Zelikow, the 9/11 Commission, and Effectiveness

If you’ve been paying attention, you know I’ve been poring through the 9/11 Report to figure out how useful the interrogation reports from the waterboarded detainees were, and when they made them.

That exercise shows that the 9/11 Report found just 10 pieces of intelligence from Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation reports informative and credible; it found just 16 pieces of such intelligence in al-Nashiri’s interrogation reports. And while the Commission did find KSM’s interrogation reports to be incredibly useful, an incomplete index (I’m working on this, but it’s on the back burner for the next week) of the references to KSM show that many of his most productive interrogation sessions came long after he was waterboarded. And, as Philip Zelikow made clear in a memo relating to the torture tape destruction, there were abundant other problems with the quality of the interrogation reports coming from CIA, too.

I emailed Zelikow yesterday to see if he would answer some more questions on this. He hasn’t responded and I haven’t had time to follow-up.

But it looks like I may not have to. Zelikow promises to address some of these issues shortly.

I will have more to say on the topic of effectiveness later. 

Of particular interest, he makes this promise to address the effectiveness of torture in the context of the work the 9/11 Commission did with Ali Soufan, the FBI interrogator who called George Bush a liar yesterday.

I met and interviewed Soufan in the course of my work at the 9/11 Commission, while he was still doing important work at the FBI. From my commission work, my fellow staffers and I had direct knowledge about several of the specific assertions Soufan makes in this piece: about Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. My fellow staffers and I considered Soufan to be credible. Indeed, Soufan is fluent in Arabic, and he seemed to us to be one of the more impressive intelligence agents — from any agency — that we encountered in our work.

If the 9/11 Commission spoke with Soufan about AZ’s treatment (Zelikow does not say they did, though he does say they asked why Soufan’s KSM-expert colleague wasn’t involved in those interrogations), it might explain why only 10 pieces of intelligence from AZ show up in the 9/11 Report. 

In this post, Zelikow also confirms something I suggested this afternoon. Dick Cheney’s up to his old ways, trying to selectively declassify manufactured information to prove his point.

Some of the very claims that Soufan describes were also used, while I was in government, in CIA memos defending the program that were submitted to the White House. Therefore, the declassification of those memos, as Vice President Cheney and others have called for, would only raise questions that would have to be answered with still more disclosures. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence appears to be trying to sort this out.

It took eight years. But I guess just about everybody is hip to–and sick of–Cheney’s ways.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

20 replies
  1. radiofreewill says:

    The consciousness of guilt by the Bush Administration is Deafening in its Silence!

    Great Work, emptywheel!

  2. pdaly says:

    Friday’s news dump indicated torture techniques were being discussed before any terrorist had been caught (and therefore before any traditional interrogation would have been tried and failed), I wonder if Ali Soufan was asked to torture prisoners on 9/12/01 (to expand on my comment from the other day).

    From page 408 of The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright:
    “The order from headquarters was to identify the high jackers “by any means necessary,” a directive Soufan had never seen before.”

    Just an aside: I think you need to fix this phrase for likely typo and subject/verb matching:

    he does say they asked why Soudan’s KSM expert colleagues wasn’t involved in those interrogations

    And OT: This post is time stamped 4am (PST) so I am curious about this

    Zelikow also confirms something I suggested this afternoon

    [my bold]
    Are you flying around on the space shuttle? What time zone are you currently in?!

  3. cosanostradamus says:

    .
    Let me save you a step. Or two. No one has been brought to justice for 9/11. So, how effective has the torture been? I mean, ruling out the Al Qaeda recruiting effect.

    Here’s the short answer: All Republicans are criminal douchebags. If you want to suspend our sacred Constitution and ignore international law, round up all the leading Republicans and torture them. Not for information. Just for the irony.

    And, please, televise it.

    You know, in the interests of, ah, history.
    .

  4. radiofreewill says:

    If the Military will Pro-Actively excise their Bad Apple Leaders, then We, the United States of America, will have the opportunity to Honor the Service of Our Brave and Good Soldiers – as a ‘Whole’ Country.

    We then can be Grateful – without reservation – for the Hundreds of Thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who Served and Fought for the Freedom that We All hold so dear.

    It’s time to remove the Cancer that is Immoral, Unchecked Power within the Ranks of Our Leaders, and pull close Our Brothers and Sisters who Fought in Good Faith for US!

  5. MadDog says:

    From another alumnus with dirty hands himself:

    Security Before Politics
    By Porter J. Goss
    Saturday, April 25, 2009

    Since leaving my post as CIA director almost three years ago, I have remained largely silent on the public stage. I am speaking out now because I feel our government has crossed the red line between properly protecting our national security and trying to gain partisan political advantage. We can’t have a secret intelligence service if we keep giving away all the secrets. Americans have to decide now.

