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Rob Richer, the second-ranking official in the CIA’s directorate of operations (DO), announces his retirement from the agency at a meeting of senior DO officials. The apparent reason for his departure is that he lacks confidence in the agency’s leadership, and is not getting his way in the debate over how to improve human intelligence in the wake of the establishment of the position of director of national intelligence. According to an account in the Washington Post, Richer complains that he and his boss have been frustrated by CIA Director Porter Goss and his staff in their efforts to implement certain measures. Richer had been in his position for less than a year. A few days later, Goss sends what the Post calls “an unusual worldwide message” to all CIA employees praising Richer for his nearly 35 years of service. The Post will comment that this “only fuel[s] the belief among some former intelligence officials that Richer’s resignation reflects ongoing problems at the agency.” [Washington Post, 9/9/2005]
In a Guardian op-ed, British MP and former cabinet minister Michael Meacher suggests that Saeed Sheikh, known for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks and the murder of reporter Daniel Pearl, may have played a role in the 7/7 London bombings despite being held in a high-security Pakistani prison since 2002. Meacher states that “reports from Pakistan suggest that Sheikh continues to be active from jail, keeping in touch with friends and followers in Britain.” He cites the India-based Observer Research Foundation, which argues that there are even “grounds to suspect that the [7/7 London bombings] were orchestrated by [Saeed] Sheikh from his jail in Pakistan.” [Guardian, 9/10/2005] While there have been no firm reports linking Sheikh to the 7/7 bombings, he did work with Pakistani militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar (in fact both were released in 1999 as part of a deal to end an airplane hijacking (see December 24-31, 1999)), and there are reports that two of the 7/7 bombers called Azhar and had dealings with others linked to Azhar’s militant group (see August 1, 2005).
Rob Richer, the deputy head of the CIA’s directorate of operations, meets with CIA Director Porter Goss to explain the reasons for his recently announced resignation (see September 2, 2005). Reportedly, the central problem is that Richer wants to reform and expand operations conducted by the agency’s clandestine service, while reducing the side of the agency that conducts analysis, some of which would pass over to the director of national intelligence. In the private session, Richer is “blunt” about Goss’s leadership, according to sources the Washington Post will say are close to both men. He also advises Goss to, according to the Post, “communicate a vision for the agency and demonstrate leadership that senior career officials could rally behind.” An official will say: “Rob laid at his doorstep, in a collegial way, that Goss is out of touch.… It fell on deaf ears.” Richer apparently leaves the meeting angry, telling others he is disappointed with Goss’s response to his ideas. [Washington Post, 9/22/2005]
Former members of the 9/11 Commission dismiss recent allegations regarding a secret military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which had been set up in 1999 to bring together information about al-Qaeda. Several former members of the unit have come forward claiming the program identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks (see August 17, 2005; August 22-September 1, 2005). The 9/11 Commission has been criticized for not mentioning Able Danger in its final report. In response, its former chairman, Thomas Kean, claims there is no evidence that anyone in the government knew about Mohamed Atta before 9/11, and there are no documents that verify the claims made by former members of the unit. However, the Pentagon has recently confirmed that documents associated with Able Danger were destroyed in accordance with regulations about gathering intelligence on people inside the US. Another former commissioner, Slade Gorton, says, “Bluntly, it just didn’t happen and that’s the conclusion of all 10 of us.” But a spokesman for Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), who helped bring to light the existence of the program, says that none of the commissioners met with anyone from Able Danger, “yet they choose to speak with some form of certainty without firsthand knowledge.” [Associated Press, 9/15/2005; Fox News, 9/16/2005] The commission’s claim that no one in the US knew about Mohamed Atta before 9/11 is further contradicted by reports stating that the CIA had been tracking him while he was still in Germany, early in 2000 (see January-May 2000). And soon after 9/11, Newsweek reported US officials stating that Atta “had been known as [an associate] of Islamic terrorists” well before 9/11. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ]
The Washington Post reports that four years after the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), the FBI investigation is growing cold. [Washington Post, 9/16/2005] A New York Times article from the same day also concludes the investigation has stalled. The FBI has found itself on the defensive amid claims that they publicly smeared Steven Hatfill when lacking other viable suspects. [New York Times, 9/16/2005]
The US freezes the assets of Abdul Latif Saleh, who is a citizen of both Jordan and Albania. Bin Laden allegedly gave Saleh $600,000 to create “extremist groups” in Albania, and Saleh is also said to be tied to the Islamic Jihad (which merged into al-Qaeda before 9/11). Saleh is also said to be associated with Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi (see October 12, 2001). The Treasury Department claims, “Saleh and Qadi had entered into several business partnerships with one another, including a sugar importing business, a medical enterprise and a construction business. Saleh served as the general manager of all of Qadi’s businesses in Albania and reportedly holds 10 percent of the Qadi Group’s investments in Albania.” [Associated Press, 9/19/2005; US Department of the Treasury, 9/19/2005] In the middle of 2004, the Swiss government also froze bank accounts worth $20 million of an unnamed Saudi businessman who is the former president of the Muwafaq Foundation over alleged al-Qaeda ties (see June 25, 2004). Al-Qadi was the founder and main investor of Muwafaq (see 1995-1998). [New York Times, 6/25/2004]
Rob Richer, the outgoing deputy chief of the CIA’s directorate of operations (see September 2, 2005), appears before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to talk about the reasons for his departure from the agency. Richer is apparently unhappy over what he perceives as a lack of leadership by CIA Director Porter Goss and wants to expand the agency’s clandestine capability, while reducing analysis. The Washington Post will say that the appearance, at a closed session of the committee, is “unusual.” The session is not publicly announced; neither senators nor staff members who attend will officially confirm Richer’s presence. Nevertheless, one participant at the meeting will say that Richer is “impressive.” [Washington Post, 9/22/2005] Richer has also previously met with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley to explain his decision. [Washington Post, 9/9/2005]
Sen. Arlen Specter.
[Source: C-SPAN]The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), holds a public hearing to investigate an intelligence program called Able Danger, to explore allegations that it identified Mohamed Atta and three other hijackers more than a year before 9/11, and to learn why the Pentagon disbanded it and destroyed the information it had gathered. [Government Computer News, 9/21/2005; New York Times, 9/21/2005; United Press International, 9/21/2005] The committee is seeking testimony from several former Able Danger members. Among these are Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer, Navy Captain Scott Phillpott, Dr. Eileen Preisser, and civilian analyst James D. Smith; all but Preisser have recently come forward with allegations about the unit (see August 17, 2005; August 22-September 1, 2005). However, the day before the hearing, Defense Department lawyers ordered them and other former Able Danger members not to testify. [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005; United Press International, 9/21/2005] Shaffer says in an interview, “I was told by two [Defense Department] officials today directly that it is their understanding that [Defense Secretary Rumsfeld] directed that we not testify…” [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005] The Defense Department’s only reason for doing so, offered by a spokesman, is that they have “expressed [their] security concerns and believe it is simply not possible to discuss Able Danger in any great detail in an open public forum open testimony of these witnesses.” [New York Times, 9/21/2005] Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter says, “That looks to me like it may be obstruction of the committee’s activities, something we will have to determine.” He complains that the Pentagon only delivered hundreds of pages of documents related to Able Danger late on the eve of the hearing, leaving no time for committee staff to review the material. [Reuters, 9/21/2005] Furthermore, the Pentagon’s representative at the hearing, William Dugan, admits that he has very limited knowledge of Able Danger. Specter tells him, “You were sent over—perhaps with the calculation you wouldn’t have the information.” [Associated Press, 9/21/2005; Government Computer News, 9/21/2005]
Entity Tags: Scott Phillpott, Mohamed Atta, US Department of Defense, William Dugan, James D. Smith, Eileen Preisser, Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, Able Danger, Donald Rumsfeld, Anthony Shaffer
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Azhari Husin. [Source: Public domain]According to the 2007 edition of a book about the Mossad entitled “Gideon’s Spies,” shortly after the 7/7 London subway bombings (see July 7, 2005), the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 gathers evidence that a senior al-Qaeda operative known only by the alias Mustafa traveled in and out of England shortly before the 7/7 bombings. For months, the real identity of Mustafa remains unknown. But in early October 2005, the Mossad tells MI5 that this person actually was Azhari Husin, a bomb making expert with Jemaah Islamiyah, the main al-Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia. Husin used to study in Britain and reports claim that he met the main 7/7 bomber, Mohammad Sidique Khan, in late 2001 in a militant training camp in the Philippines (see Late 2001). Meir Dagan, the head of the Mossad, apparently also tells MI5 that Husin helped plan and recruit volunteers for the bombings. The Mossad claims that Husin may have been in London at the time of the bombings, and then fled to al-Qaeda’s main safe haven in the tribal area of Pakistan, where he sometimes hides after bombings. Husin will be killed in a shootout in Indonesia in November 2005. [Thomas, 2007, pp. 520, 522] Later official British government reports about the 7/7 bombings will not mention Husin.
A CIA report completed this month concludes that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq government “did not have a relationship, harbor, or even turn a blind eye toward [Islamist leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi and his associates.” The report will be made public one year later as part of a bipartisan Senate investigation. That investigation will conclude that Hussein regarded al-Qaeda as a threat rather as a potential ally, and that the Iraqi intelligence service “actively attempted to locate and capture al-Zarqawi without success.” The New York Times will later report that “The disclosure undercuts continuing claims by the Bush administration that such ties existed, and that they provided evidence of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda.” But despite this report, President Bush will continue to allege such a link existed. For instance, in August 2006, he will claim in a news conference that Hussein “had relations with Zarqawi.” [New York Times, 9/8/2006]
Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather and his Iraqi colleague, Aqil Hussein, use tribal records to track down the real Lieutenant General Jamal al-Ghurairy. After 9/11, the Iraqi National Congress prepared an Iraqi defector to pose as al-Ghurairy for a sensational, and false, story claiming that the Hussein regime was training Islamist terrorists (see November 6-8, 2001). The general lives in his home town of Mahmudiya, and meets with the reporters. During their interview, al-Ghurairy grows increasingly angry. He says he never worked at the Salman Pak military installation, where the supposed terrorist training took place, but had been the commandant at the Suwara military base from 1993 until 2000. He says he has never spoken to US intelligence agents or military officials, and until now was unaware that someone had borrowed his identity to disseminate fabrications. “I have never met these people!” he storms. “I have not left Iraq. The people who say this were trying to use my name to make war!” Fairweather notes that he cannot independently verify al-Ghurairy’s identity, writing, “[R]ecords in Iraq are in considerable disarray, and many people have incentive to conceal the truth about their activities before and after the war—former generals are likely high on that list.” But Fairweather was able to corroborate al-Ghurairy’s information with other senior Iraqi officials, who confirmed that the training at the Salman Pak facility was for Iraqi special forces preparing to retake hijacked planes from terrorists. (They do confirm that some foreign fighters were housed at the facility in preparation for the US’s March 2003 invasion.) [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Representative Jane Harman (D-CA) is recorded telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would intervene with the Justice Department to try to get charges against two Israeli lobbyists reduced. In return, the Israeli agent promises to help Harman secure the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. The Israeli agent will remain unidentified; the two lobbyists, Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, are charged with espionage after they allegedly passed along classified information to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC—see April 13, 1999-2004). The conversation between Harman and the Israeli agent is recorded on an wiretap, reportedly by the NSA, mounted as part of a federal investigation into AIPAC’s potential espionage operations against the US (see October 5, 2005). According to transcripts of the wiretapped conversation, Harman agrees to “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference.” The Israeli agent asks Harman if she could speak with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Rosen’s and Weissman’s behalf. Harman replies that Gonzales might not cooperate, because he “just follows White House orders,” but other officials might be more pliable. In return, the Israeli agent promises to contact House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and attempt to persuade her to name Harman as chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee if the Democrats win control of the House in the November 2006 elections. Harman tells the agent, “This conversation doesn’t exist,” and hangs up. The contents of the conversation will later be confirmed by three separate sources, including two former senior national security officials. [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009] Reporter Marc Ambinder will later write that Harman’s conversation may have been recorded by the FBI, and not the NSA, as part of the its investigation into Rosen and Weissman. [Atlantic Monthly, 4/20/2009]
In their book The Next Attack, Daniel Benjamin, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and co-author Steven Simon write that neoconservative Laurie Mylroie’s theories about Iraq being behind every terrorist attack on the US since 1993 (see October 2000 and September 12, 2001) are simply unbelievable. They write: “Mylroie’s work has been carefully investigated by the CIA and the FBI.… The more knowledgeable analysts and investigators at the CIA and FBI believe that their work conclusively disproves Mylroie’s claims.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 216]
In an essay for the Virginia Law Review entitled “Liberalism, Torture, and the Ticking Bomb,” Georgetown law professor David Luban dismantles the familiar argument that torture of a detainee might be necessary to stop the so-called “ticking bomb scenario.” Author and former White House counsel John Dean, who quotes Luban in his 2006 book Conservatives Without Conscience, will describe the scenario and its ramifications thusly: “A nuclear bomb has been planted in the heart of a major American city and authorities have in custody a person who knows where it is located. To save possibly millions of lives, would it not be justified to torture this individual to get the necessary information to stop it? Absolutely. Is not this lesser evil justified? Of course it is. And this argument is a wonderful means to comfort those who have moral problems with torture. Its beauty is that once you concede there are circumstances in which torture might be justified, morally and legally… you are on the other side of the line. You’ve joined the torture crowd. To paraphrase [George W.] Bush, you’ve joined the evildoers.” Dean calls it “a bogus argument, a rhetorical device. It is seductively simple, and compellingly logical. But it is also pure fantasy.” The likelihood of such conditions are extremely remote, Dean writes, on the order of a giant meteor striking the Earth. Dean will cite Luban’s arguments as counters to the scenario. Luban writes, “[T]here are certain situations so monstrous that the idea that the processes of moral rationality could yield an answer in them is insane… to spend time thinking what one would decide if one were in such a situation is also insane, if not actually frivolous.” Luban notes that Senator John McCain (R-AZ), himself a victim of torture during the Vietnam War (see October 1, 2005 and November 21, 2005), “has said that ultimately the debate is over who we are. We will never figure that out until we stop talking about ticking bombs, and stop playing games with words.” [Dean, 2006, pp. 165]
Damage to a restaurant in Kuta, Bali, in 2005. [Source: Associated Press]Three suicide bombers blow themselves up in restaurants on the island of Bali, Indonesia. Twenty-two people are killed and over 100 are injured. No group takes credit for the bombings, but Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Southeast Asia, is widely blamed. Several days later, Indonesian police announce they are searching for five men linked to Imam Samudra, who has been sentenced to death for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). Three of the five had already served jail sentences for holding explosives linked to Samudra and were under police surveillance but somehow escaped. The Indonesian government also blames Noordin Mohammed Top and Azhari Husin for masterminding the bombing. [CNN, 10/5/2005] The two men had been members of JI and acted on direction from al-Qaeda, but JI’s leadership has largely been destroyed through arrests and killings, and it is believed they now form ad hoc groups to carry out new attacks. [New York Times, 10/7/2005] Husin is killed in a raid on his hideout in Java two months later, but Top remains at large. One year later, it will be revealed that a computer laptop and a cell phone were smuggled to Samudra in his death row prison cell several months before the bombings, and he raised funds and communicated with the bombers while remaining imprisoned. An unnamed prison warden will reportedly be detained for helping Samudra get the laptop, but no one will be tried for any involvement in the bombings. [London Times, 8/24/2006; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/24/2006]
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), an ardent opponent of torture by US officials (see November 21, 2005), continues to press an amendment to a $440 billion defense appropriations bill that prohibits cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of prisoners held in US captivity (see July 24, 2005 and After). The bill also posits the US Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for interrogations by any Defense Department personnel. The Field Manual is being revised, and Pentagon sources have claimed the revisions will include a section on the importance of following the Geneva Conventions. The amendment is facing stiff opposition from the White House, which asserts that it would encroach on the power of the president as the commander in chief, and would threaten national security by reducing the ability of military interrogators to obtain critical intelligence from prisoners. On the floor of the Senate, McCain reads a letter from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had opposed Vice President Cheney on the issue of torture. Powell writes: “Our troops need to hear from Congress. The world will note that America is making a clear statement with respect to the expected future behavior of our soldiers.” McCain himself calls the White House’s legal theories on torture “strange,” and warns that enemies could use America’s justifications of torture as justifications for the torture of US captives. “We are Americans and we hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people no matter how evil or terrible they may be,” he says. Terrorists “don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies.” The White House continues to oppose the amendment. President Bush threatens to veto the entire bill, and Cheney circulates pro-torture talking points to friendly Congressional Republicans. Cheney, with CIA Director Porter Goss in tow, asks McCain to exempt CIA officials from the anti-torture amendment at the discretion of the president; McCain refuses. McCain is bolstered by a letter signed by over two dozen retired generals urging Congress to pass the amendment, including Powell and former Joint Chiefs chairman General John Shalikashvili. The amendment passes the Senate 90 to nine. However, the House leadership, steered by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL), refuses to allow the amendment into the House version by refusing to let the House vote on it at all. It will take a House-Senate conference committee to decide the fate of the amendment. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 195; Savage, 2007, pp. 221]
The CIA shuts down 10 of its 12 “black stations”—agency bases located not in embassies, but under the cover of ficticious companies. The program to establish the stations began after 9/11 and cost hundreds of millions of dollars (see 2002-2004). However, at some point around 2005 the agency decides to start closing the network. Its establishment had been the source of significant dispute at the agency leading to a “very bitter fight,” according to one CIA official. One problem is that the stations are large, with six to nine officers. Therefore, if the cover of one is blown, this will affect all his colleagues. To deal with this problem the officers were not to operate in the country where their front company was based, but were to take on a second alias before traveling to their target. Critics inside the agency said this arrangement was convoluted, and argued the CIA should focus on creating covers on platforms that can get US spies close to their most important targets, such as student aid organizations that work with Muslim students. The timing of the closures is unclear. They result from a review of the program instigated by CIA Director Porter Goss, who arrived at the agency in September 2004 (see September 24, 2004). The review is conducted by Rolf Mowatt-Larseen, head of the CIA’s European division, who leaves the agency in November 2005 (see November 2005) and begins the closures himself before departing. However, the closures will be first reported in February 2008. [Los Angeles Times, 2/17/2008]
Robert Shaler. [Source: Publicity photo]Robert Shaler, the scientist who led the forensic examination by the New York City medical examiner’s office to identify 9/11 victims, releases a book about this investigation, called Who They Were: Inside the World Trade Center DNA Story: The Unprecedented Effort to Identify the Missing. According to Shaler the investigation eventually identified three of the 9/11 hijackers. However, he writes that they were not identified by name because the ten DNA profiles supplied by the FBI had no names attached. Shaler writes, “No names, just a K code, which is how the FBI designates ‘knowns,’ or specimens it knows the origins of. Of course, we had no direct knowledge of how the FBI obtained the terrorists’ DNA.” He also believes the three hijackers they identified were in the backs of the planes, stating, “I still doubt the pilots have anything remaining to collect or analyze.” [Publishers Weekly, 8/22/2005; New York Daily News, 10/12/2005] The medical examiner’s office concluded its efforts at identifying the remains of those killed at Ground Zero in February 2005, having been able to identify 1,588 of the 2,749 victims. [Shaler, 2005; New York Daily News, 2/23/2005]
Defense Department analyst Larry Franklin pleads guilty to passing government secrets to two employees of a pro-Israel lobbying group and to an Israeli government official, a violation of the Espionage Act. He is later sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison. [Washington Post, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 1/21/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 173] Franklin, an Iran specialist, gave details of US policy towards Iran to Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, two members of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) which the Washington Post calls “one of Washington’s most influential lobbying organizations.” He also admits to giving classified information directly to Naor Gilon, chief of political affairs at the Israeli Embassy in Washington. Gilon returned to Israel, but Rosen and Weissman have been charged in what prosecutors claim was a conspiracy to obtain and illegally pass classified US information to foreign officials and news reporters. Franklin reportedly has been cooperating with investigators in return for a relatively lenient sentence. [Washington Post, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 1/21/2006] It appears that Franklin was caught by accident in 2003 as part of a larger FBI investigation into Israeli spying that began in 2001 (see September 9, 2001). Investigators had been monitoring Gilon and were reportedly “floored” to watch Franklin sit down and eat lunch with him. [United Press International, 12/9/2004]
Ahmed Santos. [Source: Rolex de la Pena / EPA]Ahmed Santos, the alleged leader of the Rajah Solaiman Movement (RSM) militant group is arrested and supposedly confesses that his group assisted some of the 9/11 hijackers in the Philippines. [Zamboanga Sun Star, 10/30/2005] The “RSM was built upon Mohammed Jamal Khalifa’s NGO network, left unscathed by the Philippine authorities after 1995.” Like Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, the RSM has ties to the Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiyah, and al-Qaeda. [Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, 9/1/2005 ] Santos is interrogated immediately after his arrest and according to a Philippine investigator who was one of his interrogators, Santos says that his group helped train and give shelter to the hijackers (he does not specifically mention which ones or how many). This investigator says that Santos told him, “These Arabs, after their flight training in Angeles, Pampanga, went back to their shelter in the home-base of Santos’ RSM in Pangasinan.” Both Angeles City and RSM’s base are north of Manila near Clark Air Base, which was a major US airbase in the northern Philippines until 1991. [Zamboanga Sun Star, 10/30/2005] Shortly after 9/11, many eyewitnesses were quoted in media reports claiming to recognize 9/11 pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi taking flight training in the Angeles City area in the late 1990s (see December 1999). This fits with Santos’ alleged account.
