the removal of the wall represented “the single greatest change that could be made to protect our country.” He cites four cases that he says are examples of how the wall and other such obstacles have hampered counterterrorism efforts:
The arrest of Ali Mohamed. Fitzgerald claims it would have been “far less difficult” to arrest al-Qaeda operative Ali Mohamed for his involvement in the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see September 10, 1998) had it not been for the wall. [US Congress, 10/21/2003] However, author Peter Lance will point out, “But Fitzgerald neglected to tell the senators that… prosecutors and FBI agents had been monitoring the bombing cell members for two years or that they’d had multiple face-to-face meetings with Mohamed himself.” Mohamed, who was called a “key figure” in the Day of Terror plot in the US press in early 1995 (see February 3, 1995), had actually met Fitzgerald a year before the arrest and told him that he had trained bin Laden’s bodyguards, lived in bin Laden’s house, loved and believed in bin Laden, and that he didn’t need a fatwa to attack the US, as it was obvious the US was the enemy (see After October 1997). [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-6, 299-300]
The Day of Terror conspiracy. After the partial success of the World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), the conspirators planned to attack other targets in New York, but were arrested by the FBI, which had penetrated their cell. All of the arrested plotters were successfully convicted. However, Fitzgerald tells the committee, “Prosecutors were in the dark about the details of the plot until very late in the day.” [US Congress, 10/21/2003; Lance, 2006, pp. 118-9]
The Millennium Alert. Fitzgerald says that in 1999, investigations into suspected millennium plots were hampered because “criminal prosecutors received information only in part and with lag time so as not to breach the wall.” All attacks planned for the millennium failed, including one plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000).
Sharing Wadih El-Hage’s grand jury interview. In 1997, Al-Qaeda operative El-Hage provided information about bin Laden and his associates to a grand jury. Fitzgerald wanted to pass some of this information along to intelligence investigators (see September 24, 1997) but was unable to because grand jury information cannot be shared with intelligence investigators. To get around this restriction, an FBI agent had to get El-Hage to repeat the information outside the grand jury room. (Note: this example is not directly related to the “wall” under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but rather to a similar obstacle governing the passage of information in the opposite direction—from criminal agents to intelligence agents). [US Congress, 10/21/2003]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow. [Source: Jurist]Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, along with two members of the commission’s staff and an unnamed “representative of the executive branch,” meets at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan with three individuals doing intelligence work for the US Defense Department. [CNN, 8/17/2005; Sacramento Bee, 11/24/2005] Among these is Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which between fall 1999 and spring 2001 was tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world (see Fall 1999 and January-March 2001). According to Shaffer’s own later account, he gives the commission staff a detailed account of what Able Danger was, and tells them, “We found two of the three cells which conducted 9/11, to include [Mohamed] Atta.” At the end of the meeting, Philip Zelikow approaches him and says, “This is important. We need to continue this dialogue when we get back to the states.” [Government Security News, 9/2005] Following the meeting, Zelikow calls back to the 9/11 Commission’s headquarters in Washington to request that staff draft a document request, seeking information on Able Danger from the Department of Defense. [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 ] According to Anthony Shaffer, “My understanding from talking to another member of the press is that [Zelikow’s] call came into America at four o clock in the morning. He got people out of bed over this.” [Government Security News, 9/2005] Shaffer subsequently tries contacting Philip Zelikow in January 2004 (see Early January 2004). After it is revealed in the press that the commission, which includes no mention of Able Danger in its final report, had been briefed on the unit, spokesmen for commission members will insist that while they were informed of Able Danger at this time, they were not informed that it had identified Mohamed Atta or any other hijackers as threats. [New York Times, 8/10/2005] Head commissioners Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton will later say in an official statement that a memorandum prepared by the commission staff after the meeting “does not record any mention of Mohamed Atta or any of the other future hijackers, or any suggestion that their identities were known to anyone at [Defense Department] before 9/11. Nor do any of the three Commission staffers who participated in the interview, or the executive branch lawyer, recall hearing any such allegation.” [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 ]
Jim Marcinkowski (left) and Larry Johnson. [Source: CNN]Former CIA case officer Jim Marcinkowski, a former classmate of outed CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see Fall 1985), is outraged by the revelation of Plame Wilson’s CIA status and the allegations that the leak of her identity is not a crime (see July 14, 2003 and September 29, 2003). Another former classmate of Plame Wilson’s, former CIA agent Larry Johnson, says: “[W]hat I keep seeing in the newspaper is the spin and leak that this is no big deal. And that’s got to stop.… The problem with this is a lot of the damage that has occurred is not going to be seen. It can’t be photographed. We can’t bring the bodies out because in some cases it’s going to involve protecting sources and methods. And it’s important to keep this before the American people. This was a betrayal of national security.” Marcinkowski concurs: “This is an unprecedented act. This has never been done by the United States government before. The exposure of an undercover intelligence officer by the US government is unprecedented. It’s not the usual leak from Washington. The leak a week scenario is not at play here. This is a very, very serious event.” Plame Wilson was an NOC, or nonofficial cover officer (see Fall 1992 - 1996). “It was the most dangerous assignment you could take. It takes a special sort of person,” says Marcinkowski, who is now a prosecutor in Michigan. Former CIA official Kenneth Pollack agrees, describing an NOC’s identity as the “holiest of holies.” Many believe that the outrage among the rank and file of CIA agents and officials at Plame Wilson’s outing was so strong that CIA Director George Tenet had little choice but to recommend that the Justice Department investigate the leak (see September 16, 2003). Marcinkowski says: “In this particular case, it was so far over the line, I think myself and a lot of us were truly outraged that the government would do this.… I mean, we kept our mouths closed since 1985, when we joined.” Johnson, noting that both he and Marcinkowski are registered Republicans, says: “As a Republican, I think we need to be consistent on this. It doesn’t matter who did it, it didn’t matter which party was involved. This isn’t about partisan politics. This is about protecting national security and national security assets and in this case there has been a betrayal, not only of the CIA officers there, but really a betrayal of those of us who have kept the secrets over the years on this point.” [Guardian, 10/22/2003; CNN, 10/24/2003]
Three former CIA agents, Brent Cavan, Jim Marcinkowski, and Larry Johnson, and one current CIA official who declines to be identified, prepare a joint statement for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Because of problems with travel arrangements, Marcinkowski appears alone.
'You Are a Traitor and You Are Our Enemy' - In a closed session, Marcinkowski delivers their statement, which reads in part: “We acknowledge our obligation to protect each other and the intelligence community and the information we used to do our jobs. We are speaking out because someone in the Bush administration seemingly does not understand this, although they signed the same oaths of allegiance and confidentiality that we did. Many of us have moved on into the private sector, where this agency aspect of our lives means little, but we have not forgotten our initial oaths to support the Constitution, our government, and to protect the secrets we learned and to protect each other. We still have friends who serve. We protect them literally by keeping our mouths shut unless we are speaking amongst ourselves. We understand what this bond or the lack of it means. Clearly some in the Bush administration do not understand the requirement to protect and shield national security assets. Based on published information we can only conclude that partisan politics by people in the Bush administration overrode the moral and legal obligations to protect clandestine officers and security assets. Beyond supporting Mrs. Wilson with our moral support and prayers we want to send a clear message to the political operatives responsible for this. You are a traitor and you are our enemy. You should lose your job and probably should go to jail for blowing the cover of a clandestine intelligence officer. You have set a sickening precedent. You have warned all US intelligence officers that you may be compromised if you are providing information the White House does not like.… Politicians must not politicize the intelligence community. President Bush has been a decisive leader in the war on terrorism, at least initially. What about decisiveness now? Where is the accountability he promised us in the wake of Clinton administration scandals? We find it hard to believe the president lacks the wherewithal to get to bottom of this travesty. It is up to the president to restore the bonds of trust with the intelligence community that have been shattered by this tawdry incident.”
Questions from Senators - One committee member, Chuck Hagel (R-NE), asks Marcinkowski if he believes the White House can investigate itself, a reference to the White House’s promise to conduct a thorough internal investigation (see March 16, 2007). Marcinkowski replies that if the attorney general is trying to intimidate federal judges, it is unlikely that he can be trusted to conduct such an investigation. Another senator, Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), challenges Marcinkowski, demanding that he cease attacking “my friend” Attorney General John Ashcroft. According to Marcinkowski’s later recollection, “A total food fight ensued,” with committee member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) accusing Bond of trying to intimidate a witness.
Immediate Classification - A few minutes after the hearing concludes, Marcinkowski learns that the entire hearing has been declared secret by committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS). Marcinkowski, who is scheduled to testify again before a Democrats-only hearing the next day, is incensed. He believes that Roberts deliberately scheduled the full committee hearing to come before the Democratic hearing, so he can classify Marcinkowski’s testimony and prevent him from testifying publicly in support of Plame Wilson. Marcinkowski decides to appear before the Democratic hearing anyway. He calls a Democratic staffer and says, “You call Roberts’s office and you tell him I said that he can go straight to hell.” Marcinkowski anticipates being arrested as soon as his testimony before the Democratic committee members, not knowing that Roberts has no authority to classify anything.
Democratic Hearing - Marcinkowski, joined by Johnson and former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro, testifies before the committee’s Democrats. The last question is from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), who has this question whispered to him by ranking member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller says: “I would like to ask Mr. Marcinkowski, who is an attorney, one more question. Do you think the White House can investigate itself?” After the hearing, Rockefeller grabs Marcinkowski’s hand and asks, “What did you think of the food fight yesterday?” [No Quarter, 7/18/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 382-386]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Chuck Hagel, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Brent Cavan, Dianne Feinstein, Vincent Cannistraro, Senate Intelligence Committee, Clinton administration, Larry C. Johnson, John D. Rockefeller, John Ashcroft, Tom Daschle, Jim Marcinkowski, Pat Roberts, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Omar Bakarbashat is quietly deported to Yemen after spending two years in US prisons. Bakarbashat, a Yemeni citizen, was arrested shortly after 9/11 and held as a material witness. He knew and worked with 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi at a gas station (see Autumn 2000). He was eventually charged with an immigration violation. He pled guilty to creating phony immigration documents and a Social Security card, and then served a six-month sentence. However, he chose to remain imprisoned so he could fight deportation. But after two years in prison, he gives up and agrees to be deported. According to his lawyer, he is interrogated and briefly jailed in Yemen, and then is let go. After that, he moves to Saudi Arabia. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/26/2004] It has been claimed that one day before the 9/11 attacks, Bakarbashat and others appeared to be celebrating the upcoming attacks (see Late August-September 10, 2001).
