Jay Rockefeller

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A Guide to John Rizzo’s Lies, For Lazy Journalists

By my count, John Rizzo completes his first lie in his purported “memoir,” Company Man, at the 64th word:

55: Zubaydah

56: was

57: a

58: senior

59: figure

60: in

61: the

62: Al

63: Qaeda

64: hierarchy

Zubaydah complained in his diary (see page 84) before he was captured in 2002 that he was being called Osama bin Laden’s heir when he wasn’t even a member of al Qaeda. And in his Combatant Status Review Board hearing in 2007 (see page 27), Zubaydah described his interrogators admitting he wasn’t Al Qaeda’s number 3, not even a partner. And in a 2009 habeas document the government calls Zubaydah an Al Qaeda affiliate, not a member (see 35 to 36 and related requests).

And yet Rizzo tells this lie right in the first paragraph of his book.

Granted, I’m more sympathetic to this lie than many of Rizzo’s other lies. I understand why he must continue telling it.

Back in 2002, Rizzo told John Yoo that Abu Zubaydah was a top al Qaeda figure during the drafting of the August 1, 2002 Bybee Memo authorizing torture. And based on that information, Yoo wrote,

As we understand it, Zubaydah is one of the highest ranking members of the al Qaeda terrorist organization, with which the United States is currently engaged in an international armed conflict following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

[snip]

Our advice is based upon the following facts, which you have provided to us. We also understand that you do not have any facts in your possession contrary to the facts outlined here, and this opinion is limited to these facts. If these facts were to change, this advice would not necessarily apply.

[snip]

Zubaydah, though only 31, rose quickly from very low level mujahedin to third or fourth man in al Qaeda. He has served as Usama Bin Laden’s senior lieutenant.

If Rizzo were to admit that the representations he made to Yoo back in 2002 were false, then the legal sanction CIA got to conduct torture would crumble.

And unlike a lot of the lies CIA — and John Rizzo in particular — told DOJ during the life of the torture program, I’m not absolutely certain CIA knew this one to be a lie when they told it. CIA (and FBI) definitely believed Zubaydah was a high ranking al Qaeda figure when they caught him. In his CSRT, Zubaydah describes admitting he was al Qaeda’s number 3 under torture. Though it’s not clear whether that was the torture that took place before or after the memo authorizing that torture got written, raising the possibility that CIA presented lies Zubaydah told under torture to DOJ to get authorization for the torture they had already committed. But by the time of the memo, CIA had also had 4 months to to read Zubaydah’s diaries, which make such matters clear (and had it in their possession, so that by itself should invalidate the memo). So they should have and probably did know, but I think it marginally conceivable they did not.

Still, that doesn’t excuse journalists who have these facts available to them yet treat Rizzo as an honest interlocutor, as James Rosen is only the latest in a long line of journalists to do.

So as a service to those journalists who aren’t doing the basic work they need to do on this story, I thought I’d make a list of the documented lies Rizzo tells just in the first 10 pages of his “memoir.” These don’t include items that may be errors or lies. These don’t include everything that I have strong reason to believe is a lie or that we know to be lies but don’t yet have official documentation to prove it. They include only the lies that are disproven by CIA and other official documents that have been in the public domain for years.

These lies, like Rizzo’s lie about Abu Zubaydah’s role in 9/11, also serve important purposes in the false narrative the torturers have told.

I’ve gone through this exercise (I’m contemplating a much longer analysis of all the lies Rizzo told, but it makes me nauseous thinking about it) to point out that any journalist who treats him as an honest interlocutor, accepting his answers — he made some of the same claims to Rosen as he made here — as credible without real challenge is just acting as a CIA propagandist.

Don’t take my word for it — take the CIA’s word, as many of Rizzo’s claims are disproven by CIA’s own documents!