On October 6, 2005, the FBI warns of al-Qaeda subway bombings in New York City. It is alleged that a terror plot will be put into motion “on or about October 9, 2005.” A counterterrorism official states that the warning is unnecessary: “There was no there there.” [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ] It is later confirmed that New York City authorities had been aware of the threat for at least three days and had responded accordingly. Local TV station WNBC had been asked by federal authorities to hold the story back. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Meanwhile, Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is failing (see October 3-27, 2005). [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 ]
In a speech, President Bush lists ten terrorist plots the US has supposedly foiled since 9/11, as well as five “casings and infiltrations.” Here are the plots, exactly as they are described in a White House press release, rearranged into a rough chronological order:
West Coast Airliner Plot - In mid-2002 the US disrupted a plot to attack targets on the West Coast of the United States using hijacked airplanes. The plotters included at least one major operational planner involved in planning the events of 9/11.
Jose Padilla Plot - In May 2002 the US disrupted a plot that involved blowing up apartment buildings in the United States. One of the plotters, Jose Padilla, also discussed the possibility of using a “dirty bomb” in the US.
2002 Straits of Hormuz Plot - In 2002 the US and partners disrupted a plot to attack ships transiting the Straits of Hormuz.
2002 Arabian Gulf Shipping Plot - In late 2002 and 2003 the US and a partner nation disrupted a plot by al-Qaeda operatives to attack ships in the Arabian Gulf.
2003 Karachi Plot - In the spring of 2003 the US and a partner disrupted a plot to attack Westerners at several targets in Karachi, Pakistan.
East Coast Airliner Plot - In mid-2003 the US and a partner disrupted a plot to attack targets on the East Coast of the United States using hijacked commercial airplanes.
2003 Tourist Site Plot - In 2003 the US and a partner nation disrupted a plot to attack a tourist site outside the United States.
Heathrow Airport Plot - In 2003 the US and several partners disrupted a plot to attack Heathrow Airport using hijacked commercial airliners. The planning for this attack was undertaken by a major 9/11 operational figure.
2004 UK Plot - In the spring of 2004 the US and partners, using a combination of law enforcement and intelligence resources, disrupted a plot to conduct large-scale bombings in [Britain].
2004 [British] Urban Targets Plot - In mid-2004 the US and partners disrupted a plot that involved urban targets in [Britain]. These plots involved using explosives against a variety of sites.
Here are the five additional “casings and infiltrations”:
2001 Tasking - In 2001, al-Qaeda sent an individual to facilitate post-September 11 attacks in the US. US law enforcement authorities arrested the individual.
2003 Tasking - In 2003, an individual was tasked by an al-Qaeda leader to conduct reconnaissance on populated areas in the US.
Gas Station Tasking - In approximately 2003, an individual was tasked to collect targeting information on US gas stations and their support mechanisms on behalf of a senior al-Qaeda planner.
Iyman Faris and the Brooklyn Bridge - In 2003, and in conjunction with a partner nation, the US government arrested and prosecuted Iyman Faris, who was exploring the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge in New York. Faris ultimately pleaded guilty to providing material support to al-Qaeda and is now in a federal correctional institution.
US Government & Tourist Sites Tasking - In 2003 and 2004, an individual was tasked by al-Qaeda to case important US Government and tourist targets within the United States. [White House, 10/6/2005]
However, later in the month the Washington Post publishes a story questioning the importance of most of these plots. The article states that the plot list “has confused counterterrorism experts and officials, who say they cannot distinguish between the importance of some incidents on the list and others that were left off. Intelligence officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the White House overstated the gravity of the plots by saying that they had been foiled, when most were far from ready to be executed. Others noted that the nation’s color-coded threat index was not raised from yellow, or ‘elevated’ risk of attack, to orange, or ‘high’ risk, for most of the time covered by the incidents on the list.” An anonymous former CIA counterterrorism official tells the Post that Bush made it “sound like well-hatched plans… I don’t think they fall into that category.” Another anonymous counterterrorism official says, “We don’t know how they came to the conclusions they came to… It’s safe to say that most of the [intelligence] community doesn’t think [the list is] worth very much.” [Washington Post, 10/23/2005]
Dulmatin. [Source: Rewards for Justice]The US announces a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Dulmatin, a leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), al-Qaeda’s main affiliate in Southeast Asia. A $1 million reward is also offered for Umar Patek, who apparently is a little-known aide to Dulmatin. The reward for Dulmatin is as large as any other cash reward the US has offered for any al-Qaeda linked figure, except for $25 million rewards for Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Dulmatin is believed to have been one of the masterminds of the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). Since then, it is believed that he is hiding out in the Philippines and has not been linked to any other bombings. [Associated Press, 10/7/2005] The announcement is met with puzzlement in Indonesia, because it comes just six days after a second set of bombings in Bali (see October 1, 2005), and Dulmatin has no known role in those bombings. However, Azhari Husin and Noordin Mohammed Top were quickly found to be the masterminds of the bombings. Furthermore, Husin and Top have been named as masterminds to the 2002 Bali bombings and every major bombing in Indonesia since then, including the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing (see August 5, 2003) and the 2004 Australian embassy bombing (see September 9, 2004). Later in the month, Hank Crumpton, the State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, is asked by an Indonesian journalist why cash rewards have been given for Dulmatin and even Patek but not Husin or Top. Crumpton replies, “We believe [Dulmatin] is a threat to the region,” but he declines to be more specific or to explain why there were no rewards for Husin or Top. [New York Times, 10/19/2005] Husin is killed in a shootout in Indonesia one month later (see October 1, 2005). Dulmatin is listed on the US Rewards for Justice website, but he is one of only two out of the 37 suspects listed without actual rewards given for them. The other is Zulkarnaen, who is also said to be involved in the 2002 Bali bombings and 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing. [Rewards for Justice, 8/10/2007; Rewards for Justice, 8/10/2007; Rewards for Justice, 8/11/2007]
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that President Bush, as commander in chief, can continue to hold Jose Padilla (see June 9, 2002), a US citizen arrested on US soil (see June 8, 2002), indefinitely as an enemy combatant. Padilla is to be treated the same as an American captured on a foreign battlefield (see June 28, 2004). The majority ruling is written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, often thought of as a potential Bush Supreme Court nominee. Luttig rules there is “no difference in principle between [Yaser Esam] Hamdi (see June 28, 2004) and Padilla.” Bush’s “powers include the power to detain identified and committed enemies such as Padilla, who associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime, and who entered the United States for the avowed purpose of further prosecuting [terrorism] by attacking American citizens and targets on our own soil.” Luttig ignores the fact that Padilla has never been charged, much less convicted, of any crime. When the Bush administration later charges Padilla as an ordinary criminal—and does not charge him with with any of the terrorist activities it had long alleged he had committed—many administration critics will conclude that, just as in the Hamdi case, the administration had used inflammatory rhetoric and baseless charges to obtain a judicial decision it wanted (see October 10, 2004). When Luttig learns of the administration’s actions, he will issue a supplementary opinion excoriating the White House (see December 21, 2005). [Savage, 2007, pp. 200]
CIA Director Porter Goss announces that the agency will not pursue disciplinary action against any current or former CIA officials who have been severely criticized in an internal report produced by John Helgerson, the CIA’s inspector general. Those who have read the classified report say that it faults about 20 intelligence officials, including former CIA Director George Tenet, his former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and the former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center Cofer Black (see June 2005). Tenet in particular is faulted for focusing too little attention on combating al-Qaeda as a whole in the years prior to 9/11. However, he and others who are singled out strongly object to the report’s conclusions, and have prepared lengthy rebuttals. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, of which Goss was ironically the co-chairman, had formally requested the report in November 2002, as it was finishing its investigation. The 400-page document was completed in June 2004, but its release was delayed (see June-November 2004). John Helgerson finally delivered it to Congress in August 2005, and had urged Goss to convene “accountability boards” to assess the performance of officers it criticized. However, Goss says he has decided not to do this. He says the report in no way suggests “that any one person or group of people could have prevented 9/11,” and that “[o]f the officers named in [Helgerson’s] report, about half have retired from the Agency, and those who are still with us are amongst the finest we have.” Goss also claims the report “unveiled no mysteries,” and states that it will remain classified. [New York Times, 10/5/2005; Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 10/6/2005] In response to Goss’s statement, Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the senior Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, asks, “What failures in performance, if not these, warrant the convening of an accountability board at the CIA?” 9/11 victim’s relative Kristen Breitweiser comments, “No one has been held accountable for the failures on 9/11.” [Reuters, 10/5/2005]
Abdurrahman Wahid. [Source: Indonesian Embassy in the Netherlands]In an interview with the Australian public television station SBS, Abdurrahman Wahid, president of Indonesia from 1999 to 2001, suggests that the country’s military or police may have been behind the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). The Australian reports: “Wahid told SBS’s Dateline program that he had grave concerns about links between Indonesian authorities and terrorist groups and believed that authorities may have organized the larger of the two 2002 Bali bombings which hit the Sari Club, killing the bulk of the 202 people who died.… Asked who he thought planted the Sari Club bomb, Mr Wahid said: ‘Maybe the police… or the armed forces. The orders to do this or that came from within our armed forces, not from the fundamentalist people.’” Wahid believes the smaller bomb was indeed planted by Islamist militants. [SBS Dateline, 10/12/2005; Australian, 10/13/2005] Counterterrorism expert John Mempi also comments, “Why this endless violence [in Indonesia]? Why are there acts of terrorism year in, year out? Regimes change, governments change, but violence continues. Why? Because there is a sort of shadow state in this country. A state within a state ruling this country.” [SBS Dateline, 10/12/2005] In 2008, Imam Samudra, imprisoned and sentenced to death for being one of the Bali bombings masterminds, will make comments similar to Wahid’s. While he admits being involved in the bombings, he claims that they never meant to kill so many people. He says the second explosion was much bigger than they had expected and suggests that “the CIA or KGB or Mossad” had somehow tampered with the bomb. [Sunday Times (London), 3/2/2008]
The New York Times again finds itself apologizing for its failures in covering the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson and its handling, or lack of handling, of the newspaper’s star reporter, Judith Miller, who recently testified as to her knowledge of the matter (see September 30, 2005). It also admits that much of Miller’s prewar reporting on Iraq was “totally wrong.” Although the paper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, and its executive editor, Bill Keller, supported Miller’s decision to go to jail rather than reveal the source of her knowledge about Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see July 6, 2005), neither knew many details of Miller’s conversations with her source, former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Neither knew, for example, that Miller’s claim of not learning Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby was undermined by her own notes. Ultimately, both Sulzberger and Keller left most of the decisions on how to handle the situation to Miller herself. “This car had her hand on the wheel because she was the one at risk,” says Sulzberger. While Miller continues to portray her decision to go to jail as one rooted in principle, critics say that she and the Times were not protecting a whistleblower, but an administration source bent on crushing dissent. Asked what she regretted about the Times’s handling of the matter, managing editor Jill Abramson says, “The entire thing.”
'I Got It Totally Wrong' - Many in the newsroom and in the editorial staff believed that Miller’s prewar articles on Iraq’s WMD—articles that have long been proven to be based largely on false information from unreliable Iraqi defectors (see December 20, 2001, September 18, 2002, March 19-20, 2003, July 25, 2003, and Autumn 2003)—unfairly advanced the administration’s case for war. Miller operated with a level of autonomy other reporters found unusual and distressing, especially since many of them believed her reporting verged on administration propaganda. Investigative editor Douglas Frantz recalls that Miller once called herself “Miss Run Amok”; when he asked her what she meant, she replied, “I can do whatever I want.” Miller now admits her reports were largely specious. “WMD—I got it totally wrong,” she says. “The analysts, the experts, and the journalists who covered them—we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could.”