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson sits down with Jeff Gannon of Talon News to discuss the outing of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), his trip to Niger that helped debunk the claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003), and his concerns over the Iraq war. Wilson is unaware that Gannon is in reality James Guckert, a gay prostitute who moonlights as a fake journalist for the right-wing Talon News (see January 26, 2005 and January 28, 2005). Little of what Gannon/Guckert elicits is new information.
Access to Classified Information? - However, early in the interview, Gannon/Guckert refers to a classified memo when he says, “An internal government memo prepared by US intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports.” The FBI will investigate Gannon/Guckert’s knowledge of the memo, but he will deny ever having seen it. It is not clear from whom he learned of the memo [Talon News, 10/28/2003; Wilson, 2007, pp. 216] , though he will insist that he received the information from “confidential sources.” [Antiwar (.com), 2/18/2005]
America Did Not Debate Redrawing the Middle East as a Rationale for War - Wilson notes that he considered “the invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq for the purpose of disarming Saddam [Hussein] struck me as the highest risk, lowest reward option.… [W]e ought to understand that sending our men and women to kill and to die for our country is the most solemn decision a government has to make and we damn well ought to have that debate before we get them into harm’s way instead of after.” He explains why the idea that his wife selected him for the Niger mission is incorrect. When Gannon/Guckert attempts to pin him down by citing the initial meeting in which Plame Wilson suggested Wilson for the mission (see February 13, 2002), Wilson notes, “[T]hat fact that my wife knows that I know a lot about the uranium business and that I know a lot about Niger and that she happens to be involved in weapons of mass destruction, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we know of each others activities.” Wilson says that the aims of the administration’s neoconservatives—to redraw “the political map of the Middle East,” is something that has not been debated by the nation. The US did not debate the war with Iraq “on the grounds of redrawing the map of the Middle East,” he notes.
Wilson Did Not Violate CIA Secrecy in Revealing Niger Mission - Gannon/Guckert asks if Wilson violated CIA secrecy in going public with the results of his Niger mission, as some on the right have asserted. Wilson reminds Gannon that his was not a clandestine trip, “not a CIA mission,” but an aboveboard fact-finding journey. Those circumstances were well understood by the CIA before he left for Niger.
Implications of French Complicity in Niger Allegations Debunked - Gannon/Guckert tries to insinuate that the French may have had something to do with keeping the alleged uranium sales secret, and Wilson quickly shoots that line of inquiry down, saying, “The fact that you don’t like the French or that the French seem to have favored a different approach on this is far different from the French violating UN Security Council resolutions of which they are signatories, and clandestinely transferring 500 tons of uranium to a rogue country like Iraq is a real reach.” He then describes just how impossible it would have been for the French to have facilitated such a secret uranium transfer even had it wished.
Refuses to Accuse Rove Directly - Wilson refuses to flatly name White House political strategist Karl Rove as the person behind the leaks of his wife’s clandestine identity, though he notes that Rove indeed labeled his wife “fair game” to the press (see July 21, 2003) and that Rove was in a perfect position to have orchestrated the leak. When Gannon/Guckert tells Wilson that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first published Plame Wilson’s name and occupation, denies that the White House gave him the information on her identity, Wilson retorts, “Novak has changed his story so much that it’s hard for me to understand what he is talking about” (see September 29, 2003).
When a Leak Is Not a Leak - Gannon/Guckert brings up the allegation from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that Plame Wilson was revealed as an undercover agent by Russian spy Aldrich Ames in 1994. Because Ames may have revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to the Russians, Gannon/Guckert asks, isn’t it possible that she was no longer an undercover agent? Wilson refuses to validate the Ames speculation, and finally says that the CIA would not be treating this so seriously if it were as frivolous an issue as Gannon/Guckert suggests. “[R]emember this is not a crime that has been committed against my wife or against me,” he says. “If there was a crime, it was committed against our country. The CIA has referred the matter to the Justice Department for further investigation, I don’t believe that’s a frivolous referral.” [Talon News, 10/28/2003]
The CIA’s inspector general, John Helgerson, issues a report on the use of a handgun and power drill to intimidate al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri during an interrogation. A CIA officer known only as “Albert” threatened al-Nashiri with the gun and drill at a CIA black site in Poland around late 2002 (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003). [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ; Associated Press, 9/7/2010] The incidents have already been referred to the Justice Department, which has declined to prosecute (see September 11, 2003). What conclusions Helgerson comes to in the report are unknown. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 42 ]
A CIA officer known only as “Albert” is reprimanded by the agency for threatening detained al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a gun and drill. The incidents took place at a CIA black site in Poland in December 2002 or January 2003 (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003) and Albert’s actions were approved by his supervisor, “Mike,” who is also reprimanded. [Associated Press, 9/7/2010] The timing of the reprimand is unknown, although it may follow the completion of a report into the matter by the CIA’s inspector general (see October 29, 2003). Both Mike and Albert leave the agency, although Albert will later be rehired as a contractor (see 2003 and Before 2008).
The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)‘s Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz sends a classified memo to his boss, OLC chief Jack Goldsmith. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the Geneva Conventions. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Despite asking some questions about the way the CIA is putting some of its questions to high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees it is interested in (see October 2003), the 9/11 Commission fails to inquire more deeply into the harsh interrogation methods the CIA uses on detainees. One Commission staffer will say: “We did not delve deeply into the question of the treatment of the prisoners. Standards of treatment were not part of our mission.” Another will admit: “We did not ask specifically. It was not in our mandate.” In 2008, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, will say he is “shocked” by the failure to ask about interrogation techniques, “If you’re sitting at the 9/11 Commission, with all the high-powered lawyers on the Commission and on the staff, first you ask what happened rather than guess.” [MSNBC, 1/30/2008]
Fran Townsend, deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, visits Abu Ghraib for approximately two hours. She is given a tour of the prison by Army Lt. Col. Steven Jordan. Townsend will later say that the purpose of her visit was to learn more about resistance against the US occupation and to ensure that information coming from the facility would be shared effectively among the various intelligence agencies. She will also say that she did not discuss interrogation methods, pressure military prison personnel to produce more intelligence, or witness any incidents of abuse. [USA Today, 6/17/2004]
Muhammad Bashmilah. [Source: Public domain via Raw Story]Muhammad Bashmilah, a Yemeni detained in Jordan and then moved to a CIA prison in Afghanistan, will later say that he sees cameras in the prison. He will describe to his lawyer cameras both in his cells and in interrogation rooms, some on tripods and some on the wall. [New York Times, 12/11/2007] This claim contrasts with a later statement by the CIA saying that it stopped recording detainee interrogations in late 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002).
Imam Abdelkader Farssaoui, a.k.a. Cartagena, will testify under oath as a protected witness in 2007 that he was an informant and informed on a group of the 2004 Madrid train bombers from 2002 to 2003 (see September 2002-October 2003). He informed for the UCIE, a police unit dealing with terrorism. The group he watches is led by Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, who will later be considered one of about three top leaders of the bomb plot. Farssaoui moves from Madrid in October 2003 and stops informing on Fakhet’s group (see October 2003). But not long after that, he is back in Madrid and claims that he sees Fakhet go by on a moped with close associate named Said Berraj. He follows them, and sees Fakhet meeting with two UCIE officers who used to be his handlers at the same spot where he used to meet them. He does not see Berraj and assumes he has gone to the bathroom or something like that. The next day he asks his handler if Fakhet is an informant too, and his handler dodges the question. Farssaoui is wearing a motorcycle helmet and is not spotted. He keeps this information to himself until after the bombings. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/7/2007; ABC (Spain), 3/7/2007] Berraj is said to be Fakhet’s assistant, and other sources will confirm that Berraj was a government informant in 2003. Berraj will flee Spain two days before the bombings and has not been seen since. [El Mundo (Madrid), 1/15/2007] About one month after the bombings, Fakhet will be killed with six of the other bombers after police surround their hideout (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004).
On a tour of outlying US military detachments, the chief of the CIA’s station in Baghdad, Iraq, visits Tiger Forward Operating Base, manned by the Third Armored Cavalry and close to the Syrian border. The chief, whose name is apparently Gerry Meyer (see May 18, 2006), talks with an unnamed US commander at the base. The commander tells Meyer that over the last four to six weeks the Iraqi insurgents have been coalescing, and their tactics and methods show greater command, control, and sophistication, making them more deadly. The officer suggests that the rebels are getting ready for something bigger and that a new stage of the conflict in Iraq is about to begin. This coincides with what Meyer already knows about events in the country; while the number of attacks has recently been increasing, support for the US occupation among the locals is eroding. Meyer has already written one high-profile cable to CIA headquarters about the worsening situation (see August 30, 2003), but now decides that the conditions require another such warning (see November 10, 2003). [Risen, 2006, pp. 125-127]
On NBC’s “Meet the Press”, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld denies that Americans were misinformed about Iraqi nuclear arms. Rumsfeld says that no one in the administration ever claimed Iraq had tried to obtain nuclear weapons. Moderator Tim Russert asks: “But, Mr. Secretary, you acknowledge that there was an argument made by the administration that Saddam Hussein possessed chemical and biological weapons, and could have been well on his way to reconstituting his nuclear program. There doesn’t appear to be significant amounts of evidence to document that presentation that was made by the administration.” Rumsfeld says that this administration as well as preceding administrations “all agreed” that Iraq had chemical and biological weapons, “and that they had programs relating to nuclear weapons that they were reconstituting—not that they had nuclear weapons—no one said that.” The administration made numerous claims of Iraq possessing “reconstituted” nuclear weapons, including claims made by the CIA (see January 30, 2002), Vice President Dick Cheney (see September 8, 2002), and the entire intelligence community (see October 1, 2002). Russert follows up by asking if it was possible “that the inspections in fact did work, that the enforcement of the no-fly zone did work, and that Saddam in fact no longer had a weapons of mass destruction capability?” Rumsfeld replies that it is possible Saddam Hussein “took his weapons, destroyed them, or moved them to some other country.” [US Department of Defense, 11/2/2003]
After the 9/11 Commission becomes unhappy with the information it is getting from detainees in US custody who may know something about the 9/11 plot (see Summer 2003), it asks CIA Director George Tenet to let it either talk to the detainees itself, or at least view interrogations through a one-way mirror. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 119-126]
Reasoning - Dieter Snell, the head of the Commission’s plot team and a former prosecutor, is extremely keen that the detainees, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, be interviewed. According to author Philip Shenon, he is aware that “testimony from key witnesses like the al-Qaeda detainees would have value only if they were questioned in person, with investigators given the chance to test their credibility with follow-up questions. The face-to-face interrogations would be especially important in situations in which the al-Qaeda members were giving conflicting testimony.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 182]
Request Denied - However, Tenet denies the request because he does not want the Commission to know where the detainees are, and he claims questioning by a Commission staffer could apparently damage the “relationship” between interrogator and detainee and “upset the flow of questioning.” In addition, Tenet is worried that if the Commission has access to the detainees, Zacarias Moussaoui might also be able to compel them to testify in court, so he rejects compromise proposals.