Update, April 21: Ben Wittes, in his review of this tract: “Rizzo is just being honest.” To be fair, Wittes appears to have meant it to describe Rizzo’s unvarying viewpoint, always serving his loyalty to the CIA. But in a review that doesn’t mention Rizzo’s serial lies, it’s embarrassing.


(1) Abu Zubaydah was not CIA’s first significant “catch.” Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was, though the CIA outsourced his torture to the Egyptians.

(3) Correspondence describes tapes of Abu Zubaydah’s torture in April 2002, not July 2002, as Rizzo claims. (see PDF 1)

(3-4) Obviously, CIA had another option besides torture: to let the FBI continue interrogating Zubaydah. Even if you don’t believe FBI had the success they claim to have had, they were an alternative that Rizzo makes no mention of.

(4) The first torture memo was not the August 1, 2002 one. Yoo wrote a shorter fax on July 13, 2002, which (according to the OPR Report) is actually the memo CTC’s lawyers relied on for their guidance to the torturers.

(5) Jose Rodriguez did not decide to destroy the tapes in October; he decided on September 5, the day after first briefing Nancy Pelosi on torture (without having told her they had already engaged in it).

(5) CIA did not follow the guidelines laid out in the Bybee memo for waterboarding, as CIA’s IG determined in 2004, and at least by the time the CIA IG reviewed the tapes, there was a great deal censored via damage, turning off the camera, or taping over of the content.(see PDF 42 and this post)

(6) The Gang of Eight was not briefed in 2002; only the Gang of Four (the Intelligence Committee heads) was. According to CIA’s own records, only one Congressional leader got a timely briefing, Bill Frist in 2004 (though Pelosi was briefed as HPSCI Ranking Member in 2002).

(8) John McPherson did not review the tapes after Christmas, 2002; he reviewed them about a month earlier. (see this post and linked underlying documents)

(8) Jay Rockefeller was not briefed in January 2003; only a staffer of his was. See this post for all the lies they told Pat Roberts in that briefing.

(9) While John Helgerson did not write about techniques that had not been authorized, he did describe that the waterboard as performed did not follow the guidelines given by DOJ. (see PDF 42) Rizzo also doesn’t note Helgerson’s observations about the tampering done to the tapes, which may have hidden unauthorized techniques.

(10) It is false that the 9/11 Commission Report relied heavily on Abu Zubaydah’s interrogations. They are cited just 10 times, and at least one of those was not corroborated.

CIA’s Own Records of CIA’s Lies to Congress

Monday, WaPo made big news for reporting what Ron Wyden made clear 14 months ago: a key conclusion of the Senate Torture report is that CIA lied to Congress (and DOJ and the White House).

But much of this has been clear for even longer, having been exposed in some form in 2009-10.

Yet much of that got lost in CIA’s aggressive attack on Congress — one that anticipated what we’ve seen and will surely continue to see with the release of the Torture Report.  At the time, CIA attempted to claim Congress had been fully briefed on torture, and therefore shouldn’t criticize the agency. Yet it gradually became clear how laughable CIA’s claims were. Along the way details of the lies CIA told in briefings came out.

The lies CIA told Congress in its first several years of the torture program include that it,

  • Refused, at first, to reveal that the CIA relied on the September 17, 2001 Finding and therefore hid that the President had personally authorized the torture.
  • Briefed on torture techniques that had happened months in the past, but claimed they had never yet been used.
  • Falsely claimed CIA had not tortured before the August 1 memos purportedly authorizing it.
  • Claimed Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were not yet compliant as late as February 2003, even though they had been found compliant, after which CIA continued to use torture anyway.
  • Claimed the torture tapes were a perfect match with what had been recorded in the torture log when a CIA OGC lawyer reviewed them in December 2002.
  • Did not disclose the tapes had already been altered by the time CIA OGC reviewed them.
  • Claimed the torture tapes had shown the torturers followed DOJ’s guidance when in fact they showed the torturers exceeded DOJ guidance.
  • Misled regarding whether the detainees who had been killed had been tortured.
  • Oversold the value of information provided by Abu Zubaydah.
  • Lied about importance of torture in getting Abu Zubaydah to talk.