Not a Clear-Cut Decision to Fight - Keller says: “I wish it had been a clear-cut whistle-blower case. I wish it had been a reporter who came with less public baggage.” Times reporter Todd Purdom says: “Everyone admires our paper’s willingness to stand behind us and our work, but most people I talk to have been troubled and puzzled by Judy’s seeming ability to operate outside of conventional reportorial channels and managerial controls. Partly because of that, many people have worried about whether this was the proper fight to fight.” For her part, Miller says she intends to take some time off and perhaps write a book about her ordeal. She says she wants to get back into investigative reporting, and continue to cover “the same thing I’ve always covered—threats to our country.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Criticism of Miller, Times - The next day, columnist Norman Solomon will write, “It now seems that Miller functioned with more accountability to US military intelligence officials than to New York Times editors.” Solomon also notes that in her July 8, 2003 meeting with White House official Lewis Libby (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003), Miller expressed frustration at the government’s refusal to allow her “to discuss with editors some of the more sensitive information about Iraq.” Solomon writes: “There’s nothing wrong with this picture if Judith Miller is an intelligence operative for the US government. But if she’s supposed to be a journalist, this is a preposterous situation—and the fact that the New York Times has tolerated it tells us a lot about that newspaper.” Solomon also notes that Miller’s claim of “analysts, the experts, and the journalists who covered them” were “all wrong” about Iraqi WMD is itself wrong. “Some very experienced weapons inspectors—including [the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency] Mohamed ElBaradei, [former chief UN weapons inspector] Hans Blix, and [former UN weapons inspector] Scott Ritter—challenged key assertions from the White House,” he writes. “Well before the invasion, many other analysts also disputed various aspects of the US government’s claims about WMDs in Iraq.… Meanwhile journalists at some British newspapers, including The Independent and The Guardian, raised tough questions that were virtually ignored by mainstream US reporters in the Washington press corps.… [T]he Times did not ‘fall for misinformation’ as much as jump for it. The newspaper eagerly helped the administration portray deceptions as facts.” [CounterPunch, 10/17/2005] Liberal columnist and blogger Arianna Huffington provides a long list of reporters and publications who “didn’t get it wrong” on Iraqi WMD. She quotes reporter Joe Lauria, a veteran foreign affairs reporter who writes for the London Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, and the Boston Globe, who told her: “I didn’t get it wrong. And a lot of others who covered the lead up to the war didn’t get it wrong. Mostly because we weren’t just cozying up to Washington sources but had widened our reporting to what we were hearing from people like Mohamed ElBaradei and Hans Blix, and from sources in other countries, like Germany, France, and Russia. Miller had access to these voices, too, but ignored them. Our chief job as journalists is to challenge authority. Because an official says something might make it ‘official,’ but it doesn’t necessarily make it true.” [Huffington Post, 10/21/2005]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Douglas Frantz, Bill Keller, Arthur Sulzberger, Arianna Huffington, Jill Abramson, Judith Miller, Norman Solomon, New York Times, Todd Purdom, Joe Lauria
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
John Hannah, a senior aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, begins cooperating with the investigation into the exposure of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. Sources close to the investigation say that Hannah agreed to cooperate after learning that witnesses identified him as a co-conspirator in the Plame Wilson leak. Those sources say that Hannah has not been granted immunity from prosecution, but most likely has been offered a deal in exchange for information that could lead to indictments of any number of White House officials. Sources say that, in June 2003, Hannah and another Cheney aide, David Wurmser (see May 29, 2003), were ordered by their superiors in Cheney’s office to leak Plame Wilson’s name and CIA identity in an attempt to discredit her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson. [Raw Story, 10/19/2005; New York Times, 10/19/2005] Hannah helped pass along information about Plame Wilson’s CIA status from the State Department to Cheney (see May 29, 2003), and provided Cheney with a classified CIA report on the agency’s investigation into Iraq’s supposed attempt to procure uranium from Niger (see June 9, 2003).
David Wurmser, an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, begins cooperating with the investigation into the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent. This follows the news that another Cheney aide, John Hannah, is also cooperating (see Before October 17, 2005). The news that Wurmser is cooperating comes from sources close to the investigation. He is expected to provide special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald with evidence that the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity was part of a coordinated effort to discredit her husband, war critic Joseph 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). Wurmser is Cheney’s adviser on Middle East affairs, and formerly served as an assistant to then-Undersecretary of State John Bolton (see May 29, 2003). The sources say Wurmser is cooperating in order to negate potential criminal charges for his role in exposing Plame Wilson’s identity. Wurmser was a key member of the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), the propaganda group that operated primarily out of Cheney’s office. The sources say that in June 2003, Wurmser and Hannah were ordered by their superiors in Cheney’s office to leak Plame Wilson’s name and CIA identity in an attempt to discredit her husband, Joseph Wilson. In 2004, Wurmser was questioned by the FBI for his role in divulging classified national security information to Israel, an investigation that included Hannah and several prominent neoconservatives in the Defense Department. Wilson says: “John Hannah and David Wurmser, mid-level political appointees in the vice president’s office, have both been suggested as sources of the leak.… Mid-level officials, however, do not leak information without the authority from a higher level.” [Raw Story, 10/19/2005]
The US and Britain send a team to search for the body of Osama bin Laden in the rubble of the Pakistani town of Balakot, according to the British Sunday Express newspaper. The al-Qaeda leader is thought to have been buried there following a recent earthquake. The British component comprises members of the foreign intelligence service MI6 and the SAS Special Forces unit; the Americans are US Special Forces. The team, whose deployment is approved by President Bush, is flown in from Afghanistan equipped with imagery and eavesdropping technology, high-tech weapons systems, and linguists. The search is motivated by the fact that, days before the earthquake happened, an American satellite spotted an al-Qaeda training camp in a nearby area and obtained high-resolution close-ups. A senior intelligence officer in Washington says: “One of those photos bore a remarkable resemblance to bin Laden. His face looked thinner, which is in keeping with our reports that his kidney condition has worsened.” This is a reference to the rumor that bin Laden has kidney problems (see November 23, 1996). The Sunday Express will report: “In recent weeks, both MI6 and the CIA have established that bin Laden has received a portable kidney dialysis machine from China but it requires electricity to power it. Drones, unmanned aircraft that US Special Forces launched from Afghanistan last week, have reported that the area along the border has lost all power supplies.” However, the state of bin Laden’s kidneys will still be shrouded in mystery two years later (see Late 2007). According to the report, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has agreed to keep other rescue teams working to locate survivors away from the border area where the search for bin Laden is concentrated. [Daily Times (Lahore), 10/20/2005] There are no reports that the search is a success. A man thought to be bin Laden will continue to release audio messages (see, for example, January 19, 2006).
The White House continues to fight against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss meet privately with Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, for 45 minutes to push a change in the language that would exempt CIA interrogators from the amendment’s restrictions. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write on the remarkable aspects of Cheney’s requests. For the first time, the CIA would be “clearly authorize[d] to engage in abusive interrogations. In effect, it would legalize the abuse of detainees in CIA prisons, a matter that had previously been a gray area at best.” McCain flatly rejects Cheney’s proposal, and later says: “I don’t see how you could possibly agree to legitimizing an agent of the government engaging in torture. No amendment at all would be better than that.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 220]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases a report that documents the death of 44 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan while in US custody. Most died during interrogation. The report, based on government reports (including autopsy reports, death reports, and other documents turned over to the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request), finds that “detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation, and to hot and cold environmental conditions.” ACLU director Anthony Romero says: “There is no question that US interrogations have resulted in deaths. High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military.” The detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy SEALs, military intelligence officials, and “OGA” (Other Governmental Agency) personnel, a designation the ACLU says is usually used to refer to the CIA. Twenty-one of the 44 deaths were homicides, the ACLU says. Eight died from abusive techniques; autopsy reports show the causes of death were “strangulation,” “asphyxiation,” and “blunt force injuries.” Most of the “natural deaths” were attributed to what government doctors termed “Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.” The ACLU notes that the report proves that detainees died not only at the hands of CIA personnel, but from abuse and maltreatment by Navy SEALs and military intelligence officials as well. The report cites, among other deaths, an Iraqi prisoner who died from hypothermia (see April 5, 2004), an Iraqi prisoner who was strangled and beaten to death (see January 9, 2004), an Iraqi general who died from smothering and “chest compressions” (see November 26, 2003), an Iraqi prisoner beaten and smothered to death (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003), two Afghani civilians beaten to death by US soldiers (see November 6, 2003 and December 10, 2002), and an older Iraqi man strangled to death while in US custody (see June 5, 2003). ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents present irrefutable evidence that US operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogations. The public has a right to know who authorized the use of torture techniques and why these deaths have been covered up.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 10/24/2005]
President Bush signs Executive Order 13388, which dramatically expands the powers of the US government to monitor and collect data on US citizens. [Executive Order 13388 of October 25, 2005, 10/25/2005] The order augments the power of “National Security Letters,” authorized in 1981 by then-President Ronald Reagan (see December 4, 1981), but rarely used against US citizens until the advent of the Bush administration and the USA Patriot Act. Thanks to the order, the data files are even more accessible to what the order calls “state, local, and tribal” governments as well as the undefined “appropriate private sector entities,” presumably private data-mining corporations that collect personal and financial data on US citizens for the government.
Over 30,000 NSLs a Year - The FBI now issues over 30,000 NSLs a year, a hundredfold increase from earlier administration usages. NSLs are issued by FBI field supervisors at their discretion without court warrant or oversight by the judiciary or Congress. NSLs force their recipients—librarians, booksellers, employers, Internet providers, and others—to turn over any and all personal data on their customers and employees and are legally required not to tell the targets of the investigations about the letters or the data collection. An FBI supervisor can, without oversight or reasonable suspicion of terrorist activity, collect data on what a citizen makes, spends, invests, gambles, reads in books and on the Internet, buys online, and with whom that citizen lives, works, associates, telephones, and exchanges e-mails. Senior FBI officials admit that the huge spike in NSLs stems from the FBI’s new authority to collect tremendous amounts of data on US citizens not accused of criminal activities. And NSLs are now used to generate leads against terrorist suspects and not merely pursue them.
NSLs Handled With Discretion, Officials Insist - FBI and White House officials insist that NSLs are handled with discretion and with a recognizance of Americans’ right to privacy. Joseph Billy Jr, the FBI’s deputy director for counterterrorism, says he understand that “merely being in a government or FBI database… gives everybody, you know, neck hair standing up.” But innocent Americans “should take comfort at least knowing that it is done under a great deal of investigative care, oversight, within the parameters of the law.” [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
The media learns that Vice President Dick Cheney and staffers from the Office of the Vice President (OVP) regularly interfered with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 2004 report on the intelligence community’s failures to accurately assess Iraq’s WMD threat (see July 9, 2004). According to administration and Congressional sources, that interference was facilitated and encouraged by committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS). Cheney and the OVP members regularly intervened in the committee’s deliberations, and drastically limited the scope of the investigation.
Protecting the Bush Administration - Reporter Laura Rozen will later write, “In order to prevent the White House and the Office of the Vice President itself from ever coming under any Congressional oversight scrutiny, Cheney exerted ‘constant’ pressure on [Roberts] to stall an investigation into the Bush administration’s use of flawed intelligence on Iraq.” Cheney and the OVP also withheld key documents from the committee. Some of the withheld materials included portions of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 2003 address to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003) that were written by Cheney’s then-chief of staff, Lewis Libby, and documents that Libby used to make the administration’s case for war with Iraq. The OVP also withheld the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) documents: written intelligence summaries provided to President Bush by the CIA. The decision to withhold the documents was spearheaded by Cheney’s chief legal counsel and chief of staff David Addington. Much of the withheld material, and Cheney-OVP interference, was designed to keep the committee from looking into the Bush administration’s use of intelligence findings to promote the war. According to committee member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), Cheney attended regular policy meetings in which he gave White House orders to Republican committee staffers. It is “not hearsay,” Rockefeller says, that Cheney pushed Roberts to, in reporter Jonathan Landay’s words, “drag out the probe of the administration’s use of prewar intelligence.” The committee chose to defer the second portion of its report, about the administration’s use of intelligence to propel the nation to war, until after the November 2004 elections. That portion of the report remains uncompleted.
Shifting the Blame to the White House - Reporter Murray Waas writes, “Had the withheld information been turned over, according to administration and Congressional sources, it likely would have shifted a portion of the blame away from the intelligence agencies to the Bush administration as to who was responsible for the erroneous information being presented to the American public, Congress, and the international community.” He continues: “When the [report] was made public, Bush, Cheney, and other administration officials cited it as proof that the administration acted in good faith on Iraq and relied on intelligence from the CIA and others that it did not know was flawed. But some Congressional sources say that had the committee received all the documents it requested from the White House the spotlight could have shifted to the heavy advocacy by Cheney’s office to go to war. Cheney had been the foremost administration advocate for war with Iraq, and Libby played a central staff role in coordinating the sale of the war to both the public and Congress.” [National Journal, 10/27/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 381]
Entity Tags: Office of the Vice President, John D. Rockefeller, George W. Bush, David S. Addington, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), Jonathan Landay, Murray Waas, Laura Rozen, Senate Intelligence Committee, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Pat Roberts
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
In light of the indictment of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see October 28, 2005), the Center for American Progress (CAP) puts out an analysis of Libby’s role as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and the impact Libby has had on Bush administration policies. Libby, a powerful and influential neoconservative, “has been one of the most important men pulling the levers behind the Bush administration,” the article finds. “From the very beginning of the administration, Libby has essentially been Dick Cheney’s Dick Cheney.” But, the article goes on to note: “[w]hat few have realized at this historic moment is that for the past four and a half years, Libby has been ‘scooting’ from scandal to scandal. Libby has been at center stage for the other major national security scandals of the Bush administration, including the Iraq intelligence debacle, the secret meetings about Halliburton contracts, and doubtless others we have not heard of yet. It was Libby—along with Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, and a handful of other top aides at the Pentagon and White House—who convinced the president that the US should go to war in Iraq. It was Libby who pushed Cheney to publicly argue that Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaeda and 9/11. It was also Libby who prodded former Secretary of State Colin Powell to include specious reports about an alleged meeting between 9/11 terrorist Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence official in Powell’s February 2003 speech to the United Nations” (see February 5, 2003). Libby co-authored the controversial Defense Planning Guidance document of 1988 (see February 18, 1992) that called on the US to essentially transform itself into an aggressive empire, using its military to stretch its power around the world. “This Planning Guidance document went a long way toward endearing Libby to Cheney,” the CAP article reads. There is also evidence that Libby helped steer no-bid Iraqi reconstruction contracts to Cheney’s former firm, Halliburton. The article concludes, “Given the depth of his influence in shaping the White House agenda over the past four and a half years, losing Libby today is not only a huge blow to the vice president, but to the entire Bush administration.” [Center for American Progress, 10/28/2005]
Hours after the Patrick Fitzgerald press conference announcing the indictment of Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005), NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell tells a viewing audience on MSNBC’s Hardball that the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson, the CIA official whose exposure as a covert agent triggered the investigation that led to Libby’s indictment, did no real damage to US intelligence interests. Mitchell does not cite any sources in her claim. She says: “I think the prosecutor [Fitzgerald] made a very broad claim, whether you buy it or not, that the disclosure of any CIA officer’s identity is a threat to our national security, that we are at a stage in our country where we need to recruit people, we need to guarantee that they will have anonymity, and that you cannot recruit people to work in these difficult jobs, nor can you be sure that by disclosing their identity that you are not putting them in jeopardy. I happen to have been told that the actual damage assessment as to whether people were put in jeopardy on this case did not indicate that there was real damage in this specific instance.” It is possible that Mitchell sources her claim from a very similar claim made the night before by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (see October 27, 2005). [Jane Hamsher, 11/29/2005] Two years before, Mitchell told a CNBC audience that “everybody knew” Plame Wilson was a covert official, a claim she was later forced to retract (see October 3, 2003). Shortly after Mitchell’s Hardball claim, MSNBC commentator Tucker Carlson writes, “In fact, as NBC’s Andrea Mitchell has reported, an internal CIA investigation found that Plame’s outing caused no discernable damage to anyone.” [MSNBC, 11/18/2005] A 2003 CIA assessment (see Before September 16, 2003) and an October 2005 analysis by the Washington Post (see October 29, 2005) both determined that Plame Wilson’s exposure caused “severe damage” to the US intelligence community, particularly in the Middle East.
The Washington Post publishes an article about the severity of the damage done by the Plame Wilson CIA identity leak. The Post notes that the CIA has not yet completed its damage assessment, because it usually waits until criminal investigations have concluded. But when Plame Wilson and her front company, Brewster Jennings, were exposed as clandestine CIA entities, the damage was believed to have been widespread (see October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). CIA officials have compiled a long list of Plame Wilson’s contacts and friends both in the US and overseas who may have been exposed as her contacts. Current and former intelligence officials say there is no way to know if the leak has cost anyone their life as yet. Former CIA division chief Arthur Brown says: “Cover and tradecraft are the only forms of protection one has and to have that stripped away because of political scheming is the moral equivalent to exposing forward deployed military units. In the case of the military, they can pack up and go elsewhere. In the case of a serving clandestine officer, it’s the end of that officer’s ability to function in that role.” Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says, “Blowing the cover of a CIA officer is the cardinal sin in the intelligence business: It could wipe out information networks and put lives at risk.” Certainly Plame Wilson’s ability to function as a clandestine CIA agent has forever been destroyed. Former senior CIA manager Mark Lowenthal says: “It’s possible that no damage was done [to national security] but she can never [work] overseas again.… You can only speculate that if she had foreign contacts, those contacts might be nervous and their relationships with her put them at risk. It also makes it harder for other CIA officers to recruit sources.” Ultimately, the public will never know just how extensive the damage may be. One intelligence official says, “You’ll never get a straight answer about how valuable she was or how valuable her sources were.” [Washington Post, 10/29/2005] The press is not yet aware of an in-house CIA assessment of the “severe” damage caused to the agency by the leak (see Before September 16, 2003).