Pushback - The Commission decides “to push the issue” and drafts a letter outlining why they should have direct access. Although the draft is seen by Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, it is never officially sent. At a White House meeting attended by Rumsfeld and commissioners Lee Hamilton and Fred Fielding, Tenet and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales repeat the arguments Tenet made previously, but Tenet says the Commission can submit written questions, and a CIA “project manager” will try to get them answered. After the administration “plead[s]” with the Commission not to use public pressure to get access to detainees, the Commission decides to drop the matter.
Relatives and Media Blamed - Hamilton and Commission Chairman Thomas Kean will later partially blame the victims’ relatives and media for this failure: “Interestingly, there was no pressure from some of the usual sources for us to push for access. For instance, the 9/11 families never pressed us to seek access to detainees, and the media was never engaged on this issue.” Kean and Hamilton will later say that the “project manager” arrangement works “to a degree.”
Report Includes Disclaimer - However, a disclaimer will be inserted into the 9/11 Commission Report in the first of two chapters that draw heavily on detainees’ alleged statements (see After January 2004). It will say that the Commission could not fully judge the credibility of detainee information, so, according to Kean and Hamilton, “it [is] left to the reader to consider the credibility of the source—we had no opportunity to do so.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 119-126]
Criticism from Staffer - Commission staffer Ernest May will later criticize the Commission’s “reluctance ever to challenge the CIA’s walling off al-Qaeda detainees.” May will also say: “We never had full confidence in the interrogation reports as historical sources. Often we found more reliable the testimony that had been given in open court by those prosecuted for the East African embassy bombings and other crimes.” [New Republic, 5/23/2005] CIA videotapes and transcripts of interrogations are not provided to the Commission (see Summer 2003-January 2004).
Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Thomas Kean, Fred F. Fielding, Lee Hamilton, US Department of Defense, Ernest May, Dietrich Snell, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Allekema Lamari. [Source: Spanish Interior Ministry]The Spanish intelligence agency Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) warns in a report that Barakat Yarkas’s al-Qaeda cell has reconstituted itself (see November 13, 2001) and is planning a new attack in Spain. It specifically warns that Allekema Lamari and Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet are leading the new effort and are planning an attack on an unknown but significant target. This warning is based on comments Lamari made to his close associates. [Irujo, 2005, pp. 243] The warning is accurate; Lamari and Fakhet will be two of the leaders of the Madrid bombings in March 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). In retrospect, it is not surprising that Spanish intelligence is aware of such a warning, because at least two of the bomb plotters are actually government informants, and one of them is close to Lamari and another is close to Fakhet (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). But surprisingly, no action appears to be taken. Neither Fakhet, Lamari, nor any other members of their group are arrested before the bombings. A government informant will later claim under oath as a protected witness that Fakhet also was a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Mariano Rayon, head of the CNI, will later say, “We concluded that there was a certain and immediate threat against Spain or Spanish interests abroad.” The threat level was already high, but it was raised to “very high.” [ABC (Spain), 5/3/2007]
An Afghani civilian later identified as Abdul Wahid dies from what his autopsy report calls “multiple blunt force injuries to head, torso, and extremities.” Wahid is being held by US forces at a forward operating base in Helmand province. [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
The 9/11 Commission and the White House come to a deal on the Commission’s access to Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) relevant to its work. The Commission and White House had been in dispute about the issue for nearly a year (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, October 16, 2003, Shortly Before October 26, 2003, and November 6, 2003).
Arrangement - The deal gives Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, plus two others on the Commission to be designated, access to a group of 20 “core” PDBs clearly relevant to the Commission’s work. In addition, two of these four can read all possibly relevant PDBs and insist on the other two being allowed to see anything they think is important. The deal is struck by Kean and Hamilton for the Commission, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and White House chief of staff Andy Card. The Commission designates commissioner Jamie Gorelick and its executive director, Philip Zelikow, as the two who will help Kean and Hamilton and also review all the other PDBs. The other seven commissioners and the rest of the staff cannot see the PDBs.
Criticism - Two of the commissioners, Democrats Tim Roemer and Max Cleland, are extremely angry with the deal and complain the Commission cannot function properly without all the commissioners seeing all the relevant documents. The victims’ relatives are also extremely unhappy, and the Family Steering Committee releases a statement saying, “A limited number of commissioners will have restricted access to a limited number of PDB documents,” adding, “The Commission has seriously compromised its ability to conduct an independent, full, and unfettered investigation.” They are also unhappy that Zelikow is one of the two handling the main review, because they are concerned about his ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, among other issues (see March 21, 2004). One of the victim’s relatives, Kristen Breitweiser, says, “How much more of Zelikow do we have to take?” The Commission’s counsel, Daniel Marcus will agree with the families, saying, “If we were going to have a staff person do this, Philip was not the right person.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 218-219]
Entity Tags: Andrew Card, White House, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales, Thomas Kean, Tim Roemer, Max Cleland, Daniel Marcus, Jamie Gorelick, Philip Zelikow, Lee Hamilton, Kristen Breitweiser, 9/11 Family Steering Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The chief of the CIA station in Baghdad sends a high-profile “Aardworf” cable entitled “The Expanding Insurgency in Iraq” warning of the deteriorating situation in the country. The chief, whose name is apparently Gerry Meyer (see May 18, 2006), sent a similar cable in August (see August 30, 2003), but is inspired to write a follow-up by a recent conversation with a US officer (see Early November 2003). According to author James Risen, Meyer believes that the US is “in danger of losing a war that it thought it had already won,” and so writes this “painfully honest account of the worsening situation.” The report states that the insurgency in central and northern Iraq is gaining momentum, and the insurgents are “self-confident and believe they will ultimately succeed in returning to power as they have in the past.” The rebels can sense the American will is “wavering,” and feel very little pressure from the US military. Politically, the insurgents are taking advantage of the fact that the US has not developed a clear message that resonates with the Iraqi people. Therefore, locals see the insurgents as powerful and “largely unchallenged” because of the political drift in Baghdad—current Iraqi political leaders have not been able to govern the country, draft a constitution, or hold an election. The US has therefore lost its best chance to stabilize Iraq, and the Baathists, surprised by the ferocity of the initial onslaught, have now regrouped. The report adds: “By the end of the summer, the continued sense of isolation in the Sunni heartland, the complete dissolution of the army and other institutions of security, rigid de-Baathification, and the lack of economic opportunities or political direction gave these regime elements the confidence they needed to repair their networks and reestablish themselves. The ease with which the insurgents move and exist in Baghdad and the Sunni heartland is bolstering their self-confidence further.” The report also says that there is no way to completely seal Iraq’s borders with its neighbors and prevent foreign jihadis entering the country, that majority Shiite Muslims could join rebel Sunnis, and that this would doom the occupation to failure. Unless the US takes corrective actions, the country’s rebuilding could collapse. [Knight Ridder, 11/11/2003; Risen, 2006, pp. 127-128, 145-147] The report will soon be leaked to the press (see November 11, 2003) and may lead to Meyer’s firing (see (Late December 2003)).
A CIA report warning of the growing insurgency in Iraq is leaked to the press. After the report, drafted by CIA Baghdad station chief Gerry Meyer, arrives in Washington on November 10 (see November 10, 2003), an article about it by Jonathan Landay of Knight Ridder newspapers appears the following day. Landay, who knows of the report from “two senior administration officials,” comments that the report’s “bleak tone” contrasts “sharply” with accounts recently offered by President Bush and other officials. He also reveals that the report was drafted by the station chief, although Meyer’s identity is not revealed, and that the report is time-sensitive Aardwolf priority. Landay adds, “The speed of the leak suggested that senior policymakers want to make sure the assessment reaches Bush,” because, “Some senior policymakers have complained of being frustrated in their efforts to provide Bush with analyses of the situation in Iraq that are more somber than the optimistic views of Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, and other hardliners.” A senior administration official also tells Landay that L. Paul Bremer, head of the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, has essentially endorsed the report. [Knight Ridder, 11/11/2003]
The bombed Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey. [Source: Murad Sezer / Associated Press]On November 15, 2003, two Jewish synagogues are struck by suicide truck bombs in Istanbul, Turkey. Five days later, the British HSBC Bank and British Consulate in Istanbul are hit by more truck bombs. Fifty-eight people are killed in the attacks, including the British consul general, and over 750 are wounded. Turkish investigators believe the attacks were orchestrated by local al-Qaeda operatives after getting approval from Osama bin Laden. [BBC, 11/20/2003; BBC, 2/16/2007] In 2007, seven people will be sentenced to life in a Turkish prison for their role in the attacks. One of them is Luai Sakra, who confessed to being one of the two masterminds of the attacks (see March 21, 2006-February 16, 2007). Forty-one people receive shorter sentences, and 26 people are acquitted. [BBC, 2/16/2007] Evidence will later emerge suggesting that Sakra was an informant for the CIA, Turkey, and Syria at least in 2000 and 2001 (see 2000 and September 10, 2001).
