Cofer Black Gets to Rebut Torture Report that Shouldn’t Include Him

Brennan with TortureIn a piece that gets at some of the points of leverage between the White House and CIA over torture, Mark Mazzetti describes George Tenet’s effort to “challenge” the torture report.

It suggests Brennan’s close ties to Tenet — Brennan was once Tenet’s Chief of Staff — led the CIA Director to reach out to Tenet to lead pushback. It describes how Brennan’s close ties to Obama Chief of Staff Denis McDonough from when he served as White House Counterterrorism Czar led McDonough to intervene when Dianne Feinstein tried to require any CIA review to take place in Senate Intelligence Committee space.

All that’s beside the real source of CIA’s power over the White House — the fact that torture operated as a Presidentially-authorized covert op for years, as has the drone program, which means CIA has the ability to implicate both George Bush personally (and Obama, in illegal drone strikes), as well as the Office of the President more generally.

My favorite detail, however, is that Cofer Black has also been involved in this pushback campaign.

Just after the Senate Intelligence Committee voted in April to declassify hundreds of pages of a withering report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program, C.I.A. Director John O. Brennan convened a meeting of the men who had played a role overseeing the program in its seven-year history.

The spies, past and present, faced each other around the long wooden conference table on the seventh floor of the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Northern Virginia: J. Cofer Black, head of the agency’s counterterrorism center at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks; the undercover officer who now holds that job; and a number of other former officials from the C.I.A.’s clandestine service. Over the speakerphone came the distinctive, Queens-accented voice of George J. Tenet.

Over the past several months, Mr. Tenet has quietly engineered a counterattack against the Senate committee’s voluminous report, which could become public next month. [my emphasis]

According to Ken Dilianian’s version of the same story, Black will not be allowed to preview the report — he’s probably among the dozen people who thought they could review it but recently learned they would not be able to.

About a dozen officials were called in recent days and told they could read the executive summary at a secure room at the Office of Director of National Intelligence, as long as they agreed not to discuss it, four former officials said.

Then, on Friday, CIA officials called them and told them that due to a miscommunication, only former CIA directors and deputy directors would be given that privilege. Former directors Michael Hayden, Porter Goss and George Tenet have been invited to read it, as have former acting directors John McLaughlin and Michael Morell.

Black’s involvement, of course, should be a story unto itself.

According to the CIA’s official version of torture, it got authorized under the September 17, 2001 Finding by language authorizing the capture and detention of top Al Qaeda officials. But they didn’t start considering torture until they picked up Abu Zubaydah at the end of March in 2002. They didn’t start torturing, the official story goes, until DOJ gave them the green light in August 1, 2002.

Why, then, would Black need to be involved in the torture pushback?

He left the Counterterrorism Director spot in May 2002, well before the torture started — at least according to the CIA version, but not the personal experience of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi and Binyam Mohamed, both of whom got tortured before Black’s departure. In his book Jose Rodriguez claims, falsely, the torture program started in June, and he led it. If this official CIA chronology is correct, Black should have had no role — and no personal interest — in the torture program.

And yet there he is with the other torturers, leading pushback.

Even in their pushback effort, then, the CIA proves that they’ve been lying for years.

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.

9 replies
  1. Jim White says:

    .
    One.
    .
    Just one.
    .
    We are still waiting for even one verifiable instance where these fuckers claim that torture disrupted a plot or saved a life.
    .
    And they can’t hide behind their favorite “sources and methods” dodge because the whole fucking discussion here centers on a fully described set of sources and methods which we already know in chapter and verse. We know it was torture. But where are the disrupted plots?
    .
    So come on guys. Give us just one example we can verify.

  2. Jeff Kaye says:

    The DoD program and the CIA program operated in tandem, so far as I can see. Cofer was likely involved in the solicitation of SERE, and former SERE-official Mitchell, no later than December 2001.

  3. Teddy says:

    Well, he headed up Blackwater’s torture op, didn’t he, after leaving the CIA? Doesn’t that give Cofer a stake in the findings of the report, perhaps a large one depending on “contractor” involvement in enhanced interrogation?

  4. pdaly says:

    I cannot find my copy of Richard Clarke’s 2004 book “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror—What Really Happened”, but I recall he wrote that Bush pulled him aside on 9/12/01 to ask for evidence of Saddam’s involvement in 9/11, and Clarke informed Bush there was no such connection. Clarke followed that up with report stating the same and signed by intelligence agencies including CIA and the FBI.

    Did Clarke deliver that signed report to Bush before 9/17/01?

    As the Chinese and Cheney certainly knew, torture forces confessions when confessions are necessary to support political agendas.

  5. pdaly says:

    Bob Woodward in “Plan of Attack” refers to a September 17, 2001 “Top Secret/Pearl order” signed by Pres. Bush “for new CIA and military operations against terrorists worldwide.” (p.26)
    .
    Are the Presidential M.O.N. of 9/17/01 and the ‘presidential order’ of 9/17/01 that Woodward refers to two separate signings? or the same thing?
    Is there also a Presidential Finding from this date or earlier date?

    • emptywheel says:

      They’re the same thing. It was technically a MON of Ronnie Reagan’s finding from (?) 1986, I think. And Cofer Black wrote it, which is probably why he’s involved. But still! It didn’t lay out the torture explicitly (it did, reportedly, lay out the drone killing explicitly).

  6. scribe says:

    Lemme get this straight.

    Tenet has been out of office what: 6, 8, 9 years? And he still rates a secure phone over which he can freely discuss the most sensitive secret of the United States government?

    Really?

    Or did they just have this convo from the corner payphone or over his cell?

    And how much you wanna bet there’s a hole in the prohibitions cabining the NSA for listening to convos like this one?

  7. prostratedragon says:

    Why, then, would Black need to be involved in the torture pushback?

    Altruism. Of course if that were the case caution would be necessary, lest undue curiousity be aroused in the minds of those inclined to reason as the authors of the paper have.

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