According to a United Press International (UPI) report, special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has sought and received documentation on the Iraq-Niger forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003) from the Italian government. UPI reports, “Fitzgerald’s team has been given the full, and as yet unpublished report of the Italian parliamentary inquiry into the affair, which started when an Italian journalist obtained documents that appeared to show officials of the government of Niger helping to supply the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein with [y]ellowcake uranium.” (In November, that parliamentary report will be shown not to exist—see July 2005.) According to reporter Jason Leopold, the information about the Iraq-Niger documents being provided to Fitzgerald comes from NATO sources. Leopold’s reporting will later be shown to be less than reliable (see June 19, 2006). [Raw Story, 10/24/2005; Global Research, 10/29/2005; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
John Rizzo. [Source: C-SPAN]Guidance is issued by CIA lawyers Robert Eatinger and Steven Hermes to the CIA’s National Clandestine Service (NCS) on the preservation of videotapes of detainee interrogations made by the CIA. [New York Times, 12/19/2007] The guidance is apparently used as justification for the tapes’ destruction (see November 2005), but its content is unclear. According to one account, “Lawyers within the clandestine branch of the Central Intelligence Agency gave written approval in advance to the destruction in 2005 of hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting interrogations of two lieutenants from al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 12/11/2007] Another account supports this, saying the lawyers give “written guidance to [CIA manager Jose] Rodriguez that he had the authority to destroy the tapes and that the destruction would violate no laws.” [New York Times, 12/19/2007] However, according to another account: “[The guidance] advises that there is no explicit legal reason why the Clandestine Service had to preserve the tapes… The document does not, however, directly authorize the tapes’ destruction or offer advice on the wisdom or folly of such a course of action.” [Newsweek, 12/11/2007] Some CIA videotapes have been requested for court proceedings, meaning such tapes should not be destroyed, but it is unclear if the tapes that are destroyed in November 2005 have been requested by courts or not (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, is not asked for an opinion, although he has been involved in discussions about what to do with the tapes for years and several high-ranking officials and legislators are of the opinion that the tapes should not be destroyed (see November 2005). [New York Times, 12/11/2007] Eatinger and Hermes apparently inform Rizzo they have issued the guidance and expect Rodriguez will consult him before destroying the tapes, but Rodriguez does not do so. [New York Times, 12/19/2007] The New York Times will comment, “It is unclear what weight an opinion from a lawyer within the clandestine service would have if it were not formally approved by Mr. Rizzo. But [an anonymous former official] said Mr. Rodriguez and others in the clandestine branch believed the legal judgment gave them the blessing to destroy the tapes.” The former official will also say they “didn’t need to ask Rizzo’s permission.” [New York Times, 12/11/2007] A lawyer acting for Rodriguez will later say, “He had a green light to destroy them.” [New York Times, 12/19/2007] However, other former CIA officers will express surprise that a lawyer junior to Rizzo would approve such a controversial decision without asking for his input. Former CIA lawyer John Radsan will say, “I’d be surprised that even the chief [NCS] lawyer made a decision of that magnitude without bringing the General Counsel’s front office into the loop.” He adds, “Although unlikely, it is conceivable that once a CIA officer got the answer he wanted from a [NCS] lawyer, he acted on that advice… But a streamlined process like that would have been risky for both the officer and the [NCS] lawyer.” [New York Times, 12/11/2007]
Entity Tags: Robert Eatinger, National Clandestine Service, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., Steven Hermes, John Radsan, Central Intelligence Agency, John Rizzo, Directorate of Operations
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Mustafa Setmarian Nasar. [Source: Public domain]Around this date, al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, a.k.a. Abu Musab al-Suri, is arrested in a raid in Quetta, Pakistan. The US posted a $5 million reward for his capture in 2004. A red-haired, light-skinned Syrian citizen, he also is a citizen of Spain and long-time resident there. The raid takes place in a Quetta shop used as an office for the Madina Trust, a Pakistani charity that is linked to the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. A man arrested with Nasar is believed to be a Jaish-e-Mohammed member; another man is killed in the raid. [CNN, 11/5/2005; Associated Press, 11/5/2005; Associated Press, 5/2/2006] He is believed to have taught the use of poisons and chemicals at Afghanistan training camps and he is suspected of a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) and the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). But he is best known for his strategic writings. The Washington Post calls him “one of the jihad movement’s prime theorists.” He long advocated a decentralized militant movement, and was often critical of bin Laden’s and al-Qaeda’s mistakes. He says, “Al-Qaeda is not an organization, it is not a group, nor do we want it to be. It is a call, a reference, a methodology.” He is soon flown out of Pakistan and into US custody. In 2006, US intelligence sources will claim that he is now in the secret custody of another unnamed country. [Washington Post, 5/23/2006; New Yorker, 9/4/2006] In 2006, Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish judge involved in many al-Qaeda related cases, will complain that the US has not shared any information about Nasar since his secret arrest. He adds, “I don’t know where he is. Nobody knows where he is. Can you tell me how this helps the struggle against terrorism?” [New York Times, 6/4/2006]
In 2004, Undersecretary of State John Bolton privately informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iran is conducting research into the carefully timed detonations of conventional weapons needed to trigger a nuclear device. The tests, Bolton claimed, are being held at Parchin, a secret facility south of Tehran that hosts Iran’s Defense Industries Organization, and a site where large amounts of conventional weapons and chemical munitions and fuels are manufactured. Satellite imagery shows a bunker that might be suitable for such tests. IAEA inspectors are granted limited access to the site, and find no evidence of Bolton’s claims. “We found no evidence of nuclear materials,” a European diplomat associated with the IAEA will say in 2007. The underground explosive-testing pit, the diplomat will recall, “resembled what South Africa had when it developed its nuclear weapons” in the 1970s. While the bunker could be used for nuclear trigger testing, it could also serve other purposes, such as testing rocket fuel, which routinely takes place at Parchin. The diplomat will say, “The Iranians have demonstrated that they can enrich uranium, and trigger tests without nuclear yield can be done. But it’s a very sophisticated process—it’s also known as hydrodynamic testing—and only countries with suitably advanced nuclear testing facilities as well as the necessary scientific expertise can do it. I’d be very skeptical that Iran could do it.” In November 2006, Israel will claim that new satellite photos show further evidence of possible nuclear trigger testing. [New Yorker, 11/27/2006]
By November 2005, when the CIA destroys videotapes of the interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November 2005), there are numerous reasons to not destroy them, some of them possibly legal requirements. [New York Times, 12/8/2007]
In February 2003, Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee in 2003, Congressperson Jane Harman, the top Democrat on the committee, requested that the videotapes be preserved (see February 2003).
Beginning in 2003 and continuing through 2005, White House officials, including White House deputy chief of staff Harriet Miers, requested that the videotapes be preserved (see Between 2003-Late 2005).
In 2003, Justice Department lawyers also advised the CIA to preserve the videotapes (see 2003).
Beginning in 2003, lawyers in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial have requested access to evidence of interrogations of al-Qaeda leaders like Zubaida. The CIA twice misinformed the judge in the trial about the existence of the videotapes (see May 7-9, 2003 and November 3-14, 2005). The trial will not be concluded until mid-2006 (see May 3, 2006).
In September 2004, a judge rules the CIA has to preserve all records about the treatment of detainees overseas, as part of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The videotapes of Zubaida and al-Nashiri would clearly qualify, since both are held overseas (see September 15, 2004).
Beginning in May 2005, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of the Senate Intelligence Committee asked the CIA to preserve over 100 documents about the CIA interrogation program. One of the documents requested is a report about the videotapes of interrogations and their possible illegality (see May-September 2005).
In June and July 2005, two judges ordered the CIA to preserve all evidence relevant to detainees being held in Guantanamo prison. The interrogation videotapes are indirectly relevant because the cases of some detainees hinge on their alleged ties to Zubaida (see June-July 2005).
In the summer of 2005, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte met with CIA Director Porter Goss and “strongly advised” him not to allow the videotapes to be destroyed (see Summer 2005).
The videotapes are also needed for a trial of Jose Padilla, who is indicted in November 2005 (see November 22, 2005).
An unnamed official familiar with the case will comment, “Everybody from the top on down told them not to do it and still they went ahead and did it anyway.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/9/2007] Despite this, many later reports will indicate that the National Clandestine Service (NCS), the CIA unit that takes the decision to destroy the tapes, believes the advice about their destruction is ambiguous. NCS head Jose Rodriguez will be said to feel he never gets a straight answer to the question of whether the tapes should be destroyed, despite extensive correspondence about the issue at the CIA. [Newsweek, 12/11/2007; Newsweek, 12/24/2007] A former intelligence official will say, “They never told us, ‘Hell, no.’ If somebody had said, ‘You cannot destroy them,’ we would not have destroyed them.” [New York Times, 12/11/2007]
Rolf Mowatt-Larssen leaves the CIA and joins the Department of Energy, where he becomes director of the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence. He will remain with the department until January 2009. [US Department of Energy, 12/2/2008]
The chief of the CIA’s station in Bangkok, Michael Winograd, submits a request that he be allowed to destroy tapes of detainee interrogations. The tapes were made in 2002 in Thailand and show “enhanced techniques,” including waterboarding, being used on high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see Spring-Late 2002). The tapes have been in Winograd’s safe for the last three years, and it is reported that Winograd wants to resolve the matter now, because he is to retire. However, the story of the CIA’s “black sites” and possible torture of detainees breaks this month (see November 2-18, 2005). The request is submitted to CIA counterterrorism manager Jose Rodriguez, who will agree to it (see November 2005), despite the CIA being advised to the contrary (see November 2005). [Washington Post, 1/16/2008; Associated Press, 7/26/2010]
The Central Intelligence Agency destroys videotapes of the interrogations of two high-ranking detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, which were made in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002). One anonymous senior intelligence official later claims that “Several hundred hours” of videotapes are destroyed. [Washington Post, 12/18/2007] The tapes are destroyed at the CIA station in Thailand by station chief Michael Winograd, as Zubaida and al-Nashiri apparently were tortured at a secret CIA prison in that country. [Newsweek, 6/28/2008; Associated Press, 7/26/2010] The decision to destroy the tapes is apparently made by Jose Rodriguez, chief of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, despite previous advice not to destroy them (see November 2005). However, some accounts will suggest that Rodriguez received clearance to destroy the tapes (see December 7, 2007). [New York Times, 12/8/2007] The CIA’s treatment of detainees has recently come under increased scrutiny. As the Wall Street Journal will later remark, “the Abu Ghraib prison pictures were still fresh, the existence of secret CIA prisons had just been revealed, and politicians on Capitol Hill were talking about curtailing ‘extreme techniques,’ including the Central Intelligence Agency’s own interrogation tactics.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/10/2007] Beginning on November 2, 2005, there are some pivotal articles revealing details about the CIA’s handling of detainees, suggesting that some of them were illegally tortured (see November 2-18, 2005). According to a 2007 statement by future CIA Director Michael Hayden, the tapes are destroyed “in the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them” and because they apparently pose “a serious security risk”; if they were leaked, they could be used for retaliation by al-Qaeda and its sympathizers. [Central Intelligence Agency, 12/6/2007] However, this rationale will be questioned when the destruction is revealed in late 2007 (see December 6, 2007). Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will call this “a pathetic excuse.… You’d have to burn every document at the CIA that has the identity of an agent on it under that theory.” CBS News will offer an alternative explanation, saying that the tapes are destroyed “to protect CIA officers from criminal prosecution.” [CBS News, 12/7/2007] CIA Director Porter Goss and the CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, are allegedly not notified of the destruction in advance, and Rizzo will reportedly be angry at this failure. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] But Newsweek will later claim that Goss and Rizzo were involved in extensive discussions with the White House over what to do with the tapes. Goss supposedly thought there was an understanding the tapes would be saved and is upset to learn they have been destroyed (see Between 2003-Late 2005 and Before November 2005). [Newsweek, 12/11/2007] Congressional officials responsible for oversight are not informed for a year (see March 14, 2007). A White House spokeswoman will say that President Bush has “no recollection” of being made aware of the tapes’ destruction before 2007 (see December 11, 2007). It is also unclear whether the Justice Department is notified in advance or not. [New York Times, 12/8/2007] The CIA still retains tapes of interrogations of at least one detainee (see September 19 and October 18, 2007).
Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Zubaida, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., CIA Bangkok Station, John Rizzo, Porter J. Goss, Michael K. Winograd, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
A local newspaper claims this is the CIA prison in Mauritania. [Source: Le RÃ©novateur Quotidien]Most top al-Qaeda leaders being held by the US has been in a secret CIA prison in Poland. But after the nonprofit watchdog group Human Rights Watch discloses the existence of the prisons, the prisoners are moved to a new CIA prison located in the North African nation of Mauritania. The New Yorker will report that “After a new government friendly to the US took power, in a bloodless coup d’état in August, 2005… it was much easier for the intelligence community to mask secret flights there.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007] A Mauritanian newspaper places the prison at Ichemmimène, a town deep in the Sahara desert. [Le RÃ©novateur Quotidien, 6/29/2007] ABC News lists eleven prisoners making the move:
Abu Zubaida (held in Thailand then Poland).
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (held in Poland).
Ramzi bin al-Shibh (held in Poland).
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (held in Poland).
Khallad bin Attash (held in Poland).
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (held in Poland).
Hassan Ghul (held in Poland).
Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi (held in Poland).
Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman (held in Poland).
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (held in Pakistan then Poland).
Further, Hambali is a high level prisoner in US custody but he is being held elsewhere. [ABC News, 12/5/2005; ABC News, 12/5/2005] In 2007 Council of Europe, the European human rights monitoring agency, will reveal that the main CIA prison for high-level prisoners was in a Soviet-era military compound at Stare Kjekuty, in northeastern Poland. Lower-level prisoners from Afghanistan and Iraq were held in a military base near the Black Sea in Romania. The governments of Poland and Romania will continue to deny the existence of the prisons even after the US government admits to their existence. [New York Times, 6/8/2007] Eleven of the twelve prisoners mentioned above were subjected to the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” called torture by many. In 2006, Bush will announce that the CIA prisons are being emptied and high level prisoners will be transferred to the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (see September 2-3, 2006).
Some 'Ghost' Prisoners - But the list of prisoners being transferred will include some other names and will not include al-Shaykh al-Libi, Ghul, al-Sharqawi, or Abdul-Rahman. It will later come out that al-Sharqawi was probably sent to Guantanamo in late 2004 after being held in a Jordanian prison (see February 7, 2002). Ghul is a ‘ghost’ prisoner until he is turned over to the Pakistani government in 2006 (see (Mid-2006)). Al-Libi is similarly turned over to Libya (see Between November 2005 and September 2006). The fate of Abdul-Rahman remains unknown. [ABC News, 12/5/2005]
Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, Hambali, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Abu Zubaida, Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Vice President Cheney appears at the weekly Republican senatorial luncheon in the Capitol and speaks against the McCain anti-torture amendment (see October 1, 2005 and October 20, 2005). He argues that CIA interrogations of high-value al-Qaeda prisoners have produced valuable information, and the president needs the power and flexibility to use torture against prisoners in order to fight terrorism and protect the nation. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the amendment, counters Cheney’s arguments during the same luncheon, arguing that the idea of the US torturing prisoners damages its standing with its international allies. [Savage, 2007, pp. 220] The next day, the Washington Post will publish an expose of the CIA’s secret prison network (see November 2-18, 2005), causing a firestorm of criticism and sparking a former Bush administration official to say that the “philosophical guidance” behind the torture of prisoners comes directly from Cheney’s office (see November 3, 2005).
Armando Spataro, the Italian prosecutor investigating the CIA’s rendition from Italy of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar—see Noon February 17, 2003), offers a deal to Robert Seldon Lady, one of the agency officers involved in the operation. Spataro wants Lady to testify against the CIA for the prosecution. In return, Lady will not be sentenced to prison in Italy, and half of a villa he owns there will not be confiscated. However, Lady declines the offer, later saying that doing so would cause him to “lose respect for 24 years of my life”—the length of time he worked for the CIA. [GQ, 3/2007 ]
The White House continues to battle a Senate-approved amendment against torture (see October 1, 2005). Vice President Cheney, the administration’s strongest voice in favor of torture, gathers a group of Republican senators and gives what is later described as an impassioned plea to let the CIA torture when necessary. President Bush needs that option, Cheney argues, and a prohibition against torture may eventually cost the nation “thousands of lives.” He cites alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as one of torture’s success stories (see February 29 or March 1, 2003, Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, and June 16, 2004). Cheney fails to tell the gathering that the US has overseen the torture of Mohammed’s wife and children, and that Mohammed was told that if he didn’t cooperate, his children would be subjected to further abuse (see After September 11, 2002). He also fails to tell them that the information elicited from Mohammed was considered unreliable (see Summer 2003), and that many of Mohammed’s interrogators felt that torture merely hardened his resistance. During the meeting, John McCain (R-AZ), the author of the anti-torture amendment, tells Cheney, “This is killing us around the world.” On November 4, the Republican House leadership postpones a vote on the amendment when it realizes the amendment will pass overwhelmingly. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 196]
Philip Agee. [Source: Moonbattery (.com)]Philip Agee, the former CIA officer who publicly exposed a number of CIA agents in the 1970s and whose actions led to the enactment of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, says he now opposes such activities and condemns the disclosure of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity by senior White House officials. “I had my reasons for revealing the identities of agents and the White House had different ones,” Agee says. “However, I am now categorically opposed to making their names public.” Agee is quoted in the Greek newspaper To Vima tis Kiriakis and is later translated by the CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service. [FAS Project on Government Secrecy, 11/4/2005]
Following a request that the CIA be exempted from a US ban on torture, claims about alleged CIA mistreatment of prisoners begin to appear in the media, apparently fueled by CIA employees unhappy with the practices the CIA is employing. On November 2, the Washington Post reveals information about the CIA’s network of secret prisons, including facilities in Europe, which is kept secret from “nearly all members of Congress charged with overseeing the CIA’s covert actions.” The rationale for the policy is that the CIA apparently needs to hold people without the restrictions imposed by the US legal system, in order to keep the country safe. Detainees are said to be tortured, and this is not only questionable under US law, but, in some cases, against the law of the host country. [Washington Post, 11/2/2005] On November 9, the New York Times reveals that in 2004, the CIA’s Inspector General secretly concluded that the CIA’s aggressive interrogation techniques in use up until that time were likely in violation of a 1994 international treaty against torture signed by the US (see May 7, 2004). [New York Times, 11/9/2005] After the network is revealed, there is much interest in what actually goes on in it and more important details are uncovered by ABC News on November 18. Apparently, the CIA’s interrogation techniques have led to the death of one detainee and include sleep deprivation, physical violence, waterboarding, and leaving prisoners in cold cells (see Mid-March 2002). The intelligence generated by these techniques is said to be questionable, and one source says: “This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005] Some videotapes of CIA interrogations of detainees are destroyed this same month, although what date this happens exactly is unclear (see November 2005). The CIA is also so alarmed by these revelations that it immediately closes its secret prisons in Eastern Europe and opens a new one in a remote section of the Sahara desert (see November 2005).