Two alleged Yemeni terror financiers, cleric Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad and his assistant Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed, are extradited from Germany to the US to face trial. The FBI claims that the two men supported both Hamas and al-Qaeda, with al-Moayad having provided Osama bin Laden with up to $20 million. They were arrested in Germany in January in a sting operation run by the bureau (see January 2003). The extradition follows a ruling by Germany’s highest court that the men will face a fair trial in the US, not a military court or other special tribunal. [BBC, 11/16/2003]
The US government sends a security bulletin to law enforcement and government officials warning that a surge in terrorist violence abroad and the conclusion of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, has increased the possibility of attacks on US citizens and interests abroad. According to a senior law enforcement official, the bulletin states that the spate of bombings in Istanbul and elsewhere signals al-Qaeda’s continued intent to attack US interests abroad. However, the information is not specific enough to warrant an increase of the National Alert Level from yellow to orange. [CBS News, 11/21/2003]
The Bush administration reverses a long-standing policy requiring FBI agents to destroy their files on innocent US citizens, residents, and companies after investigations are closed. This information is now being put in government data banks to be shared with other agencies. [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
According to journalist Ron Suskind, at the end of 2003, “The carefully constructed global network of [al-Qaeda’s] sigint and what can be called finint, or financial intelligence, started to go quiet. In short, al-Qaeda, and its affiliates and imitators, stopped leaving electronic footprints. It started slowly, but then became clear, a definable trend.” Al-Qaeda resorts more to low-tech methods, such as human couriers. One senior US intelligence official will later say, “We were surprised it took them so long” to figure out the dangers of electronic communication. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 277-279]
The new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, begins an internal review of the legality of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005). The program is kept so secret that only four Justice officials even have access to information about its inner workings, a pattern of poor consultation he will call “the biggest legal mess I have ever encountered” when he testifies to the Senate about the program four years later (see October 2, 2007). Neither Attorney General John Ashcroft nor Justice’s top legal counsel know much about the program. When Goldsmith begins his legal review, the White House initially refuses to brief Deputy Attorney General James Comey about it. Goldsmith later testifies that he cannot find “a legal basis for some aspects of the program.” Upon completing the review, Goldsmith declares the program illegal, with the support of Ashcroft and Comey. However, White House officials are irate at Goldsmith’s findings. [Washington Post, 10/20/2007]
Quiet opposition builds within the Justice Department against the White House’s attacks on civil liberties and governmental process in the name of national security. The opposition is led by James Comey, the deputy attorney general under John Ashcroft, and includes the chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, and other like-minded Justice Department lawyers and officials. Comey, Goldsmith, and many of their colleagues will resign from their posts, some perhaps pressured by the White House to get out without making a fuss (see June 17, 2004). Comey and Goldsmith are the point men of this opposition group, though they will speak little in public about their experiences until they testify before the Senate in 2007 (see May 15, 2007 and October 2, 2007).
Standing 'Up to the Hard-Liners' - Newsweek, one of the only mainstream media outlets to report on this “insurrection” at any length, will call it “one of the most significant and intriguing untold stories of the war on terror.” The magazine will report in 2006: “These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as far-fetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law.… These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.” Comey, Goldsmith, and their colleagues do not oppose the war on terror in principle, and share the administration’s concerns about the restraints imposed on the government in compiling intelligence on suspected terrorists. Their opposition centers on the process used by the White House, which routinely ignores and runs over Congress, the judiciary, and the law in implementing its agenda.
White House Denial - The White House will continue to deny that this opposition group ever existed, with a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney saying in 2006: “The proposition of internal division in our fight against terrorism isn’t based in fact. This administration is united in its commitment to protect Americans, defeat terrorism and grow democracy.” [Newsweek, 2/6/2006]
In December 2003, Norwegian intelligence discovers an al-Qaeda treatise on the Internet called “Jihadi Iraq, Hopes and Dangers.” Completed in September 2003, it is dedicated to Yusef al-Ayeri, head of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula until he was killed in May 2003 (see May 31, 2003), and parts of it may have been written by al-Ayeri. The treatise has a series of recommendations on how to undercut US efforts in Iraq. One major idea is to separate the US from its allies in the Iraq war such as Britain, Spain, and Poland by bombing them. It suggests the political utility of an attack in Spain before 2004 elections there, which is what later occurs (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). It will later be determined that Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the leaders of the Madrid bombings, downloaded the treatise and was presumably influenced by it (it will also be alleged that Fakhet really was a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). [New York Times Magazine, 11/25/2007] Interestingly, the treatise focuses on new attacks in Saudi Arabia and Europe, but not in the US. This dovetails with a growing consensus within the US intelligence community that al-Qaeda may not have been trying to attack the US since 9/11. One senior CIA official will later say, “Clearly, they had the capability to attack us in about a hundred different ways. They didn’t. The question was, why?” Journalist Ron Suskind will later comment that the idea “al-Qaeda might not, at this point, actually want to attack America” was “a conclusion that was the last thing anyone in the White House wanted publicized…” Suskind will later note that President Bush’s “central assertion that he should be reelected [in 2004] because he had kept [the US] from being attacked again” would have been severely undercut if the US public was aware of this US intelligence consensus. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 302-204]
In the wake of the report by US inspector David Kay that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction (see December 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell’s mood becomes more and more glum (see February 5, 2003). His chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, will later recall: “Well, [Powell] got a telephone call each time a pillar fell. It was either John [McLaughlin, deputy CIA director], calling Rich [Armitage, Powell’s deputy], and Rich telling him, or it was [CIA Director] George [Tenet] or John calling the secretary. And I remember this vividly because he would walk through my door, and his face would grow more morose each time, and he’d say, ‘Another pillar just fell.’ I said, ‘Which one this time?’ And, of course, the last one was the mobile biological labs (see Mid-March 2004). Finally, when that call came, the secretary came through the door and said, ‘The last pillar has just collapsed. The mobile biological labs don’t exist.’ Turned around and went back into his office.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
The US Army investigates the report of a colonel who documented potential abuses of Iraqi detainees by a joint Special Operations and CIA task force looking for weapons of mass destruction. The report will be made public by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) almost four years later (see August 15, 2007). The ACLU believes the colonel, whose name is redacted from the report, is Colonel Stuart Herrington (see December 12, 2003). The colonel reports that in late November someone called him with details of prisoner abuse that had occurred in June or July 2003 in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport. The colonel’s source had previously reported the abuse to Major General Keith Dayton, commander of the Iraq Survey Group in charge of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, and to officials in the Defense Intelligence Agency. The colonel meets with Major General Barbara Fast, the top intelligence officer in Baghdad, to brief her on his investigation into the matter, and gives her a copy of the report. The colonel is subsequently informed that the Judge Advocate General’s office attached to the US command in Iraq found “no evidence to support the allegations that detainees were mistreated.” The colonel believes this conclusion is a “cover-up,” and, in later testimony, will refer to his “blunt dismay” at the finding. He will testify that he cannot understand how his own report could have been taken so lightly given that he had provided names of the witnesses and “already had two people who admitted it.” Fast will later say to the colonel that she never saw his report until mid-2004, a statement that the colonel has trouble believing. Fast will be cleared of all allegations of misconduct by the Army inspector general, who will conclude that she took prompt action to alert the proper authorities once she was informed of the alleged abuse. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/15/2007]
The CIA reduces the period for which detainees can be deprived of sleep during the application of one of its standard techniques. Previously, if detainees were subjected to sleep deprivation as a part of a standard interrogation technique, the application could go on for 72 hours (see November 2002). However, the maximum is now reduced to 48 hours. Detainees are also subjected to sleep deprivation as a part of enhanced techniques, in which case the maximum is 11 days. [Central Intelligence Agency, 5/7/2004, pp. 30 ]
In an interview with author James Bamford, an unnamed FBI agent says that Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, deliberately hid 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar from the FBI, allowing 9/11 to happen. He says: “They refused to tell us because they didn’t want the FBI, they didn’t want John O’Neill in particular, muddying up their operation. They didn’t want the bureau meddling in their business—that’s why they didn’t tell the FBI. Alec Station worked for the CIA’s CTC [Counterterrorist Center]. They purposely hid from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau that they were following a man in Malaysia who had a visa to come to America. The thing was, they didn’t want John O’Neill and the FBI running over their case. And that’s why September 11 happened. That is why it happened.… They have blood on their hands. They have three thousand deaths on their hands.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224]
9/11 Commission member Jamie Gorelick is given access to the previously sacrosanct Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs) from the Clinton and Bush administrations (see Early December 2003). Like commission chair Thomas Kean, Gorelick is struck by the general lack of information in the documents (see Early December 2003), but the thing that strikes her most about the PDBs is just how many warnings were given in the months preceding the 9/11 attacks. Details of the predicted terrorist attack were lacking—the US intelligence community did not know where or when the attacks would take place—but the message from the spring, summer, and fall of 2001 was clear: the US must be prepared for a massive assault either on one of its foreign allies or on itself. Gorelick later recalls the warnings say the anticipated attacks are “the worst thing [the US has] ever seen—an unprecedented threat.” The August 6, 2001 PDB (see August 6, 2001) contained warnings about specific threats to American targets, particularly “federal buildings in New York.” Gorelick, like everyone else in the Commission, has never seen the actual August 6 PDB, and she is shocked by the detail and the specificity of the warnings. The characterization of the warnings as “historical” (see May 16, 2002) is inexplicable, she thinks. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 221-222]
Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 commission, finally gains access to Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs). Co-chairman Lee Hamilton calls the PDBs the “holy of holies.” They are documents that the Bush administration has worked relentlessly to keep out of the commission’s hands. Kean assumes that the documents are chock full of critical information. “I thought this would be the definitive secrets about al-Qaeda, about terrorist networks, and all the other things that the president should act on,” Kean will later recall. “I was going to find out the most important things that a president had learned.” Kean believes the PDBs should contain “incredibly secretive, precise, and accurate information about anything under the sun.” When he begins reading through the PDBs, he finds that the documents are not what he expected. He finds that they contain almost nothing of use. The realization terrifies him—these digests of the most important, sensitive secrets garnered by the US intelligence community, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars per year, used by the president to base his actions and decisions upon, are, in Kean’s words, “garbage.” He continues, “There really was nothing there—nothing, nothing.” Had his students at Drew University turned in terms papers this poorly researched, he says, “I would have given them an F.” There are a few snippets of solid information among the dross, tidbits about al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Occasionally, something intriguing catches Kean’s attention, for instance a report of a sighting of Osama bin Laden or a tip from a foreign intelligence service about possible future actions by a terrorist group. But most of the PDB contents could have been gleaned from reading the newspaper. Author Philip Shenon will write: “Perhaps the reason why the White House had fought so hard to block the commission’s access to the PDBs was that they revealed how ignorant the government was of the threats it faced before 9/11. Kean could understand their fear. Imagine the consequences if al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies knew how little the United States really knew about them.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 220-221] 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick also sees the same PDBs around the same time, and while she also is surprised by the lack of detail, she is more surprised at how alarming the warnings about an al-Qaeda attack are (see Early December 2003).
