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9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean gives an interview to the New York Times in which he attacks the White House over its withholding of classified intelligence about al-Qaeda and attacks on the US from the Commission (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, and October 16, 2003). Although he does not mention Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) specifically, thinking their name secret, he says, “We’re having trouble with the White House,” meaning that a subpoena may have to be issued. He adds: “Any document that has to do with this investigation cannot be beyond our reach. I will not stand for it.” The piece runs as the lead story on page one of the newspaper, causing a good deal of criticism of President George Bush. It is picked up by Democrats, such as presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, who says, “After claiming they wanted to find the truth about September 11, the Bush administration has resorted to secrecy, stonewalling, and foot-dragging.” [New York Times, 10/26/2003; Shenon, 2008, pp. 215-216] As a result of this story, President Bush makes a statement identifying the documents the Commission wants as PDBs and promising to work with the Commission to give it some access. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 216-217]
Cher talks with a wounded soldier at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany. [Source: Todd Goodman / US Army]Cher, the celebrity singer and actress, calls in to a morning C-SPAN talk show broadcast. She calls anonymously to discuss her recent visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where she visited with soldiers wounded in Iraq. She praises the courage and resilience of the soldiers, many of whom have suffered horrific wounds. After she admits to being an entertainer who has worked with the USO, C-SPAN host Peter Slen realizes who she is, and asks, “Is this Cher?” She replies, “Yeah,” and continues to discuss the troops and their “unbelievable courage.” Shortly thereafter, she says: “I wonder why [Dick] Cheney, [Paul] Wolfowitz, [Paul] Bremer, the president—why aren’t they taking pictures with all these guys?… Talking about the dead and wounded, that’s two different things. But these wounded are so devastatingly wounded.… It’s unbelievable. You know, if you’re going to send these people to war, then don’t hide them.… Have some news coverage where people are sitting and talking to these guys and seeing how they are and seeing their spirit. It’s just—I think it’s a crime.” [Village Voice, 11/5/2003; Carter, 2004, pp. 65-66] Shortly after the Walter Reed visit, Cher will become heavily involved in working with wounded veterans through organizations such as Operation Helmet and the Intrepid Fund. She will say of her activism: “I don’t have to be for this war to support the troops because these men and women do what they think is right. They do what they’re told to do. They do it with a really good heart. They do the best they can. They don’t ask for anything.… I can’t speak for everyone, but everyone seems to be against the war but not realizing that that’s not good enough. You’ve got to do something besides just be against it. You’ve got to do some helping as well.” [Stars and Stripes, 7/16/2006]
A CIA officer known only as “Albert” is reprimanded by the agency for threatening detained al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri with a gun and drill. The incidents took place at a CIA black site in Poland in December 2002 or January 2003 (see Between December 28, 2002 and January 1, 2003) and Albert’s actions were approved by his supervisor, “Mike,” who is also reprimanded. [Associated Press, 9/7/2010] The timing of the reprimand is unknown, although it may follow the completion of a report into the matter by the CIA’s inspector general (see October 29, 2003). Both Mike and Albert leave the agency, although Albert will later be rehired as a contractor (see 2003 and Before 2008).
The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)‘s Nicholas Quinn Rosenkranz sends a classified memo to his boss, OLC chief Jack Goldsmith. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the Geneva Conventions. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
The 9/11 Commission issues its third and final major subpoena, this time for emergency tapes and transcripts from New York City authorities. However, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg decides to fight the subpoena and says he will go to court. A settlement is reached a couple of weeks after the subpoena is issued and the Commission gets access to all the material, under the condition that nobody heard on the tapes will be named in a public document without their consent, or that of their survivors. The Commission’s staff is puzzled by Bloomberg’s tactics, as he was not mayor on 9/11 and personally has nothing to hide. There is speculation he was, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “put up to it by his Republican predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, who might not be so eager to see all of the facts aired, especially given the glory that his performance on 9/11 had otherwise brought him.” Shenon will add, “They [the tapes] were the clearest evidence obtained by the Commission of just how unprepared the city was to deal with a catastrophic terrorist attack.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 306-307]
Barbara Grewe, the leader of the 9/11 Commission’s team that is investigating law enforcement and intelligence collection inside the US, is moved to another part of the investigation. 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow will say that Grewe is brought “into the CIA part of the work and give[n]… a lead role in developing our draft on some of the specific FBI-CIA operational problems before 9/11 and on the ‘summer of threat.’” Grewe had previously worked on similar aspects of the Justice Department inspector general’s report into the FBI’s pre-9/11 failings (see Between December 2002 and May 2003). Zelikow will add, “She ultimately became our lead drafter for chapter eight of the report.” [Zelikow and Shenon, 2007 ] That chapter, entitled “The System Was Blinking Red,” will deal with warnings of a terrorist attack on the US in the summer of 2001, the government’s response to them, and failures to share intelligence at that time. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 254-277]
Major General Marshal Donald Ryder files a report on the prison system in Iraq, as requested by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez earlier in the fall (see Late January 2004). He concludes that there are potential systemic human rights, training, and manpower issues that need immediate attention at Abu Ghraib. But he also says that he found “no military police units purposely applying inappropriate confinement practices.” [US Department of the Army, 3/9/2004] Ryder suggests that the problem may stem from methods used in Afghanistan where MPs have worked with intelligence operatives to “set favorable conditions for subsequent interviews.” He recommends that military police no longer participate in military intelligence supervised interrogations. Guidelines need to be drawn up that “define the role of military police soldiers… clearly separating the actions of the guards from those of the military intelligence personnel,” he says. [New Yorker, 5/10/2004; New Yorker, 5/17/2004] An investigation by Gen. Antonio M. Taguba completed next year (see March 9, 2004) will come to the same conclusion. “I concur fully with MG Ryder’s conclusion regarding the effect of AR 190-8. Military Police, though adept at passive collection of intelligence within a facility, should not participate in military intelligence supervised interrogation sessions. Moreover, Military Police should not be involved with setting ‘favorable conditions’ [emphasis by Taguba] for subsequent interviews. These actions… clearly run counter to the smooth operation of a detention facility.” [US Department of the Army, 3/9/2004] Ryder does not appear to report on actual instances of prisoner abuse and downplays the gravity of the situation, saying it has not yet reached a crisis point. [New Yorker, 5/10/2004; New Yorker, 5/17/2004] Ryder’s report also notes that a great number of people being held in the Iraq prison system appear to be innocent of any crime. It notes that some Iraqis have been held for several months for nothing more than expressing displeasure or ill will towards US troops (see February 2004).
Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 Commission, makes an 11th-hour visit to the Pentagon in an attempt to avert a subpoena some on the Commission want to file on the Defense Department over documents NORAD is withholding from the Commission (see Late October 2003).
Meeting with Defense Officials - At the Pentagon, Hamilton meets Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and Undersecretary for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. Hamilton takes with him Slade Gorton, a Republican member of the Commission who is inclined towards issuing the subpoena.
Arranged by Zelikow? - It is unclear who initiated and arranged the meeting; some staffers who want the subpoena issued will accuse Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, of setting it up as a part of a wider effort to thwart the subpoena (see (Late October-Early November 2003)). However, Zelikow will later say he does not recall having anything to do with the meeting.
Rumsfeld Promises to Settle Issue - At the meeting, Rumsfeld is, according to author Philip Shenon, “charming and agreeable” and insists he is unaware of the problems between the Commission and NORAD. He vows to resolve the issues and promises that any evidence that has been withheld until now will be turned over immediately. Therefore, he says, there is no need for a subpoena.
Differences between Hamilton and Gorton - Hamilton, who was initially rejected for the vice chairmanship of the Commission because of his links to Rumsfeld and other Republicans (see Before November 27, 2002) and who sometimes takes the current administration’s side in internal Commission debates (see March 2003-July 2004 and Early July 2004), thinks this is the end of the matter. “I’ve known Don Rumsfeld for 20, 30 years,” he tells the other commissioners. “When he said, ‘I’m going to get that information for you,’ I took him at his word.” Gorton’s attitude is different. “I was outraged with NORAD and the way they had operated.” Thinking false statements NORAD officials provided to the Commission may have been made knowingly, he will add, “Even if it wasn’t intentional, it was just so grossly negligent and incompetent.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 207] The Commission will vote to issue the subpoena the next day, with Hamilton against and Gorton for (see November 6, 2003).
The 9/11 Commission votes 6-4 not to subpoena Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs). Four of the five Democratic commissioners vote in favor. The five Republicans vote against, as does Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, who sometimes sides with the Republicans (see March 2003-July 2004 and January 27, 2003). The vote came up because the White House has been stonewalling the Commission on access to the PDBs for nearly a year (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, October 16, 2003, and Shortly Before October 26, 2003). The White House has just offered the Commission a deal in which Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Hamilton, as well as two staff members, could read a group of 20 significant PDBs, and one of these four could then read all the other PDBs. If he found anything significant, he could insist the other three read it as well. The Commission rejects this, but only obtains a slightly better deal in the end (see November 7, 2003). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 217-219]
The 9/11 Commission votes to issue a subpoena on the Defense Department for documents withheld from it regarding the fighter response on the day of the attacks. The vote follows a demand from the Commission’s team investigating the air defense that it be issued, as the military has been withholding documents and making false statements (see Late October 2003), as well as the failure of last-ditch attempts to stop the subpoena’s issue (see (Late October-Early November 2003) and November 5, 2003).
Chairman Kean Has Decisive Vote - The four ordinary Democratic commissioners vote for the subpoena’s issue, but Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton votes against, together with three ordinary Republican commissioners. The fourth Republican commissioner, Slade Gorton, votes for the subpoena. This means that Tom Kean, the Commission’s Republican chairman, has the deciding vote, and he votes for the subpoena. He dislikes voting against Hamilton, but thinks NORAD is trying to hide something. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 207-208]
'Especially Dismayed' - In a statement issued after the vote, the Commission says it is “especially dismayed” by incomplete document production on the part of NORAD. The Commission explains, “In several cases we were assured that all requested records had been produced, but we then discovered, through investigation, that these assurances were mistaken.” [Associated Press, 11/7/2003]
Documents Expose Apparent False Statements by NORAD - When the documents arrive, according to author Philip Shenon, they show that “NORAD’s public statements about its actions on 9/11 had been wrong, almost certainly intentionally.” Based on interviews of 9/11 Commission staffers, Shenon will add: “This was not the fog of war. This was the military trying to come up with a story that made its performance during 9/11 look reasonably competent, when in fact the military had effectively left the nation’s skies undefended that morning.” In particular, tape recordings of communications at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) indicate that the military did not know of the hijacking of Flight 93 until it had crashed. 9/11 Commission team leader John Farmer will even say that it is “99 percent” certain that Pentagon officers knew they were lying when they made statements to the Commission, sometimes under oath. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 208]
Congress passes a law that states US officials in Iraq cannot prevent an inspector general for the Coalition Provisional Authority from carrying out any investigation. The inspector general will inform Congress if officials refuse to cooperate with his inquiries. President Bush issues a signing statement directly contradicting the law. According to Bush’s statement, the inspector general “shall refrain” from investigating anything involving sensitive plans, intelligence, national security, or anything already being investigated by the Pentagon. The inspector cannot tell Congress anything if the president decides that disclosing the information would impair foreign relations, national security, or executive branch operations. [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006]
The 9/11 Commission and the White House come to a deal on the Commission’s access to Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs) relevant to its work. The Commission and White House had been in dispute about the issue for nearly a year (see Late January 2003, June 2003, Late Summer 2003, October 16, 2003, Shortly Before October 26, 2003, and November 6, 2003).
Arrangement - The deal gives Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, plus two others on the Commission to be designated, access to a group of 20 “core” PDBs clearly relevant to the Commission’s work. In addition, two of these four can read all possibly relevant PDBs and insist on the other two being allowed to see anything they think is important. The deal is struck by Kean and Hamilton for the Commission, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, and White House chief of staff Andy Card. The Commission designates commissioner Jamie Gorelick and its executive director, Philip Zelikow, as the two who will help Kean and Hamilton and also review all the other PDBs. The other seven commissioners and the rest of the staff cannot see the PDBs.
Criticism - Two of the commissioners, Democrats Tim Roemer and Max Cleland, are extremely angry with the deal and complain the Commission cannot function properly without all the commissioners seeing all the relevant documents. The victims’ relatives are also extremely unhappy, and the Family Steering Committee releases a statement saying, “A limited number of commissioners will have restricted access to a limited number of PDB documents,” adding, “The Commission has seriously compromised its ability to conduct an independent, full, and unfettered investigation.” They are also unhappy that Zelikow is one of the two handling the main review, because they are concerned about his ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, among other issues (see March 21, 2004). One of the victim’s relatives, Kristen Breitweiser, says, “How much more of Zelikow do we have to take?” The Commission’s counsel, Daniel Marcus will agree with the families, saying, “If we were going to have a staff person do this, Philip was not the right person.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 218-219]
Entity Tags: Andrew Card, White House, 9/11 Commission, Alberto R. Gonzales, Thomas Kean, Tim Roemer, Max Cleland, Daniel Marcus, Jamie Gorelick, Philip Zelikow, Lee Hamilton, Kristen Breitweiser, 9/11 Family Steering Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Senators of both parties have been accusing the White House of stonewalling the 9/11 Commission by blocking its demands for documents despite threats of a subpoena. [Associated Press, 10/27/2003] On this day, the White House and the 9/11 Commission strike a deal. The main issue is access to the presidential daily briefings given to President Bush. Under the deal, only some of the ten commissioners will be allowed to examine classified intelligence documents, and their notes will be subject to White House review. Some 9/11 victims’ relatives complain that the agreement gives the White House too much power. The Family Steering Committee complains, “All ten commissioners should have full, unfettered, and unrestricted access to all evidence.” It urges the public release of “the full, official, and final written agreement.” [Associated Press, 11/13/2003] Commissioner Max Cleland is unsatisfied with the deal and resigns a short time later (see December 9, 2003).
The White House announces a new plan for Iraqi governance. It is drastically different from the one unilaterally announced by Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator L. Paul Bremer two months before (see September 8, 2003). It flip-flops Bremer’s plan, putting a transfer of power to a provisional Iraqi government first, then having elections for an interim government, and finally providing for the drafting and adoption of a new constitution. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 130]
The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, and OLC lawyer Robert Delahunty, send a classified memo to the Defense Department. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the Geneva Conventions as they apply to the treatment of detainees in US custody. Presumably, the memo is in reference to previous legal advice submitted to Goldsmith by an OLC attorney-adviser regarding Geneva (see October 31, 2003). [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ; ProPublica, 4/16/2009]
In February 2004, Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, leading an investigation into detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, will come to believe that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, US Army commander in Iraq, and some other generals at the military headquarters in Baghdad had extensive knowledge of the abuse even before a CD-ROM of abuse photographs was given to military intelligence. Taguba was aware that in late 2003, when most of the photographed abuse took place, Sanchez routinely visited the prison, and personally witnessed at least one interrogation. In 2007, Taguba will say, “Sanchez knew exactly what was going on.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]
Quiet opposition builds within the Justice Department against the White House’s attacks on civil liberties and governmental process in the name of national security. The opposition is led by James Comey, the deputy attorney general under John Ashcroft, and includes the chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldsmith, and other like-minded Justice Department lawyers and officials. Comey, Goldsmith, and many of their colleagues will resign from their posts, some perhaps pressured by the White House to get out without making a fuss (see June 17, 2004). Comey and Goldsmith are the point men of this opposition group, though they will speak little in public about their experiences until they testify before the Senate in 2007 (see May 15, 2007 and October 2, 2007).
Standing 'Up to the Hard-Liners' - Newsweek, one of the only mainstream media outlets to report on this “insurrection” at any length, will call it “one of the most significant and intriguing untold stories of the war on terror.” The magazine will report in 2006: “These Justice Department lawyers, backed by their intrepid boss Comey, had stood up to the hard-liners, centered in the office of the vice president, who wanted to give the president virtually unlimited powers in the war on terror. Demanding that the White House stop using what they saw as far-fetched rationales for riding rough-shod over the law and the Constitution, Goldsmith and the others fought to bring government spying and interrogation methods within the law.… These government attorneys did not always succeed, but their efforts went a long way toward vindicating the principle of a nation of laws and not men.” Comey, Goldsmith, and their colleagues do not oppose the war on terror in principle, and share the administration’s concerns about the restraints imposed on the government in compiling intelligence on suspected terrorists. Their opposition centers on the process used by the White House, which routinely ignores and runs over Congress, the judiciary, and the law in implementing its agenda.