Victoria Toensing, a former deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration, writes a guest editorial for the Wall Street Journal that demands the Plame Wilson investigation, as it stands, be closed. Instead, she says, the CIA should be investigated for causing Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to become public knowledge. Toensing blames the CIA’s “bizarre conduct” for Plame Wilson’s exposure. The CIA is responsible for Plame Wilson’s exposure, Toensing states, by allowing her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to go to Niger to look into claims that Iraq was trying to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Toensing writes that Plame Wilson “suggested” her husband for the trip (see February 13, 2002, February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). The CIA did not have Wilson write a report, but instead conducted an oral debriefing (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), and March 8, 2002) that, Toensing writes, was never sent to Vice President Dick Cheney’s office (see March 5, 2002). Wilson’s subsequent New York Times op-ed (see July 6, 2003) was not approved or vetted with the CIA’s Prepublication Review Board, something Toensing finds puzzling even though she notes that Wilson was not asked to sign a nondisclosure or confidentiality agreement. She also alleges, without giving specifics, that the statements in Wilson’s op-ed do not jibe with the information in the CIA’s report on his trip, though that report is classified and not available for her inspection. For the CIA to allow Wilson to write the op-ed was, Toensing says, tantamount to giving a green light for Plame Wilson’s exposure as a CIA official. Conservative colunnist Robert Novak, who publicly exposed Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), was told by “a still-unnamed administration source” (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003) that Wilson’s wife “suggested him for the assignment,” leading Novak to uncover Plame Wilson’s identity. Toensing also claims that Novak was never asked not to publish Plame Wilson’s name in anything but the most “perfunctory” fashion (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003). Toensing defends her allegation by writing: “Every experienced Washington journalist knows that when the CIA really does not want something public, there are serious requests from the top, usually the director. Only the press office talked to Mr. Novak.” Toensing goes on to note that the CIA permitted Plame Wilson to make political contributions under the name “Wilson, Valerie E.,” contributions recorded by the Federal Elections Commission. Toensing concludes, “The CIA conduct in this matter is either a brilliant covert action against the White House or inept intelligence tradecraft,” and demands that Congress conduct an investigation into the CIA’s conduct. [Wall Street Journal, 11/3/2005] The Journal does not inform its readers that Toensing was one of a group of lawyers and conservative activists who filed an amici curiae brief with the court asking that it overturn its decision to compel the testimony of two lawyers in the Plame Wilson investigation (see March 23, 2005).
The FBI terminates its two-year investigation into who disseminated the forged documents that alleged Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Italian intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari has confirmed that former Italian intelligence agent Rocco Martino disseminated the documents (see November 3, 2005). FBI chief Robert Mueller has praised Pollari and SISMI’s cooperation with the bureau’s investigation. In part because of information provided by SISMI to the FBI, the bureau concludes that the forgeries were produced by a person or persons for personal profit, and rules out any possibility that SISMI attempted to influence US policies. The Italian newspaper La Repubblica has published a three-part investigative series claiming Pollari had knowingly provided the US and Great Britain with the forgeries (see October 16, 2001, October 18, 2001, December 9, 2001, and September 9, 2002), perhaps at the behest of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who it says was said to be eager to help President Bush in the search for weapons in Iraq (see (After October 18, 2001)). Berlusconi has denied any involvement. [New York Times, 11/4/2005]
General Nicolo Pollari, the head of Italy’s military intelligence agency SISMI, identifies former SISMI agent and information peddler Rocco Martino as the disseminator of forged documents that alleged Iraqi attempts to buy uranium from Niger (see March 2000, Late June 2002, Afternoon October 7, 2002, and Summer 2004). Pollari discloses Martino’s identity in closed-door hearings conducted by the Italian parliament. Senator Massimo Brutti tells reporters that Martino is a former SISMI agent who had been “kicked out of the agency.” Brutti also tells reporters that Italy attempted to warn the US that the documents were forgeries, but then retracts the claim (see November 3, 2005). Senator Luigi Malabarba, another participant in the hearing, tells reporters that according to Pollari, Martino was “offering the documents not on behalf of SISMI but on behalf of the French,” and that Martino told prosecutors in Rome that he was in the service of French intelligence. A senior French intelligence official refuses to say whether Martino has ever been a paid agent of French intelligence, but calls Pollari’s assertions about France’s involvement in the document dissemination “scandalous.” Pollari denies any involvement in the document forging or dissemination by SISMI. [New York Times, 11/4/2005]
On November 3, 2005, Leonie Brinkema, the judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, asks the CIA about recordings of interrogations of detainees who are related to the Moussaoui case. Eleven days later, the CIA again incorrectly claims to prosecutors in that trial that it has no such recordings. The CIA made a similar claim in 2003 (see May 7-9, 2003), but in fact the CIA secretly videotaped detainee interrogations in 2002 (see Spring-Late 2002). Some of these videotapes are destroyed this month (see November 2005), however it is unknown if the destruction takes place before or after this date. In late 2007, the CIA will reveal that it did have some videotapes after all and prosecutors will finally be able to view some of them (see September 19 and October 18, 2007). But it will also be revealed that most of the videotapes were destroyed (see December 6, 2007). Prosecutors will later claim that neither the video nor the audio recordings contained material relevant to the Moussaoui trial, and some of the content of the interrogations was provided during discovery. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 10/25/2007 ; Reuters, 11/13/2007]
The US charges British citizen Binyam Ahmed Mohamed (see May-September, 2001), who has allegedly used the aliases Talha al-Kini, Foaud Zouaoui, Taha al-Nigeri, and John Samuel, with conspiracy to foment and carry out terrorist attacks against US targets. Mohamed, who was arrested in Pakistan in April 2002, is charged with “attacking civilians; attacking civilian objects; murder by an unprivileged belligerent; destruction of property by an unprivileged belligerent; and terrorism,” though the charge sheet is unclear whether Mohamed carried out any of these actions himself, or whether he was part of a larger conspiracy by the al-Qaeda terrorist organization. The charges allege links between Mohamed and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001), radical Islamist Abu Zubaida, 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla. Mohamed is alleged to have been part of the Padilla bomb plot. [US Defense Department, 11/4/2005 ] Much of the evidence against Mohamed comes from confessions he allegedly made while in US custody at the detention camp at Bagram Air Force Base (see January-September 2004), and in Guantanamo Bay (see September 2004 and After). He was also held in Pakistan (see April 10-May, 2002 and May 17 - July 21, 2002), and “rendered” to a secret prison in Morocco (see July 21, 2002 -- January 2004). Through his lawyers, Mohamed has claimed that he was tortured in all four detention sites. The British judiciary will later establish that British officials facilitated Mohamed’s interrogation in Pakistan, and had “full knowledge of the reported conditions of his detention and treatment” (see February 24, 2009). [Guardian, 2/5/2009] As with Padilla, the charges relating to the “dirty bomb” plot will later be dropped due to lack of evidence, and all charges against Mohamed will eventually be dropped (see October-December 2008 and February 4, 2009).
New York Post editorial writer Deborah Orin echoes charges made by previous columnists in the Wall Street Journal that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is conducting a partisan political prosecution of former White House official Lewis Libby (see October 29, 2005 and October 31, 2005), and repeats charges by former Reagan Justice Department official Victoria Toensing that the CIA is behind the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity (see November 3, 2005). Orin repeats previously made assertions that the CIA allowed Plame Wilson’s exposure by allowing her to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger (see February 13, 2002, February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005), failed to have Wilson sign “the usual confidentiality agreement,” and failed to require him to write a written report (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), and March 8, 2002). Orin accuses Wilson of only voicing his public criticism of the Bush administration’s Iraq invasion after he “joined” the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA) in May 2003, even though he began publicly criticizing the administration a year earlier (see May 2002, October 13, 2002, November 2002, December 9, 2002, January 28-29, 2003, February 13, 2003, February 28, 2003, March 3, 2003, March 5, 2003, and March 8, 2003), and the White House began its retaliatory attack against his criticisms in March 2003 (see March 9, 2003 and After). Orin also repeats Toensing’s sourceless assertion that Wilson’s New York Times op-ed about his findings in Niger (see July 6, 2003) “sharply conflicted with what he’d told the CIA.” It was the CIA’s actions, not the White House’s, that led to Plame Wilson’s exposure, Orin avers (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003). Orin quotes Toensing, who said: “It [the Plame Wilson exposure] was a planned CIA covert action against the White House. It was too clever by half.” The reason, Orin says, was to divert attention from its intelligence failures surrounding the US failure to find WMD in Iraq: “Having Wilson go public was very useful to the CIA, especially the division where his wife worked—because it served to shift blame for failed ‘slam dunk’ intelligence claims away from the agency. To say that Bush ‘twisted’ intelligence was to presume—falsely—that the CIA had gotten it right.” The White House was merely defending itself from the CIA’s propaganda onslaught, Orin writes, adding that since Plame Wilson was not a covert agent (see Fall 1992 - 1996), the agency was “dishonest” in claiming that its intelligence operations had been damaged by her exposure (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006). [New York Post, 11/7/2005]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Deborah Orin, John Kerry, Joseph C. Wilson, Victoria Toensing, Valerie Plame Wilson, New York Post, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Wall Street Journal
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Steven E. Jones. [Source: Publicity photo]Steven E. Jones, a 20-year physics professor at Brigham Young University in Utah, posts a 9,000-word academic paper on the Internet, in which he says it is likely there were explosives in the three WTC towers that collapsed on 9/11. In his paper, which has been accepted for peer-reviewed publication in 2006, he states, “It is quite plausible that explosives were pre-planted in all three buildings and set off after the two plane crashes—which were actually a diversion tactic.… Muslims are (probably) not to blame for bringing down the WTC buildings after all.” He says the official explanation for the collapses—that fires and structural damage caused them—cannot be backed up by either testing or history. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review will comment, “Jones isn’t the first to make this shocking/unbelievable claim… But it’s hard to imagine anyone making it clearer.” Jones, who conducts research in fusion and solar energy, wants a new, independent investigation into what caused the collapses. [Deseret Morning News, 11/10/2005; KUTV 2 (Salt Lake City), 11/10/2005; MSNBC, 11/16/2005; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 11/20/2005]
Saijida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi confesses on Jordanian television to attempting to be one of the suicide bombers. Her bomb belt is also shown. [Source: BBC / Jordanian Televison]Three hotels in Amman, Jordan are simultaneously bombed. Sixty people, including three bombers, are killed and 115 others are injured. The explosions take place at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Radisson SAS Hotel, and the Days Inn, which are hotels often frequented by Western military contractors and diplomats. The bomb at the Radisson explodes in a ballroom where a wedding reception is taking place. The Jordanian government soon announces that the group Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which is supposedly led by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, took credit for the attack in an Internet statement. [CNN, 11/12/2005] Within days, an Iraqi woman accused of being a failed fourth suicide bomber confesses to participating in the attack on Jordanian television. CNN notes that “Many people were expressing doubt [whether the woman] really was involved…” [CNN, 11/14/2005] Two leading Palestinian security officials - West Bank military intelligence chief Maj Gen. Bashir Nafeh and his aide Col. Abel Allun - are among those killed. [BBC, 11/10/2005] The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports, “The Radisson is known to be popular with Israeli tourists,” yet no Israelis were killed in the bombings. “Hours before the bombings, many Israelis were evacuated from the Radisson… apparently due to a specific security alert.” (The Haaretz report about this is retracted and then later reinstated.) [Ha'aretz, 10/11/2005] The Los Angeles Times also notes that Haaretz report and adds that Amos N. Guiora, a former leader of the Israel Defense Forces, told the Times that “sources in Israel had also told him about the pre-attack evacuations. “It means there was excellent intelligence that this thing was going to happen.… The question that needs to be answered is why weren’t the Jordanians working at the hotel similarly removed?” [Los Angeles Times, 11/10/2005] The deaths of the Palestinian intelligence officials and warning to Israeli tourists cause some, especially in the Muslim world, to claim that the attacks were an Israeli false flag operation. [Washington Post, 11/15/2005]
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) claims in a press conference that Bob Johnson, an employee of the defense contractor Raytheon, claims to have independently identified Mohamed Atta prior to 9/11. The second version of Able Danger in late 2000 was associated with Raytheon while the first version was not, so presumably Johnson’s identification of Atta would have taken place then. If true, that would mean that both versions of Able Danger identified Atta independently of each other in early 2000 and late 2000, respectively. Weldon claims that this is the sixth person to corroborate the claim that Atta was identified prior to the 9/11 attacks. [Times Herald (Norristown), 11/11/2005]
Louis Freeh, FBI Director for the duration of the Able Danger program, calls Able Danger “a missed opportunity that could have potentially prevented 9/11.” He also says, “The Able Danger intelligence, if confirmed, is undoubtedly the most relevant fact of the entire post-9/11 inquiry.… Yet the 9/11 Commission inexplicably concluded that it ‘was not historically significant.’ This astounding conclusion—in combination with the failure to investigate Able Danger and incorporate it into its findings—raises serious challenges to the commission’s credibility and, if the facts prove out, might just render the commission historically insignificant itself.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/17/2005]
The Defense Department admits to having detained over 80,000 people in facilities from Afghanistan to Guantanamo since the 9/11 attacks. At least 14,500 people are currently in US custody in connection with the war on terror; around 13,814 are being held in Iraq and some 500 detainees are at the Guantanamo detention facility. An unknown number are being held in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The Bush administration has defended its incarceration of so many detainees, many without charge or legal representation, from criticism by human rights organizations, civil liberties groups, and political opponents. What many find indefensible is the CIA’s practice of “rendering” terror suspects to foreign countries for interrogation and torture, as well as making some prisoners “disappear” into secret prisons in foreign countries. Currently, the Bush administration is attempting to counter reports that the CIA has used private jets to transport suspects to at least six countries, either in Europe or through European countries’ airspace. “If these allegations turn out to be true, the crucial thing is whether these flights landed in the member states with or without the knowledge and approval of the authorities,” says Terry Davis, the Council of Europe’s secretary general. The CIA has refused to comment on this or other reports. [Guardian, 11/18/2005]
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) sends Defense Secretary Rumsfeld a letter signed by 246 members of Congress demanding that Able Danger program officers and contractors be allowed to testify in open congressional hearings. There is a nearly even split between Democrat and Republican signatures. [Sacramento Bee, 11/24/2005]
Raymond Tanter. [Source: PBS]Neoconservative Raymond Tanter, a member of the Institute for Near East Policy and a fervent advocate of regime change in Iran, tells the National Press Club that the Bush administration should use the Iranian opposition group Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) and its political arm, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) as an insurgent militia against the Iranian government. “The National Council of Resistance of Iran and the Mujahedeen-e Khalq are not only the best source for intelligence on Iran’s potential violations of the nonproliferation regime,” Tanter says, but “[t]he NCRI and MEK are also a possible ally of the West in bringing about regime change in Tehran” (see January 2005). Tanter also advocates using nuclear weapons against Iran’s nuclear program, and suggests that Israel might use bombs sold to it by the US to avoid conflicts with the UN’s Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Israel has refused to sign. He says that the Bush administration should “delist” MEK and the NCRI from its list of terrorist organizations: “The international community should realize that there is only one group to which the regime pays attention and fears: the Mujahedeen-e Khalq and the political coalition of which the MEK is a part, the National Council of Resistance of Iran. By delisting the NCRI and MEK from the Foreign Terrorist Organizations listing maintained by the Department of State, it would allow regime change to be on the table in Tehran. With regime change in the open, Tehran would have to face a choice about whether to slow down in its drive to acquire nuclear weapons or not.” [Iran Policy Committee, 11/21/2005; Vanity Fair, 3/2007]
McCain speaking against torture on Fox News. [Source: Daily Gadfly (.com)]Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a former prisoner of war during the Vietnam War and a victim of torture, writes an impassioned op-ed for Newsweek exhorting the US not to resort to torture in its interrogations of terror suspects. He writes: “I do, respectfully, take issue with the position that the demands of this war require us to accord a lower station to the moral imperatives that should govern our conduct in war and peace when they come in conflict with the unyielding inhumanity of our vicious enemy.… We should not torture or treat inhumanely terrorists we have captured. The abuse of prisoners harms, not helps, our war effort.”
Produces False Information - He gives numerous reasons: abusing prisoners does not produce reliable information, but instead “often produces bad intelligence because under torture a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear—whether it is true or false—if he believes it will relieve his suffering.” McCain recounts his own example of providing false information under torture, giving his captors the names of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive line instead of the names of his flight squadron. “It seems probable to me that the terrorists we interrogate under less than humane standards of treatment are also likely to resort to deceptive answers that are perhaps less provably false than that which I once offered.”
Betrays America's 'Commitment to Basic Humanitarian Values' - Moreover, McCain writes, America’s “commitment to basic humanitarian values affects—in part—the willingness of other nations to do the same. Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops who might someday be held captive.” We cannot expect al-Qaeda and other such enemies to be “bound by the principle of reciprocity,” but “we should have concern for those Americans captured by more traditional enemies, if not in this war then in the next.” Global public criticism of North Vietnam’s brutality towards US prisoners resulted in a substantial decrease in their abuse of POWs. The war against terrorism is “a war of ideas,” he writes, “a struggle to advance freedom in the face of terror in places where oppressive rule has bred the malevolence that creates terrorists. Prisoner abuses exact a terrible toll on us in this war of ideas. They inevitably become public, and when they do they threaten our moral standing, and expose us to false but widely disseminated charges that democracies are no more inherently idealistic and moral than other regimes.” To defeat the idea of terrorism, “we must prevail in our defense of American political values as well. The mistreatment of prisoners greatly injures that effort.”
