Senator Bob Graham Clarifies His Briefing

Bob Graham (who has a good op-ed in the WaPo today that I will try to return to) just clarified some of my questions regarding the briefing on torture he received on September 27, 2002.

I had called to ask whether his explanation that Stan Moskowitz, from the Office of Congressional Affairs, did the briefing, meant that no one from CIA’s CounterTerrorism Center was at the briefing. No, it doesn’t. Graham’s notes have a line next to Moskowitz’s name, which suggests other people were with Moskowitz. Normally, Graham explained, the briefer would be someone who had an operational connection to the subject being briefed, which would support the likelihood that CTC was at that briefing. (In addition, Jose Rodriguez, then head of CTC, was still covert at the time, so they may not have used his name if he attended the briefing, but that’s my speculation, not Graham’s.)

I asked whether Richard Shelby attended that briefing. Yes, he did. That’s significant because Shelby’s and Graham’s accounts are the only ones from members of Congress whose memory of the same briefing significantly differs.

Graham went on further to explain that he recollects the briefing covered the high value detainees captured by that date, and described what the intelligence community had gleaned from those detainees. His impression, he said, was that they had gathered that information using traditional techniques the military, FBI, and intelligence agencies had used in the past. I asked whether Ibn Sheikh al-Libi came up in the briefing, but he did not recall who was mentioned. 

I asked (mostly for Mary) whether the CIA made any mention of the trip that Administration officials had made to Gitmo to discuss torture techniques–it had occurred just two days earlier. Graham had no recollection of such a discussion. 

Finally, I asked whether Graham was making an explicit connection between his mention of the deceptive intelligence Congress was getting in the form of the NIE and other Iraq War intelligence. No, he was not making an explicit connection. Rather, in the face of those who have been suggesting it is unpatriotic to suggest that the CIA might not be fully committed to accuracy and full disclosure, Graham was reminding them that this was the same period when the Administration and CIA was ramping up the case for war. The NIE, in particular, establishes some standard of believability or not.

And we all know the NIE turned out to be horribly inaccurate.

16 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    Amazing what kind of information you can get if you ask the people involved.

    If only there were more reporters who would try that . . .

  2. dmvdc says:

    Can someone please, please, please, please, please ask the people involved (on the Congress side) whether it was their understanding that they were being briefed about a covert action program, or just an intelligence activity?

    We have a lot of assumptions floating around about what precisely its status was. I think we need to know what the perceptions of those in Congress was. If they thought it was just a briefing on intelligence activities generally, was it their understanding that they couldn’t share that information with colleagues? With the full intelligence committee? If they thought they were being briefed on a covert action, did any of them ask to see the Presidential finding?

    I know, these are dull process questions compared to the substantive questions of who was told what precisely about techniques and so forth. But the process questions are incredibly important as a legal matter, and I think they’d help clarify the framework within which these briefings were taking place and what Congress’ understanding was. I’m making the same plea over at Plum Line.

  3. Sara says:

    DMVDC @4 — could not agree more. As the law formally stands (and stood in 2002) when a President authorizes a covert action, by issuing a finding, he has a very limited time in which to notify members of the leadership in both houses, and members of the two intelligence committees. How many has differed by administration, but the Bush/Cheney administration cut this back to the eight, or the four and then imposed the no discussion with collegues rules — all of which are probably illegal should Congress ever want to push back a little.

    The role of the two intelligence committees in “oversight” is another issue entirely. They are not only the congressional piece of crisis management (in their notification of a finding role), but they have broad oversight responsibilities for the functioning of the whole intelligence community, particularly in their role in determining the overall budget for all the agencies that are part of the community.

    The problem of what critical information is shared with the committees is a long and sordid tale. Prior to the reforms in the wake of the Church Committee, very little information was shared. Essentially DOD briefed the Armed Services Committees (and the budget was largely buried in their appropriations), but State briefed the Foreign Affairs Committees, and Commerce briefed the Economic Committees. The Judiciary Committees assumed very limited interest in intelligence — pre Church it was just assumed that CIA and other such agencies “did what they had to do abroad” and their writ did not run in the US. We need to keep in mind the way these agencies define their mission — they are designated to steal secrets that are not readily available to US policy makers, and preferably steal them in such a way that the other sides don’t know they have been stolen. It was only post Church that legal boundaries were set on covert efforts at information stealing, or other aspects of covert programs such as assassination and dirty tricks. And, for the most part, it was post Church that the line between what was allowable overseas in missions was imported into the US — for instance in Casey’s off the shelf and off the books covert programs vis a vis Iran-Contra, as executed by Ollie North was imported into domestic governmental practice. In otherwords, where Church intended to draw bright lines — in fact it backfired, and the intent of Church was corrupted. Perhaps the worst corruption is the matter of informing congress in specific instances — which got interpreted in practice as to how to mis-inform congress, how to disempower Congress by providing them with misinformation, useless information, or how to slightly inform them, and then muzzle them.

    Pelosi is probably right — Congress needs to go back to the 1947 National Security Act and look at the legal basis by which these corruptions have been sustained and nurtured, and amend that Act so there is clarity about Congress’s role in both the crisis management and oversight aspects of the Intelligence Function. Statute Law is nearly always better than Executive Orders — and it is the proper response to the liberty Bush and Cheney took with the powers of the Executive. But at the same time Congress has a long way to go demonstrating that it knows how to use decent intelligence to inform policy, and not to see it fundamentally as a hammer with which to wack the Executive or the opposition party. Just imagine Michelle Bachmann on the House Intelligence Committee — a position she has apparently been “promised” (by whom it is not clear) should she win one more election.

  4. esseff44 says:

    Senator Graham makes a lot of good suggestions for overhauling the oversight responsibility for intelligence. However, he does not go far enough. What do members do if they suspect or have good reason to question the legality of activities they are breifed on? There needs to be something like a FISA court where they can go to and appeal or object or get a review. What good does it do to just be informed?

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