The 9/11 Commission suspects that the CIA is using harsh techniques on high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees who are being interviewed about the 9/11 plot. The commission does not interview the detainees itself, but submits questions to the CIA, and the CIA then puts them to the detainees. However, commission staffers will later be reported to have “guessed” that harsh techniques are being used, and are worried these techniques affect the detainees’ credibility. Executive Director Philip Zelikow will later say, “We were not aware, but we guessed, that things like that were going on.” According to senior US intelligence officials, the detainees used as sources by the 9/11 Commission are “subjected to the harshest of the CIA’s methods,” including “physical and mental abuse, exposure to extreme heat and cold, sleep deprivation and waterboarding.” [MSNBC, 1/30/2008] One of the detainees, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whose interrogations are mentioned hundreds of times in the report (see After January 2004), was extensively waterboarded (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and a CIA manager will say that up to 90% of the information he provides under questioning is unreliable (see August 6, 2007).
The NSA allows the 9/11 Commission to access its archives on al-Qaeda, but the commission does not appear interested. The commission had previously shown little interest in the NSA’s material (see Late 2002-July 2004), and is having trouble getting access to information from other agencies, but this offer does not stimulate any additional interest. Author Philip Shenon will comment, “[P]erversely, the more eager [NSA director] General Hayden was to cooperate, the less interested [9/11 Commission executive director Philip] Zelikow and others at the commission seemed to be in what was buried in the NSA files.” Lorry Fenner, a commission staffer who previously worked with the NSA, arranges for a set of relevant NSA files to be transferred to a special reading room in Washington not far from the commission’s offices, so the relevant staff members can have easy access to the material. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 156] However, this does not stimulate any interest, and Fenner begins to read through the material herself (see January 2004).
On a trip home to Washington, the chief of the CIA’s Baghdad station, Gerry Meyer (see May 18, 2006), meets with President Bush to discuss the situation in Iraq. [Risen, 2006, pp. 146-147] Details of the meeting are unknown, but Meyer recently wrote a report saying the situation in the country was deteriorating (see November 10, 2003), so this is probably the main topic of conversation.
Howard Dean [Source: UC Berkeley]In a December 1, 2003, interview, Howard Dean discusses the possibility that President Bush is hiding information that he was warned in advance about the 9/11 attacks. Presidential candidate Dean states that “The most interesting theory that I have heard so far… is that he was warned ahead of time by the Saudis.” Six days later, Dean clarifies, “I don’t believe that… But we don’t know, and it’d be a nice thing to know.” He concludes, “Because the president won’t give information to the Kean Commission, we really don’t know what the explanation is.” [The Beat, 12/23/2003] When asked about these comments, President Bush says “Look, there’s time for politics. And, you know… there’s a time for politics. And… it’s an absurd insinuation.” Dean spokesman Jay Carson responds, “Gov. Dean has been very clear he doesn’t subscribe to or believe this theory. But the White House needs to be more forthcoming with the 9-11 commission and put all these types of theories to rest.” [Dallas Morning News, 12/15/2003]
The single source for the controversial claim that Iraq could launch a strike with its weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes (see September 28, 2002 and March 12, 2007) is identified as “Lieutenant Colonel al-Dabbagh,” an Iraqi who has allegedly spied on Saddam Hussein’s government for British and US intelligence for over seven years. Al-Dabbagh, who does not allow his first name to be used or his photograph taken, is interviewed in Baghdad by journalist and author Con Coughlin. Al-Dabbagh, identified as an adviser to the Iraqi Governing Council, is later revealed to be an Iraqi defector who was brought to US and British attention by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Coughlin is apparently unaware of this. He portrays al-Dabbagh as a heroic risk-taker, “not a man who is easily frightened,” he writes. “[D]eath threats from Saddam’s loyalists” do not deter him from “revealing details of the former Iraqi dictator’s deployment of weapons of mass destruction”; his determination “remain[s] undiminished.”
WMD Remain Hidden - These selfsame loyalists are the reason why US forces cannot find the weapons of mass destruction, al-Dabbagh tells Coughlin. “Saddam’s people are doing this all the time,” he says. “That is why it is so difficult to find the weapons of mass destruction. I am sure the weapons are hidden in Iraq just like I see you now. I am concerned that the chemical and biological weapons are there.” Al-Dabbagh says he is proud to risk his life in divulging Hussein’s secrets: “If Saddam’s people kill me for saying this, I do not mind. I have done my duty to my country and we have got rid of Saddam. And if the British government wants me to come to London to tell the truth about Saddam’s secret weapons program, I am ready to help in any way I can.”
Claim '200 Percent Accurate' - The 45-minute claim is “200 percent accurate!” al-Dabbagh exclaims. “And forget 45 minutes. We could have fired them within half an hour.” Is he the original source of the intelligence? Coughlin asks. Al-Dabbagh replies, “I am the one responsible for providing this information.” A member of the Iraqi Governing Council, General A. J. M. Muhie, al-Dabbagh’s supposed brother-in-law, confirms that al-Dabbagh is the sole source of the claim: “We only had one source for this information and that was Dabbagh,” says the general. Fellow council member Iyad Allawi says he was the one who funnelled al-Dabbagh’s reports to Western intelligence agencies. Muhie is the one who set up the meeting between Coughlin and al-Dabbagh.
Plans to Use WMD against US Invading Forces - Al-Dabbagh tells a detailed story of how the weapons were to be deployed against the American invaders, saying that he and other officers were ordered to use specially designated four-wheel drive Isuzus and only to deploy them if Iraqi forces were in danger of being overrun. Al-Dabbagh and others were then to drive the Isuzus towards American troop emplacements and fire the weapons, presumably chemical and biological weapons tipping hand-held rockets. But the weapons were never deployed, al-Dabbagh claims, because the majority of Iraqi soldiers refused to fight against the Americans. “The West should thank God that the Iraqi army decided not to fight,” he says. “If the army had fought for Saddam, and used these weapons, there would have been terrible consequences.” Whatever became of those fearsome weapons, al-Dabbagh does not know. He believes they were hidden away by Hussein’s Fedayeen loyalists. The weapons will be found, al-Dabbagh predicts, when Hussein is caught or killed: “Only when Saddam is captured will these people talk openly about these weapons. Then they will reveal where they are.” [Sunday Telegraph, 12/7/2003]
Claims Proven False - Weeks after Coughlin’s interview, al-Dabbagh’s claims will be proven entirely false, and both al-Dabbagh and Allawi will deny any responsibility for their claims (see January 27, 2004).
Senior CIA official Robert Grenier, who, as the agency’s mission manager, inquired about the Joseph Wilson mission to Niger on behalf of the vice president’s office (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003), and told Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA official (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), is interviewed by the FBI as part of the Plame Wilson investigation. Grenier tells FBI investigators of his June 11, 2003 conversation with Libby, regarding Wilson’s Niger trip and the CIA status of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Grenier says that he is not sure whether Plame Wilson’s name came up during the conversation, a story he will tell again to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak in January 2004, but will change when he testifies for the prosecution in the Libby perjury trial (see January 24, 2007). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007; New York Times, 3/2007]
Abdelghani Mzoudi, charged by the German government in assisting the 9/11 plot, is released from custody, pending completion of his trial. Mzoudi is released on bail following evidence submitted by Germany’s federal criminal office of secret testimony from an unnamed informant who says that Mzoudi was not involved with the planning for the attacks. The presiding judge in the case identifies captured al-Qaeda operative Ramzi bin al-Shibh as the likely source of the testimony. [Guardian, 12/12/2003; BBC, 1/21/2004; Reuters, 1/22/2004; Chicago Tribune, 1/22/2004] Presumably, this information comes from the US government. However, US authorities have repeatedly rejected German attempts to have bin al-Shibh appear in court for his testimony to be examined. [Associated Press, 10/23/2003; Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2004] Mzoudi will be acquitted in February 2004 and his acquittal will be upheld in 2005 as the US continues to refuse access to bin al-Shibh (see February 5, 2004-June 8, 2005).
Barbara Fast. [Source: US Army]Col. Stuart A. Herrington, the head of an investigative commission charged with providing recommendations for improving intelligence and detention operations (see Fall 2003), issues a confidential 13-page report in which he documents several instances of abuse in Iraqi detention facilities. Herrington advises Gen. Barbara Fast that intelligence capabilities need to be significantly improved. Given that many detainees have been rounded up in Iraq, he concludes it is “disappointing that the opportunity to thoroughly and professionally exploit this source pool has not been maximized, in spite of your best efforts and those of several hundred MI [military intelligence] soldiers. Even one year ago, we would have salivated at the prospect of being able to talk to people like the hundreds who are now in our custody. Now that we have them, we have failed to devote the planning and resources to optimize this mission.” In addition, Herrington notices the practice of abusing prisoners. He specifically mentions Joint Task Force (JTF) 121. Some of its practices during arrest and detention, he writes, could “technically” be termed illegal. JTF-121 members are found to be abusing detainees throughout Iraq and to be using a secret interrogation facility. Captives delivered at Abu Ghraib have clearly been beaten. “Detainees captured by TF-121 have shown injuries that caused examining medical personnel to note that ‘detainee shows signs of having been beaten’.” Herrington concludes: “It seems clear that TF-121 needs to be reined in with respect to its treatment of detainees.” Sweeping roundups of Iraqis and their mistreatment will be “counterproductive… to win the cooperation of the Iraqi citizenry.” The report also mentions the practice of “Other Government Agencies,” referring to the CIA, creating so-called “ghost detainees” by not formally registering them when they are taken into custody. [Washington Post, 12/1/2004]
President Musharraf’s car damaged in one of the assassination attempts. [Source: Mian Khursheed / Reuters]On December 14, 2003, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf survives an assassination attempt when a powerful bomb goes off 30 seconds after his highly-guarded convoy crosses a bridge in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The heavily guarded bridge is just a mile from Musharraf’s house, yet militants were able to spend severals days tying explosives to the pylons below it. His life is saved by a jamming device in his car given to him by the FBI, which temporarily jams all telephone signals and thus delays the explosion. On December 25, 2003, two suicide bombers launch another attempt to assassinate Musharraf, driving car bombs into his convoy a short distance from the location of the previous attack. Their car bombs fail to kill him and he escapes with only a cracked windscreen on his car, but 16 others nearby are killed.