'We Are Different and Better than Our Enemies' - McCain writes that while he does not “mourn the loss of any terrorist’s life… [w]hat I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we allow, confuse, or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, that which is our greatest strength—that we are different and better than our enemies, that we fight for an idea, not a tribe, not a land, not a king, not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion, but for an idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.”
Waterboarding Is Torture - McCain states flatly that any interrogation technique that simulates an execution, including waterboarding, is torture. “[I]f you gave people who have suffered abuse as prisoners a choice between a beating and a mock execution, many, including me, would choose a beating. The effects of most beatings heal. The memory of an execution will haunt someone for a very long time and damage his or her psyche in ways that may never heal. In my view, to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture.”
Exceptions Do Not Require New Laws - There is always the extreme circumstance bandied about in discussions: what should be done with a terror suspect who holds critical information about an imminent terrorist attack? While such an extreme circumstance may well require extreme interrogation methods, McCain writes, “I don’t believe this scenario requires us to write into law an exception to our treaty and moral obligations that would permit cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. To carve out legal exemptions to this basic principle of human rights risks opening the door to abuse as a matter of course, rather than a standard violated truly in extremis. It is far better to embrace a standard that might be violated in extraordinary circumstances than to lower our standards to accommodate a remote contingency, confusing personnel in the field and sending precisely the wrong message abroad about America’s purposes and practices.” [Newsweek, 11/21/2005]
A new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an impartial investigative arm of Congress, claims the US effort to help foreign nations cut off terrorism funding has been frustrated by infighting among US agencies, a lack of funding, and leadership problems. The report says “the US government lacks an integrated strategy” to train foreign countries and give them technical assistance. Officials at the State and Treasury Departments cannot even agree on who is supposed to be in charge of the effort. In at least one case, the State Department refused to even allow a Treasury official to enter a certain foreign country. “Investigators found clear tensions between officials at State, Treasury, Justice, and other US government departments.” Remarkably, private contractors have sometimes been allowed to draft proposed laws for foreign countries to curb terrorist financing. The contractors’ work at times resulted in proposals with “substantial deficiencies.” Generally speaking, the New York Times notes that experts say that the Bush administration’s efforts with terrorist financing has been “spotty, with few clear dents in al-Qaeda’s ability to move money and finance terrorist attacks.” [New York Times, 11/29/2005]
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) says of Able Danger: “I am convinced this is a bigger cover-up than Watergate.… More than 3,000 people were slaughtered and [the 9/11 Commission] deliberately kept the story from being part of its report because it would have embarrassed some of its members.” [Delco Times, 11/30/2005]
As Congress debates legislation that will outlaw “cruel, inhuman, and degrading” treatment of terrorist suspects and detainees in US custody, the Justice Department issues a secret opinion, one that few lawmakers even know exists, ruling that none of the CIA’s interrogation methods violate that standard. The Justice Department has already issued one secret opinion countermanding the Bush administration’s stated position that torture is “abhorrent” (see February 2005). Both rulings are efforts by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House officials to realign the Justice Department with the White House after an in-house revolt by many Justice officials threw administration policies on torture and domestic surveillance into doubt (see Late 2003-2005). Though the public debate on torture becomes ever more pervasive during President Bush’s second term, the two rulings will remain in effect through the end of 2007 and beyond, helping the White House give US officials the broadest possible legal latitude for abusing and torturing prisoners. As late as October 2007, the White House will insist that it has always followed US and international law in its authorization of interrogation practices. Those assurances will be countered by an array of current and former officials involved in counterterrorism (see October 3, 2007). [New York Times, 10/4/2007] In 2007, Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will say in conjunction with a lawsuit filed against the Justice Department’s interrogation practices, “These torture memos should never have been written, and it is utterly unacceptable that the administration continues to suppress them while at the same time declaring publicly that it abhors torture. It is now obvious that senior administration officials worked in concert over a period of several years to evade and violate the laws that prohibit cruelty and torture. Some degree of accountability is long overdue.” The ACLU will also note that the administration had failed to disclose the existence of the two opinions in its court filings, a failure characterized by the administration as an accidental oversight. [Harper's, 11/7/2007]
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the presiding judge over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), learns from Justice Department liaison James Baker that at least one more government application for a FISA surveillance warrant is based on illegally obtained evidence. Kollar-Kotelly has warned the Justice Department about this practice in the past (see 2004 and 2005). This time, administration officials claim that the evidence in question is presented due to an error by a low-level Defense Department employee. Kollar-Kotelly asks Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to ensure that such an “error” does not happen again. [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]
Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who for a year has advocated that the US issue clear rules about detention and interrogation of terror suspects (see Summer 2005), calls a meeting of three dozen Pentagon officials, including the vice chief and top uniformed lawyer for each military branch. England wants to discuss a proposed new directive defining the US military’s detention policies. The secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force are present, as are generals from each branch of service and a number of military lawyers, including Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora. The agenda is set by Matthew Waxman, the deputy assistant secretary for detainee affairs. Waxman says that the president’s general statement that detainees should be treated humanely “subject to military necessity” (see February 7, 2002) has left US military interrogators and others unsure about how to proceed with detainees. Waxman has proposed making it official Pentagon policy to treat detainees in accordance with Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions, which bars cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, as well as “outrages against human dignity.” The standard has already been in effect since the Geneva Conventions were first put into place over 50 years ago, and US military personnel are trained to follow it. In 2007, the Washington Post will observe, “That was exactly the language… that [Vice President] Cheney had spent three years expunging from US policy.” Mora will later recall of the meeting, “Every vice chief came out strongly in favor, as did every JAG,” or Judge Advocate General.
Opposition - Every military officer supports the Waxman standard, but two civilians oppose it: Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and William Haynes, the Pentagon’s general counsel and a close associate of Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington. Cambone and Haynes argue that the standard will limit the US’s “flexibility” in handling terror suspects, and it might expose administration officials to charges of war crimes. If Common Article III becomes the standard for treatment, then it might become a crime to violate it.
War Crimes Questions - An exasperated Mora points out that whether the proposal is adopted or not, the Geneva Conventions are already solidly part of both US and international law. Any serious breach is in legal fact a war crime. Mora reads from a copy of the US War Crimes Act, which already forbids the violation of Common Article III. It is already the law, Mora emphasizes, and no one is free to ignore it. Waxman believes his opponents are isolated, and issues a draft of DOD Directive 2310, incorporating the Geneva-based language.
Browbeating Waxman - Within a few days, Addington and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, bring Waxman in for a meeting. The meeting goes poorly for Waxman. Addington ridicules the vagueness of the Geneva ban on “outrages upon personal dignity,” saying it leaves US troops timid in the face of unpredictable legal risk. Waxman replies that the White House policy is far more opaque, and Addington accuses him of trying to replace the president’s decision with his own. Mora later says, “The impact of that meeting is that Directive 2310 died.” Shortly thereafter, Waxman will leave the Pentagon for a post at the State Department. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Entity Tags: Alberto Mora, David S. Addington, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, William J. Haynes, War Crimes Act, Matthew Waxman, Gordon England, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Stephen A. Cambone
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The CIA closes its unit that had been in charge of hunting bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders. Analysts in the unit, known as Alec Station, are reassigned to other parts of the CIA Counterterrorist Center. CIA officials explain the change by saying the agency can better deal with high-level threats by focusing on regional trends rather than on specific organizations or individuals. Michael Scheuer, who headed the unit when if formed in 1996 (see February 1996), says the move reflects a view within the CIA that bin Laden is no longer the threat he once was, and complains, “This will clearly denigrate our operations against al-Qaeda.” Robert Grenier, head of the Counterterrorist Center in 2005, is said to have instigated the closure. [New York Times, 7/4/2006; Guardian, 7/4/2006] The White House denies the search for bin Laden has slackened, calling the move merely a “reallocation of resources” within the CIA. [Reuters, 8/17/2006]
By late 2005, many inside CIA headquarters has concluded that the hunt for Osama bin Laden has made little progress in recent years. Jose Rodriguez Jr., head of the CIA’s clandestine operations branch, implements some changes. Robert Grenier, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center since late 2004, is replaced by someone whose name has yet to be made public. Grenier had just closed Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, as part of a reorganization (see Late 2005), and Rodriguez and Grenier had barely spoken to each other for months. Dozens of new CIA operatives are sent to Pakistan as part of a new push to get bin Laden called Operation Cannonball. But most of the operatives assigned to the task have been newly hired and have little experience. One former senior CIA official says: “We had to put people out in the field who had less than ideal levels of experience. But there wasn’t much to choose from.” Two other former officials say this is because the experienced personnel have generally been assigned to the Iraq war. One of them says, “You had a very finite number” of experienced officers. “Those people all went to Iraq. We were all hurting because of Iraq.” The New York Times will later comment, “The increase had little impact in Pakistan, where militants only continued to gain strength.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
After years of work, by 2005, a scientific team working with the FBI has identified four genetic markers, known as indels, that make the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks unique (see Early 2003-2005). The anthrax is from the Ames strain, and the FBI has been slowly building a repository of 1,070 Ames anthrax samples from around the world. By late 2005 to 2006, it is discovered that only eight samples match the anthrax used in the attacks. Seven of these eight samples come from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, and the eighth sample comes from another unnamed laboratory in the US. One of these samples is the ancestor of all eight, and this is a flask known as RMR-1029 kept by USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins (see Early 2004). The FBI soon determines that about 100 scientists had access to this flask and its seven descendants. Investigators begin a new phase, using traditional criminology techniques to narrow down the possible suspects. [New York Times, 8/20/2008]
US officials will later claim that Osama bin Laden begins living in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2006. However, one of bin Laden’s wives will later be more specific and say that bin Laden and his family move to the Abbottabad compound near the end of 2005. (She also will claim they lived in a nearby town for two and a half years prior to that (see 2003-Late 2005).) Bin Laden and members of his family will hide inside the Abbottabad compound for five years until he is killed there in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011; New York Times, 6/23/2011]
Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden learns that the CIA has videotaped some detainee interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). Hayden will later say he finds this out towards the end of his time as deputy director of national intelligence, a position he leaves in May 2006. Although the tapes were destroyed several months previously (see November 2005), Hayden will later say he is not aware of their destruction at this point: “I did not personally know before they were destroyed, not at all… I was aware of the existence of the tapes but really didn’t become focused on it until the summer of ‘06.” It appears that Hayden does not inform any congressional oversight committees of the destruction until 2007 (see March 14, 2007 and December 7, 2007), even though he becomes CIA director in the summer of 2006 (see May 5, 2006). [Associated Press, 12/12/2007; Fox News, 12/13/2007]
Author and Vanity Fair reporter Craig Unger interviews Michael Ledeen regarding the false claims that Iraq attempted to purchase massive amounts of uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Ledeen, a prominent neoconservative who holds the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, is well known to have extensive ties to the Italian intelligence community and for his relationship with discredited Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar (see 1981 and December 9, 2001). Ledeen denies any involvement in promulgating the fraudulent uranium allegations. “I’m tired of being described as someone who likes fascism and is a warmonger,” he says. (Ledeen has written books and articles praising Italy’s Benito Mussolini, and wrote numerous articles in the run-up to the Iraq invasion calling for the US to forcibly overthrow numerous Middle Eastern governments along with Iraq’s—see September 20, 2001, December 7, 2001, and August 6, 2002.) “I think it’s obvious I have no clout in the administration. I haven’t had a role. I don’t have a role.” He barely knows White House political adviser Karl Rove, he says, and has “no professional relationship with any agency of the federal government during the Bush administration. That includes the Pentagon.” The facts contradict Ledeen’s assertions. Since before Bush’s inauguration, Rove has invited Ledeen to funnel ideas to the White House (see After November 2000). Former Pentagon analyst Karen Kwiatkowski says Ledeen “was in and out of [the Pentagon] all the time.” Ledeen is very close to David Wurmser, who held key posts in the Pentagon and State Department before becoming the chief Middle East adviser for Vice President Dick Cheney. Ledeen also has close ties to National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Of course, none of this proves or disproves his connections, if any, to the Iraq-Niger fabrications. [Unger, 2007, pp. 231]
Entity Tags: Manucher Ghorbanifar, Bush administration (43), American Enterprise Institute, Craig Unger, David Wurmser, Karen Kwiatkowski, Karl C. Rove, Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Ledeen, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Following the destruction of videotapes made by the CIA showing the interrogation of al-Qaeda detainees (see Spring-Late 2002 and November 2005), the CIA’s Office of General Counsel conducts a review of the circumstances of destruction, as well as any other investigations and preservation obligations at the time the tapes were destroyed. Although the review’s conclusions are not known, the existence of the review is made public in a Justice Department letter obtained by the Associated Press after news of the tapes’ destruction breaks in 2007 (see December 6, 2007). [Associated Press, 12/8/2007] There is no indication that any action is taken against Jose Rodriguez, who will later be said to be the CIA officer responsible for the tapes’ destruction (see After November 2005).
Pakistanis hold up a piece of the missile that allegedly killed Abu Hamza Rabia. [Source: Marib Press / Associated Press]The US kills al-Qaeda leader Abu Hamza Rabia with a missile fired from a Predator drone. Rabia is killed with four others in North Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s tribal region. Apparently, a Predator missile strike in the same region missed Radia on November 5, 2005, but killed eight others. Anonymous US officials say Rabia, an Egyptian, was head of al-Qaeda’s foreign operations. It is speculated that he recently replaced Abu Faraj al-Libbi as al-Qaeda’s number three leader after Faraj was captured in May 2005 (see May 2, 2005). [Washington Post, 12/4/2005; Fox News, 12/5/2005] However, very little had been reported on Rabia’s supposed importance prior to his death, although an FBI official said in 2004, “If there is an attack on the US… Hamza Rabia will be responsible. He’s head of external operations for al-Qaeda—an arrogant, nasty guy.” [New Yorker, 7/26/2004] But there was no reward for him, there are no known public photos of him, and he had not been on any most wanted lists. Some experts dispute Rabia’s importance. For instance, counterterrorism expert Christopher Brown says Rabia was probably a local senior member of al-Qaeda, but was far from being its number three leader. He points out that Saif al-Adel is clearly more important, and probably just behind Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. The global intelligence firm Stratfor contends that neither Rabia nor his supposed number three predecessor Faraj were very high ranking. Counterterrorism expert Evan Kohlmann says that the whole practice of assigning numeric rankings “doesn’t make any sense.” He adds, “This isn’t a Fortune 500 company with clearly defined roles,” and says assigning numbers is just “a way to sell a story to media.” [CNS News, 12/16/2005]
Kevin Brock, the new deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center, says that the US has not detected a significant al-Qaeda operational capability in the US since the 2003 arrest of a truck driver plotting to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge. But he says that al-Qaeda’s capabilities remain unclear and the group is still dangerous. [Associated Press, 12/2/2005]
A report by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General is leaked to the New York Times. The report largely backs the allegations made by whistleblower ex-FBI agent Mike German (see September 2002 and August 2, 2004). It finds that FBI officials mishandled a terrorism investigation German was involved in, falsified documents in an effort to cover up agency mistakes, and retaliated against German. In one instance, someone altered dates on three FBI forms using correction fluid to conceal a violation of federal wiretap law. After German tried to complain directly to FBI Director Robert Mueller, other FBI agents distanced themselves from him. For instance, the head of the FBI undercover unit, Jorge Martinez, froze German out of teaching assignments and told another agent that German would “never work another undercover case.” [New York Times, 12/3/2005] Notwithstanding, German is critical of the inspector general’s report. He says the authors of the report distorted some facts and failed to fully investigate whether the investigation he was working on was a genuine terrorist conspiracy. [Government Executive, 12/12/2005]
As the former 9/11 Commissioners issue a harsh report card grading the government’s counterterrorism efforts (see December 5, 2005), former commission chairman Thomas Kean adds some critical comments in several interviews. Kean says, “While the terrorists are learning and adapting, our government is still moving at a crawl… Four years after 9/11 we are not as safe as we could be and that’s simply not acceptable.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2005] He also says that public safety is “not a priority for the government right now. You don’t see the Congress or the president talking about the public safety is number one, as we think it should be, and a lot of the things we need to do really to prevent another 9/11 just simply aren’t being done by the president or by the Congress.” [Meet the Press, 12/4/2005]
The ten ex-9/11 Commissioners issue a report card to monitor the progress on implementation of the commission’s recommendations given in their July 2004 final report, and they generally give harsh grades. The report card assigns letter grades to the commission’s 41 key recommendations. In nearly half the categories, the government receives a D, F, or incomplete grade. There is only one high grade, an A-minus for its “vigorous effort against terrorist financing.” [Washington Post, 12/6/2005] Ironically, that one good grade runs counter to the opinion of many counterterrorism experts. For instance, author Zachary Abuza has said, “The glaring exception to the success in fighting terrorism has been on the financial front…” [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003] The report card criticizes the government for:
still not checking the identities of airplane passengers against a complete terrorism watch list.
continuing to allocate domestic security funding without considering that certain parts of the country are at greater risk than others.
excessive secrecy regarding intelligence spending.
the handling of detainees.