White House Denial - The White House will continue to deny that this opposition group ever existed, with a spokeswoman for Vice President Dick Cheney saying in 2006: “The proposition of internal division in our fight against terrorism isn’t based in fact. This administration is united in its commitment to protect Americans, defeat terrorism and grow democracy.” [Newsweek, 2/6/2006]
Guantanamo detainee Mohammed Jawad, who has been in custody since he was 16 years old (see December 17, 2002 and January 13, 2009), attempts to commit suicide. Shortly thereafter, Guantanamo guards begin subjecting Jawad to what is known as the “frequent flier” program, in which the detainee is moved from cell to cell every few hours for days or weeks on end, in order to deny him sleep. Jawad is moved 122 times in 14 days, an average of less than 3 hours per move (see June 19, 2008). [Salon, 1/21/2009]
In the wake of the report by US inspector David Kay that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction (see December 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell’s mood becomes more and more glum (see February 5, 2003). His chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, will later recall: “Well, [Powell] got a telephone call each time a pillar fell. It was either John [McLaughlin, deputy CIA director], calling Rich [Armitage, Powell’s deputy], and Rich telling him, or it was [CIA Director] George [Tenet] or John calling the secretary. And I remember this vividly because he would walk through my door, and his face would grow more morose each time, and he’d say, ‘Another pillar just fell.’ I said, ‘Which one this time?’ And, of course, the last one was the mobile biological labs (see Mid-March 2004). Finally, when that call came, the secretary came through the door and said, ‘The last pillar has just collapsed. The mobile biological labs don’t exist.’ Turned around and went back into his office.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
The US Army investigates the report of a colonel who documented potential abuses of Iraqi detainees by a joint Special Operations and CIA task force looking for weapons of mass destruction. The report will be made public by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) almost four years later (see August 15, 2007). The ACLU believes the colonel, whose name is redacted from the report, is Colonel Stuart Herrington (see December 12, 2003). The colonel reports that in late November someone called him with details of prisoner abuse that had occurred in June or July 2003 in the vicinity of Baghdad International Airport. The colonel’s source had previously reported the abuse to Major General Keith Dayton, commander of the Iraq Survey Group in charge of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, and to officials in the Defense Intelligence Agency. The colonel meets with Major General Barbara Fast, the top intelligence officer in Baghdad, to brief her on his investigation into the matter, and gives her a copy of the report. The colonel is subsequently informed that the Judge Advocate General’s office attached to the US command in Iraq found “no evidence to support the allegations that detainees were mistreated.” The colonel believes this conclusion is a “cover-up,” and, in later testimony, will refer to his “blunt dismay” at the finding. He will testify that he cannot understand how his own report could have been taken so lightly given that he had provided names of the witnesses and “already had two people who admitted it.” Fast will later say to the colonel that she never saw his report until mid-2004, a statement that the colonel has trouble believing. Fast will be cleared of all allegations of misconduct by the Army inspector general, who will conclude that she took prompt action to alert the proper authorities once she was informed of the alleged abuse. [American Civil Liberties Union, 8/15/2007]
Jack Goldsmith, the new head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), finds himself embroiled in a huge, if secretive, controversy over Justice Department lawyer John Yoo’s torture memos (see January 9, 2002 and January 25, 2002). Yoo, who wrote the original memos over former OLC chief Jay Bybee’s signature, had placed the OLC in the position of asserting that torture can indeed be used against terror suspects. Goldsmith disagrees, feeling that Yoo’s definitions of torture are far too narrow and give far too much latitude to US interrogators. He also believes that Yoo’s assertions of near-unchecked presidential power to authorize torture—at the direct expense of Congressional and judicial oversight—has no legal basis. And, Goldsmith worries, the opinions could be interpreted as a clumsy, “tendentious” attempt to protect Bush officials from criminal charges. The conflict between Goldsmith and Yoo will cost the two men their friendship. “I was basically taking steps to fix the mistakes of a close friend, who I knew would be mad about it,” Goldsmith will recall in 2007. “We don’t talk anymore, and that’s one of the many sad things about my time in government.” Goldsmith decides to withdraw the follow-up March 2003 torture memo, and tells White House officials they cannot rely on it any longer. Actually doing so proves a tricky business. [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
'Serious, Serious Problems' - Goldsmith will say in September 2007: “As soon as I absorbed the opinions I realized… that my reaction to them was a big problem. The Office of Legal Counsel rarely overturns its prior opinions, and even more rarely does so within an administration, and even more rarely than that, in the same administration about something this important. I didn’t find any precedent for it. And I did not want to do anything to affect either the programs or the underlying opinions. But they were serious, serious problems, and I knew if and when I was asked to stand by them that I would have a very hard time doing so.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
Pressure from Abu Ghraib Scandal - The legal and bureaucratic niceties of withdrawing the memos become moot when, in April 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal breaks (see Mid-April 2004), and when in June 2004, the first memo is leaked to the media. “After the leak, there was a lot of pressure on me within the administration to stand by the opinion,” he later says, “and the problem was that I had decided six months earlier that I couldn’t stand by the opinion.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] “I had determined that the analysis was flawed,” he will recall. “But I hadn’t determined the underlying techniques were illegal. After Abu Ghraib, there was enormous pressure for me to stand by the decisions… and I couldn’t do so. I had already made up my mind many months earlier and I wasn’t about to change it. But I struggled for several days with what the consequences might be of withdrawing the opinion, because I wasn’t in the position to make an independent ruling on the other techniques. I certainly didn’t think they were unlawful, but I couldn’t get an opinion that they were lawful either. So I struggled to repudiate the flawed opinion while not causing massive disruption and fright throughout the counterterrorism world related to interrogation. And I ultimately decided that I had to withdraw those and under suspicions, stand by it, because it was so thoroughly flawed.” [Newsweek, 9/8/2007]
White House Resists Change - Though Goldsmith has the support of his boss, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Ashcroft’s deputy, James Comey, and his own deputy, Patrick Philbin, he knows the White House will fight the withdrawal. Goldsmith will decide to issue the withdrawal and then resign his position (see June 17, 2004), effectively forcing the administration to either quietly accept the withdrawal, or fight it and make his resignation a media circus. “If the story had come out that the US government decided to stick by the controversial opinions that led the head of the Office of Legal Counsel to resign, that would have looked bad,” he later recalls. “The timing was designed to ensure that the decision stuck.” Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief aide, David Addington, among other White House officials, is furious over the withdrawal of the torture opinion (interestingly, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales will modify his own opposition to the withdrawals later, telling Goldsmith in 2007, “I guess those opinions really were as bad as you said”). [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Expansion of Presidential Power - Addington asks Goldsmith incredulously, “Why are you trying to give away the president’s power?” Like Cheney, Addington believes, in Goldsmith’s words, “that the very act of asking for Congress’s help would imply, contrary to the White House line, that the president needed legislative approval and could not act on his own. The president’s power would diminish, Addington thought, if Congress declined its support once asked, especially if it tried to restrict presidential power in some way. Congress had balked, during the month after 9/11, at giving the president everything he had asked for in the Congressional authorization to use force and the Patriot Act. Things would only be worse in 2004 and beyond, Addington believed.” Addington’s two questions are always, Goldsmith writes, “‘Do we have the legal power to do it ourselves?’ (meaning on the president’s sole authority), and ‘Might Congress limit our options in ways that jeopardize American lives?’” While Goldsmith and his colleagues agree that the president has the power, and that seeking Congressional approval might tie the White House’s hands more so than the administration is willing to accept, Goldsmith worries that an unfavorable Supreme Court decision would undercut Bush’s authority much more so than any restrictions passed by a compliant, Republican-led Congress. Addington sees things in very simple terms: ”“We’re going to push and push and push until some larger force makes us stop,” Addington says on several occasions. Addington tells Goldsmith, “Now that you’ve withdrawn legal opinions that the president of the United States has been relying on, I need you to go through all of [the OLC terror memos] and let me know which ones you still stand by.” Goldsmith will do just that, further angering Addington. [Savage, 2007, pp. 184; Slate, 9/11/2007]
Absolute Power Required to Defend Nation - Goldsmith later writes: “He and, I presumed, his boss viewed power as the absence of constraint. These men believed that the president would be best equipped to identify and defeat the uncertain, shifting, and lethal new enemy by eliminating all hurdles to the exercise of his power. They had no sense of trading constraint for power. It seemed never to occur to them that it might be possible to increase the president’s strength and effectiveness by accepting small limits on his prerogatives in order to secure more significant support from Congress, the courts, or allies. They believed cooperation and compromise signaled weakness and emboldened the enemies of America and the executive branch. When it came to terrorism, they viewed every encounter outside the innermost core of most trusted advisers as a zero-sum game that if they didn’t win they would necessarily lose.” [Slate, 9/11/2007]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, John C. Yoo, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), James B. Comey Jr., David S. Addington, Patrick F. Philbin, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Daniel Levin, Jack Goldsmith, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Coalition Provisional Authority administrator L. Paul Bremer (see May 1, 2003) asserts his independence from US government oversight, a stance assisted by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Bremer is formally slated to report to Rumsfeld, but says Rumsfeld has no direct authority over him. Instead, Bremer insists, he reports directly to the White House. Rumsfeld, usually jealously protective of his bureaucratic prerogatives, tells National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice: “He doesn’t work for me. He works for you” (see Late September, 2003). But Bremer is not willing to report to either Rice or the National Security Council (NSC) either. The White House had already announced that it had no intention of playing a large role in guiding the reconstruction of Iraq, and the NSC’s Executive Steering Group, set up in 2002 to coordinate war efforts, has been dissolved. Finally, Bremer flatly refuses to submit to Rice’s oversight. As a result, Bremer has already made fundamental policy shifts on his own authority that are at odds with what Pentagon planners had intended (see May 16, 2003 and May 23, 2003), with what many feel will be—or already have caused—disastrous consequences. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 128-129]
The Pentagon’s Defense Contract Audit Agency sends a draft audit report to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, & Root (KBR) claiming that the firm overcharged the US military as much as $61 million for fuel deliveries into Iraq. The report says that KBR charged an average of $2.64 per gallon, more than twice the price others were paying. The DCAA also says the company has been slow to provide cost estimates for its projects in Iraq. KBR has given the US government estimates for only 12 orders. As of this date, 69 are overdue. [New York Times, 12/12/2003]
An FBI official complains in a memo about questionable interrogation practices being used by Defense Department interrogators at Guantanamo, and calls attention to one incident in particular (see June 2003) when an interrogator impersonating an FBI agent employed certain interrogation methods not practiced by FBI: “These tactics have produced no intelligence of a threat neutralization nature to date and CITF believes that techniques have destroyed any chance of prosecuting this detainee. If this detainee is ever released or his story made public in any way, DOD [Department of Defense] interrogators will not be held accountable because these torture techniques were done [by] the ‘FBI’ interrogators. The FBI will [be] left holding the bag before the public.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 12/5/2003 ] An FBI official will later say in an email that these techniques were “approved by the Dep. Sec. Def.,” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1/21/2004 ] meaning possibly Stephen A. Cambone, who is responsible for interrogation policy at the Pentagon.
Bob Kerrey. [Source: US Congress]Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator who also served as the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, is appointed to the 9/11 Commission, replacing Max Cleland, who leaves the Commission to accept a position on the board of the Export-Import Bank. [Washington Post, 12/10/2003]
Criticism of Commission's Work - Just before resigning, Cleland called the Bush administration’s attempts to stonewall and “slow walk” the Commission a “national scandal.” He criticized the Commission for cutting a deal with the White House that compromised its access to information, and said: “I’m not going to be part of looking at information only partially. I’m not going to be part of just coming to quick conclusions. I’m not going to be part of political pressure to do this or not do that. I’m not going to be part of that. This is serious.” [Salon, 11/21/2003] Cleland will later add, “There was a desire not to uncover bad news, a desire to leave rocks unturned—both in the White House and, to a certain extent, on the leadership of the Commission.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 161]
Some Democrats Unhappy - Kerrey is selected by Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), but some Democrats are unhappy, as Kerrey has a reputation as a “contrarian” and critic of the Clinton administration. For example, when Kerrey and Bill Clinton were competing for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, Kerrey called Clinton an “unusually good liar.” Democrats are therefore worried that he will be critical of the Clinton administration’s treatment of terrorism, instead of criticizing the Bush administration. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 165]
9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey threatens to resign from the commission after discovering a memo written by the commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow outlining Zelikow’s ties to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see 1995). Kerrey, who was recently appointed to the commission (see December 9, 2003), makes this discovery on his first day at the commission’s offices.
Conflict of Interests - Kerrey will later say that, although he was aware Zelikow and Rice were friends, he “just could not believe” the more detailed information the memo contains. For example, Zelikow had been responsible for downgrading terrorism as a priority in the Bush administration (see January 3, 2001) and had authored a pre-emptive war doctrine that amounted to the “gene code” for the administration’s policy on Iraq (see September 20, 2002). Author Philip Shenon will write, “Kerrey wondered how [9/11 Commission Chairman Tom] Kean and [Vice Chairman Lee] Hamilton could have agreed to put someone with such an obvious conflict of interest in charge of the investigation.”
Persuaded to Remain - The next day, Kerrey meets Kean and tells him, “Look, Tom, either he goes or I go.” Kean tries to talk Kerrey out of it, saying he and Hamilton are keeping a close eye on Zelikow for signs of partisanship. However, he only convinces Kerrey to continue to think over his decision. Shenon will comment, “For Kean, it was hard to see which would be worse, the loss of Zelikow so late in the investigation or the angry resignation of a newly arrived commissioner because of Zelikow’s conflicts of interest.” Soon after this, Kean convinces Kerrey to drop his threat to resign entirely, and both Kerrey and Zelikow remain on the commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 164-165]
Barbara Fast. [Source: US Army]Col. Stuart A. Herrington, the head of an investigative commission charged with providing recommendations for improving intelligence and detention operations (see Fall 2003), issues a confidential 13-page report in which he documents several instances of abuse in Iraqi detention facilities. Herrington advises Gen. Barbara Fast that intelligence capabilities need to be significantly improved. Given that many detainees have been rounded up in Iraq, he concludes it is “disappointing that the opportunity to thoroughly and professionally exploit this source pool has not been maximized, in spite of your best efforts and those of several hundred MI [military intelligence] soldiers. Even one year ago, we would have salivated at the prospect of being able to talk to people like the hundreds who are now in our custody. Now that we have them, we have failed to devote the planning and resources to optimize this mission.” In addition, Herrington notices the practice of abusing prisoners. He specifically mentions Joint Task Force (JTF) 121. Some of its practices during arrest and detention, he writes, could “technically” be termed illegal. JTF-121 members are found to be abusing detainees throughout Iraq and to be using a secret interrogation facility. Captives delivered at Abu Ghraib have clearly been beaten. “Detainees captured by TF-121 have shown injuries that caused examining medical personnel to note that ‘detainee shows signs of having been beaten’.” Herrington concludes: “It seems clear that TF-121 needs to be reined in with respect to its treatment of detainees.” Sweeping roundups of Iraqis and their mistreatment will be “counterproductive… to win the cooperation of the Iraqi citizenry.” The report also mentions the practice of “Other Government Agencies,” referring to the CIA, creating so-called “ghost detainees” by not formally registering them when they are taken into custody. [Washington Post, 12/1/2004]
The US Supreme Court agrees to hear Vice President Cheney’s appeal of a lower court ruling that found he must reveal documents pertaining to his 2001 energy task force (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see January 29, 2001 and May 16, 2001). Cheney lost the case, filed by the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch and the environmentalist organization the Sierra Club, in two lower courts, and has ramrodded the case into the Supreme Court with unusual alacrity—filing the Supreme Court appeal even before the appeals court had finished the case. Cheney’s lawyers from the Justice Department will argue that because of the Constitutional provision of separation of powers, the executive branch can and should keep all such information secret if it so chooses. Judicial Watch and the Sierra Club insist that because energy executives and lobbyists were involved in the task force policy deliberations, federal law mandates that lists of participants and details of the meetings should be made public. Over a year ago, District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled that the White House should either turn over the documents or provide a detailed list of the documents it was withholding, and explain why. The White House has done neither, and instead appealed the decision. The US Court of Appeals refused to overturn Sullivan’s decision and ruled that Cheney had no legal standing to refuse the judicial order. Cheney disagreed, and appealed to the Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in the spring of 2004 (see April 27, 2004). Thousands of documents concerning the task force from the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies have already been turned over (see July 17, 2003), but no White House documents have been released. The Sierra Club has accused the Bush administration of trying to delay release of the information until after the November 2004 presidential elections. [Reuters, 12/15/2003]
Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Sierra Club, Environmental Protection Agency, Emmet Sullivan, Bush administration (43), US Department of Energy, Judicial Watch, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Energy Policy Development Group
Timeline Tags: US Environmental Record, Civil Liberties
9/11 Commission staffer Les Hawley is shocked by the interview of former Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno, which is primarily conducted by the commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow. Hawley himself had prepared the questions for Reno after researching what she might be able to tell the commission about her aggressive pursuit of criminal investigations against al-Qaeda, but her caution about using other means.
Questioning - However, at the interview Zelikow dispenses with Hawley’s questions and, according to author Philip Shenon, launches into a “fierce interrogation.” Zelikow makes it obvious, “at least to Hawley, that he [has] utter disdain for Reno and her performance at the Justice Department under Clinton, that she was an architect of the Clinton administration’s weak-kneed antiterrorism policies.” His questions are “focused on demonstrating that Reno had been disorganized, even incompetent, in her management of the department and in overseeing its part in the war on terror.”
Hawley's Reaction - Reno, who is visibly suffering from Parkinson’s disease, seems unconcerned, possibly because she got used to such treatment when she was in office. Hawley, however, is “startled by Zelikow’s antagonistic tone.” Zelikow takes up the vast majority of the two hours allocated for the interview, leaving only a few minutes for other staffers at the end. A memo for the records is drafted after every interview, and in this case it is Hawley’s job to write it up. According to Shenon, he decides he needs “to get across to the commission what Zelikow was up to—that his partisanship had been blatantly on display in his questioning of Reno.” Therefore, the memo is not a summary of the interview, but mostly “a transcript of the harsh questions that Zelikow had asked and the answers Reno had given.” Hawley tells his colleagues, “I don’t want anybody reading this memo, commissioner or staff, not to understand what happened.”
Part of a Pattern - Shenon will comment: “It was a pattern that Hawley would see again and again on the commission. Others would tell him how offended they were by Zelikow and what they saw as his pattern of partisan moves intended to protect the White House in the investigation. But apart from Warren Bass [another staffer], most would never confront Zelikow themselves. Others on the commission, including some of the commissioners, were frightened of Zelikow.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 485; Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-319]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow says that former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke must be placed under oath when he is interviewed by the commission.