    A disturbing epidemic of amnesia seems to be plaguing my former colleagues on Capitol Hill. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, members of the committees charged with overseeing our nation’s intelligence services had no higher priority than stopping al-Qaeda. In the fall of 2002, while I was chairman of the House intelligence committee, senior members of Congress were briefed on the CIA’s “High Value Terrorist Program,” including the development of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and what those techniques were. This was not a one-time briefing but an ongoing subject with lots of back and forth between those members and the briefers.

    Today, I am slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed; or that specific techniques such as “waterboarding” were never mentioned. It must be hard for most Americans of common sense to imagine how a member of Congress can forget being told about the interrogations of Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. In that case, though, perhaps it is not amnesia but political expedience…

    Translation: My colleagues are all political hypocrites, and I, Porter Goss, am pure as driven snow.

    Snort! *g*

    • phred says:

      Now MadDog, Goss is an unbiased, disinterested authority whose motivations are beyond dispute.

      Ha ha ha ha ha ha… Oh that’s a hoot : ) Why that’s almost as funny as if PapaDick were to appear on TV and claim enhanced interrogation kept us safe or Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Nah, they wouldn’t do that, who would believe such self-serving ham-handed posturing? Oh right, Kristol-meth Rush and the rest of the Wingnuts on Parade. Sigh.

    • allan says:

      From another alumnus with dirty hands himself:

      Yes, a masterpiece from the man who gave us Dusty “Foggo of Whores”.

      While Fred Hiatt is at it,
      why doesn’t he have Bernie Madoff write a column
      about how Obama is gutting the SEC?

  6. Aeon says:

    The 9/11 report was the end product of a negotiated cover-up. So take what you find with a grain of salt. It is full of details that are not easily found elsewhere, though.

    A highlight for me was a footnote (n. 75, p.559) that references a Sept. 20, 2001 memo from Douglas Feith to Rummy.

    “the author expressed disappointment at the limited options immediately available in Afghanistan and the lack of ground options. The author suggested instead hitting terrorists outside the Middle East in the initial offensive, perhaps deliberately selecting a non-al Qaeda target like Iraq. Since U.S. attacks were expected in Afghanistan, an American attack in South America or Southeast Asia might be a surprise to the terrorists.”

    And re MadDog’s cite of Goss’s Security Before Politics, this part is just lovely (not true, but just really special):

    “Name, rank and serial number” does not apply to non-state actors but is, regrettably, the only question this administration wants us to ask.

  7. klynn says:

    It took eight years. But I guess just about everybody is hip to–and sick of–Cheney’s ways.

    Reading your closing thought brought to mind an epu’d comment I made in your “Mitchell” post, and that it relates to your closing insight irt Cheney.

    Here’s what I posted:

    CACI’s DODD contracts were actually through Dept. of Interior. Thus, it has been quite difficult to track their gov contracts for DOD work. Thus, difficult to track “the books” on the contracts…which makes all the money issues at Interior more interesting.

    The government contract that led interrogators working for CACI International Inc. into Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq was awarded in 1998, with the stated purpose of providing inventory control and other routine services to the U.S. Army.

    This kind of “blanket-purchase agreement” is becoming increasingly popular with federal agencies because it is supposed to increase efficiency. Large, vaguely worded contracts are designed so the agencies can make quick requests and get fast results, without requiring separate bids and evaluations for each service. Critics say these open-ended contracts allow agencies to skirt public oversight and give big companies an unfair advantage in winning government business.

    The CACI contract with the Army is administered by the Interior Department, under an outsourcing agreement with the Army, which has made it even harder to track.

    (my emphasis)

    and then this from another article irt Cheney:

    Hoffman, now in another job at the Interior Department, said Cheney never told him what to do on either issue — he didn’t have to.

    His genius,” Hoffman said, is that “he builds networks and puts the right people in the right places, and then trusts them to make well-informed decisions that comport with his overall vision.

    (my emphasis)

    I take this information together. I do not see the blanket-purchase-agreement as a flaw to privatization, I see it as the design to hide black-ops (and other funds funneling) off the books. The “not a bug but a feature” aspect of privitization. And if you follow the Cheney placed people in combo with the “blanket-purchases”, it reads like a design, not happenstance.

    These are breadcrumbs which lead somewhere and not by chance or accident.

    To know his daughter was at the State Department and Blackwater’s contract came through the state department, fits into the pattern I am pointing to.

    Blanket purchase agreements filled with many no-bid contracts allow for hiding all the “dirty” work and slip in sub contractors from anywhere. (And I cannot begin to imagine what goes on when a mole gets their hands on managing a blanket purchase agreement. Quite the bargain deal on espionage. One could redirect and potentially control a whole country with one blanket purchase agreement, especially as it relates to intel.)

    On that note. Cheney, himself, was not a bug but a feature.