persistent problems in first responder communication systems. [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2005]
the slow transformation of and continuing problems with the FBI. [Washington Post, 12/6/2005]
The report does not give grades to President Bush or any other specific officials. The 9/11 Commission formally ceased operations after issuing its final report, but some members formed a privately funded foundation to monitor progress. The foundation disbands after releasing the report card. White House spokesman Scott McClellan defends the Bush administration’s efforts, saying, “The best way to protect the American people is to take the fight to the enemy, to stay on the offensive.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/5/2005]
Sami al-Arian being led from a courthouse in handcuffs. [Source: Chris O'Meara/ Associated Press]Former Florida professor Sami al-Arian and three co-defendants are found not guilty of various counts of terrorist support, perjury, and immigration violations. The jury acquitted al-Arian of eight of the 17 federal charges against him and deadlocked on the rest. The New York Times calls the verdict “a major defeat for [US] law enforcement officials.” Al-Arian was indicted and imprisoned in 2003. He had been heavily investigated since 1995 and most of the charges related to events from 1995 or earlier (see 1995 and 1995-1998). Law professor Peter Margulies says, “I think the government’s case was somewhat stale because a lot of these events dated back ten years and the case was so complex that it was all over the board.” [New York Times, 12/6/2005] Six months later, a federal judge will sentence al-Arian to an additional 19 months in jail in addition to the 38 months he has already served before being deported. Al-Arian will plead guilty to a lesser charge of aiding members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and agree to be deported and in return the US will not retry him on the more serious charges. As part of the plea deal, al-Arian admits he raised money for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and conspired to hide the identities of other members of the group. He denies committing any act of violence himself, but admits knowing “that the PIJ achieved its objectives by, among other means, acts of violence.” [Tampa Tribune, 4/18/2006] The New York Times will note that the “outcome of the case against Mr. al-Arian did little to resolve the conflicting portraits of his life” as either a terrorism supporter or political scapegoat. [New York Times, 5/2/2006]
The “Salt Pit” prison near Kabul, Afghanistan. [Source: Trevor Paglen.]Khalid el-Masri and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) file a lawsuit against former CIA director George Tenet and three corporations. The suit alleges that all of the defendants were complicit in el-Masri’s abduction transfer to to a secret prison, and subsequent mistreatment
December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004,
January 23 - March 2004,
). Tenet is said to have known that the CIA had mistakenly detained an innocent man, but allowed el-Masri to remain in detention for two months. The three corporations are accused of owning and operating airplanes that transported el-Masri to a secret prison in Afghanistan known as the “Salt Pit.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 12/6/2005; Beeson, Wizner, and Goodman, 12/6/2005 ]
Arthur Sulzberger. [Source: New York Times]George W. Bush summons New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and Times editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office to try to dissuade them from running a landmark story revealing the NSA’s illegal wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) that he authorized in 2002 (see Early 2002). In the meeeting, Bush warns Sulzberger and Keller that “there’ll be blood on your hands” if another terrorist attack were to occur, obviously implying that to reveal the nature of the program would invite terrorist strikes. Bush is unsuccessful in his attempt to quash the story. [Newsweek, 12/21/2005; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
An FBI investigation into Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee, is halted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, according to three former top national security officials. The investigation was to determine whether she agreed to use her influence on behalf of accused Israeli spies in return for Israeli support in being named chairman of the committee (see Summer 2005, October 2005 and December 2, 2006). In contrast to the former officials’ claims, the media will report that the investigation is ended due to “lack of evidence” of impropriety or illegal behavior on Harman’s part. However, according to the former officials, Gonzales wants Harman to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which is about to be revealed by a long-simmering New York Times story (see December 15, 2005). The evidence against Harman includes NSA wiretaps of a conversation between her and an Israeli agent. Reporter Jeff Stein will write, “As for there being ‘no evidence’ to support the FBI probe, a source with first-hand knowledge of the wiretaps called that ‘bull****.’” Another former national security officer will confirm Harman’s presence on the wiretaps. “It’s true,” the official will say. “She was on there.” Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units have concluded that Harman had committed what they called a “completed crime,” meaning there was evidence to show that she had attempted to complete it; they were prepared to open a case on her that would include wiretaps approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). CIA Director Porter Goss certified the FISA wiretapping request, and decided to inform House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and ranking House Democrat Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of the impending FBI investigation. At this point, say Stein’s sources, Gonzales intervenes to stop the investigation. Two officials with knowledge of the events will say that, in Gonzales’s words, he “needed Jane” to help support the warrantless wiretapping program once it became public knowledge. Gonzales tells Goss that Harman had helped persuade the Times to refrain from publishing the story in late 2004 (see Early November 2004, December 6, 2005, and Mid-2005), and although the Times would no longer wait on the story, Harman could be counted on to help defend the program. She will do just that (see December 21, 2005 and February 8-12, 2006). Hastert and Pelosi are never told of the FBI investigation. Stein will also learn that Goss’s successor, Michael Hayden, will later be informed of the potential investigation, but choose to take no action. Likewise, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will oppose any such investigation. Former officials who will pursue the Israeli espionage case for years will say, in Stein’s words, that “Harman dodged a bullet… [s]he was protected by an administration desperate for help.” A recently retired national security official closely involved in the investigation will add: “It’s the deepest kind of corruption. It’s a story about the corruption of government—not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Entity Tags: Jeff Stein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dennis Hastert, Alberto R. Gonzales, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Jane Harman, Michael Hayden, Porter J. Goss, John Negroponte, House Intelligence Committee, New York Times, Nancy Pelosi
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Army adopts a new, classified set of interrogation methods that some feel may change the nature of the debate over cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees in US custody. The Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005), which bases its definition of torture in part on Army standards, is currently wending its way through Congress. The new set of instructions are being added to the revised Army Field Manual, after they are approved by undersecretary of defense Stephen Cambone. The addendum provides exact details on what kinds of interrogation procedures can and cannot be used, and under what circumstances, pushing the legal limit of what interrogations can be used in ways that the Army has never done before. Some military observers believe that the new guidelines are an attempt by the Army to undercut the DTA, and many believe the bill’s sponsor, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) will be unhappy with the addendum. “This is a stick in McCain’s eye,” one official says. “It goes right up to the edge. He’s not going to be comfortable with this.” McCain has not yet been briefed on the contents of the new guidelines. McCain spokesman Mark Salter says, “This is politically obtuse and damaging. The Pentagon hasn’t done one molecule of political due diligence on this.” One Army officer says that the core of the definition of torture—what is and is not “cruel, inhumane, and degrading” treatment—“is at the crux of the problem, but we’ve never defined that.” The new Army Field Manual specifically prohibits such tactics as stress positioning, stripping prisoners, imposing dietary restrictions, using police dogs to intimidate prisoners, and sleep deprivation. The new manual is expected to be issued before the end of the year. [New York Times, 12/14/2005] The day after this is reported, President Bush agrees not to veto the DTA (see December 15, 2005).
New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance. [Source: CBS News]The New York Times reveals that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush granted the National Security Agency (NSA) secret authorization to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the US without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain legal warrants (see Early 2002. The administration justifies its actions by claiming such eavesdropping, which includes wiretapping phones and reading e-mails, is necessary to find evidence of terrorist activities, and says the nation needs the program after the 9/11 attacks exposed deficiencies in the US intelligence community’s information gathering process, and because of what they characterize as the “handcuffing” of US intelligence agencies by restrictive laws. The Times has had the article for over a year; the White House prevailed on the Times not to publish its findings for that time, arguing that publication would jeopardize continuing investigations and warn potential terrorists that they were under scrutiny. Many believe that the White House wanted to delay the publication of the article until well after the 2004 presidential elections. The Times delayed publication for over a year, and agreed to suppress some information that administration officials say could be useful to terrorists. (Less than two weeks before the article is published, Bush tries to convince the Times not to print the article at all: see December 6, 2005.) Two days after the Times publishes its article, Bush will acknowledge the order, and accuse the Times of jeopardizing national security (see December 17, 2005). The NSA program eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the US at any given time, officials say; the overall numbers have likely reached into the thousands. Overseas, up to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are being monitored. Officials point to the discovery of a plot by Ohio trucker and naturalized US citizen and alleged al-Qaeda supporter Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches as evidence of the program’s efficacy. They also cite the disruption of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate fertilizer bombs outside of British pubs and train stations by the program. But, officials say, most people targeted by the NSA for warrantless wiretapping have never been charged with a crime, and many are targeted because of questionable evidence and groundless suspicion. Many raise an outcry against the program, including members of Congress, civil liberties groups, immigrant rights groups, and others who insist that the program undermines fundamental Constitutional protections of US citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy. Several other government programs to spy on Americans have been challenged, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)‘s surveillance of US citizens’ library and Internet usage, the monitoring of peaceful antiwar protests, and the proposed use of public and private databases to hunt for terrorist links. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the administration’s claim that so-called “enemy detainees” were not entitled to judicial review of their indefinite detentions. Several senior officials say that when the warrantless wiretapping program began, it operated with few controls and almost no oversight outside of the NSA itself. The agency is not required to seek the approval of the Justice Department or anyone else outside the FISA court for its surveillance operations. Some NSA officials wanted nothing to do with a program they felt was patently illegal, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Internal concerns about the program prompted the Bush administration to briefly suspend the program while Justice Department officials audited it and eventually provided some guidelines for its operations. A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the FISA Court, helped spur the suspension, according to officials. Kollar-Kotelly questioned whether information obtained under the program was being improperly used as the basis for FISA wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department. Some government lawyers say that the Justice Department may have deliberately misled Kollar-Kotelly and the FISA court about the program in order to keep the program under wraps. The judge insisted to Justice Department officials that any material gathered under the program not be used in seeking wiretap warrants from her court. The question also arose in the Faris case, when senior Justice Department officials worried that evidence obtained by warrantless wiretapping by the NSA of Faris could be used in court without having to lie to the court about its origins. [New York Times, 12/15/2005]
The Bush administration relents in its opposition to the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which would ban torture of prisoners by US personnel (see July 24, 2005 and After and December 30, 2005). President Bush meets with the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, in a press conference to praise the bill. McCain says after the conference that the bill “is a done deal.” The bill still faces some opposition from Congressional Republicans such as House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who says he won’t vote for the bill unless it can be amended to ensure that the nation’s ability to gather intelligence is not diminished. Both the House and Senate have voted by veto-proof margins to accept the bill, which is actually an amendment to a defense appropriations bill. McCain says after the conference with Bush and Warner, “We’ve sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists. We have no grief for them, but what we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are.” Bush says the ban “is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad.” McCain has been the target of months of vilification and opposition from the White House over the bill, which argued that the bill would limit Bush’s authority to protect the US from terrorist attacks, and that the bill is unnecessary because US officials do not torture. [CNN, 12/15/2005]
Loopholes - But the bill contains key loopholes that some experts believe significantly waters down the bill’s impact. Author Alfred McCoy, an expert on the CIA, notes that the bill as revised by White House officials does not give any real specifics. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will assert that the only restrictions on prisoner interrogations are the ban on “severe” psychological or physical pain, “the same linguistic legerdemain that had allowed the administration to start torturing back in 2002” (see August 1, 2002). Gonzales also implies that practices such as waterboarding are not prohibited. [TomDispatch (.com), 2/8/2006]
Legal Cover - A provision of the bill inserted after negotiation with White House officials says that CIA and military officials accused of torture can claim legal protection by arguing that they were simply following the orders of their superiors, or they have a reasonable belief that they are carrying out their superiors’ wishes. McCain dropped the original provision that all military personnel must follow the stringent guidelines for interrogation laid out in the Army Field Manual; the bill now follows the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which says that anyone accused of violating interrogation rules can defend themselves if a “reasonable” person could conclude they were following a lawful order. McCain resisted pressure from the White House to include language that would afford interrogators accused of torture protection from civil or criminal lawsuits. [CNN, 12/15/2005; Associated Press, 12/15/2005]
Controversial Amendment - Perhaps even more troubling is an amendment to the bill that would essentially strip the judiciary’s ability to enforce the ban. The amendment, originally crafted by senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and added to by Carl Levin (D-MI), denies Guantanamo detainees the right to bring legal action against US personnel who torture or abuse them—effectively denying them the fundamental legal right of habeas corpus. It also gives the Defense Department the implicit ability to consider evidence obtained through torture or inhumane treatment in assessing detainees’ status. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that the DTA marks the first time in history that Congress would allow the use of evidence obtained through torture. HRW’s Tom Malinowski says, “With the McCain amendment, Congress has clearly said that anyone who authorizes or engages in cruel techniques like water boarding is violating the law. But the Graham-Levin amendment leaves Guantanamo detainees no legal recourse if they are, in fact, tortured or mistreated. The treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees will be shrouded in secrecy, placing detainees at risk for future abuse.… If the McCain law demonstrates to the world that the United States really opposes torture, the Graham-Levin amendment risks telling the world the opposite.” [Human Rights Watch, 12/16/2005] Geoffrey Corn, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Judge Advocate General lawyer, agrees. In January 2006, he will write that the “recent compromise inclusion of an ‘obedience to orders’ defense… has effectively undermined the goal Senator John McCain fought so long to achieve. Instead of sending a clear message to US forces that cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of detainees is never permissible, the compromise has validated President Bush’s belief that the necessities of war provide the ultimate ‘trump card’ to justify ‘whatever it takes’ in the war on terror.” [Jurist, 1/6/2006]
Entity Tags: Tom Malinowski, Lindsey Graham, US Department of Defense, Jon Kyl, Uniform Code of Military Justice, John McCain, John W. Warner, Geoffrey Corn, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Alfred McCoy, Carl Levin, Detainee Treatment Act, Central Intelligence Agency, Human Rights Watch, Duncan Hunter
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approves the Senate’s amendment to a defense appropriations bill that outlaws torture (see October 1, 2005 and November 1-4, 2005), 308-122, after the Republican House leadership stops blocking a vote on the amendment (see October 1, 2005). The next day, President Bush meets privately with the author of the amendment, Senator John McCain (R-AZ). In a surprising reversal of the White House’s opposition to the bill, Bush now says he supports the amendment—or will if McCain makes some changes. Bush asks McCain to alter the language of the amendment so that US intelligence officers, if charged with war crimes due to their abuse of a prisoner, can offer a defense that a “reasonable” person could conclude they were following a lawful order. McCain agrees. Bush and McCain hold a joint press conference to announce the White House’s support for the amendment (see December 15, 2005). The press bills the agreement between Bush and McCain as a serious setback for Vice President Cheney, the leader of the White House’s opposition to the bill, with the New York Times calling the vote a “stinging defeat” for Bush and a “particularly significant setback for Vice President Dick Cheney, who since July has led the administration’s fight to defeat the amendment or at least exempt the Central Intelligence Agency from its provisions” (see October 20, 2005). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 196; Savage, 2007, pp. 223]
Times executive editor Bill Keller. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times’s executive editor, Bill Keller, defends his paper’s decision to reveal the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, conducted through the NSA (see December 15, 2005), after holding the story for over a year. Keller writes: “We start with the premise that a newspaper’s job is to publish information that is a matter of public interest. Clearly a secret policy reversal that gives an American intelligence agency discretion to monitor communications within the country is a matter of public interest.… A year ago, when this information first became known to Times reporters, the administration argued strongly that writing about this eavesdropping program would give terrorists clues about the vulnerability of their communications and would deprive the government of an effective tool for the protection of the country’s security. Officials also assured senior editors of The Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions. As we have done before in rare instances when faced with a convincing national security argument, we agreed not to publish at that time. We also continued reporting, and in the ensuing months two things happened that changed our thinking. First, we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program. It is not our place to pass judgment on the legal or civil liberties questions involved in such a program, but it became clear those questions loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood. Second, in the course of subsequent reporting we satisfied ourselves that we could write about this program—withholding a number of technical details—in a way that would not expose any intelligence-gathering methods or capabilities that are not already on the public record. The fact that the government eavesdrops on those suspected of terrorist connections is well-known. The fact that the NSA can legally monitor communications within the United States with a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is also public information. What is new is that the NSA has for the past three years had the authority to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States without a warrant. It is that expansion of authority—not the need for a robust anti-terror intelligence operation—that prompted debate within the government, and that is the subject of the article.” [CNN, 12/16/2005]
A number of senators from both political parties lash out at President Bush’s acknowledgment that he reauthorized the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program over thirty times since its inception in late 2001 (see December 17, 2005). Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) says that such warrantless wiretapping is outside of the law. “He’s trying to claim somehow that the authorization for the Afghanistan attack after 9/11 permitted this, and that’s just absurd,” Feingold says. “There’s not a single senator or member of Congress who thought we were authorizing wiretaps.… If he needs a wiretap, the authority is already there—the [Foreign] Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). They can ask for a warrant to do that, and even if there’s an emergency situation, they can go for 72 hours as long as they give notice at the end of 72 hours.” Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) says the behavior of the White House and NSA “can’t be condoned.” Specter, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says his committee will immediately begin investigating the matter. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says the report swayed his decision on the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act. “Today’s revelation that the government listened in on thousands of phone conversations without getting a warrant is shocking and has greatly influenced my vote,” he says. [CNN, 12/16/2005]
President Bush acknowledges that he issued a 2002 executive order authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to wiretap US citizens’ phones and e-mails without proper warrants, and accuses the New York Times of jeopardizing national security by publishing its December 15 article (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005). Bush says he was within the law to issue such an order, which many feel shatters fundamental Constitutional guarantees of liberty and privacy, but accuses the Times of breaking the law by publishing the article. Bush tells listeners during his weekly radio address that the executive order is “fully consistent” with his “constitutional responsibilities and authorities.” But, he continues, “Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk.” He admits allowing the NSA to “to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations” in a program designed to “detect and prevent terrorist attacks.” Under the law, the NSA must obtain warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, but after Bush’s executive order, it was no longer required to do so. Bush justifies the order by citing the example of two 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, who, he says, “communicated while they were in the United States to other members of al-Qaeda who were overseas, but we didn’t know they were here until it was too late.” Because of the unconstitutional wiretapping program, it is “more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time, and the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad.” Bush also admits to reauthorizing the program “more than thirty times,” and adds, “I intend to do so for as long as our nation faces a continuing threat from al-Qaeda and related groups.” [CNN, 12/16/2005] Bush fails to address the likelihood that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
After an NSA program to intercept telephone calls where one party is in the US and the other party is abroad is revealed (see December 15, 2005), President George Bush defends the program in a radio address. He justifies the program by implying that, if it had been in place before 9/11, it may have prevented the attacks: “As the 9/11 Commission pointed out, it was clear that terrorists inside the United States were communicating with terrorists abroad before the September the 11th attacks, and the commission criticized our nation’s inability to uncover links between terrorists here at home and terrorists abroad. Two of the terrorist hijackers who flew a jet into the Pentagon, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, communicated while they were in the United States to other members of al-Qaeda who were overseas. But we didn’t know they were here until it was too late.” There are conflicting accounts of the circumstances of the hijackers’ calls and the NSA actually intercepted them, so it is unclear why they were not exploited to prevent the attacks (see Early 2000-Summer 2001, (Spring 2000), Summer 2002-Summer 2004, and March 15, 2004 and After). [WhiteHouse(.gov), 12/17/2005; US President, 12/26/2005 ] It is unclear which statements of the 9/11 Commission the president thinks he is referring to. The Commission’s final report touches on the NSA intercepts of the hijackers’ calls from the US in two places; in one it says: “[T]he NSA was supposed to let the FBI know of any indication of crime, espionage, or ‘terrorist enterprise’ so that the FBI could obtain the appropriate warrant. Later in this story, we will learn that while the NSA had the technical capability to report on communications with suspected terrorist facilities in the Middle East, the NSA did not seek FISA Court warrants to collect communications between individuals in the United States and foreign countries, because it believed that this was an FBI role,” (note: we do not actually learn this later in the 9/11 Commission report, this is the only mention). The second passage refers to Almihdhar’s time in San Diego and does not actually mention that the NSA intercepted the relevant calls, “Almihdhar’s mind seems to have been with his family in Yemen, as evidenced by calls he made from the apartment telephone.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 87-8, 222]
After the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program is revealed (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005), some commentators criticize the program. Americans have fundamental Constitutional protections that are enforceable in court whether their conversations are domestic or international, says law scholar Geoffrey Stone. Stone says that President Bush’s emphasis that NSA wiretapping only takes place on US calls to overseas phones or overseas e-mails “is no different, as far as the law is concerned, from saying we only do it on Tuesdays.” Former FBI national security law chief Michael Woods, who served in the position when Bush signed the NSA directive, calls the program “very dangerous.” Though Woods says the program was justifiable in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, “[By now] we ought to be past the time of emergency responses. We ought to have more considered views now…. We have time to debate a legal regime and what’s appropriate.” [Washington Post, 12/18/2005] Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, says the secret order may amount to Bush authorizing criminal activity in direct violation of FISA. “This is as shocking a revelation as we have ever seen from the Bush administration,” she says. “It is, I believe, the first time a president has authorized government agencies to violate a specific criminal prohibition and eavesdrop on Americans.” The American Civil Liberties Union’s Caroline Frederickson says of the program, “It’s clear that the administration has been very willing to sacrifice civil liberties in its effort to exercise its authority on terrorism, to the extent that it authorizes criminal activity.” [Washington Post, 12/16/2005]
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and NSA chief Lieutenant General Michael Hayden conduct their own “briefing” on the recently revealed NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) with the White House press corps. Gonzales and Hayden make the following points:
Gonzales says that he will not discuss the internal workings of the still-classified program, only what he calls its “legal underpinnings.”