'I Know Dick Clarke' - Usually, former and current government officials being interviewed by the commission are not placed under oath; this only happens when there is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “a substantial reason to doubt their truthfulness.” Zelikow tells the staff, “I know Dick Clarke,” and, according to Shenon, argues that “Clarke was a braggart who would try to rewrite history to justify his errors and slander his enemies, [National Security Adviser Condoleezza] Rice in particular.” Zelikow is close to Rice (see January 3, 2001, May-June 2004, and February 28, 2005). Zelikow had also previously told Warren Bass, the commission staffer responsible for the National Security Council, that Clarke should not be believed and that his testimony was suspect.
Staff Cannot Talk to Zelikow about Rice - Due to Zelikow’s constant disparagement of Clarke and for other reasons, the staff come to realize that, in Shenon’s words, “they could not have an open discussion in front of Zelikow about Condoleezza Rice and her performance as national security adviser.” In addition, “They could not say openly, certainly not to Zelikow’s face, what many on the staff came to believe: that Rice’s performance in the spring and summer of 2001 amounted to incompetence, or something not far from it.”
Effect of Recusal Agreement - Zelikow has concluded a recusal agreement in the commission, as he was involved in counterterrorism on the Bush administration transition team. As a consequence of this agreement, he cannot be involved in questioning Clarke on any issue involving the transition. Shenon will comment: “[Zelikow] had reason to dread what Clarke was about to tell the commission: It was Zelikow, after all, who had been the architect of Clarke’s demotion in the early weeks of the Bush administration, a fact that had never been aired publicly.”
First Interview - Clarke is first interviewed by the commission on December 18, and the interview is mostly conducted by Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer. Marcus and the other staffers present at the interview realize within minutes what an important witness Clarke will be and what damage he could do to Bush and Rice. Marcus will later comment, “Here was a guy who is totally unknown outside the Beltway, who had been a Washington bureaucrat all of his life, who turns out to be a dynamite witness.” Clarke tells the commission of charges he will later repeat publicly (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), saying that Bush and Rice did not take terrorism seriously enough in the run-up to the attacks, that they were more focused on issues left over from the Cold War, and that Bush tried to get him to link the attacks to Iraq. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 145-146, 196-199]
A three-judge panel of the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York votes two to one that the military must either charge alleged al-Qaeda terrorist Jose Padilla with a crime, or release him within 30 days. “The government,” the court says, “can transfer Padilla to appropriate civilian authorities who can bring criminal charges against him.” Until now, no court in the US has ruled against the government’s contention that even American citizens arrested on US soil can be held indefinitely based on wartime government prerogatives. Neither the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (see September 14-18, 2001) nor the president’s “inherent power” as commander in chief is enough to hold Padilla without a trial, the court finds: “The president, acting alone, possesses no inherent constitutional authority to detain American citizens seized within the United States, away from a zone of combat, as enemy combatants.” The two judges in the majority are a 1998 Clinton appointee and a 2001 Bush appointee; the dissenter, who advocates granting the president new and sweeping powers, is a 2003 Bush appointee. “So far,” Office of Legal Counsel lawyer John Yoo comments, “the Second Circuit is the only court that has rejected the idea that the war on terrorism is, in fact, a war.” Because this ruling conflicts with the Fourth Circuit’s ruling in favor of the Bush administration, the Supreme Court will be forced to resolve the issue (see June 28, 2004); in light of the appeal, the court later agrees to suspend its 30-day ruling. [Knight Ridder, 12/29/2003; Savage, 2007, pp. 153]
The US Army Corps of Engineers (US ACE) issues a waiver relieving Halliburton of the obligation to provide the government with “cost and pricing data” for the fuel it sells to the US military. The company was recently accused of overcharging the military as much as $61 million for fuel deliveries into Iraq (see December 5, 2003). The waiver will make it difficult for auditors to determine whether Halliburton or its Kuwaiti subcontractor overcharged the US government. [US Congress, 1/6/2004 ]
The US government issues a terror alert, based on intelligence that hints at a potential attack somewhere in Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve. The FBI quickly assembles data on most of the 1 million “potential suspects,” which includes all tourists staying in Vegas for the holidays, and examines records on every hotel guest, car and truck rentals, guest lists for casinos, storage leases, and airplane travel. Those records are combed for any possible connections to terrorist organizations. When the city’s hospitality industry begins balking at the sweeping nature of the FBI’s information requests, National Security Letters (NSLs) are used to force industry officials to produce the data. Everything swept up by the Vegas data search remains in FBI databases. The terror alert will end on January 10, 2004, with no information about any terrorist actions or possible suspects located. [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
Cell blocks 1A and 2A, where the infamous Abu Ghraib abuses take place. [Source: CBC]The US military replies to the Red Cross’ November 6 letter (see November 6, 2003), claiming that the prisoners being held in cell bocks 1A and 2A of Abu Ghraib are “security detainees” who are not entitled to “full GC protection as recognized in GCIV/5 [Article 5 of the Fourth Geneva Convention].” The 3-page letter adds that “such protection will be afforded as soon as the security situation in Iraq allows it.” Article 5 allows an occupying power to exempt captives from the protection of the Conventions if they can be shown to be a continuing threat to the occupying force. However according to critics of the administration’s judgment, the provision is supposed to be applied on a case-by-case basis and is not meant to include people who have valuable intelligence. [US Department of the Army, 12/24/2003; New York Times, 5/22/2004] The letter also says that the Red Cross should schedule its visits to the cell bocks 1A and 2A ahead of time instead of showing up unannounced. The response letter—written by Army lawyers in Washington but signed by Army Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski in Baghdad—claims that such visits could interrupt interrogations. [New York Times, 5/19/2004] In fact, many of the detainees in those cell blocks are not suspected to be security threats.
Shayna Steinger, a consular official who issued 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (see July 1, 2000), is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission, represented by staffers Thomas Eldridge and Joanne Accolla. Regarding the issue of a visa to alleged Flight 77 pilot Hani Hanjour, where Steinger initially refused the visa and then granted it (see September 10, 2000 and September 25, 2000), Steinger says Hanjour was “typical of many Saudi students” in that he switched between schools in the US. [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2003] The Commission is aware that Steinger made incorrect statements about the issue of the visa to Hanjour to a Congressional committee (see August 1, 2002), but apparently it does not ask her about this, although these statements will be mentioned in its Terrorist Travel Monograph. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13-14, 37-38 ] Steinger also says she remembers “press accounts of the ‘chatter’ surrounding a possible impending attack” before 9/11, but thought it was more likely to be carried out by Egyptians or Yemenis. Before 9/11 she was “never aware of the level of disaffected extremism in Saudi society,” she says. She knew Saudis were al-Qaeda members, but, according to a memo of the interview drafted by the Commission, “she never made the connection between this fact, and the idea that the Saudis applying for visas were possible terrorists.” Despite the fact that Steinger was unaware Saudis could be terrorists, on some occasions she sent Security Advisory Opinion cables warning about a visa application in connection with terrorism. [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2003]
Saddam Hussein in US custody. [Source: US Department of Defense]The FBI sends veteran interrogator George Piro to question captured Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein. Over a period of months, Piro uses a combination of friendliness, warmth, and verbal provocations to tease a wealth of information from Hussein. At no time does Piro or other FBI interrogators use “aggressive” or “harsh” interrogation methods against Hussein. Piro works closely with a team of FBI and CIA analysts to pore over Hussein’s responses. He will later recall his sessions with Hussein for CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley.
'Mr. Saddam' - Piro begins calling the dictator “Mr. Saddam,” as a sign of respect; by the end of their time, they are on a first-name basis with one another. Hussein never finds out that Piro is “just” an FBI agent; he believes that Piro is far more influential than he actually is, and is directly briefing President Bush on their conversations. “He didn’t know I worked for the FBI, he didn’t know I was a field agent,” Piro will recall. Had he found out, “I think initially he would have been angry. He would feel that I was way beneath him, and would not respond well to the interrogation. Or even to me.… I think he thought, and actually on a couple of occasions talked around the issue that I was directly answering to the president.” Piro will recall setting several strategies of deception into motion, including his barking orders at the guards to send them into a panic to obey his instructions. “[I]t was all part of our strategy,” Piro will explain.
Controlling the Dictator - Piro will say that he gained physical control of the setting—a small, windowless room with chairs and a table—merely by placing himself between Hussein and the door. “I purposely put his back against the wall,” Piro will recall. “And then mine against the door, psychologically to tell him that his back was against the wall in the interview room. And that I stood between him and the door, psychologically. Between him whether it’s to go back to his cell, freedom, whatever he was projecting to be outside of that door. I was kind of that psychological barrier between him and the door.” Piro will add, “I basically said that I was gonna be responsible for every aspect of his life, and that if he needed anything I was gonna be the person that he needed to talk to.” Piro controls Hussein’s food and cleaning materials—Piro will describe Hussein as a “clean freak” who uses large numbers of baby wipes to disinfect his cell and his food. Piro allows Hussein pen and paper to write what Piro will describe as inordinate amounts of “terrible” poetry. “We had the guards remove their watches,” Piro will recall. “And the only person that was wearing a watch was me. And it was very evident to him, ‘cause I was wearing the largest wristwatch you could imagine. And it was just the act of him asking for the time—was critical in our plan.” Pelley says, “So you controlled time itself,” and Piro answers, “Yes.”
No Coercive Interrogation Methods - Piro will say that no coercive interrogations, such as sleep deprivation, excessive heat or cold, bombardment with loud music, or waterboarding are ever used. “It’s against FBI policy, first,” Piro will explain. “And wouldn’t have really benefited us with someone like Saddam.… I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach.” The best methods for use with Hussein are, according to Piro, time and patience.
Using Emotions to Create Vulnerability - Piro uses their time to build a relationship with Hussein based on dependency, trust, and emotion. He alternates between treating Hussein with courtesy and kindness, and provoking him with pictures and video images designed to anger and embarrass the former dictator. He uses pictures of the toppling of Hussein’s statues and news videos documenting his overthrow. “I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to see those videos and to get angry,” Piro will say. “You want to take him through those various emotions. Happy, angry, sad. When you have someone going through those emotions they’re not able to really control themselves. And they’re more vulnerable during the interview.”
Insult Drove Kuwait Invasion - Piro learns that one of the driving forces behind Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (see August 2, 1990) was personal insult. “What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the Emir Al Sabah, the former leader of Kuwait, to try to resolve some of the… issues” between Kuwait and Iraq, Piro will recall. “And the Emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait. He wanted to punish, he told me, Emir Al Sabah, for saying that.” The 1991 US invasion of Iraq (see January 16, 1991 and After) soured Hussein on then-President George H. W. Bush, a feeling that Hussein transferred to the son. “He didn’t like President [George W.] Bush,” Piro will say. “He would have liked meeting President Reagan. He thought he was a great leader. Honorable man. He liked President Clinton. But he did not like President Bush, the first or the current.”
Small Things, Big Impact - Piro will recall the outsized impact relatively small incidents have on Hussein. One night the FBI flies Hussein to a hospital. He is manacled and blindfolded. Piro will remember: “And once I saw how beautiful Baghdad was in the middle of the night, so I took advantage of it. I allowed him to look out and the lights were on. There was traffic. And it looked like any other major metropolitan city around the world. And for him to see that. And as I mentioned, you know, big Baghdad is moving forward without you. I mean, little things like that didn’t require a lot of suggestion on our part. It made its point.” Piro even uses Hussein’s birthday, a former national holiday, to drive home his point. “In 2004, no one celebrated his birthday on April 28th. So the only one that really knew and cared was us. I’d brought him some cookies, and we, the FBI, celebrated his birthday for him.” Piro gives Hussein packets of flower seeds and allows him to plant his own small garden, which he must tend with his hands because the FBI will not allow him to use tools. Piro will recall that their strolls in Hussein’s tiny garden are often the site of large revelations.
Avoiding Capture - Hussein tells Piro that US forces simply missed him during the first days of the invasion, the “shock and awe” assault. “He said that he was at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there, but that we missed him,” Piro later says. “He told me he changed the way he traveled. He got rid of his normal vehicles. He got rid of the protective detail he traveled with. Really just to change his signature so he would be much harder to identify.” And Hussein denies ever using body doubles or decoys, as US intelligence had long asserted.
WMD - Five months into the sessions, Hussein finally opens up to Piro regarding the subject of Iraq’s WMD programs. Using indirection, Piro begins to tease information out of Hussein. “He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s. And those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq,” Piro will recall. So why, Pelley will ask, did Hussein “put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?” Piro will respond: “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.” It is apparent, Piro says, that Hussein did not believe he could survive without the perception that he had WMD. But Piro confirms that Hussein always intended to restart his WMD program someday. “The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there,” Piro will observe. “He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.”
Did Not Believe US Would Invade - From there, Hussein begins to explain why he let the US continue to believe he had such weapons even as troops began massing on his borders. He didn’t believe the US would actually invade, he says. As Piro will recall: “[H]e told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox (see December 16-19, 1998). Which was a four-day aerial attack. So you expected that initially.” Hussein says that Iraq would have survived a relatively limited aerial bombardment. “He survived that once,” Piro will recall. “And then he was willing to accept that type of attack. That type of damage.” But he never believed the US would invade until almost the moment of the initial assault.
'The Secret War' - Hussein knew his military could not win in any confrontation with the US. Instead, as Piro will recall: “What he had asked of his military leaders and senior government officials was to give him two weeks. And at that point it would go into what he called the secret war.… Going from a conventional to an unconventional war.” Pelley will remark, “So the insurgency was part of his plan from the very beginning,” to which Piro will say, “Well, he would like to take credit for the insurgency.”
Iraq and al-Qaeda - Hussein confirms that his regime had no dealings with al-Qaeda, as many Bush officials have long believed. Hussein considered Osama bin Laden “a fanatic,” according to Piro. “You can’t really trust fanatics,” Hussein tells the interrogator. And he had no interest in any alliance with al-Qaeda. “He didn’t wanna be seen with bin Laden,” Piro will recall. “And didn’t want to associate with bin Laden.” Hussein viewed bin Laden as a threat to him and his regime.
Independent Confirmation and Praise for Piro's Efforts - Hussein’s claims are later verified by independent interrogations with other high-ranking Hussein regime officials. Piro’s boss, FBI Assistant Director Joe Persichini, will say that Piro’s interrogation is a high mark of the bureau’s recent efforts. “The FBI will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and I would have to say that the interview with Saddam Hussein is one of the top accomplishments of our agency in the last 100 years,” Persichini will say, and gives credit to Piro’s language skills. Only about 50 of the 10,000 FBI agents speak Arabic, he will note. Piro will credit his FBI and CIA colleagues for their work in analyzing Hussein’s statements, and their extensive knowledge of Hussein and his regime. “The more you know about your subject, the better of an interview… that you’re gonna conduct,” he will say. “You’ll be able to recognize inconsistencies, deception, things like that. Plus it really establishes your credibility within the interview.”
No Regrets - One thing Hussein never shows during his long interviews, Piro later recalls, is remorse. “No remorse,” Piro will say. “No regret.” [CBS News, 1/27/2008]
Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, George Piro, George W. Bush, Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Joe Persichini, CBS News, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Scott Pelley, Al-Qaeda, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Iraq under US Occupation
Though the issue of abuse of National Security Letters (NSLs) has become an issue of concern for many civil libertarians and constitutional scholars (see October 25, 2005 and January 2004), Congress fails to conduct any meaningful oversight on their use and abuse. Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that the use of NSLs by the FBI is perfectly legal, “non-intrusive,” and “crucial to tracking terrorist networks and detecting clandestine intelligence activities.” The FBI provides enough information to Congress in “semi-annual reports [that] provide the committee with the information necessary to conduct effective oversight,” he says. Roberts is referring to the Justice Department’s classified statistics, which have only been provided three times in four years, and give no specific information about the NSLs. The Justice Department has repeatedly refused requests by committee members for a sampling of actual NSLs, a description of their results, or an example of their contribution to a particular case. In 2004, the Senate asks the Attorney General to “include in his next semiannual report” a description of “the scope of such letters” and the “process and standards for approving” them. The Justice Department fails to do so, or even to reply to the request. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), a House Judiciary Committee member, says that congressional Democrats have little recourse: “The minority has no power to compel, and… Republicans are not going to push for oversight of the Republicans. That’s the story of this Congress.” The Justice Department notes that its inspector general, Glenn Fine, has not reported any abuses of the NSLs, but those reports beg the question: how can citizens protest searches of their personal records if they are never notified about such searches? Fine says, “To the extent that people do not know of anything happening to them, there is an issue about whether they can complain. So, I think that’s a legitimate question.” [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
Instead of reporting the names or even the numbers of staffers in the Office of the Vice President (OVP), the office provides the following information for the federal government’s official staff directory, nicknamed the “Plum Book:” “The Vice Presidency is a unique office that is neither a part of the executive branch nor a part of the legislative branch, but is attached by the Constitution to the latter. The Vice Presidency performs functions in both the legislative branch (see article I, section 3 of the Constitution) and in the executive branch (see article II, and amendments XII and XXV, of the Constitution, and section 106 of title 3 of the United States Code). The… legislative branch… and the annual transportation-treasury appropriations act… provide funds for the Vice President to hire employees to assist him in carrying out his legislative and executive functions. Executive branch employees also may be assigned or detailed to the Vice President… . The Office of the Vice President (OVP) consists of the aggregation of Vice Presidential employees whose salary is disbursed by the Secretary of the Senate from the Vice President’s legislative appropriation, Vice Presidential employees employed with the Vice President’s executive appropriation, employees assigned or detailed to the Vice President, and consultants engaged by the Vice President. The numbers, titles and salaries of OVP personnel change with some frequency.” [Government Printing Office, 2004 ]
FISC Presiding Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. [Source: Washington Post]James Baker, counsel for intelligence policy in the Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (no relation to the former Secretary of State James A. Baker), informs the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) that the government has, at least twice, improperly used excluded evidence from NSA domestic wiretaps to obtain warrants from FISC. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the senior FISC judge, is angered by this as both she and her predecessor, Royce Lambeth, have insisted that no evidence obtained from warrantless wiretaps can be used to obtain warrants for further surveillance from FISC. The Justice Department assured them that the administration would never attempt to secure warrants in such a manner. By using the excluded information, the Justice Department rendered useless the federal screening system put in place to keep such evidence from reaching FISC, which did not want to receive it due to the questionable legality of the domestic surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). Kollar-Kotelly’s complaint about the use of tainted evidence results in a brief suspension of the NSA wiretapping program. But the practice will continue (see 2005). [Washington Post, 2/9/2006]
An unidentified US telecommunications firm refuses to turn over its phone records to the government as part of a joint program by the NSA and the Drug Enforcement Agency to combat Latin American drug-trafficking that has been going on since the 1990s (see 1990s). The firm believes the administrative subpoenas issued for its information by the Justice Department are overly broad, and that it fears the public relations and legal backlashes it might suffer if the public were to learn of its cooperation. [New York Times, 12/16/2007]
Between 2003 and 2005, scientists working with the FBI’s anthrax investigation have been developing a system to compare the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks with other anthrax samples they have completed (see Early 2003-2005). By early 2004, the system apparently still is not complete, but scientists have discovered enough to focus their attentions on USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory (see Early 2004). They also note a discrepancy. In 2002, USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins had submitted a sample of a variety of the Ames anthrax strain known as RMR-1029 (see April 2002). The FBI had also collected some other samples of RMR-1029 from other scientists. All the samples of RMR-1029 had genetic markers that match the anthrax used in the attacks except for Ivins’s sample. As a result, in July 2004, the FBI will raid Ivins’s lab and seize more of his RMR-1029. These samples will also have the genetic markers matching the anthrax used in the attacks, raising more questions as to why the sample Ivins submitted does not (see July 16, 2004). [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008]
USAMRIID. [Source: Skip Lawrence / Frederick News-Post]Scientists working with the FBI have been trying to identify unique genetic markers in the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks so that other anthrax samples can be compared to it (see Early 2003-2005). By early 2004, their work is not done, but they have been able to identify two unique genetic markers (eventually they will identify four). The investigators begin comparing anthrax samples based on these two markers. Preliminary results strongly suggest the anthrax came from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008] As a result, USAMRIID laboratories are raided to get more samples (see July 16, 2004). Some early results point suspicion at USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins (see Early 2004).