Investigation - The identities of the two suicide bombers are soon discovered. One is Mohammed Jamil, a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) militant group who fought with the Taliban. The other is Hazir Sultan, who also fought with the Taliban. The memory chip from Jamil’s phone is found in the debris, and it is discovered he talked to a policeman who told him the timing of Musharraf’s convoy. Only a handful of military officers knew the route and timing of Musharraf’s travels and which of several identical cars he would be using at any given time, suggesting that elements within the military were involved in the attacks. Investigators also discover that the explosives used in the attacks came from an al-Qaeda camp in the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 230-232]
Militant Leaders against Musharraf - Osama bin Laden apparently called for Musharraf’s overthrow in October 2002 (see October 9, 2002), and Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently did the same in September 2003 (see September 28, 2003). In the months prior to the assassination attempts, Maulana Masood Azhar, head of JEM, gave a speech at a prominent mosque calling for Musharraf’s assassination. [BBC, 7/27/2007]
Limited Crackdown - Musharraf responds by reshuffling positions in the military high command. More than 150 military and security personnel will eventually be arrested and interrogated. Twelve suspects are eventually found guilty and sentenced to death for roles in the attacks; at least six are military officers. It is believed the suicide bombers and these officers were recruited and trained by Amjad Farooqi, a JEM leader also closely linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi, said to be Farooqi’s superior, is also allegedly involved. A massive manhunt for Farooqi and al-Libbi will ensue. Farooqi will eventually be killed in September 2004 (see September 27, 2004) and al-Libbi captured in May 2005 and taken into US custody (see May 2, 2005). However, Musharraf’s response is relatively restrained. He avoids calls to launch a crackdown on the entire Islamist militant movement in Pakistan. He does not ban any militant groups, nor does he arrest militant leaders, not even Azhar, the head of JEM who had publicly called for his assassination. (JEM had been banned in Pakistan for a second time the month before (see November 2003).) He does allow the Pakistani Army to attack the safe haven of South Waziristan several months later, but only after the US gives him an ultimatum, essentially forcing him to do so (see March 18- April 24, 2004). [BBC, 9/27/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 230-232]
One US lawmaker, Congressman Jim McDermott (D-WA), believes that the story surrounding the capture of Saddam Hussein (see December 14, 2003 and December 17, 2003) is false. Instead, McDermott alleges, the capture was stage-managed for President Bush’s political benefit. “There’s too much by happenstance for it [Hussein’s capture] to be just a coincidental thing,” he tells a Seattle radio interviewer. When asked if he believed the timing was planned to help Bush, McDermott replies: “Yeah. Oh, yeah.” McDermott notes that the US had “been in contact with people all along who knew basically where he was.” He adds that the timing of a recent move by the Iraqi Governing Council to hastily enact legislation for a war crimes court to try former regime members is suspicious. Bush supporters will accuse McDermott of spreading “paranoid conspiracy theories” and “crazy talk.” [Asia Times, 4/17/2004] Subsequent evidence will bear out some of McDermott’s skepticism (see January 2004).
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow says that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke must be placed under oath when he is interviewed by the commission.
'I Know Dick Clarke' - Usually, former and current government officials being interviewed by the commission are not placed under oath; this only happens when there is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “a substantial reason to doubt their truthfulness.” Zelikow tells the staff, “I know Dick Clarke,” and, according to Shenon, argues that “Clarke was a braggart who would try to rewrite history to justify his errors and slander his enemies, [National Security Adviser Condoleezza] Rice in particular.” Zelikow is close to Rice (see January 3, 2001, May-June 2004, and February 28, 2005). Zelikow had also previously told Warren Bass, the commission staffer responsible for the National Security Council, that Clarke should not be believed and that his testimony was suspect.
Staff Cannot Talk to Zelikow about Rice - Due to Zelikow’s constant disparagement of Clarke and for other reasons, the staff come to realize that, in Shenon’s words, “they could not have an open discussion in front of Zelikow about Condoleezza Rice and her performance as national security adviser.” In addition, “They could not say openly, certainly not to Zelikow’s face, what many on the staff came to believe: that Rice’s performance in the spring and summer of 2001 amounted to incompetence, or something not far from it.”
Effect of Recusal Agreement - Zelikow has concluded a recusal agreement in the commission, as he was involved in counterterrorism on the Bush administration transition team. As a consequence of this agreement, he cannot be involved in questioning Clarke on any issue involving the transition. Shenon will comment: “[Zelikow] had reason to dread what Clarke was about to tell the commission: It was Zelikow, after all, who had been the architect of Clarke’s demotion in the early weeks of the Bush administration, a fact that had never been aired publicly.”
First Interview - Clarke is first interviewed by the commission on December 18, and the interview is mostly conducted by Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer. Marcus and the other staffers present at the interview realize within minutes what an important witness Clarke will be and what damage he could do to Bush and Rice. Marcus will later comment, “Here was a guy who is totally unknown outside the Beltway, who had been a Washington bureaucrat all of his life, who turns out to be a dynamite witness.” Clarke tells the commission of charges he will later repeat publicly (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), saying that Bush and Rice did not take terrorism seriously enough in the run-up to the attacks, that they were more focused on issues left over from the Cold War, and that Bush tried to get him to link the attacks to Iraq. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 145-146, 196-199]
For the first time, 9/11 Commissioner Thomas Kean says that the 9/11 attacks could and should have been prevented. Kean, a Bush appointee and former Republican governor of New Jersey, states that “This was not something that had to happen… There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed.” In 2002, FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, “[T]here was nothing the agency could have done to anticipate and prevent the [9/11] attacks” (see May 8, 2002) and other Bush administration officials have also said the attacks were all but unstoppable. Kean promises major revelations from the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, NSA, and possibly former President Clinton and President Bush. [CBS News, 12/17/2003] But within days, Kean amends his comments. He says that he wants to make it “clear” that he meant that officials at the operational level two years ago deserved to be singled out for blame and that no judgments had been reached about senior officials. This coincides with continued attempts from the White House to paint the intelligence prior to the attacks as non-specific “chatter,” and the attacks themselves as “literally bolts from the blue.” [Boston Globe, 12/21/2003]
Two reports of alleged terrorist activity trigger fear in the US. White powder is discovered on Pennsylvania Avenue, just outside the White House. A section of central Washington DC is subsequently cordoned off by police and an all-points terror alert is issued. After this large-scale reaction, the powder is found to be harmless and a Homeland Security spokesman declares the powder to be “benign.” Later, ABC News cites an anonymous intelligence source who warned of an “imminent credible threat” in Manhattan from a “woman suicide bomber.” This news causes the stock exchange to dip, despite a rapid denial by police. [London Times, 12/18/2003]
The US government issues a terror alert, based on intelligence that hints at a potential attack somewhere in Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve. The FBI quickly assembles data on most of the 1 million “potential suspects,” which includes all tourists staying in Vegas for the holidays, and examines records on every hotel guest, car and truck rentals, guest lists for casinos, storage leases, and airplane travel. Those records are combed for any possible connections to terrorist organizations. When the city’s hospitality industry begins balking at the sweeping nature of the FBI’s information requests, National Security Letters (NSLs) are used to force industry officials to produce the data. Everything swept up by the Vegas data search remains in FBI databases. The terror alert will end on January 10, 2004, with no information about any terrorist actions or possible suspects located. [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge raises the nationwide terror alert level to orange. He states that “These strategic indicators, including al-Qaeda’s continued desire to carry out attacks against our homeland, are perhaps greater now than at any point since Sept. 11.” In his announcement, Ridge cites further reports that al-Qaeda is planning further operations, and that “extremists abroad” are anticipating attacks on the scale of those on September 11, 2001. He states that “credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond.” Officials repeatedly warn about threats to the aviation sector. [CBC News, 12/21/2003] The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it has reliable and corroborated information from several sources indicating that a plot, similar to 9/11, is in an advanced stage. US officials focus their investigation on the “informed belief” that six men on Air France Flight 68, which arrives in Los Angeles daily at 4:05 p.m., are planning to hijack the jet and crash it near Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Officials say some names on the passenger manifest match those of known Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists, with one of them being a trained pilot with a commercial license. Six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles are canceled by French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 12/24/2003] The terror alert turns out to be baseless. The names identified as terrorists turn out to be a five-year-old boy, whose name had been mistaken for an alleged Tunisian terrorist, an elderly Chinese lady who used to run a restaurant in Paris, a Welsh insurance salesman, and three French nationals. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] Further investigation of the Tunisian man reveals that he has no plans to leave the country, no criminal record, and no links to extremism. [Red Orbit, 12/25/2003] Despite criticism of the investigation, French authorities praise the level of cooperation between intelligence agencies. A spokesman for the prime minister says “What is important is that the evaluation of threats continues, and they are undertaken between the Americans and the French in a framework of intense cooperation. Franco-American cooperation in this domain is exemplary.” [Red Orbit, 12/25/2003] This alert comes in the wake of the comments of the chair of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean, suggesting that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented. President Bush is criticized in the press for the continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ]
Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says: “This country has become a battlefield, and [terrorists] will kill us anywhere they can. All you have to do is go to lower Manhattan and see the hole in the ground.” [Knight Ridder, 12/29/2003]
The Bush administration reverses a long-standing policy requiring FBI agents to destroy their files on innocent US citizens, residents, and companies after investigations are closed. Such information has since commonly been put in government data banks and shared with other agencies. [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
The chief of the CIA’s station in Baghdad, Iraq, is removed from his position. [Los Angeles Times, 2/20/2004; New York Times, 2/27/2005] At this time the chief, whose name is apparently Gerry Meyer (see May 18, 2006), is not in Iraq, but reporting to superiors in Washington. He is simply told not to return to his station. [Risen, 2006, pp. 147] However, the reason for the chief’s removal is unclear and three contradictory accounts will be given. The first account, put about by anonymous officials, is that Meyer does not have the management skills to administer the station, one of the largest the CIA has ever had. [New York Times, 2/27/2005; Risen, 2006, pp. 128] One unnamed official will comment, “There was just a belief that it was a huge operation and we needed a very senior, very experienced person to run it.” A second version holds that Meyer is fired for drafting two pessimistic “Aardwolf” reports about the US’s prospects in Iraq (see August 30, 2003 and November 10, 2003). [Los Angeles Times, 2/20/2004] According to a Harper’s magazine post, White House officials ask for “dirt” on Meyer, including his political affiliation. “He was a good guy,” an anonymous CIA official will comment, “well-wired in Baghdad, and he wrote a good report. But any time this administration gets bad news, they say the critics are assholes and defeatists, and off we go down the same path with more pressure on the accelerator.” [Harper's, 5/18/2006] However, a third version will later emerge. In this account, the firing is due to concern over the deaths of two Iraqis questioned by CIA officials shortly before Meyer’s removal. After senior agency officials learn of the deaths of Abed Hamed Mowhoush (see November 26, 2003) and Manadel al-Jamadi (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003), in which CIA personnel were involved, they become unhappy with Meyer and have him removed. [New York Times, 2/27/2005; Risen, 2006, pp. 127-128] This version will apparently be supported by a document released subsequent to a Freedom of Information Act request in 2009. The document is a redacted set of May 2004 talking points to be used by a senior CIA official in a briefing of the House Intelligence Committee. The talking points do not say specifically why Meyer was fired, but do say he committed errors in detainee treatment. This will be confirmed by an anonymous former official, who will say that Meyer “wasn’t paying enough attention to the detainee situation,” as well as the issue of “ghost detainees.” [McClatchy, 8/25/2009] Whatever the reason for his firing, Meyer soon leaves the CIA. [New York Times, 2/27/2005; Harper's, 5/18/2006] According to author James Risen, his departure comes after he faces “piercing questions from CIA officials stemming from a series of inflammatory accusations about his personal behavior, all of which he flatly denied.” Risen will add that Meyer leaves the CIA “in disgust.” Whatever the reason, some CIA officials come to believe that Meyer ran into trouble because of the candid report. “When I read that November aardwolf,” a CIA official who knows Meyer will comment, “I thought that he was committing career suicide.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 127-128]
Saddam Hussein in US custody. [Source: US Department of Defense]The FBI sends veteran interrogator George Piro to question captured Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein. Over a period of months, Piro uses a combination of friendliness, warmth, and verbal provocations to tease a wealth of information from Hussein. At no time does Piro or other FBI interrogators use “aggressive” or “harsh” interrogation methods against Hussein. Piro works closely with a team of FBI and CIA analysts to pore over Hussein’s responses. He will later recall his sessions with Hussein for CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley.