He claims that the program, which he calls “the most classified program that exists in the United States government,” is legal because President Bush authorized it, and says that the idea that “the United States is somehow spying on American citizens” is wrong: it is “[v]ery, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States.”
He says that for the NSA to eavesdrop on a US citizen’s telephone or e-mail communications, “we have to have a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al-Qaeda, affiliated with al-Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, or working in support of al-Qaeda.” The wiretapping program is an essential part of the administration’s war against terror, he says.
He goes on to claim that “the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes” legal grounds for “this kind of signals intelligence.” [White House, 12/19/2005] The White House signed Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) into law on September 18, 2001 (see September 14-18, 2001. [White House, 9/18/2001]
Hayden Claims Supreme Court Backing - While he admits that the Congressional authorization to use force against international terrorism does not specifically mention any kind of electronic surveillance, he refers the listeners to the Supreme Court case concerning alleged US terrorist Yaser Esam Hamdi (see June 28, 2004), in which the Court ruled that Hamdi had the legal right to challenge his detention. “[T]he United States government took the position that Congress had authorized that detention in the authorization to use force, even though the authorization to use force never mentions the word ‘detention.’ And the Supreme Court, a plurality written by Justice O’Connor agreed. She said, it was clear and unmistakable that the Congress had authorized the detention of an American citizen captured on the battlefield as an enemy combatant for the remainder—the duration of the hostilities. So even though the authorization to use force did not mention the word, ‘detention,’ she felt that detention of enemy soldiers captured on the battlefield was a fundamental incident of waging war, and therefore, had been authorized by Congress when they used the words, ‘authorize the President to use all necessary and appropriate force.’ For the same reason, we believe signals intelligence is even more a fundamental incident of war, and we believe has been authorized by the Congress. And even though signals intelligence is not mentioned in the authorization to use force, we believe that the Court would apply the same reasoning to recognize the authorization by Congress to engage in this kind of electronic surveillance.”
Bush 'Very Concerned' With Protecting Civil Liberties - Gonzales insists, Bush “is very concerned about the protection of civil liberties, and that’s why we’ve got strict parameters, strict guidelines in place out at NSA to ensure that the program is operating in a way that is consistent with the President’s directives.” He adds, “[W]e feel comfortable that this surveillance is consistent with requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness, and the Supreme Court has long held that there are exceptions to the warrant requirement in—when special needs outside the law enforcement arena. And we think that that standard has been met here.”
Wiretapping Essential in Catching Terrorists - Hayden reiterates how important the wiretapping is to catching terrorists and stopping potential attacks against US targets, though he and Gonzales both refuse to say what, if any, terrorist plots or what terror suspects might have been captured through the NSA wiretapping program. Hayden does say, “This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States.…I can say unequivocally, all right, that we have got information through this program that would not otherwise have been available,” though he refuses to cite specifics. He admits that there have been some errors in surveilling innocent US citizens, though he refuses to give any details, and says those errors were quickly corrected.
Administration Not Required to Go Through FISA - Gonzales, who is the main speaker in the briefing, reiterates that while the administration continues to seek warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court, “we are not legally required to do, in this particular case, because the law requires that we—FISA requires that we get a court order, unless authorized by a statute, and we believe that authorization has occurred.” He justifies the administration’s refusal to use the FISA court for obtaining warrants by insisting that NSA officials “tell me that we don’t have the speed and the agility that we need, in all circumstances, to deal with this new kind of enemy. You have to remember that FISA was passed by the Congress in 1978. There have been tremendous advances in technology… since then.” Hayden adds, “I don’t think anyone could claim that FISA was envisaged as a tool to cover armed enemy combatants in preparation for attacks inside the United States. And that’s what this authorization under the President is designed to help us do.”
'Balancing' of Civil Liberties, National Security - Hayden says the warrantless wiretapping program is part of “a balancing between security and liberty,” a more “aggressive” operation “than would be traditionally available under FISA. It is also less intrusive. It deals only with international calls. It is generally for far shorter periods of time. And it is not designed to collect reams of intelligence, but to detect and warn and prevent about attacks. And, therefore, that’s where we’ve decided to draw that balance between security and liberty.”
Media Leaks Damaging to National Security - Gonzales refuses to talk about when any members of Congress were briefed on the program or what they were told, but he does imply that there will be some sort of leak investigation as to how the New York Times found out about the program: “[T]his is really hurting national security, this has really hurt our country, and we are concerned that a very valuable tool has been compromised. As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
No Evidence of Compromised National Security - When asked whether he can cite any evidence that the revelation of the program’s existence has actually compromised anything—“Don’t you assume that the other side thinks we’re listening to them? I mean, come on,” one reporter says—Gonzales responds, rather confusingly, “I think the existence of this program, the confirmation of the—I mean, the fact that this program exists, in my judgment, has compromised national security, as the President indicated on Saturday.”
Easier to Sidestep FISA Instead of Seek Congressional Approval - He does admit that the administration decided to sidestep the FISA court entirely instead of attempt to work with Congress to rewrite the FISA statutes because “we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible” to amend the law to the White House’s satisfaction. Gonzales says those who are concerned about the program being excessively intrusive or a threat to American civil liberties simply “don’t understand the specifics of the program, they don’t understand the strict safeguards within the program.… Part of the reason for this press brief today is to have you help us educate the American people and the American Congress about what we’re doing and the legal basis for what we’re doing.” He adds that any legal experts who believe the program is illegal are basing their judgments “on very limited information.”
Tough Questioning - One reporter asks an unusually tough series of questions to Gonzales: “Do you think the government has the right to break the law?”, to which Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not. I don’t believe anyone is above the law.” The reporter then says, “You have stretched this resolution for war into giving you carte blanche to do anything you want to do,” to which Gonzales replies cryptically, “Well, one might make that same argument in connection with detention of American citizens, which is far more intrusive than listening into a conversation.” The reporter insists, “You’re never supposed to spy on Americans,” and Gonzales deflects the responsibility for the decision back onto the Supreme Court.
Administration Will Tell Nation What It Needs to Know - Gonzales says the administration has no intention of releasing any of the classified legal opinions underpinning the program, and this press briefing is one of the methods by which the administration will “educat[e] the American people…and the Congress” to give them what they need to know about the program. [White House, 12/19/2005]
During a press conference, President Bush is asked if he will order an investigation into the leak that revealed the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). Bush says he has not directly ordered an investigation, presuming the Justice Department is handling the matter, but he calls the leak “a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war.” And he implies that the leak, and the New York Times’s decision to print the resulting article, is treason: “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.… But it is a shameful act by somebody who has got secrets of the United States government and feels like they need to disclose them publicly.” When asked why he “skip[ped] the basic safeguards of asking courts for permission for the intercepts,” he answers: “[R]ight after September the 11th, I knew we were fighting a different kind of war. And so I asked people in my administration to analyze how best for me and our government to do the job people expect us to do, which is to detect and prevent a possible attack. That’s what the American people want. We looked at the possible scenarios. And the people responsible for helping us protect and defend came forth with the current program, because it enables us to move faster and quicker. And that’s important. We’ve got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent. We use FISA still—you’re referring to the FISA court in your question—of course, we use FISAs. But FISA is for long-term monitoring. What is needed in order to protect the American people is the ability to move quickly to detect. Now, having suggested this idea, I then, obviously, went to the question, is it legal to do so? I am—I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely.… [T]he legal authority is derived from the Constitution, as well as the authorization of force by the United States Congress” (see September 14-18, 2001). A reporter asks why “has your administration not sought to get changes in the law instead of bypassing it, as some of your critics have said?” Bush responds by reiterating the point that the program is “limited in nature to those that are known al-Qaeda ties and/or affiliates.” He then reiterates another point: he believes he has the authority to bypass the law. He “share[s] the same concerns” about civil liberties that members of Congress have expressed (see December 16, 2005).” However, his reassurances that domestic calls are not being monitored are not absolute. “[I]f you’re calling from Houston to [Los Angeles], that call is not monitored. And if there was ever any need to monitor, there would be a process to do that.” He is asked: “You say you have an obligation to protect us. Then why not monitor those calls between Houston and LA? If the threat is so great, and you use the same logic, why not monitor those calls? Americans thought they weren’t being spied on in calls overseas—why not within the country, if the threat is so great?” Bush replies: “We will, under current law, if we have to. We will monitor those calls. And that’s why there is a FISA law. We will apply for the right to do so. And there’s a difference—let me finish—there is a difference between detecting so we can prevent, and monitoring. And it’s important to know the distinction between the two.” He concludes, “I just want to assure the American people that, one, I’ve got the authority to do this; two, it is a necessary part of my job to protect you; and, three, we’re guarding your civil liberties.” [White House, 12/19/2005]
DARPA logo. [Source: Duke University]The computer and technology experts at Ars Technica, a well-regarded Web publication which describes itself as focusing on “the art of technology,” speculate on the technology behind the NSA warrantless wiretapping program recently revealed to the public (see December 15, 2005). The Ars Technica experts believe that Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)‘s 2003 comparison between the program and the Total Information Awareness (TIA) project (see March 2002) is the most apt. They believe that the NSA wiretapping program may be built upon the foundation of a shadowy, highly classified surveillance program called Echelon. They write, “This system’s purpose would be to monitor communications and detect would-be terrorists and plots before they happen… This project is not interested in funding ‘evolutionary’ changes in technology, e.g., bit-step improvements to current data mining and storage techniques. Rather, the amount of data that the directors are anticipating (petabytes!) would require massive leaps in technology (and perhaps also some massive leaps in surveillance laws).” [Ars Technica, 12/20/2005; Ars Technica, 2007] Data storage measured in petabytes is a colossal capacity; a petabyte is 1,024 terabytes, and a single terabyte is 1,024 gigabytes, the usual measurement for hard drive capacity. [TechTerms, 2007] The Ars Technica experts continue, “According to DARPA, such data collection ‘increases information coverage by an order of magnitude,’ and ultimately ‘requires keeping track of individuals and understanding how they fit into models.’” They go on to note that the NSA wiretapping program was instituted shortly after the TIA project was quashed by Congress, and say they believe the NSA program is an extension and an outgrowth of TIA. They note that “the FBI requested the legal authorization to do very high-volume monitoring of digital calls” in 1995, that there is “no way for the judicial system to approve warrants for the number of calls that the FBI wanted to monitor,” and that the FBI “could never hire enough humans to be able to monitor that many calls simultaneously, which means that they’d have to use voice recognition technology to look for ‘hits’ that they could then follow up on with human wiretaps.” The Ars Technica experts believe the NSA is using “some kind of high-volume, automated voice recognition and pattern matching system,” employing a form of “smart filtering” that would weed through perhaps hundreds of thousands of computer-monitored calls and turning a fraction of those calls over to human analysts for evaluation: “[Y]es, this kind of real-time voice recognition, crude semantic parsing and pattern matching is doable with today’s technology, especially when you have a budget like the NSA.” In a follow-up, Ars Technica technology specialist and self-described conservative and “privacy nazi” Jon Stokes writes of his own concerns over the program, noting that the program is too wide-reaching and too blunt to actually catch many real terrorists, and that the program is a tremendous intrusion into Americans’ fundamental privacy: “The problem is not that such large-scale industrial fishing invariably catches a few dolphins along with the tuna, but that between 99.999 and 100 percent of what you’re going to get is dolphin.” Stokes also warns that such an intrusive surveillance program will not only violate privacy rights, but be quite ineffective: “As the TSA, with its strip-searching of people’s elderly grandparents, abundantly proves every holiday season, blunt instruments and scorched earth tactics are of dubious value in catching genuine bad actors. In fact, blunt instruments and wide nets are the easiest for professional bad guys to evade. All you need to beat such surveillance tools is patience and know-how.…Blunt instruments like airport facial recognition software and random subway bag searches produce much more noise than they do signal, and any engineer or computer scientist worth his or her salt will tell you that an intelligent, targeted, low-tech approach beats a brute-force high-tech approach every time. There is no high-tech substitute for human intelligence gathering. In fact…an overload of crudely processed information is actually more likely to lead an analyst astray than it is to produce any useful insight.…In the end, brute force security techniques are not only corrosive to democratic values but they’re also bad for national security. They waste massive resources that could be spent more effectively elsewhere, and they give governments and countries a false sense of security that a savvy enemy can exploit to devastating effect.…[I]t’s not just enough to have sound intelligence; you also need political leaders who have the wisdom to use that intelligence appropriately.” [Ars Technica, 12/20/2005]
In an interview on ABC’s “Nightline,” Vice President Cheney takes exception to recent press reports that he was defeated in his opposition to a Congressional anti-torture bill (see December 15-16, 2005). The line on torture is, he says, whether or not a particular act “shocks the conscience.” Cheney says: “Now you can get into a debate about what shocks the conscience and what is cruel and inhumane. And to some extent, I suppose, that’s in the eye of the beholder.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write that Cheney is using the most primitive form of solipsism to say that torture is not really torture. And Cheney is once again evoking fears of terrorist attacks: “There he was, Dick Cheney, nakedly amoral and driven by fear,” Dubose and Bernstein will write. Cheney continues, “We think it’s important to remember that we are in a war against a group of individuals, a terrorist organization that in fact did slaughter three thousand innocent Americans on 9/11; that it’s important for us to be able to have effective interrogations of those people when we capture them.” The implication, Dubose and Bernstein will write, is that further attacks are inevitable—a matter of when and not if—and an evocation of what author Ron Suskind calls “the one percent doctrine… [i]f there was even a one percent chance of terrorists getting a weapons of mass destruction… the United States must now act as if it was a certainty.” Dubose and Bernstein illustrate how keeping torture as a viable interrogation option plays into this mindset: “The end justified any means necessary. It didn’t matter how effective torture was as long as it provided even a remote chance that it might save American lives.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 197]
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