White House chief of staff Andrew Card calls 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and asks him not to demand the resignation of CIA Director George Tenet. Card says that he has heard the Commission will issue a statement tomorrow, but that President George Bush does not wish it. “You know, the president likes George,” he says, so such a call from the Commission would put Bush in an impossible position. Card asks that the Commission reconsider its apparent demand. However, Kean tells Card that he must have heard a false rumor, and that the Commission has no intention of calling for Tenet’s head in the middle of its inquiry. Card had actually heard the rumor from Tenet himself, although it is not known where Tenet learned it. At this point the Commission is considering recommending a long-mooted split of Tenet’s responsibilities. As director of central intelligence (DCI), Tenet runs the CIA and is also responsible for the intelligence community as a whole, although he does not have any real power over the other agencies supposedly under him. The split would mean that the CIA director would only run the CIA, and a director of national intelligence would be appointed above him, to coordinate the activities of all agencies in the intelligence community. It is possible that Tenet has misinterpreted talk of such a split as preparations for calling on him to resign. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 144; Shenon, 2008, pp. 403]
The White House and the Justice Department are at odds over the legality of the National Security Agency’s “data mining” program, which involves the NSA combing through enormous electronic databases containing personal information about millions of US citizens, ostensibly for anti-terrorism purposes and often without court warrants (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, and Early 2002). Such data mining by the NSA potentially threatens citizens’ constitutional right to privacy. This clash between the White House and the Justice Department is one of the reasons that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card will try to pressure Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft is recuperating from surgery, to reauthorize the NSA program over the objections of Deputy Attorney General James Comey. That attempt to force reauthorization over Justice Department complaints will result in the protest resignations of Ashcroft, Comey, and other Justice officials (see March 10-12, 2004). In 2007, Gonzales will deny that any such attempt to pressure Ashcroft to overrule Comey ever happened (see July 24, 2007), and will deny that there was any such dispute between the White House and Justice Department over the NSA program. Those denials will lead to calls to investigate Gonzales for perjury (see May 16, 2007). In late 2005, President Bush will admit, after the New York Times reveals the existence of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002), that the program indeed exists, but will not acknowledge the data mining. Several current and former administration officials, interviewed by reporters in 2007, refuse to go into detail about the dispute between the White House and Justice Department, but say that it involves other issues along with the data mining. They will also refuse to explain what modifications to the surveillance program Bush will authorize to mollify Justice Department officials. Bush and his officials, including Gonzales, who will ascend to the position of attorney general in 2005, will repeatedly insist that he has the authority, both under the Constitution and under Congress’s authorization to use military force against terrorists passed after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), to bypass the requirements for court warrants to monitor US citizens. Critics will say that such surveillance is illegal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [New York Times, 7/29/2007]
Domestic Surveillance Began Before 9/11? - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting 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).
The FBI begins compiling a database of information about US citizens (see October 25, 2005). The database, ordered by Attorney General John Ashcroft, uses as one of its primary sources information gleaned through so-called “National Security Letters,” or NSLs, which are documents ordering US citizens to reveal private information about their clients, relatives, or employees. Ashcroft overrides a 1995 guideline that mandates the destruction of such information obtained through NSLs if it proves “not relevant to the purposes for which it was collected.” Ashcroft orders the FBI to compile the information in its database, and even tells the agency that it can freely share that information with other government agencies if it desires. Ashcroft also orders the FBI to develop “data mining” technology to probe for “hidden links” among the citizens in its growing cache of electronic data. The FBI complies, using the same technology used by the CIA, which itself is barred from keeping such files on US citizens. Ashcroft extends the mandate even further, allowing the FBI to compile consumer data from private data-collection firms such as ChoicePoint and LexisNexis, though Ashcroft’s predecessors had ruled that compiling such data would violate citizens’ constitutional rights to privacy. Soon, FBI field offices will have access to ChoicePoiint databases in their squad rooms. Adding this commercially provided data to the NSL-based data gleaned by the FBI, and the FBI will soon have a wealth of data on hundreds of thousands of US citizens never accused of a crime. Former Republican congressman Bob Barr, and many others, strenuously object to the practice, but their concerns are largely ignored. [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick and Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director, complete a review of 300 Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) items that might be relevant to the Commission’s work. They find that 50 of them are actually relevant and, under the terms of an agreement they have with the White House (see November 7, 2003), tell White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that the Commission’s chairman and vice chairman, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, should see these 50. The other seven commissioners will not see any of the PDBs, but Gorelick and Zelikow want to show them a 10-page summary of what they have found. The White House had previously agreed to this in principle, but Gonzales says that 50 is too many. He says that when the agreement was concluded, he thought they would only want to show one or two more to Kean and Hamilton. In addition, he claims the 10-page summary is way too long, and has too much detail about one key PDB concerning Osama bin Laden’s determination to strike inside the US (see August 6, 2001). Gonzales’s response angers all the commissioners. Its lawyer, Daniel Marcus, is instructed to hire an outside counsel to draft a subpoena, and he engages Robert Weiner, a leading Washington lawyer. The subpoena is to be for Gorelick and Zelikow’s notes, because the Commission thinks it is more likely to get them. However, Marcus will say that filing a subpoena “would have been Armageddon,” because, “Even though we had a good legal argument, the subpoena would have been a disaster for us because we could not have won the litigation in time to get the PDBs.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 222-224] The subpoena will not be sent due to a last ditch intervention by Zelikow (see February 2004).
White House adviser Karl Rove orders a Republican Party poll to determine public interest in a number of issues: Martha Stewart’s insider trading case, Enron’s collapse, and the 9/11 Commission’s investigation. The poll suggests that the public is not that interested in the Commission, which, according to author Philip Shenon, is “a relief at the White House.” Apparently, this is not the only poll Rove orders about the 9/11 Commission. Shenon will add that Rove “would have been a fool not to keep an eye on the Commission, given the potential trouble it could create for Bush on the eve of his reelection campaign—a campaign that would be centered almost entirely on the president’s record on terrorism.” Perhaps partly because of this, the Commission and its staff have “a sense of being watched” by Rove, and commissioner John Lehman will say that Rove views the Commission as a “mortal threat” to Bush’s reelection chances. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 175-176]
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) publishes a proposed new rule, part of the Bush administration’s Clear Skies Initiative, that will ostensibly tighten regulations on allowable limits of mercury in the air. Studies show that even small amounts of mercury exposure to unborn children cause severe cognitive and developmental problems. Coal-fired plants are by far the largest emitters of mercury. But when the new regulations are actually established, they allow the coal industry to keep pumping huge amounts of mercury into the atmosphere for decades to come. It is later learned that Bush administration political appointees had pasted language into the regulations that was written by industry lobbyists. Five EPA scientists later say that the EPA had ignored the recommendations of professional staffers and an advisory panel in writing the rule. The rule, critics say, will delay reductions in mercury levels for decades, while saving the power and coal industry billions of dollars. The Bush administration chose a process that, according to Republican environmental regulator John Paul, “would support the conclusion they wanted to reach.” The panel’s 21 months of work on the issue was entirely ignored. Bruce Buckheit, the former director of the EPA’s air enforcement division, says: “There is a politicization of the work of the agency that I have not seen before. A political agenda is driving the agency’s output, rather than analysis and science.” Russell Train, who headed the EPA during the Nixon and Ford administrations, calls the action “outrageous.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 302-303]
Jack Goldsmith, the embattled head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) (see October 6, 2003), finds himself again mired in a conflict with Vice President Dick Cheney’s hardline chief aide, David Addington. Goldsmith has already fought with Addington over Goldsmith’s decision to withdraw the OLC’s support for the administration’s memos justifying torture (see December 2003-June 2004). Now Goldsmith and Addington are at odds over the policies governing the detention and trial of suspected terrorists. The spark for this conflict is the January 2004 Supreme Court decision to review the detention of US citizen and suspected “enemy combatant” Yaser Esam Hamdi (see January 9, 2004). Goldsmith suggests going to Congress to have that body pass legislation declaring such detention legal, reasoning that the Supreme Court would be less likely to rule against the administration if Congress had authorized such detention policies. Addington, who like his boss does not accept the idea that Congress has any business interfering in such policy decisions, refuses to countenance the idea, and Goldsmith’s proposal goes nowhere. In June 2004, the Supreme Court approves the detention policies but put modest legal restrictions on the administration’s ability to detain citizens without trial. Goldsmith, this time with deputy solicitor general Paul Clement, again suggests going to Congress; once again, Addington refuses. The White House, Goldsmith later says, continues to operate as if it could avoid any adverse decisions from the Supreme Court. When the Court issues its decision in the Hamdan case (see November 8, 2004), rejecting the administration’s policy of trying terror suspects in military tribunals without Congressional approval, and upholding the preeminence of the Third Geneva Convention in protecting the rights of accused terror detainees—including al-Qaeda suspects—the decision has a shattering effect on the Bush administration’s legal arguments towards detaining and trying those suspects. Goldsmith believes the Court’s decision is “legally erroneous” but has huge political consequences. Now detainees at Guantanamo Bay have more legal rights than ever before, and for the first time, the specter of war-crimes charges against Bush officials becomes a real possibility. Goldsmith later says that it is in these arguments, more than in the battles over domestic wiretapping or interrogation techniques, that Addington’s attempts to expand presidential power actually backfires. Goldsmith is later vindicated when, in September 2006, one of the last acts of the Republican-led Congress will give the administration every power the administration had asked for, authorizing the military commissions that the Court had rejected. The Bush administration could have avoided a damaging Court decision by working with Congress beforehand. “I’m not a civil libertarian, and what I did wasn’t driven by concerns about civil liberties per se,” he says in a 2007 interview. “It was a disagreement about means, not ends, driven by a desire to make sure that the administration’s counterterrorism policies had a firm legal foundation.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
$774,300 in cash being managed by the Coalition Provisional Authority is reported missing from a vault. [Bahrain, 9/2004 ]
Some months after he begins working on National Security Council (NSC) files (see August 2003), 9/11 Commission staffer Warren Bass decides that he should quit the commission, or at least threaten to quit. The main reason for this is because he feels the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, is distorting the commission’s work to favor National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, to whom Zelikow is close (see January 3, 2001, Before December 18, 2003, May-June 2004, and February 28, 2005).
'Zelikow Is Making Me Crazy' - Bass tells Daniel Marcus, the commission’s lawyer, “I cannot do this,” and “Zelikow is making me crazy.” According to author Philip Shenon, Bass is “outraged” by Zelikow’s conduct and thinks the White House is trying to “sabotage” his work by limiting his access to certain documents. Zelikow will later admit that he had a conflict with Bass, but will say that it was just an honest difference of opinion between historians. However, colleagues will say Bass saw it differently. Shenon will write: “[Bass] made it clear to colleagues that he believed Zelikow was interfering in his work for reasons that were overtly political—intended to shield the White House, and Rice in particular, from the commission’s criticism. For every bit of evidence gathered by Bass and [the commission team investigating US counterterrorism policy] to bolster [former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard] Clarke’s allegation that the White House had ignored terrorist threats in 2001, Zelikow would find some reason to disparage it.”
Talked Out of It - However, Marcus and Michael Hurley, Bass’ immediate superior on the commission, persuade Bass not to resign. Shenon will say that his resignation “would have been a disaster for the commission; Bass was the team’s institutional memory on the NSC, and his writing and editing skills seemed irreplaceable.” Hurley thinks that part of the problem is that Bass, as well as the other members of his team, have a heavy workload, so he gets Zelikow’s consent to hire another staffer, Leonard Hawley. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 149-150]
A private delegation of US negotiators and arms experts flies to Pyongyang for a demonstration of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (see October 4, 2002 and January 10, 2003 and After). They tour the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, and see actual plutonium. Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the Los Alamos nuclear lab and one of the delegates, comes back to Washington convinced that North Korea has indeed processed all of its fuel rods. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he tells the senators that while he saw no sign of actual weapons, that does not mean they do not have weapons, just that he was shown no evidence of such weapons. [Washington Monthly, 5/2004; BBC, 12/2007]
Joseph Darby. [Source: Richard Lambert / US Army]Spc. Joseph Darby, a 24-year-old member of the 372nd MP Company at Abu Ghraib, slips an envelope under the door of the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division. The envelope contains an anonymous note and a CD with roughly one thousand photographs of abuses that took place at the prison, mostly between October and December of the previous year. [Knight Ridder, 5/10/2004; New Yorker, 5/24/2004] Darby was collecting photographs from his tour in Iraq and received them inter alia from Spc. Charles Graner. “It was just wrong,” Darby later declares. “I knew I had to do something.” He talked about it with Graner who allegedly replied: “The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, ‘I love to make a grown man piss himself.’” [Washington Post, 5/22/2004]
The Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) agent who received the Abu Ghraib prison photographs from Spc. Joseph Darby (see January 13, 2004), calls his boss, a colonel, who takes them to Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez. [Signal Newspaper, 7/4/2004] Within three days, a report on the photos makes its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informs President Bush, though it is not clear exactly when Bush is informed (see Late January-Mid-March 2004). [New Yorker, 5/24/2004] Within the Pentagon, few people are informed—unusually few—according to Hersh, who will later write that knowledge of the abuses were “severely, and unusually restricted.” A former intelligence official will tell him: “I haven’t talked to anybody on the inside who knew; nowhere. It’s got them scratching their heads.” Rumsfeld and his civilian staff, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez and Gen. John P. Abizaid, reportedly try to suppress the issue during the first months of the year. “They foresaw major diplomatic problems,” according to a Pentagon official. [New Yorker, 5/17/2004] According to one former intelligence official, the Defense Secretary’s attitude is: “We’ve got a glitch in the program. We’ll prosecute it.” The former official explains to Seymour Hersh, “The cover story was that some kids got out of control.” [New Yorker, 5/24/2004]
Bantz Craddock. [Source: US European Command]On January 15, 2004, Lieutenant General Bantz Craddock, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, and Vice-Admiral Timothy Keating, director of the Joint Staff of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are e-mailed a summary of the Abu Ghraib abuses depicted on a CD-ROM recently given to an army investigative unit two days before (see January 13, 2004). The summary says that about ten soldiers are shown in the pictures and are involved in acts including: “Having male detainees pose nude while female guards pointed at their genitals; having female detainees exposing themselves to the guards; having detainees perform indecent acts with each other; and guards physically assaulting detainees by beating and dragging them with choker chains.” On January 20, Central Command sends another e-mail to Keating, Craddock, and Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the top US Army commander in Iraq. It confirms the detainee abuse took place, is well-documented with photos, and says that “currently [we] have 4 confessions implicating perhaps 10 soldiers.” General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will later acknowledge in testimony that around this time, information about the abuse and the photographs had been given “to me and the Secretary [Rumsfeld] up through the chain of command.… And the general nature of the photos, about nudity, some mock sexual acts and other abuse, was described.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]
Ricardo Sanchez. [Source: US Army]US Central Command issues a short press release announcing that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has ordered a criminal investigation “into reported incidents of detainee abuse at a coalition forces detention facility.” It is later learned that the facility in question is Abu Ghraib prison. [Associated Press, 1/16/2004] The fact that the investigation is reported to be initiated by the central US military command in Iraq rather than an individual unit, the BBC Pentagon correspondent calls unusual. “It suggests that senior commanders are taking the issue very seriously.” [BBC, 1/16/2004] At some point between January 16 and 21, the CID will begin taking sworn witness statements from detainees. [Washington Post, 5/21/2004]
The 9/11 Commission realizes that it will not meet its reporting deadline of May 2004 and decides it will have to ask for an extension. Any extension would have to be approved by Congressional leaders and the White House. In order to determine how much extra time the commission will need, Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton poll the other commissioners and staff members to gauge their opinions. Commissioners Slade Gorton and Tim Roemer suggest six months, but this would push the reporting date back after the presidential election in November. Kean and Hamilton are aware that this will probably not be permitted by Republicans, as they will be worried that parts of the report critical of Bush will be leaked to the press. In addition, Kean wants the report out during the presidential campaign, in the hopes that the two candidates will have a “bidding war” over who will implement more of the commission’s recommendations. In the end, the commission decides to ask for a two-month extension, meaning the report will be issued in July. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 226-227] The extension is initially opposed by the White House (see January 19, 2004), but the administration changes its mind (see February 5, 2004), and the extension is finally granted (see March 2, 2004).