'Mr. Saddam' - Piro begins calling the dictator “Mr. Saddam,” as a sign of respect; by the end of their time, they are on a first-name basis with one another. Hussein never finds out that Piro is “just” an FBI agent; he believes that Piro is far more influential than he actually is, and is directly briefing President Bush on their conversations. “He didn’t know I worked for the FBI, he didn’t know I was a field agent,” Piro will recall. Had he found out, “I think initially he would have been angry. He would feel that I was way beneath him, and would not respond well to the interrogation. Or even to me.… I think he thought, and actually on a couple of occasions talked around the issue that I was directly answering to the president.” Piro will recall setting several strategies of deception into motion, including his barking orders at the guards to send them into a panic to obey his instructions. “[I]t was all part of our strategy,” Piro will explain.
Controlling the Dictator - Piro will say that he gained physical control of the setting—a small, windowless room with chairs and a table—merely by placing himself between Hussein and the door. “I purposely put his back against the wall,” Piro will recall. “And then mine against the door, psychologically to tell him that his back was against the wall in the interview room. And that I stood between him and the door, psychologically. Between him whether it’s to go back to his cell, freedom, whatever he was projecting to be outside of that door. I was kind of that psychological barrier between him and the door.” Piro will add, “I basically said that I was gonna be responsible for every aspect of his life, and that if he needed anything I was gonna be the person that he needed to talk to.” Piro controls Hussein’s food and cleaning materials—Piro will describe Hussein as a “clean freak” who uses large numbers of baby wipes to disinfect his cell and his food. Piro allows Hussein pen and paper to write what Piro will describe as inordinate amounts of “terrible” poetry. “We had the guards remove their watches,” Piro will recall. “And the only person that was wearing a watch was me. And it was very evident to him, ‘cause I was wearing the largest wristwatch you could imagine. And it was just the act of him asking for the time—was critical in our plan.” Pelley says, “So you controlled time itself,” and Piro answers, “Yes.”
No Coercive Interrogation Methods - Piro will say that no coercive interrogations, such as sleep deprivation, excessive heat or cold, bombardment with loud music, or waterboarding are ever used. “It’s against FBI policy, first,” Piro will explain. “And wouldn’t have really benefited us with someone like Saddam.… I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach.” The best methods for use with Hussein are, according to Piro, time and patience.
Using Emotions to Create Vulnerability - Piro uses their time to build a relationship with Hussein based on dependency, trust, and emotion. He alternates between treating Hussein with courtesy and kindness, and provoking him with pictures and video images designed to anger and embarrass the former dictator. He uses pictures of the toppling of Hussein’s statues and news videos documenting his overthrow. “I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to see those videos and to get angry,” Piro will say. “You want to take him through those various emotions. Happy, angry, sad. When you have someone going through those emotions they’re not able to really control themselves. And they’re more vulnerable during the interview.”
Insult Drove Kuwait Invasion - Piro learns that one of the driving forces behind Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (see August 2, 1990) was personal insult. “What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the Emir Al Sabah, the former leader of Kuwait, to try to resolve some of the… issues” between Kuwait and Iraq, Piro will recall. “And the Emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait. He wanted to punish, he told me, Emir Al Sabah, for saying that.” The 1991 US invasion of Iraq (see January 16, 1991 and After) soured Hussein on then-President George H. W. Bush, a feeling that Hussein transferred to the son. “He didn’t like President [George W.] Bush,” Piro will say. “He would have liked meeting President Reagan. He thought he was a great leader. Honorable man. He liked President Clinton. But he did not like President Bush, the first or the current.”
Small Things, Big Impact - Piro will recall the outsized impact relatively small incidents have on Hussein. One night the FBI flies Hussein to a hospital. He is manacled and blindfolded. Piro will remember: “And once I saw how beautiful Baghdad was in the middle of the night, so I took advantage of it. I allowed him to look out and the lights were on. There was traffic. And it looked like any other major metropolitan city around the world. And for him to see that. And as I mentioned, you know, big Baghdad is moving forward without you. I mean, little things like that didn’t require a lot of suggestion on our part. It made its point.” Piro even uses Hussein’s birthday, a former national holiday, to drive home his point. “In 2004, no one celebrated his birthday on April 28th. So the only one that really knew and cared was us. I’d brought him some cookies, and we, the FBI, celebrated his birthday for him.” Piro gives Hussein packets of flower seeds and allows him to plant his own small garden, which he must tend with his hands because the FBI will not allow him to use tools. Piro will recall that their strolls in Hussein’s tiny garden are often the site of large revelations.
Avoiding Capture - Hussein tells Piro that US forces simply missed him during the first days of the invasion, the “shock and awe” assault. “He said that he was at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there, but that we missed him,” Piro later says. “He told me he changed the way he traveled. He got rid of his normal vehicles. He got rid of the protective detail he traveled with. Really just to change his signature so he would be much harder to identify.” And Hussein denies ever using body doubles or decoys, as US intelligence had long asserted.
WMD - Five months into the sessions, Hussein finally opens up to Piro regarding the subject of Iraq’s WMD programs. Using indirection, Piro begins to tease information out of Hussein. “He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s. And those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq,” Piro will recall. So why, Pelley will ask, did Hussein “put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?” Piro will respond: “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.” It is apparent, Piro says, that Hussein did not believe he could survive without the perception that he had WMD. But Piro confirms that Hussein always intended to restart his WMD program someday. “The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there,” Piro will observe. “He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.”
Did Not Believe US Would Invade - From there, Hussein begins to explain why he let the US continue to believe he had such weapons even as troops began massing on his borders. He didn’t believe the US would actually invade, he says. As Piro will recall: “[H]e told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox (see December 16-19, 1998). Which was a four-day aerial attack. So you expected that initially.” Hussein says that Iraq would have survived a relatively limited aerial bombardment. “He survived that once,” Piro will recall. “And then he was willing to accept that type of attack. That type of damage.” But he never believed the US would invade until almost the moment of the initial assault.
'The Secret War' - Hussein knew his military could not win in any confrontation with the US. Instead, as Piro will recall: “What he had asked of his military leaders and senior government officials was to give him two weeks. And at that point it would go into what he called the secret war.… Going from a conventional to an unconventional war.” Pelley will remark, “So the insurgency was part of his plan from the very beginning,” to which Piro will say, “Well, he would like to take credit for the insurgency.”
Iraq and al-Qaeda - Hussein confirms that his regime had no dealings with al-Qaeda, as many Bush officials have long believed. Hussein considered Osama bin Laden “a fanatic,” according to Piro. “You can’t really trust fanatics,” Hussein tells the interrogator. And he had no interest in any alliance with al-Qaeda. “He didn’t wanna be seen with bin Laden,” Piro will recall. “And didn’t want to associate with bin Laden.” Hussein viewed bin Laden as a threat to him and his regime.
Independent Confirmation and Praise for Piro's Efforts - Hussein’s claims are later verified by independent interrogations with other high-ranking Hussein regime officials. Piro’s boss, FBI Assistant Director Joe Persichini, will say that Piro’s interrogation is a high mark of the bureau’s recent efforts. “The FBI will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and I would have to say that the interview with Saddam Hussein is one of the top accomplishments of our agency in the last 100 years,” Persichini will say, and gives credit to Piro’s language skills. Only about 50 of the 10,000 FBI agents speak Arabic, he will note. Piro will credit his FBI and CIA colleagues for their work in analyzing Hussein’s statements, and their extensive knowledge of Hussein and his regime. “The more you know about your subject, the better of an interview… that you’re gonna conduct,” he will say. “You’ll be able to recognize inconsistencies, deception, things like that. Plus it really establishes your credibility within the interview.”