  8. lysias says:

    Bush’s still-classified Memorandum of Notification of Sept. 17, 2001 to the CIA, which apparently authorized the CIA to undertake what it then proceeded to do in Afghanistan, might well have been interpreted by some (like Rumsfeld ordering people to take the gloves off with respect to John Walker Lindh in Dec. 2001) to authorize torture. The head of the CIA team that went into Afghanistan was told, prior to going, to bring back the head of bin Laden on dry ice so that he could present it to Bush in the White House.

    Maybe KSM and AZ were the only detainees used as sources for the 9/11 Commission Report who were waterboarded, but I wonder how many of the others were subjected to other forms of torture and coercion. Remember that it was the mere threat of torture by the Egyptians that induced Al Libi to falsely confess that Iraq had trained Al Qaeda in the use of chemical weapons.

  9. lysias says:

    Contracting through the Department of Interior also immunized the contractors from various legal constraints.

  10. Frank33 says:

    I emailed Zelikow yesterday to see if he would answer some more questions on this. He hasn’t responded and I haven’t had time to follow-up.

    This is a great post but Zelikow does not talk to the little people. He is too important. Zelikow is one of the most important and most secretive members of Darth’s 4th branch of government. He has been Condi’s puppetmaster from the beginning. He made certain that Bin Laden was protected from Tenet when Tenet on July 10, 2001 wanted to attack Bin Laden. Zelikow was a major Irak war planner. In 1998 Zelikow was preparing for a cataclysmic Pearl Harbor type event, to start a War.

    Then there is 9-11. Zelikow wrote

    “To date,the U.S.government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks. Ultimately the question is of little practical significance.”

    Especially since Saudi Arabia financed 9/11 through the Riggs Bank in Washington DC.

    But this EW scoop and Zelikow’s memo is so very interesting. Zelikow blames the CIA and threatens them with “18 U.S.C. section 1001,
    punishing the concealment of material facts in a matter within the
    jurisdiction of the United States government”. Of course almost everything in the 9-11 Report is false or misleading, plus the numerous concealment of facts.

    And who else shows up? The notorious AZ-Abu Zubaydah.

    reacting to press allegations that Abu Zubaydah had
    referred to a Saudi prince in his interrogations, the Commission asked “what information does the CIA have” about whether such assertions were made in Zubaydah’s interrogations.

    AZ was “referring” to Saudi collaboration with Bin Laden. But AZ was apparently given Sodium Pentothal and other drugs to help his referring.

    Zubaydah, writes Posner, said the Saudi connection ran through Prince Turki al-Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, the kingdom’s longtime intelligence chief. Zubaydah said bin Laden “personally” told him of a 1991 meeting at which Turki agreed to let bin Laden leave Saudi Arabia and to provide him with secret funds as long as al-Qaeda refrained from promoting jihad in the kingdom. The Pakistani contact, high – ranking air force officer Mushaf Ali Mir, entered the equation, Zubaydah said, at a 1996 meeting in Pakistan also attended by Zubaydah. Bin Laden struck a deal with Mir, then in the military but tied closely to Islamists in Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), to get protection, arms and supplies for al-Qaeda. Zubaydah told interrogators bin Laden said the arrangement was “blessed by the Saudis,” according to Posner.

    Zubaydah said he attended a third meeting in Kandahar in 1998 with Turki, senior ISI agents and Taliban officials. There Turki promised, writes Posner, that “more Saudi aid would flow to the Taliban, and the Saudis would never ask for bin Laden’s extradition, so long as al-Qaeda kept its long-standing promise to direct fundamentalism away from the kingdom.”

      • Frank33 says:

        I do not know about Posner, his Wiki does not say that. But I thought Zelikow was definitely a neo-con shill.

        • bmaz says:

          Zelikow strikes me as an odd duck; neither neo-con nor nor neo-con. And make no mistake The sudden Zelikow roadshow tour is self serving and agenda driven. But that said, I find him to be measured and pretty credible with his statements if you strive to use them in the greater context as Marcy is doing.

          • Frank33 says:

            Zelikow has been a “spook” probably his whole career. I recall another coverup of his was the issue of whether intelligence about Russia had been politicized for Cold War Hawks. Guess what Philip Z. decided? So in 2007 he, being a rat, tries to leave a sinking ship of neo-con horror. But I agree, get him talking and we will discover that Zelikow supported torture to conceal the Al CIAda-Pakistan-Saudi Arabia alliance.

  11. Maxcrat says:

    The original arrangement with DOD shifting its Fort Huachuca procurement specialists to the Department of the Interior was done late in the Clinton Administration, despite DOD insisting for years that they are inadquately staffed with procurement specialists. It would be interesting to know what other DOD services are run through this ostensibly Interior Department office and why it seemed like a good idea to set up this arrangement in the 90s.

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