CIA Director George Tenet spends a lot of time reading material about the CIA’s performance in the run-up to 9/11 before interviews with the 9/11 Commission. Author Philip Shenon will point out that Tenet sets aside so much time despite the deteriorating situation in Iraq and the problems this is causing.
'Cram Sessions' - “Tenet insisted on all-day, almost all-night cram sessions to prepare himself for the interview with the 9/11 Commission,” Shenon will write. CIA staffer Rudy Rousseau will say, “He spent an enormous amount of time mastering an enormous amount of material.” The cram sessions are held at the weekend and until late on week nights, and cover the work done by Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, as well as the failed plans to capture or kill Osama bin Laden.
CIA's Achilles' Heel - Shenon will also comment: “Tenet wanted specifically to master what had happened in Kuala Lumpur in 2000 with [9/11 hijackers] Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar and why the CIA had apparently failed for so long to alert anyone that the two hijackers had later entered the United States from Asia. Like almost everyone else at the agency, Tenet seemed to understand that the CIA’s failure to watch-list the pair after their arrival in California was the agency’s Achilles’ heel—one horrendous blunder that could sink the CIA.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 257]
Still Cannot Remember - Despite the cramming, Tenet apparently has problems remembering facts that could cast the CIA in a bad light (see January 22, 2004, April 14, 2004, and July 2, 2004).
The 9/11 Commission interviews CIA Director George Tenet, but, due to frequent evasive answers, the commission doubts that he is telling them the full truth. The commission, represented at the interview by Executive Director Philip Zelikow, Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, and some staffers, takes the unusual step of putting Tenet under oath before questioning him, because, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “The CIA’s record was full of discrepancies about the facts of its operations against bin Laden before 9/11, and many of the discrepancies were Tenet’s.”
"I Don't Recall" - The commission immediately begins to doubt Tenet’s veracity, as he keeps saying, “I don’t remember,” “I don’t recall,” and “Let me go through the documents and get back to you with an answer.” This is despite the fact that Tenet spent a long time revising for his discussions with the commission beforehand (see Before January 22, 2004). Author Philip Shenon will summarize: “Tenet remembered certain details, especially when he was asked the sorts of questions he was eager to answer… But on many other questions, his memory was cloudy. The closer the questions came to the events of the spring and summer of 2001 and to the 9/11 attacks themselves, the worse his memory became.” In addition, the memory lapses concern not only details, but also “entire meetings and key documents.” Tenet even says he cannot recall what was discussed at his first meeting with President George Bush after his election in 2000, which the commission finds “suspicious.” Neither can he recall what he told Bush in the morning intelligence briefings in the months leading up to 9/11.
"We Just Didn't Believe Him" - Zelikow will later say that there was no one “a-ha moment” when they realize Tenet is not telling them the full truth, but his constant failure to remember key aspects disturbs them, and in the end, Zelikow will say, “we just didn’t believe him.” After the meeting, Zelikow, who seemed to have decided that the CIA had failed in the run up to 9/11 at the very start of the investigation (see Late January 2003), basically reports to the commissioners that Tenet perjured himself. The staff and most of the commissioners come to believe that, in Shenon’s words, Tenet is “at best, loose with the facts,” and at worst “flirting with a perjury charge.” Even Commission Chairman Tom Kean, “who found it difficult to say anything critical of anyone,” comes to believe that Tenet is a witness that will “fudge everything.”
CIA View - CIA staffers will later dispute this, saying that Tenet’s inability to remember some things was perfectly normal. CIA staffer Rudy Rousseau will say, “I’m surprised he remembered as much as he did.” Tenet’s chief of staff John Moseman will say, “Neither he [Tenet], nor we, held anything back… To suggest so now is not honorable.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 257-260]
Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), makes some surprising comments about the US military’s response to the 9/11 attacks during an interview with the 9/11 Commission. Marr played an important role in NEADS’s response to the 9/11 attacks. A memorandum summarizing the interview will reveal some hints by Marr that others in the US military doctored the data describing the Air Force’s response to the hijackings, perhaps to show that the US military did not shoot down Flight 93.
Log Doesn't 'Look Right' - For instance, the memorandum will state: “Marr noted that one of the chat logs presented to him by Commission staff ‘doesn’t look right.’ [Commission staff noted this beforehand, but did not present to Marr as such.]” There is no further explanation in the interview account to explain what this means.
Timelines Conflict - After Marr is presented with a transcript of the 9/11 Commission’s May 23, 2003 hearing (see May 23, 2003), “Marr noted that the Dictaphone DAT times are off, and this led to a misconception with the time frame. He commented that NORAD asked for details to prove that they did not shoot down [United Airlines Flight] 93 shortly after 9/11. He noted that [two military officials] worked towards putting the initial information together. But because of the damage that occurred to the tapes during the transcription process (see September 21, 2001) they did not re-examine the tapes until very recently. Commission staff presented Marr with a timeline that was created by NORAD. Marr speculated that some of the discrepancies on this timeline were because of inaccurate computer timing.”
Mistakes Were Made to Show Flight 93 Was Not Shot Down - The memorandum will conclude, “Marr was emphatic that the mistakes in the data points were specifically made to show that they did not shoot down Flight 93.” [9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 ] However, there will be no hint of these allegations in the 9/11 Commission’s final report, and no hint about any data manipulation or discrepancies.
The FBI’s on-scene commander in Baghdad sends an e-mail to senior FBI officials at FBI headquarters in Washington, discussing the allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. The e-mail advises the senior officials not to investigate the allegations. “We need to maintain good will and relations with those operating the prison,” it reads. “Our involvement in the investigation of the alleged abuse might harm our liaison.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba begins investigating abuses at Abu Ghraib prison. He is limited to investigating the 800th MP (military police) unit, as the abuse photographs mainly involve them. However, he suspects that superiors are to blame as well. He will later comment, “From what I knew, troops just don’t take it upon themselves to initiate what they did without any form of knowledge of the higher-ups.… These MP troops were not that creative. Somebody was giving them guidance, but I was legally prevented from further investigation into higher authority. I was limited to a box.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]
According to journalist Seymour Hersh, “Within three days” of when army investigators are given photographs depicting Abu Ghraib prison abuse on January 13, 2004, “a report made its way to Donald Rumsfeld, who informed President Bush” (see January 13-16, 2004). [New Yorker, 5/24/2004] But Rumsfeld is vague in later public testimony about just when he first informs Bush. He suggests it could have been late January or early February. He explains that he routinely met with Bush “once or twice a week… and I don’t keep notes about what I do.” But he remembers that in mid-March, he and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers “meeting with the President and discussed the reports that we had obviously heard” about Abu Ghraib. But Hersh later comments that regardless of when Bush was first informed, “Bush made no known effort to forcefully address the treatment of prisoners before the scandal became public, or to reevaluate the training of military police and interrogators, or the practices of the task forces that he had authorized. Instead, Bush acquiesced in the prosecution of a few lower-level soldiers. The President’s failure to act decisively resonated through the military chain of command: aggressive prosecution of crimes against detainees was not conducive to a successful career.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]
The investigation of the Abu Ghraib abuse case is taken up by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. Taguba is the deputy commanding general of the Third Army and of the CFLCC in Kuwait, a post he was assigned in July 2003. [New York Times, 5/11/2004] He is administratively a direct superior of Karpinski. Taguba is given the job mainly because of circumstance. The senior officer of the 800th Military Police Brigade, to which the soldier involved in the abuse photographs belonged, is a one-star general. Army regulations say someone of higher rank must lead the investigation, and Taguba is both a two-star general and available at the time. [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]
Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba begins investigating the MPs (military police) involved in the Abu Ghraib abuse photographs, but he soon begins to suspect involvement by military intelligence and the CIA in the abuse as well. For instance, the name of Lt. Col. Steven Jordan repeatedly comes up in interviews with MPs. For three weeks, Taguba is unable to find any sign of Jordan. When he finally does find him, Jordan has a beard, which suggests that he’s been in hiding. In interviews, Jordan claims, “I’m a liaison officer for intelligence from Army headquarters in Iraq.” But Taguba suspects that Jordan is involved in the sometimes brutal interrogations of important detainees. Taguba will later note, “Jordan denied everything, and yet he had the authority to enter the prison’s ‘hard site’ carrying a carbine and an M9 pistol, which is against regulations.” The hard site is where the most important detainees are held. Furthermore, Jordan’s record showed an extensive intelligence background and it appeared Jordan was not reporting through the regular chain of command. But because Taguba only has a mandate to investigate MPs, he is limited in what he can ask Jordan and what he can report. He will later recall, “I suspected that somebody was giving [the MPs] guidance, but I could not print that.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]
Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see October 6, 2003), is astonished at the open contempt displayed by White House officials over dealing with Congress and the restraints imposed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Though Goldsmith agrees with the aims of the administration in battling terrorism, and agrees with the administration that FISA may present undue restraint on conducting terror investigations, he is shocked at the cavalier manner in which the administration ignores the law and the constitutional mandates for Congressional oversight. “We’re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious [FISA] court,” White House aide David Addington tells Goldsmith. Addington, the chief aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, and other Bush officials treat FISA the same way they treated other laws they disdained, Goldsmith later recalls: “They blew through them in secret based on flimsy legal opinions that they guarded closely so no one could question the legal basis for the operations,” he will write in his 2007 book “The Terror Presidency” (see September 9, 2007). [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
The CIA’s inspector general conducts an internal investigation of the treatment of CIA detainees in Afghanistan. As part of that investigation, the use of drugs on detainees is raised. When the inspector interviews the commanding officer of a secret detention facility in eastern Afghanistan shared by US military and intelligence teams, the inspector asks if the “OGA”—an acronym standing for “other government agency” and used to refer to the CIA—had been able to “practice their TTP [tactics, techniques and procedures] at your facility.” The commander replies, “No, they can’t use drugs or prolonged sensory deprivation in our facility.” It is unclear whether the commander is referring to interrogations. A senior US official will say in 2008 that the commander’s mention of drugs was either a mistake or a reference to am agency other than the CIA. [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
Last-minute action by the 9/11 Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow averts the filing of a subpoena on the White House over access by the Commission to information from Presidential Daily Briefs (PDBs). The Commission has already hired an outside counsel to deal with the subpoena and drafted its text (see January 2004).
Effort by Zelikow - However, Zelikow works practically nonstop for 48 hours to draft a 17-page, 7,000-word summary of what is in the documents. He knows that a lot of the information in the highly classified PDBs is also available in less classified documents, to which the White House cannot object the Commission having and referencing. Therefore, he summarises the contents of the PDBs, but sources what he writes to the less classified material.
Agreement - Exhausted by the arguments over the PDBs with the White House, commissioner Jamie Gorelick, who has also read all the PDBs that need to be summarised, agrees that Zelikow’s summary can serve as the basis for a compromise with the White House. White House chief of staff Andrew Card pressures White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales to accept it as well.
Victims' Families Angry - However, relatives of the attacks’ victims are angry. Author Philip Shenon will write, “Many of the 9/11 family groups were outraged by this new compromise; it was even clearer now that only Gorelick and their nemesis Zelikow would ever see the full library of PDBs; the other commissioners would see only an edited version of what Gorelick and Zelikow chose to show them.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 224-225]
An Army dog handler at Abu Ghraib tells military investigators that, as per the directive from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (see December 2, 2002), “[S]omeone from [military intelligence] gave me a list of cells, for me to go see, and pretty much have my dog bark at them.… Having the dogs bark at detainees was psychologically breaking them down for interrogation purposes.” Using attack dogs to threaten or harm prisoners is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
The Justice Department’s inspector general, which is reviewing the FBI’s performance before 9/11, finds a reference to a key document it was not previously aware of. The document is a draft cable written by Doug Miller, an FBI agent who was loaned to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, before 9/11. The draft cable stated that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa, but its sending to the FBI had been blocked by a female CIA officer known only as “Michael” and Alec Station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). The CIA inspector general had previously passed on numerous documents relevant to the review by the Justice Department’s inspector general, but had failed to pass this one on, although the two inspectors general had been working together since at least mid-2003. The Justice Department inspector general finds a reference to the draft cable in a list of CIA documents accessed by FBI employees assigned to the CIA. As a result of this discovery, the Justice Department inspector general has to re-interview several witnesses (see (February 12, 2004)) and the completion of his report is delayed. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 227 ]
Police photo of Tom DeLay, after his 2005 indictment on election fraud charges. [Source: Mug Shot Alley]The co-founder and editor of the American Prospect, Robert Kuttner, subjects the 2002 House of Representatives to scrutiny, and concludes that under the rule of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), it is well on its way to becoming what he calls a “dictatorship.” Kuttner writes that such authoritarian rule in “the people’s chamber” of Congress puts the US “at risk of becoming an autocracy.” He explains: “First, Republican parliamentary gimmickry has emasculated legislative opposition in the House of Representatives (the Senate has other problems). [DeLay] has both intimidated moderate Republicans and reduced the minority party to window dressing.… Second, electoral rules have been rigged to make it increasingly difficult for the incumbent party to be ejected by the voters, absent a Depression-scale disaster, Watergate-class scandal, or Teddy Roosevelt-style ruling party split.… Third, the federal courts, which have slowed some executive branch efforts to destroy liberties, will be a complete rubber stamp if the right wins one more presidential election. Taken together, these several forces could well enable the Republicans to become the permanent party of autocratic government for at least a generation.” Kuttner elaborates on his rather sweeping warnings.
Legislative Dictatorship - The House, and to a lesser extent the Senate, used to have what was called a “de facto four-party system”: liberal Democrats; Southern “Dixiecrats” who, while maintaining their membership as Democrats largely due to lingering resentment of Republicans dating back to the Civil War, often vote with Republicans; conservative Republicans; and moderate-to-liberal “gypsy moth” Republicans, who might vote with either party. Rarely did one of the four elements gain long-term control of the House. Because of what Kuttner calls “shifting coalitions and weak party discipline,” the majority party was relatively respectful of the minority, with the minority free to call witnesses in hearings and offer amendments to legislation. In the House, that is no longer true. While the House leadership began centralizing under House Speaker Jim Wright (D-TX) between 1987 and 1989, the real coalescence of power began under Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) between 1995 and 1999. The process, Kuttner asserts, has radically accelerated under DeLay and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL).
Centralized Legislation - Under current practices, even most Republicans do not, as a rule, write legislation—that comes from DeLay and Hastert. Drastic revisions to bills are often rammed through late in the evening, with little or no debate. The Republican leadership has classified legislation as “emergency” measures 57 percent of the time, allowing them to be voted on with as little as 30 minutes of debate. Kuttner writes, “On several measures, members literally did not know what they were voting for.” Legislation written and proposed by Democrats rarely gets to the floor for debate. Amendments to legislation is also constrained, almost always coming from Hastert and DeLay. “[V]irtually all major bills now come to the floor with rules prohibiting amendments.” DeLay enforces rigid party loyalty, threatening Republican members who resist voting for the leadership’s bills with loss of committee assignments and critical campaign funds, and in some circumstances with DeLay’s sponsoring primary opponents to unseat the uncooperative member in the next election.
Democrats Shut out of Conferences - In the House, so-called “conference committees,” where members work to reconcile House and Senate versions of legislation, have become in essence one-party affairs. Only Democrats who might support the Republican version of the bill are allowed to attend. The conference committee then sends a non-amendable bill to the floor for a final vote.
No Hearings - The general assumption is that House members debate bills, sometimes to exhaustion, on the chamber floor. No more. Before DeLay, bills were almost never written in conference committees. Now, major legislation is often written in conference committee; House members often never see the legislation until it has been written in final, non-amendable form by DeLay and his chosen colleagues.
Abuse of Appropriations - Appropriations, or funding of events authorized by legislation, are ripe for use and misuse by the one-party leadership. Many appropriations bills must pass in order for Congress or other entities of the government to continue functioning. While “earmarks”—“pork-barrel” appropriations for individual members’ pet projects and such—are nothing new, under Gingrich and later Hastert/DeLay, the use of earmarks has skyrocketed. Huge earmarks are now routinely attached to mandatory appropriations bills. DeLay has perfected a technique known as “catch and release.” On close pending votes, the House Republican Whip Organization, made up of dozens of regional whips, will target the small but critical number of Republicans who might oppose the legislation. Head counts are taken; as members register (and change) their votes, some are forced to vote against their consciences (or their constituents) and others are allowed to vote no. Kuttner writes, “Basically, Republican moderates are allowed to take turns voting against bills they either oppose on principle or know to be unpopular in their districts.” This allows the member to save at least some face with their constituents. Under Wright, Republican members such as then-Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) were outraged when Wright held a vote open for 15 minutes after voting was to end; Cheney called it “the most arrogant, heavy-handed abuse of power I’ve ever seen in the 10 years that I’ve been here.” It is not unusual for DeLay to hold votes open for up to three hours to get recalcitrant members in line. [American Prospect, 2/1/2004] In 2006, author John Dean will note that when the Republicans took control of the House in 1999, there were 1,439 earmarks in that year’s legislation. By the end of 2005, “there were a staggering 13,998 earmarked expenses, costing $27.3 billion.” Dean will write, “Needless to say, there is nothing conservative in those fiscal actions but there is much that is authoritarian about the wanton spending by those Republicans.” [Dean, 2006]
Lack of Opposition - Kuttner notes that Congressional Democrats have not mounted a systematic, organized denunciation of the DeLay operation. Kuttner believes that many Democrats believe voters are uninterested in what they call “process issues,” and that voters will dismiss complaints as “inside baseball,” of little relevance to their lives. Worse, such complaints “make… us look weak,” as one senior House staffer says. Kuttner writes that many Democrats believe such complaints sound “like losers whining.”