No Regrets - One thing Hussein never shows during his long interviews, Piro later recalls, is remorse. “No remorse,” Piro will say. “No regret.” [CBS News, 1/27/2008]
Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, George Piro, George W. Bush, Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Joe Persichini, CBS News, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Scott Pelley, Al-Qaeda, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Iraq under US Occupation
Eric Pound is appointed chief of the CIA’s station in Athens, Greece. He will be in the position during the Olympic Games this year. [Los Angeles Times, 2/17/2008]
Opium production in Afghanistan, 1980-2005. Based on United Nations data. [Source: UNODC/MCN] (click image to enlarge)Roughly 4,600 tons of opium are harvested in Afghanistan during 2004, according to a December 2004 statement by Russian Federal Drug Control Service Oleg Kharichkin. By the end of the year, more than 206,000 hectares in Afghanistan are reportedly planted with the crop. The Russians believe that 2005 production will approach 5,000 tons. [PakTribune (Islamabad), 12/22/2004]
Though the issue of abuse of National Security Letters (NSLs) has become an issue of concern for many civil libertarians and constitutional scholars (see October 25, 2005 and January 2004), Congress fails to conduct any meaningful oversight on their use and abuse. Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that the use of NSLs by the FBI is perfectly legal, “non-intrusive,” and “crucial to tracking terrorist networks and detecting clandestine intelligence activities.” The FBI provides enough information to Congress in “semi-annual reports [that] provide the committee with the information necessary to conduct effective oversight,” he says. Roberts is referring to the Justice Department’s classified statistics, which have only been provided three times in four years, and give no specific information about the NSLs. The Justice Department has repeatedly refused requests by committee members for a sampling of actual NSLs, a description of their results, or an example of their contribution to a particular case. In 2004, the Senate asks the Attorney General to “include in his next semiannual report” a description of “the scope of such letters” and the “process and standards for approving” them. The Justice Department fails to do so, or even to reply to the request. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), a House Judiciary Committee member, says that congressional Democrats have little recourse: “The minority has no power to compel, and… Republicans are not going to push for oversight of the Republicans. That’s the story of this Congress.” The Justice Department notes that its inspector general, Glenn Fine, has not reported any abuses of the NSLs, but those reports beg the question: how can citizens protest searches of their personal records if they are never notified about such searches? Fine says, “To the extent that people do not know of anything happening to them, there is an issue about whether they can complain. So, I think that’s a legitimate question.” [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
FISC Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. [Source: Washington Post]James Baker, counsel for intelligence policy in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (no relation to the former Secretary of State James A. Baker), informs the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that the government has, at least twice, improperly used excluded evidence from NSA domestic wiretaps to obtain warrants from FISC. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the senior FISC judge, is angered by this as both she and her predecessor, Royce Lambeth, have insisted that no evidence obtained from warrantless wiretaps can be used to obtain warrants for further surveillance from FISC. The Justice Department assured them that the administration would never attempt to secure warrants in such a manner. By using the excluded information, the Justice Department rendered useless the federal screening system put in place to keep such evidence from reaching FISC, which did not want to receive it due to the questionable legality of the domestic surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). Kollar-Kotelly’s complaint about the use of tainted evidence results in a brief suspension of the NSA wiretapping program. But the practice will continue (see 2005). [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]
Germaine Lindsay. [Source: Public domain]Shortly after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), Newsweek will report that the name of one of the suicide bombers, Germaine Lindsay, “turned up in US government antiterror databases.” Lindsay’s name apparently comes up tangentially during the British investigation, known as Operation Crevice, of the 2004 fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). A British intelligence agency monitored two other 7/7 suicide bombers repeatedly interacting with the fertilizer bomb plotters, but allegedly never learned their exact names (see February 2-March 23, 2004). They gave US intelligence a database of suspects who interacted with the fertilizer bomb plotters, and presumably Lindsay was in this database (see Between April 10, 2004 and July 7, 2005). [Newsweek, 7/20/2005] The US then puts Lindsay on a terror watch list, which presumably is shared with British intelligence, but the British fail to monitor him. [Associated Press, 7/19/2005] Lindsay was apparently monitored by the FBI when he was visiting family in the US in late 2001, and may have already been put on a watch list at that time (see December 2001).
Robert Seldon Lady, a CIA officer involved the rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003) from Italy to Egypt, retires from the agency. The retirement comes at the end of many years of service and is not due to any fallout from the abduction. When the rendition becomes public knowledge next year, Lady will be the only one of the CIA officers accused of involvement to have retired. [GQ, 3/2007 ]
Iraqi prisoner Farhad Mohamed dies while in US custody in Mosul. Later examination finds contusions under his eyes and the bottom of his chin, a swollen nose, and cuts and large bumps on his forehead. Mohamed’s death will be investigated as a possible murder by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS—see May 14, 2008). [American Civil Liberties Union, 5/14/2008]
A CIA program to kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) is terminated, and then revived under a new code name and surreptitiously outsourced to the private military corporation Blackwater. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Outsourcing Kidnappings and Assassinations - The public will not learn of the program until 2009 (see August 19-20, 2009). The reason for the move is that key officials leave the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, which had run the program, and go to work for Blackwater. A retired intelligence officer intimately familiar with the assassination program will say of the reason for using Blackwater, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” According to the Washington Post, the contract goes to Blackwater “in part because of its close ties to the CIA and because of its record in carrying out covert assignments overseas.” [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] Blackwater is given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders, including planning and surveillance, and is awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry. Blackwater executives help the CIA in planning, training, and surveillance exercises for team members. It remains unclear whether Blackwater’s role is merely for training and surveillance, or if Blackwater employees are slated to actually carry out kidnappings and assassinations. A former official will say that the Blackwater phase involves “lots of time spent training,” mostly in the US. The teams reportedly simulate missions that often involve kidnapping. “They were involved not only in trying to kill but also in getting close enough to snatch,” the official will say. Blackwater does not have an official contract with the CIA; instead, individual executives, such as its founder and CEO Erik Prince, have contracts with the agency. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Program Never Implemented - Although the CIA spends several million dollars on the program, no one is actually captured or killed, and most of the program’s elements are never implemented. According to a former official, there is “much frustration” among team members at this. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009]
Program Termination - The assassination program began in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks, and will continue until 2009, when then-CIA Director Leon Panetta will terminate it. Blackwater’s role in the program will be terminated much sooner (see (2005-2006)). In 2009, government officials will tell the New York Times that the CIA’s efforts to use what the newspaper calls “paramilitary hit teams” to kill al-Qaeda operatives “ran into logistical, legal, and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset.” [New York Times, 8/20/2009; Time, 8/21/2009] Despite an initial prohibition from Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002), the program will later be briefed to Congress (see June 24, 2009). The fact that Blackwater became involved in it is one of the reasons Congress is notified. The New York Times will report that “government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.” In addition, a private contractor involved in an operation would not have the same diplomatic immunity as a US government employee. [New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Former CIA Agent: Director 'Horrified' at Use of Mercenaries - In 2009, former CIA agent Robert Baer will write: “Panetta must have been horrified that the CIA turned to mercenaries to play a part in its dirty work. It’s one thing, albeit often misguided, for the agency to outsource certain tasks to contractors. It’s quite another to involve a company like Blackwater in even the planning and training of targeted killings, akin to the CIA going to the mafia to draw up a plan to kill [Cuban dictator Fidel] Castro.” Baer believes that the Blackwater contracts were more about “bilking the US taxpayer than… killing Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders.… [A]s soon as CIA money lands in Blackwater’s account, it is beyond accounting, as good as gone.” Baer will note that Blackwater is involved in a number of highly questionable actions, including the apparent murder of several Iraqi and Afghan civilians, and will ask “what the CIA saw in Blackwater that the public still has not.” Baer will conclude by speculating, “Even more troubling, I think we will find out that in the unraveling of the Bush years, Blackwater was not the worst of the contractors, some of which did reportedly end up carrying out their assigned hits.” [Time, 8/21/2009]
An unidentified US telecommunications firm refuses to turn over its phone records to the government as part of a joint program by the NSA and the Drug Enforcement Agency to combat Latin American drug-trafficking that has been going on since the 1990s (see 1990s). The firm believes the administrative subpoenas issued for its information by the Justice Department are overly broad, and that it fears the public relations and legal backlashes it might suffer if the public were to learn of its cooperation. [New York Times, 12/16/2007]
The CIA and ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) conduct a joint raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan, attempting to find Abu Faraj al-Libbi. He is al-Qaeda’s operational head since Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was captured in 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). Al-Libbi is not captured in the raid. However, he will be captured a year later in Mardan, near Abbottabad (see May 2, 2005). [Washington Post, 5/11/2011] Abbottabad is the town where Osama bin Laden will eventually be killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Pakistani forces conduct a raid in April 2004 attempting to get al-Libbi in Abbottabad (see April 2004) and another raid in 2004 where they unwittingly almost capture al-Libbi (see After April 2004). It is not known the US raid is the same as either of these. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will describe both raids in a 2006 book and will not mention US participation, even though he does with other raids in the book. [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 210-211]
Up until 2004, suicide bombings were almost unheard of in Afghanistan. But beginning that year, the Taliban launches six suicide attacks. In 2005, the number increases to 21. In 2006, the number skyrockets to 141, causing 1,166 casualties. In 2007, the number remains steady at 137, but the number of casualties increases 50 percent to 1,730. On September 8, 2006, a suicide bomber hits a US convoy just outside the US embassy in Kabul, killing two US soldiers and 16 Afghans. The resulting investigation uncovers a suicide bomb support network in Kabul that links to militants in the tribal regions of Pakistan. Amrullah Saleh, the head of Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, says: “Every single bomber we arrest is linked to Pakistan in some way. The training, provisions, explosives, technical equipment, are all being manufactured in Pakistan, and the CIA knows this.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 366-367]
The Bush administration directs the Department of Homeland Security to seize any vessel, sailing anywhere in US waters, that DHS believes might be headed to Cuba. The justification for the directive is “the Cuban government’s support of terrorism,” according to the DHS, even though there is little evidence to back up that claim. According to Business Week’s Paul Magnusson, the directive may well violate the Bill of Rights, and requires the US Coast Guard to “draw up regulations and enlist cash-strapped local police departments and harbor patrols in the effort.” The editor of a boating magazine observes: “That’s right, Popeye. If you’re unlucky enough to be reading this magazine in the cockpit of your most cherished possession—be it in San Diego, Seattle, Saginaw, or South Florida—and you wonder aloud how you’d always wanted to chase Hemingway’s wake, by the letter of this new edict you have now forfeited the right to keep your boat.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 17]
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