Permanent Republican Majority - If DeLay and his confreres in the White House have their way, there will be, in essence, a permanent Republican majority in the House and hopefully in the Senate as well. Bill Clinton routinely practiced what he called bipartisan “triangulation,” building ad hoc coalitions of Democrats and Republicans to pass his legislative initiatives, and in the process weakening the Democratic leadership. Kuttner writes, “Bush’s presidency, by contrast, has produced a near parliamentary government, based on intense party discipline both within Congress and between Congress and the White House.” Republicans have been busy reworking the district maps of various key states to ensure that Republicans keep their majorities, concentrating perceived Democratic voters to have overwhelming majorities in a few districts, and leaving the Republicans holding smaller majorities in the rest. Both parties have been guilty of such “gerrymandering” in the past, but with DeLay’s recent “super-gerrymandering” of his home state of Texas, the Republican makeup of the Texas House delegation is all but assured. DeLay and other House Republicans are working to redistrict other states in similar fashions. As of the 2004 midterm elections, of the 435 House seats, only around 25 are considered effectively contestable—over 90 percent of the House seats are “safe.” Democrats would have to win a disproportionate, and unlikely, number of those “swing” seats to take back control of the House. Kuttner writes: “The country may be narrowly divided, but precious few citizens can make their votes for Congress count. A slender majority, defying gravity (and democracy), is producing not moderation but a shift to the extremes.”
Control of Voting - Kuttner cites the advent of electronic voting machines and the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) as two reasons why Republicans will continue to have advantages at the voting booth. The three biggest manufacturers of electronic voting machines have deep financial ties to the Republican Party, and have joined with Republicans in opposing a so-called “verifiable paper trail” that could prove miscounts and possible fraudulent results. HAVA, written in response to the 2000 Florida debacle, requires that voters show government-issued IDs to be allowed to vote, a provision that Kuttner says is ripe for use in Republican voter-intimidation schemes. Republicans “have a long and sordid history of ‘ballot security’ programs intended to intimidate minority voters by threatening them with criminal prosecution if their papers are not technically in order,” he writes. “Many civil rights groups see the new federal ID provision of HAVA as an invitation to more such harassment.” The only recourse that voters have to such harassment is to file complaints with the Department of Justice, which, under the aegis of Attorney General John Ashcroft, has discouraged investigation of such claims.
Compliant Court System - Increasingly, federal courts with Republican-appointed judges on the bench have worked closely with Republicans in Congress and the White House to issue rulings favorable to the ruling party. Kuttner notes that if President Bush is re-elected: “a Republican president will have controlled judicial appointments for 20 of the 28 years from 1981 to 2008. And Bush, in contrast to both his father and Clinton, is appointing increasingly extremist judges. By the end of a second term, he would likely have appointed at least three more Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and locked in militantly conservative majorities in every federal appellate circuit.” The Supreme Court is already close to becoming “a partisan rubber stamp for contested elections,” Kuttner writes; several more justices in the mold of Justices Antonin Scalia (see September 26, 1986) and Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) would, Kuttner writes, “narrow rights and liberties, including the rights of criminal suspects, the right to vote, disability rights, and sexual privacy and reproductive choice. It would countenance an unprecedented expansion of police powers, and a reversal of the protection of the rights of women, gays, and racial, religious, and ethnic minorities. [It would] overturn countless protections of the environment, workers and consumers, as well as weaken guarantees of the separation of church and state, privacy, and the right of states or Congress to regulate in the public interest.” [American Prospect, 2/1/2004]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Democratic Party, Dennis Hastert, Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia, Tom DeLay, Robert Kuttner, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Republican Party, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, House Republican Whip Organization, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., John Dean, Newt Gingrich, Help America Vote Act
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
On February 2, 2004, the deadly toxin ricin is detected on an automatic mail sorter in the Senate office building mailroom that serves the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN). Subsequent tests confirm the substance is ricin. No one gets ill. Some buildings are closed, but Senate business continues as usual. It is presumed that the ricin arrived in a letter, but the letter is not found, leaving few clues. [CNN, 2/4/2004] About two months later, it is reported that laboratories are continuing to analyze the ricin in an attempt to determine where it came from, but no suspects or likely motives have been identified. In October 2004, two letters were intercepted in South Carolina and Tennessee containing real ricin. Letters were found with the ricin objecting to new rules for truckers. One letter was intended to go to the Department of Transportation and another to the White House. But it is unknown if there is any connection between those letters and the ricin in Frist’s office, although Frist represents Tennessee. It is also unknown if there is any connection to the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). According to the Associated Press, “Unlike anthrax spores, ricin requires little scientific training to engineer and is not nearly as dangerous to handle.” [Associated Press, 3/31/2005]
The US learns that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former al-Qaeda camp commander, was allegedly tortured in Egypt, where he was rendered by the CIA (see January 2002 and After). Although CIA Director George Tenet will describe al-Libi’s handling by the Egyptians as “further debriefing,” after being returned to US custody, al-Libi tells CIA officers he was tortured and these claims are documented in a series of cables sent to CIA headquarters on February 4 and 5. These cables are the final proof, many believe, that the US is illegally “outsourcing” torture to other countries, against suspects who have not been convicted or even charged with a crime. After being tortured by his Egyptian captors (see November 11, 2001), al-Libi was returned to US custody on November 22, 2003. The February 5 cable reads, in part, that al-Libi was told by the Egyptians that “the next topic was al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq…. This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” The Egyptians didn’t like al-Libi’s response, and locked him in a 20 inch by 20 inch box for 17 hours—effectively burying him alive. The Egyptians released him and gave him one more change to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not give the proper response, he was knocked to the ground and beaten. The CIA debriefers send this information straight to Washington (see February 14, 2004), thus informing the CIA that not only was this key piece of evidence about the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda false, but it was obtained by extreme, US-sanctioned torture. Although stories and witness accounts about torture in such US-allied countries as Egypt, Syria, Morocco, and Uzbekistan have long been known, this is the first time such torture has been detailed in an official US government document. It will be almost a year before the Bush administration will confirm the CIA’s rendition program (see March 11, 2002), and even then it will begin a litany of reassurances that the US does not torture, nor does it hand over prisoners to countries that torture. The CIA cables will be declassified in September 2006, and roundly ignored by the mainstream media. And as of late 2007, al-Libi will still be a “ghost prisoner” whose whereabouts and circumstances are considered a US state secret. [ABC News, 11/6/2007]
The 9/11 Commission has a private meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The meeting is held in the White House’s Situation Room, the location apparently chosen by Rice in an attempt to impress the commissioners.
Questioning Is 'Polite but Pointed' - The White House has insisted that the encounter be described as a “meeting” rather than an “interview,” because that would sound too formal and prosecutorial. In addition, there is to be no recording of the interview and Rice is not placed under oath. The time limit on the interview is two hours, but it actually lasts four. Rice’s close associate Philip Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission’s executive director, attends, but is not allowed to say anything because he has been recused from this part of the investigation. The questioning is led by Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer, and will be described as “polite but pointed” by author Philip Shenon.
Commissioners Privately Critical of Rice - The commissioners are aware of allegations that Rice performed poorly in the run-up to 9/11 (see Before December 18, 2003), but are unwilling to aggressively attack an accomplished black woman. However, they think the allegations are well-founded. Commission Chairman Tom Kean will say, “obviously Rice bears a tremendous amount of responsibility for not understanding how serious this threat [of terrorist attacks] was.” Commissioner John Lehman will say that he has “no doubt” former National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger would have paid more attention to the warnings of a forthcoming attack. Fellow commissioner Slade Gorton will say that the administration’s failure to act on the urgent warnings was “spectacularly wrong.” Commissioner Jamie Gorelick will comment that Rice “assumed away the hardest part of her job,” and that she should have focused on keeping the president up to date on events, rather than trying to put his intentions into action. Commissioner Bob Kerrey will agree with this and will later recall one of Rice’s comments at this meeting, “I took the president’s thoughts and I helped the president describe what he was thinking.” According to Kerrey, this shows how Rice performed her job incorrectly. She should have been advising the president on what to do, not packaging his thoughts. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 230-239]
Entity Tags: Richard Ben-Veniste, Thomas Kean, Slade Gorton, Philip Zelikow, Daniel Marcus, Jamie Gorelick, 9/11 Commission, Bob Kerrey, Condoleezza Rice, John Lehman
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The 9/11 Commission gets greater access to classified intelligence briefings under a new agreement with the White House. The 10-member panel had been barred from reviewing notes concerning the presidential daily briefings taken by three of its own commissioners and the commission’s director in December 2003. The new agreement allows all commission members the opportunity to read White House-edited versions of the summaries. The White House had faced criticisms for allowing only some commissioners to see the notes. Still, only three commissioners are allowed to see the original, unclassified documents. [Associated Press, 2/10/2004]
Sibel Edmonds testifies before the 9/11 Commission in a specially constructed “bug-proof” secure room for three and a half hours, describing in detail problems she witnessed while working as an FBI linguist (see, e.g., September 20, 2001 and After,
(After September 14, 2001-October 2001),
Early October 2001,
(Late October 2001),
(November 2001), and
December 2, 2001). A month later, she tells the Independent: “I gave [the commission] details of specific investigation files, the specific dates, specific target information, specific managers in charge of the investigation. I gave them everything so that they could go back and follow up. This is not hearsay. These are things that are documented. These things can be established very easily.… There was general information about the time-frame, about methods to be used but not specifically about how they would be used and about people being in place and who was ordering these sorts of terror attacks. There were other cities that were mentioned. Major cities with skyscrapers (see April 2001).” [Independent, 4/2/2004] In its final report (see July 22, 2004), the 9/11 Commission will make no mention of the problems Edmonds witnessed with the FBI’s translation unit, save for a single footnote. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Edmonds, 8/1/2004] One month earlier, a reporter had asked one of the Democratic commissioners about the Edmonds case, and he replied, “It sounds like it’s too deep in the weeds for us to consider, we’re looking at broader issues.” [New York Observer, 1/22/2004]
On February 11, 2004, the FBI interviews at least one scientist from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in connection with the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The name of the person interviewed is not known, but he is asked whether he wrote an anonymous letter to the FBI that possibly set up scientist Ayaad Assaad as a patsy for the attacks just before they occurred (see October 3, 2001). Assaad worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, until 1997, and has worked at the EPA since then. The unnamed scientist says that he had nothing to do with the letter. It appears this person is possibly subjected to a polygraph test after this, but if so the results are not known. [Hartford Courant, 2/17/2004] On March 17, 14 additional EPA employees are interviewed about the letter. The interviews are said to focus on trying to find out who wrote it. [Washington Times, 3/30/2004]
Two FBI agents, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, falsely claim they have no memory of the blocking of a key cable about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in an interview with the Justice Department’s office of inspector general. Miller drafted the cable, which was to inform the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa, while he and Rossini were on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. However, it was blocked by the unit’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, and another CIA officer known only as “Michael” (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Miller and Rossini remember the events, but falsely tell the Justice Department inspector general they cannot recall them.
Pressure Not to Disclose Information - Sources close to the inspector general’s probe will say, “There was pressure on people not to disclose what really happened.” Rossini, in particular, is said to feel threatened that the CIA would have him prosecuted for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act if he said what really happened inside Alec Station. They are questioned at the same time, and together with a CIA officer who will be described as “sympathetic,” although it is unclear why. CIA officials are also in the room during the questioning, although it is unclear why this is allowed. When they are shown contemporary documents, according to the Congressional Quarterly, “the FBI agents suddenly couldn’t remember details about who said what, or who reported what, to whom, about the presence of two al-Qaeda agents in the US prior to the 9/11 attacks.” The inspector general investigators are suspicious. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]
'They Asserted that They Recalled Nothing' - Nevertheless, neither Rossini nor Miller are severely criticized by the inspector general’s final report. It simply notes: “When we interviewed all of the individuals involved about the [cable] they asserted that they recalled nothing about it. [Miller] told the [inspector general] that he did not recall being aware of the information about Almihdhar, did not recall drafting the [cable], did not recall whether he drafted the [cable] on his own initiative or at the direction of his supervisor, and did not recall any discussions about the reasons for delaying completion and dissemination of the [cable]. [Rossini] said he did not recall reviewing any of the cable traffic or any information regarding Alhazmi and Almihdhar. Eric [a senior FBI agent on loan to Alec Station] told the [inspector general] that he did not recall the [cable].” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241, 355-357 ]
Later Admit What Really Happened - At some point, Miller and Rossini tell an internal FBI investigation what really happened, including Wilshire’s order to withhold the information from the FBI. However, very little is known about this probe (see After September 11, 2001). [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Rossini will be interviewed for a 2006 book by Lawrence Wright and will recall some of the circumstances of the blocking of the cable, including that a CIA officer told Miller, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 311, 423] Both Miller and Rossini will later talk to author James Bamford about the incident for a 2008 book. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] The exact date of this interview of Miller and Rossini is unknown. However, an endnote to the 9/11 Commission Report will say that Miller is interviewed by the inspector general on February 12, 2004, so it may occur on this day. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502]
An Army memorandum records an interview of a US interrogator stationed at the Orgun-E Military Intelligence Detention Facility in Afghanistan. According to the interrogator, “standard operating procedure” with detainees includes extended sleep deprivation, stress positions, and withholding food. The interrogator also refers to standard practices of “OGA” officials (OGA means “other goverment agency” and is a reference to the CIA), who drug prisoners and subject them to lengthy sensory deprivation. Another memo records the use of what interrogators call “fear up harsh” techniques, which include “disrespect for the Koran,” insults, subjecting prisoners to blinding lights, and exposing them to extremely loud music for prolonged periods. The memoranda will be released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006). [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/12/2006]
Rich Levernier, a specialist with the Department of Energy (DOE) for 22 years who spent over six years before the 9/11 attacks running nuclear war games for the US government, says that the Bush administration has done little more than talk about securing the nation’s nuclear facilities from terrorist attacks. If Levernier and his team of experts (see February 15, 2004) are correct in their assessments, the administration is actually doing virtually nothing to protect the US’s nuclear weapons facilities, which certainly top any terrorist’s wish list of targets. Instead of addressing the enormous security problems at these facilities, it is persecuting whistleblowers like Levernier. Indeed, the administration denies a danger even exists. “Any implication that there is a 50 percent failure rate on security tests at our nuclear weapons sites is not true,” says Anson Franklin, a spokesman for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a DOE agency that oversees the US’s nuclear weapons complex. “Our facilities are not vulnerable.”
Too Strict Grading? - James Ford, who is retired, was Levernier’s direct DOE supervisor in the late 1990s. He says that while Levernier was a talented and committed employee, the results he claims from his mock terror attacks are skewed because of what Ford calls Levernier’s too-strict approach to grading the performance of the nuclear facilities’ security personnel. Ford says that Levernier liked to focus on one particular area, the Technical Area-18 facility, at the Los Alamos nuclear facility in New Mexico, though the site is essentially indefensible, located at the bottom of a canyon and surrounded on three sides by steep, wooded ridges that afforded potential attackers excellent cover and the advantage of high ground.
Complaints of 'Strict Grading' Baseless, Squad Commander Says - “My guys were licking their chops when they saw that terrain,” says Ronald Timms, who commanded mock terrorist squads under Levernier’s supervision. Timms, now the head of RETA Security, which participated in many DOE war games and designed the National Park Service’s security plans for Mount Rushmore, says Ford’s complaint is groundless: “To say it’s unfair to go after the weak link is so perverse, it’s ridiculous. Of course the bad guys are going to go after the weakest link. That’s why [DOE] isn’t supposed to have weak links at those facilities.” In one such attack Timms recalls, Levernier’s forces added insult to injury by hauling away the stolen weapons-grade nuclear material in a Home Depot garden cart. The then-Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, ordered the weapons-grade material at TA-18 to be removed to the Nevada Test Site by 2003. That has not happened yet, and is not expected to happen until 2006 at the earliest.
Rules of Engagement - The failure rates are even harder to understand considering the fact that the rules of engagement are heavily slanted in favor of the defense. A real terrorist attack would certainly be a surprise, but the dates of the war games were announced months in advance, within an eight-hour window. Attackers were not allowed to use grenades, body armor, or helicopters. They were not allowed to use publicly available radio jamming devices. “DOE wouldn’t let me use that stuff, because it doesn’t have a defense against it,” Levernier says. His teams were required, for safety reasons, to obey 25 MPH speed limits. Perhaps the biggest flaw in the DOE’s war games, Levernier says, is that they don’t allow for suicide bombers. The games required Levernier’s teams to steal weapons-grade nuclear material and escape. It is likely, though, that attackers would enter the facility, secure the materials, and detonate their own explosives. DOE did not order nuclear facilities to prepare for such attacks until May 2003, and the policy change does not take effect until 2009. Levernier notes that three of the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities did relatively well against mock attacks: the Argonne National Laboratory-West in Idaho, the Pantex plant in Texas, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
Bureaucratic, Political Resistance - So why, asks Vanity Fair journalist Mark Hertsgaard, doesn’t the Bush administration insist on similar vigilance throughout the entire nuclear complex? They “just don’t think [a catastrophic attack] will happen,” Levernier replies. “And nobody wants to say we can’t protect these nuclear weapons, because the political fallout would be so great that there would be no chance to keep the system running.” The DOE bureaucracy is more interested in the appearance of proper oversight than the reality, says Tom Devine, the lawyer who represents both Levernier and other whistleblowers. “Partly that’s about saving face. To admit that a whistleblower’s charges are right would reflect poorly on the bureaucracy’s competence. And fixing the problems that whistleblowers identify would often mean diverting funds that bureaucrats would rather use for other purposes, like empire building. But the main reason bureaucrats have no tolerance for dissent is that taking whistleblowers’ charges seriously would require them to stand up to the regulated industry, and that’s not in most bureaucrats’ nature, whether the industry is the nuclear weapons complex or the airlines.”
Stiff Resistance from Bush Administration - Devine acknowledges that both of his clients’ troubles began under the Clinton administration and continued under Bush, but, Devine says, the Bush administration is particularly unsympathetic to whistleblowers because it is ideologically disposed against government regulation in general. “I don’t think President Bush or other senior officials in this administration want another September 11th,” says Devine, “but their anti-government ideology gets in the way of fixing the problems Levenier and [others] are talking about. The security failures in the nuclear weapons complex and the civil aviation system are failures of government regulation. The Bush people don’t believe in government regulation in the first place, so they’re not inclined to expend the time and energy needed to take these problems seriously. And then they go around boasting that they’re winning the war on terrorism. The hypocrisy is pretty outrageous.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 17-18; Vanity Fair, 2/15/2004]
Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Rich Levernier, RETA Security, National Nuclear Security Administration, James Ford, Bill Richardson, Anson Franklin, National Park Service (NPS), Ronald Timms, Mark Hertsgaard, Tom Devine, Vanity Fair, US Department of Energy, Los Alamos National Laboratory
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Sixty-two leading scientists, including Nobel Prize laureates, university chairs and presidents, and former federal agency directors, sign a joint statement protesting the Bush administration’s “unprecedented” politicization of science (see January 2004 and June 1, 2005). Over 11,000 scientists will add their names to the statement, disseminated by the Union of Concerned Scientists, in the coming years. “When scientific knowledge has been found to be in conflict with its political goals, the administration has often manipulated the process through which science enters into its decisions,” the scientists write. “This has been done by placing people who are professionally unqualified or who have clear conflicts of interest in official posts and on scientific advisory committees; by disbanding existing advisory committees; by censoring and suppressing reports by the government’s own scientists; and by simply not seeking independent scientific advice. Other administrations have, on occasion, engaged in such practices, but not so systematically nor on so wide a front. Furthermore, in advocating policies that are not scientifically sound, the administration has sometimes misrepresented scientific knowledge and misled the public about the implications of its policies.” [Union of Concerned Scientists, 2/18/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 303-304]
Fahad al Thumairy, a Saudi diplomat the 9/11 Commission thinks is tied to an associate of two 9/11 hijackers named Omar al-Bayoumi, is interviewed by the Commission and lies about these connections. The Commission’s staff thinks that al Thumairy was, in author Philip Shenon’s words, “a middleman of some sort for [9/11 hijackers] Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar,” and they have compiled a long dossier on him, mostly based on evidence that staffer Mike Jacobson found in FBI files. According to Shenon, the evidence suggests al Thumairy “had orchestrated help for the hijackers through a network of Saudi and other Arab expatriates living throughout Southern California and led by… al-Bayoumi.” When al Thumairy is interviewed by Raj De and other Commission investigators in Riyadh—in the presence of Saudi government minders—he initially claims, “I do not know this man al-Bayoumi.” However, the investigators have witnesses who say al Thumairy and al-Bayoumi know each other, have records of phone calls between the two men (see December 1998-December 2000 and January-May 2000), and al-Bayoumi has admitted knowing al Thumairy, although they allegedly spoke “solely on religious matters.” De cuts off al Thumairy’s denial, telling him: “Your phone records tell a different story. We have your phone records.” Although al-Bayoumi still professes ignorance, De explains they have the phone records from the FBI, at which point al Thumairy realizes his difficulty and says, “I have contact with a lot of people.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309-311]
Undersecretary of the Air Force Peter Teets reports to the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee on the Air Force Space Program, summarizing the program’s top five priorities for the year. [US Congress, 2/25/2004 ; Government Executive, 7/1/2004]
Achieving mission success in operations and acquisition - Teets emphasizes the importance that the space program’s satellites have played in achieving “success” with regard to intelligence, surveillance and missile guidance in the Iraq and Afghanistan theatres. He stresses that the program will continue to need ample funds so it can continue its work unimpeded. “To maintain our asymmetric advantages in space, we must continue to provide our warfighters with the most capable and reliable systems possible,” he says. “Mission Success should be the primary driver of a program, not cost and schedule.” [US Congress, 2/25/2004 ]
Developing and maintaining a team of space professionals - Teets tells the committee that the Defense Department needs to maintain a highly skilled cadre of “space professionals” who “must be able to develop new technologies, systems, training methods, concepts of operations and organizations that will continue to sustain the US as a world leader in space.” [US Congress, 2/25/2004 ]
Integrating space capabilities for national intelligence and warfighting - The undersecretary explains the importance of integrating the military’s new and existing capabilities into a seamless and interconnected system. This will greatly enhance the military’s surveillance, intelligence collection, and warfighting capabilities, he says. [US Congress, 2/25/2004 ; Government Executive, 7/1/2004; New York Times, 11/13/2004]
Produce innovative solutions for the most challenging national security problems - Teets explains what new technologies the space program is developing and applying in order to achieve “transparency.” “[W]e want the ability to see everything and know everything, while simultaneously denying our adversaries both the ability to do the same, and the knowledge that such capabilities are being used against them.” He surveys a number of projects that are being developed by the space program. GPS III satellites, he says, will have “high-powered, anti-jam military-code, along with other accuracy, reliability, and data integrity improvements.” The Transformational Communications Satellite (TSAT) System, to be implemented in 2012, will enable high speed transmission of data over the Pentagon’s Global Information Grid (GIG). “Our goal is to create an ‘internet in the sky’—making it possible for US Marines in a Humvee, in a faraway land, in the middle of a rainstorm, to open up their laptops, request imagery, and get it downloaded within seconds. TSAT is an enabler of horizontal integration—allowing our fighting forces to have near-real-time intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance at their fingertips. TSAT will provide an unprecedented connectivity with Internet-like capability that extends the Global Information Grid to deployed and mobile users worldwide, and will deliver an order of magnitude increase in capacity.” Space Based Radar (SBR) will enhance target tracking capability and provide “day/night, all weather, worldwide, multi-theater surveillance on-demand.” [US Congress, 2/25/2004 ; Government Executive, 7/1/2004; New York Times, 11/13/2004]
Ensuring freedom of action in space - Teets describes the space program’s efforts to “ensure [that] the United States, its allies, and coalition partners will be able to make use of space, while denying that use of space to adversaries.” These efforts, he says, fall into three categories: Space Situational Awareness (SSA), Defensive Counter Space (DCS), and Offensive Counter Space (OCS). SSA includes “traditional space surveillance, detailed reconnaissance of specific space assets, collection and processing of space intelligence data, and analysis of the space environment.” The purpose of DCS is to provide the US with the “capability to identify and locate attacks on US space systems.” Finally, OCS “is intended to develop systems to deny adversary use of space and assure US space superiority.” [US Congress, 2/25/2004 ; Government Executive, 7/1/2004; New York Times, 11/13/2004]
Antonio M. Taguba. [Source: US Army]Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba files a 53-page classified report which finds that between October and December of 2003, members of the 372nd Military Police Company and US intelligence community engaged in numerous incidents of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” against prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. As evidence, he cites “detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence.” The photographs—which are later leaked to the press (see Mid-April 2004), causing an enormous international public outcry—are not included in the report. [US Department of the Army, 3/9/2004; New Yorker, 5/10/2004; New Yorker, 5/17/2004] Taguba also takes issue with the November 5 (see November 5, 2003) Ryder report which concluded that the military police units had not intentionally used inappropriate confinement practices. “Contrary to the findings of MG [Maj. Gen.] Ryder’s report, I find that personnel assigned to the 372nd MP Company, 800th MP Brigade were directed to change facility procedures to ‘set the conditions’ for MI interrogations.” Army intelligence officers, CIA agents, and private contractors “actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses.” [US Department of the Army, 3/9/2004; New Yorker, 5/10/2004] He presents his report to his commander on March 3 (see March 3, 2004).
Thomas Tamm. [Source: Newsweek]Thomas Tamm, a veteran Justice Department prosecutor with a high-level security clearance, is finishing up a yearlong post with the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies. As his stint is coming to a close, Tamm learns of the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) program that is electronically eavesdropping on American citizens—domestic wiretapping. He later learns that “the program,” as it is referred to by those few who know of it at all, is called “Stellar Wind.”
Concealment from FISA Judges - Tamm learns that the NSA program is being hidden from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, a panel of federal judges who by law must approve and supervise such surveillance for intelligence purposes. OIPR lawyers ask the FISA Court for permission to implement national-security wiretaps. But, Tamm learns, some wiretaps—signed only by Attorney General John Ashcroft—are going to the chief FISA Court judge and not the other ten judges on the FISA panel. The “AG-only” requests are extraordinarily secretive, and involve information gleaned from what is only referred to as “the program”—Stellar Wind. Only a very few White House and US intelligence officials know the name and the nature of “the program.” Stellar Wind involves domestic wiretaps on telephones and computer e-mail accounts derived from, but not necessarily linked to, information secured from captured al-Qaeda computers and cell phones overseas. With the voluntary cooperation of American telecommunications companies (see 1997-August 2007 and After, February 2001, February 2001, and February 2001 and Beyond), the NSA program also collects vast amounts of personal data about US citizens’ phone and e-mail communications. The program also collects an enormous amount of financial information from the Treasury Department (see February 28, 2006), all collected as part of the NSA’s “data mining” efforts (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001).
Program Is 'Probably Illegal,' Says DOJ Official - Tamm, suspicious about the unusual requests, asks his supervisors about the program, and is told to drop the subject. “[N]o one wanted to talk about it,” he will recall. Tamm asks one of his supervisors, Lisa Farabee, “Do you know what the program is?” Farabee replies: “Don’t even go there.… I assume what they are doing is illegal.” Tamm is horrified. His first thought, he will later recall, is, “I’m a law enforcement officer and I’m participating in something that is illegal?” Tamm soon finds out from deputy OIPR counsel Mark Bradley that the chief FISA judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, is raising unwanted questions about the warrant requests (see 2004 and 2005), and “the AG-only cases are being shut down.” Bradley adds, “This may be [a time] the attorney general gets indicted.”
Request for Guidance Turned Down - For weeks, Tamm agonizes over what to do. He seeks guidance from a former colleague, Sandra Wilkinson, who now works on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two have coffee in the Senate cafeteria, and Tamm asks Wilkinson to ask if anyone on the committee knows anything about “the program.” Weeks go by without a response, and Tamm sends Wilkinson an e-mail from his OIPR computer—an e-mail that will later alert the FBI to Tamm’s interest in Stellar Wind. During a second conversation, Wilkinson refuses to give Tamm any information. “Well, you know, then,” he replies, “I think my only option is to go to the press.”
Contacting the New York Times - Tamm finally decides to contact the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau, who has written several stories on the Justice Department that impressed Tamm. By this point he has transferred out of OIPR and back into a Justice Department office that would allow him to return to the courtroom. Tamm calls Lichtblau from a pay phone near the US District Courthouse in Washington. “My whole body was shaking,” he will recall. He identifies himself only as “Mark” (his middle name), and arranges to meet Lichtblau at a bookstore near the Justice Department. (In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau describes Tamm as “a walk-in” source who was “agitated about something going on in the intelligence community.” Lichtblau will describe Tamm as wary and “maddeningly vague,” but as they continue to meet—usually in bookstores and coffee shops in the Capitol District—Tamm’s “credibility and his bona fides became clear and his angst appears sincere. Eighteen months later, after finally overriding a request and warning from President Bush not to print the story (see December 6, 2005), the Times reports on the existence of the NSA program (see December 15, 2005). [Ars Technica, 12/16/2008; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Mark Bradley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eric Lichtblau, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Bush administration (43), ’Stellar Wind’, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Lisa Farabee, Senate Judiciary Committee, Thomas Tamm, Sandra Wilkinson, Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, New York Times, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The General Accounting Office (GAO) reports on an array of problems with the military’s missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991). Its report includes an unclassified list of 50 recommendations for improving the system that originated in a public report produced by the Pentagon in 2000. Instead of acting on the recommendations, the Pentagon declares the list of recommendations “retroactively classified,” thereby forbidding Congressional members from discussing the recommendations in public. House members Henry Waxman (D-CA) and John Tierney (D-MA), who requested the GAO report, send an angry letter to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld calling the decision to classify the recommendations “highly dubious” and “an attempt to stymie public debate through the use of the classification system.” Rumsfeld ignores the protest. [Savage, 2007, pp. 103-104]
A new interrogation policy is approved for US personnel regarding prisoners detained in Iraqi facilities such as Abu Ghraib. The policy will remain classified as late as mid-2009, but the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009) will release excerpts from it. The policy warns that interrogators “should consider the fact that some interrogation techniques are viewed as inhumane or otherwise inconsistent with international law before applying each technique. These techniques are labeled with a [CAUTION].” Among the techniques labeled as such are a technique involving power tools, stress positions, and the presence of military working dogs, all potential violations of the Geneva Conventions. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
The 9/11 Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow demands that the Commission subpoena a new book by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke that is due to be published soon.
Bad Blood - There has been a running argument in the Commission about Clarke’s criticism of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see August 2003, Before December 18, 2003, and Early 2004) and there is also bad blood between Clarke and Zelikow, a close associate of Rice (see 1995) who had Clarke demoted in 2001 (see January 3, 2001 and January 27, 2003). Zelikow’s demand is spurred by a change to the publication date of Clarke’s book, which has been moved forward from the end of April to March 22, shortly before Clarke is due to testify publicly before the Commission.
Zelikow Goes 'Ballistic' - Daniel Marcus, the Commission’s lawyer, will recall that when Zelikow learned of the change, he “went ballistic” and “wanted to subpoena [the book].” The reason for his anger is that he thinks that it may contain surprises for the Commission and does not want new information coming out so close to an important hearing. Marcus thinks issuing a subpoena is a bad idea, as the Commission generally refuses to subpoena government departments (see January 27, 2003), so issuing one for the book will make it look bad, and possibly turn the press against it. However, Zelikow initially refuses to back down, saying, “Well, we have subpoena authority,” and adding, “And they have no right to withhold it from us.”
Publisher Provides Book, Clarke Prevents Zelikow from Reading It - Marcus calls the book’s publisher and asks it nicely to give the Commission the book. The publisher agrees, but, worried that excessive distribution would limit the book’s news value, says that only three staffers, ones involved in preparing for Clarke’s interview, can read it. Clarke personally insists on another condition: that Zelikow is not one of these three staffers. Zelikow protests against this condition, but it is approved by the commissioners.
Zelikow Discomfited - This deal highlights the state of relations between Zelikow and the staff. Author Philip Shenon will write: “Marcus and others on the staff could not deny that they enjoyed Zelikow’s discomfort. Throughout the investigation, Zelikow had insisted that every scrap of secret evidence gathered by the staff be shared with him before anyone else; he then controlled how and if the evidence was shared elsewhere. Now Zelikow would be the last to know some of the best secrets of them all.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 275-277]
After finding that FAA and US military officials have made a string of false statements to them about the air defense on the day of the attacks and have withheld key documents for months (see September 2003, Late October 2003, October 14, 2003, and November 6, 2003), the 9/11 Commission’s staff proposes a criminal investigation by the Justice Department into those officials.
Proposal Sent to Zelikow - The proposal is contained in a memo sent by the Commission team investigating the day of the attacks to Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director. However, nothing much is done with the memo for months. A similar proposal will then be submitted to the very last meeting of the 9/11 commissioners, who decide to refer the matter not to the Justice Department, but to the inspectors general of the Pentagon and FAA (see Shortly before July 22, 2004). Whereas the Justice Department could bring criminal charges for perjury, if it found they were warranted, the inspectors general cannot.
Dispute over Events - According to John Azzarello, a Commission staffer behind the proposal, Zelikow fails to act on the proposal for weeks. Azzarello will say that Zelikow, who has friends at the Pentagon (see (Late October-Early November 2003)), “just buried that memo.” Azzarello’s account will be backed by Commission team leader John Farmer. However, Zelikow will say that Azzarello was not party to all the discussions about what to do and that the memo was delayed by other Commission staffers, not him. Zelikow’s version will receive backing from the Commission’s lawyer, Daniel Marcus. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 209-210]
9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton meet with Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, including Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom Delay, to discuss an extension of the commission’s reporting deadline (see Mid-December 2003-Mid-January 2004). The extension is opposed by the House leadership, which has had bad relations with the commission for some time and has been very critical of the commission. For example, a month before the meeting Hastert had accused Democrats on the commission of “leaking things,” trying to “make it a political issue,” and inflict “death by a thousand cuts” on the Bush administration. It is unclear why the House leadership is so against the extension, even though it has been approved by Senate Republicans and the White House. One theory advanced by Democratic commissioners is that, although the White House has publicly dropped its opposition to the extension (see January 19, 2004 and February 5, 2004), it does not really want it and is simply getting Hastert to act as a proxy. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “If Hastert’s contempt for the commission was being stage-managed by anyone at the White House, it was assumed on the commission to be Dick Cheney. The vice president was a frequent, if rarely announced, visitor to the Speaker’s office.” However, Kean persuades Hastert and the other House leaders to accept the extension, removing the last hurdle. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 227-229]
The European Union announces it has begun a preliminary investigation into the sale of Real Madrid’s training ground to the city council in 2001 (see (May 8, 2001)). The sale netted €480m, which wiped out the football club’s €290m debt and enabled it to buy players such as Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo, and David Beckham. “We believe Madrid’s regional authorities may have overpaid,” says Tilman Luder, the EU’s competition spokesman. He also warns that the club may have to pay back some money if the price exceeded the market value. “We have sent a questionnaire to the Spanish government: to find out why they bought this land, at what price, and if they can prove it was at the market price. We suspect that the purchase price was influenced by the fact that this property had been reclassified, which increased its value,” says Luder. If Spain’s response to the questionnaire is not satisfactory, the EU may launch a formal investigation. [Independent, 3/4/2010] The EU will later drop the matter (see (November 9, 2004)).
In an apparent act of political retaliation, Vice President Dick Cheney blocks the promotion of a Justice Department official who raised concerns about the legality of the Bush/NSA domestic wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Patrick Philbin, a senior Justice Department counsel, provided much of the research used by Deputy Attorney General James Comey in Comey’s own refusal to approve the wiretapping program (see March 9, 2004 and March 10-12, 2004). Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales had replaced Ashcroft as attorney general when Philbin’s name came up for promotion. After Cheney warns Gonzales that he will oppose Philbin’s promotion, Gonzales decides not to promote Philbin to the position of deputy solicitor general. In May 2007, Comey will testify before Congress, “I understood that someone at the White House communicated to Attorney General Gonzales that the vice president would oppose the appointment if the attorney general pursued the matter. The attorney general chose not to pursue it.…It was my understanding that the vice president’s office blocked that appointment” (see May 15, 2007). Senate Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) says in 2007 of Cheney’s opposition to Philbin’s promotion, and Cheney’s attempts to pressure Justice Department officials to back the wiretapping program, “…White House hands guided Justice Department business. The vice president’s fingerprints are all over the effort to strong-arm Justice on the NSA program.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Comey will resign in 2005 and give a farewell speech in which he will say that some Justice Department officials paid a price for their commitment to doing what’s right. When asked in his 2007 testimony what he referred to, Comey will answer, “I had in mind one particular senior staffer of mine who had been in the hospital room with me and had been blocked from promotion, I believed as a result of this particular matter.” Comey is speaking of Philbin, who would have likely been promoted to solicitor general in Bush’s second term. Instead, Philbin resigns from the Justice Department and enters private practice. [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007]
Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba submits the final version of his report (see February 26, 2004) on the investigation into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib by MPs. He concludes that military intelligence personnel played a part in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But due to the fact that his investigation was limited to the conduct of MPs (see January 19, 2004), he did not investigate military intelligence conduct. Another investigation (see August 25, 2004), however, is launched that will examine military intelligence’s role in the abuses. It will be conducted by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence. But the scope of this investigation is also limited from the outset, for two reasons. First, as a two-star general, he cannot hold any officer of his own rank or higher accountable. Second, Fay is appointed by Lt. Col. Ricardo S. Sanchez and therfore the scope of investigation is limited to the people under Sanchez’s command. [Newsweek, 6/7/2004] Additionally, Fay may be less inclined to report negatively on military intelligence personnel, since his superior, Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, head of Army Intelligence, has already stated that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was committed by “a group of undisciplined military police” who were acting on their own, and not upon instructions from military intelligence officers. [Truthout (.org), 5/14/2004]
Chuck Rosenberg. [Source: Associated Press / Charles Dharapak]Vice President Dick Cheney challenges objections to the White House’s secret, warrantless surveillance program (see Early 2002) by Justice Department officials. Cheney makes his objections during a meeting attended by high-level White House and Justice Department officials, but this does not come to light until a 2007 testimony by Deputy Attorney General James Comey (see May 15, 2007). [Washington Post, 6/7/2007] (Comey will step down from his post in mid-2005.) [Law.com, 4/21/2005] The White House meetings take place one day before White House officials journey to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to try to force Ashcroft to give his approval for the NSA-managed surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Ashcroft will refuse to give his approval. Cheney’s key role in leading what the Washington Post calls “a fierce internal battle over the legality of the warrantless surveillance program” is not known until Comey’s 2007 testimony. The White House meeting, held to discuss Justice Department objections to the NSA program, is attended by Cheney, White House counsel and future attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s chief counsel David Addington, and others. Comey will testify that at the time, eight Justice Department officials are prepared to resign if the White House doesn’t back down on forcing the department to sign off on the program. Those officials include FBI director Robert Mueller, US attorney Chuck Rosenberg of the northern Virginia district, and Office of Legal Counsel head Jack Goldsmith. [Washington Post, 6/7/2007]
Vice President Dick Cheney gives the Congressional leaders known as the “Gang of Eight”—the House speaker and House minority leader, the Senate majority and minority leaders, and the ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees—their first briefing on the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). The Democratic leaders at the meeting are House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD), House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA), and Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Daschle (D-SD) later recalls the meeting as superficial. Cheney “talked like it was something routine,” Daschle will say. “We really had no idea what it was about.” Unbeknownst to many of the Congressional leaders, White House and Justice Department leaders are locked in a sharp dispute over whether or not the program is legal and should be continued; Cheney is preparing to send White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital room to persuade the gravely ill, heavily sedated Ashcroft to overrule acting Attorney General James Comey and reauthorize the program (see March 10-12, 2004). The briefing is designed to give the appearance of Congressional approval for the program. While most Republicans in the briefing give at least tacit approval of the program, some Democrats, as Daschle will recall, expressed “a lot of concerns” over the program’s apparent violation of fundamental Congressional rights. Pelosi later recalls that she “made clear my disagreement with what the White House was asking.” But administration officials such as Gonzales will later say (see July 24, 2007) that the eight Congressional leaders are in “consensus” in supporting the program, a characterization that is patently false (see July 25, 2007). Gonzales will also later testify that today’s briefing does not cover the NSA wiretapping program, later dubbed the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” (TSP), another apparent falsehood contradicted by Democratic senators such as Rockefeller and Russ Feingold, as well as testimony and notes on the hospital room visit made by FBI Director Robert Mueller and a memo from John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence. Many feel that Gonzales is using the moniker “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” not in use until December 2005, to play what reporter Michael Isikoff calls “verbal parsing” and “a semantic game”—since the NSA wiretapping program is not known by this name at the time of the Congressional briefing, Gonzales will imply that the briefing wasn’t about that program. [Newsweek, 8/6/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 88]
Cheney, Gonzales: Democrats on Board with Illegal Program - In Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, a 2008 book by Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman, Gonzales will claim there is a “consensus in the room” among Democrats and Republicans alike, and according to Gellman’s reporting on Gonzales, “four Democrats and four Republicans, duly informed that the Justice Department had ruled something unlawful, said the White House should do it anyway.” Cheney will confirm this allegation during a December 2008 appearance on Fox News. [Klein, 2009, pp. 88]
Domestic Surveillance Began before 9/11? - Cheney fails to inform the lawmakers that the wiretapping program may have begun well before the 9/11 attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, National Security Agency, Robert S. Mueller III, Terrorist Surveillance Program, Tom Daschle, US Department of Justice, Russell D. Feingold, Nancy Pelosi, John Negroponte, John D. Rockefeller, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, Michael Isikoff, Bush administration (43), Jane Harman, James B. Comey Jr., “Gang of Eight”, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Attorney General John Ashcroft is visited by a squad of top White House and Justice Department officials just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for severe, acute pancreatis, and is still recuperating in intensive care. The White House officials attempt to persuade the barely lucid Ashcroft to give his formal approval for the secret National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping surveillance program (see Early 2002), which requires the Justice Department to periodically review and approve it. [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007]
Comey, Goldsmith Rush to Head Off Aides - Deputy Attorney General James Comey testifies to the incident before the Senate Judiciary Committee over three years later (see May 15, 2007). Comey will recall that he and Ashcroft had decided not to recertify the surveillance program due to their concerns over its legality and its lack of oversight. On March 9, Ashcroft was rushed to the hospital with severe pancreatis. As per Justice Department procedures, Comey became acting attorney general for the duration of Ashcroft’s incapacity. The next night, just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for the removal of his gallbladder, Comey receives an urgent phone call from Ashcroft’s aide, David Ayres, who himself has just spoken with Ashcroft’s wife Janet. Ayres tells Comey that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card are en route to Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft to sign off on the program recertification. A furious Comey telephones FBI director Robert Mueller, and the two, accompanied by aides, race separately through the Washington, DC streets with sirens wailing to reach Ashcroft’s hospital room; they beat Gonzales and Card to the room by a matter of minutes. “I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Comey will testify, and will add that to him, Ashcroft appears “pretty bad off.” En route, Mueller instructs the security detail protecting Ashcroft not to allow Card or Gonzales to eject Comey from the hospital room. Card and Gonzales enter just minutes later. [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007] “And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card,” Comey will testify. “They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there—to seek his approval for a matter.” [National Public Radio, 5/15/2007] Gonzales is holding an envelope containing an executive order from Bush. He tells Ashcroft that he needs to sign off on the order, thereby giving the wiretapping program Justice Department authorization to continue unabated. Comey will testify that Ashcroft “lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me. [Ashcroft then adds] ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general,’” pointing at Comey. Gonzales and Card leave the room without ever acknowledging Comey’s presence. “I was angry,” Comey will recall. “I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.” [Washington Post, 5/16/2007; Washington Post, 6/7/2007] “That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life, so it’s not something I forget,” Comey will testify. [PBS, 5/16/2007] Goldsmith is also in the room; like Comey, Goldsmith receives a phone call alerting him to Gonzales’s and Card’s visit, and like Comey, Goldsmith races through the Washington streets to arrive at Ashcroft’s room minutes before Gonzales and Card arrive. He, too, is astonished at the brazen, callous approach taken by the two White House officials against Ashcroft, who he describes as laying in his darkened hospital room, with a bright light shining on him and tubes and wires protruding from his body. “Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest,” Goldsmith later recalls. “All of a sudden, energy and color came into his face, and he said that he didn’t appreciate them coming to visit him under those circumstances, that he had concerns about the matter they were asking about and that, in any event, he wasn’t the attorney general at the moment; Jim Comey was. He actually gave a two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die. It was the most amazing scene I’ve ever witnessed.” As Gonzales and Card leave the room, Goldsmith will recall, “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007] After Gonzales and Card leave the room, Comey asks Mueller to instruct the security detail not to let any more visitors into the room, except for family, without Mueller’s approval, apparently in order to keep Gonzales and Card from attempting to return. [US Department of Justice, 8/14/2007]
Cheney or Bush Behind Visit? - The hospital visit is sparked by at least two events: a meeting of White House officials a day earlier, where Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to push reluctant Justice Department officials to approve the surveillance program (see March 9, 2004), and Comey’s own refusal to certify the legality of the surveillance, as noted above. [Washington Post, 6/7/2007] Some believe that the timing of the incident shows that Cheney is the one who ordered Gonzales and Card to go to Ashcroft’s hospital room; Comey personally informed Cheney of his decision not to give his approval to the program. Speculation about Cheney’s ordering of the visit cannot be confirmed, [National Journal, 7/7/2007; National Journal, 8/16/2007] though the New York Times states flatly in an op-ed that “Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and [Card] to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping.” [New York Times, 7/29/2007] Three years later, Goldsmith will tell Congress that he believes Bush himself authorized the visit (see October 2, 2007).
Meeting in the White House - Minutes after the incident in Ashcroft’s hospital room, Card orders Comey to appear at a late-night meeting at the White House; Comey refuses to go alone, and pulls Solicitor General Theodore Olson from a dinner party to act as a witness to the meeting. “Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately. After the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present,” Comey will testify. “[Card] replied, ‘What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.’ And I said again, ‘After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness. And I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States.’” On March 11, after an al-Qaeda bombing in Madrid kills over 200 people (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004, Bush recertifies the program without the approval of the Justice Department. Comey responds by drafting a letter of resignation, effective March 12. “I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis,” he will testify. “I just simply couldn’t stay.” Comey is not the only one threatening to resign; he is joined by Ashcroft, Mueller, Ayres, Goldsmith, Justice Department official Patrick Philbin, and others, who all intend to resign en masse if Bush signs off on the surveillance program without Justice Department support. But Ayres persuades Comey to delay his resignation; in Comey’s words, Ayres “asked me something that meant a great deal to him, and that is that I not resign until Mr. Ashcroft was well enough to resign with me.” Instead of resigning on March 12, Bush meets separately with Comey and Mueller, and promises to make changes in the program (see March 12-Mid-2004). Those changes have never been disclosed, though some changes are later found to be the creation of a secret review court to oversee the surveillance court, and the clarification of what exactly constitutes “probable cause” for surveillance. Comey will testify,…“Director Mueller came to me and said that, ‘The president told me that the Department of Justice should get this where it wants to be—to do what the department thinks is right.’ And I took that mandate and set about to do that, and I accomplished that.” [Newsweek, 1/9/2006; National Public Radio, 5/15/2007; New York Times, 5/15/2007; Washington Post, 5/16/2007; PBS, 5/16/2007; Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Goldsmith recalls his surprise when Congress later approves the program and brings it somewhat under the supervision of the FISA court. “I was sure the government was going to melt down,” Goldsmith says in 2007. “No one anticipated they were going to reverse themselves.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/9/2007]
Did Gonzales Break the Law? - It is also possible that Gonzales and Card may have broken the law in discussing classified information in a public venue. “Executive branch rules require sensitive classified information to be discussed in specialized facilities that are designed to guard against the possibility that officials are being targeted for surveillance outside of the workplace,” says law professor Neal Katyal, a national security adviser under Bill Clinton. “The hospital room of a cabinet official is exactly the type of target ripe for surveillance by a foreign power. And the NSA program is particularly sensitive. One government official familiar with the program notes, “Since it’s that program, it may involve cryptographic information,” some of the most highly protected information in the intelligence community. The law governing disclosure of classified information is quite strict, and numerous government and military officials have been investigated for potential violations in the past. “It’s the one you worry about,” says the government official. Katyal says that if Gonzales did indeed break the law, the Justice Department cannot run any investigation into the matter: “The fact that you have a potential case against the Attorney General himself calls for the most scrupulous and independent of investigations.” Many others are dismayed and confused by the contradictions between the absolute secrecy surrounding the program, and Gonzales’s and Card’s willingness to openly discuss it in such an insecure location, and in front of witnesses not cleared to hear details about the program—including Ashcroft’s wife, who is present in the room while the officials seek her husband’s signature. Former NSA general counsel Elizabeth Parker says not enough is known about the meeting to be sure whether or not the law was broken. “Obviously things can be discussed in ways that don’t divulge highly classified information,” she says. “The real issue is what is it about this program that is so classified that can’t allow it to be discussed in a Congressional setting, even a closed Congressional hearing. In order to have confidence in what this program is all about, one needs to understand better what the approach is and how it affects the rights of American citizens.”
'Horrible' Judgment - John Martin, who oversaw Justice’s counterintelligence division for 26 years, calls Gonzales’s and Card’s attempt to override Comey’s authority as acting attorney general as more than just “bad judgment.” Martin calls their judgement “horrible…they both knew or should have known that the Attorney General while he was so incapacitated had delegated his power to his deputy Jim Comey. Comey’s actions were heroic under the circumstances.” [Time, 5/17/2007]
Snow Dismisses Concerns - In May 2007, after Comey’s testimony to the Senate hits the media, White House press secretary Tony Snow dismisses any concerns about the inappropriateness of Gonzales’s and Card’s pressuring of Ashcroft in his hospital room, and skips over the fact that Comey, not Ashcroft, had the final authority of the Attorney General at the time. “Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn’t work?” Snow will say of Ashcroft. “Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had. But the fact is that there were strong protections in there, this program has saved lives and it’s vital for national security and furthermore has been reformed in a bipartisan way.” Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) has a different take on the incident: “What happened in that hospital room crystallized Mr. Gonzales’ view about the rule of law: that he holds it in minimum low regard.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2007] Senate Democrats are preparing to introduce a resolution of no-confidence against Gonzales. [Time, 5/17/2007]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Jack Goldsmith, James B. Comey Jr., John Ashcroft, Elizabeth Parker, Janet Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Martin, David Ayres, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrew Card, US Department of Justice, Charles Schumer, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Tony Snow, Robert S. Mueller III, Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick F. Philbin, Neal Katyal
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), Jack Goldsmith, sends a classified memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The contents of the memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it clarifies the OLC’s advice on classified foreign intelligence activities. Goldsmith sends another classified memo on the same topic to Deputy Attorney General James Comey the next day, a followup memo to Comey three days later, and a followup to Gonzales the day after that. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Compounding effect of multiple tiers of subcontractors [Source: News Observer] (click image to enlarge)Despite the fact that the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contract explicitly prohibits Halliburton and its subcontractors from subcontracting security services, Halliburton subcontractor ESS hires the firm Blackwater USA to provide security through Regency Hotel, another subcontractor. Each of the subcontractors involved in this arrangement will charge a substantial mark-up for the security personnel. Blackwater pays its security guards $600 per day and charges Regency $815 per day plus overhead costs, while Regency charges ESS between $1200 and $1500 per day for each security guard. It is not known what ESS charges Halliburton or what the final bill is for the taxpayer. Halliburton refuses to disclose this information to Congress. Congressman Henry Waxman, in a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, will suggest that Halliburton’s invoice to the US government for these services was not legal and should not have been paid. [Regency Hotel & Hospital Company, 3/12/2004 ; News & Observer, 10/24/2004; News & Observer, 10/28/2006; US Congress, 12/7/2006 ]
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