There are a number of claims CIA made that are almost certainly also false — most notably with regards to what intelligence came from torture — but most of that didn’t get recorded in the CIA’s records. I fully expect we’ll find details of those in the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

September 17, 2001: Bush signs “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification that authorizes capture and detention of top al Qaeda leaders, but leaves CIA to decide the details of that detention

Before I focus on the briefings, some background is in order.

Torture started as a covert operation authorized by the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification. Under the National Security Act, the Intelligence Committees had to be briefed on that Finding and they were. However, the Finding was structured such that it laid out general ideas — in this case, the capture and detention of senior al Qaeda figures — and left the implementation up to CIA. As a result, key members of Congress (notably, Jane Harman, who was Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee for much of the period during which the program operated) apparently had no idea that the Finding they had been briefed on in timely fashion actually served as the Presidential authorization for torture until years later. Also, since that September 17, 2001 Finding authorized both torture and the outsourcing of nasty jobs to foreign intelligence partners, the earliest torture, such as that of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in Egyptian custody starting in February 2002 and Binyam Mohamed in Pakistani custody starting in April 2002, should be considered part of the same covert op.

April to July 2002: CIA tortures Abu Zubaydah based solely on Presidential authorization

By now there is no dispute: the CIA started torturing Abu Zubaydah well before the August 1, 2002 memo that purportedly prospectively authorized that treatment. CIA even exceeded early verbal guidance on things like sleep deprivation, after which CIA unilaterally authorized what CIA had done retrospectively. The CIA appears to have gotten in real trouble when they moved to conduct mock burial with Abu Zubaydah, to which Ali Soufan objected; his objections appear to be the reason why mock burial (and by extension, mock execution) was the only technique John Yoo ultimately rejected. On July 13, after Michael Chertoff refused to give advance declination of prosecution to CIA for things they were ostensibly talking about prospectively but which had in fact already occurred, Yoo wrote a short memo, almost certainly coached by David Addington but not overseen by Yoo’s boss Jay Bybee, that actually served as the authorization CIA’s CTC would rely on for Abu Zubaydah’s torture, not the August 1 memos everyone talks about. As a result, CIA could point to a document that did not include limits on specific techniques and the precise implementation of those techniques as their authorization to torture.

CIA had, in internal documents, once claimed to have briefed the Gang of Four (then Porter Goss, Nancy Pelosi, Richard Shelby, and Bob Graham) in April 2002. But after being challenged, they agreed they did not conduct those briefings. This, then, created a problem, as CIA had not really briefed Congress — not even the Gang of Four — about this “covert op.”

Septmber 4, 2002: CIA provides initial trial balloon briefing to Pelosi and Goss, then starts destroying evidence

On September 4, 2002, 7 months after Egypt started torturing Ibn Sheikh al-Libi at America’s behest, almost 5 months after CIA started torturing Abu Zubaydah, and over a month after the OLC memo that purportedly started a month of torture for Abu Zubaydah, Jose Rodriguez, a CTC lawyer, and Office of Congressional Affairs head Stan Moskowitz first briefed Congress on torture techniques.

The record supports a claim that CIA provided some kind of description of torture to Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss. It supports a claim that neither objected to the techniques briefed. Both Pelosi and Goss refer to this briefing, however, as a prospective briefing. Goss referred to the torture techniques as “techniques [that] were to actually be employed,” not that had already been employed, and when asked he did not claim they had been briefed on techniques that had been used. Pelosi claimed,

I was informed then that Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed.

Those conducting the briefing promised to inform the appropriate Members of Congress if that technique were to be used in the future.

Thus, at least as far as Goss and Pelosi are concerned, over a month after they first waterboarded Abu Zubaydah (and many more after Egypt had waterboarded al-Libi for us), CIA implied they had not yet done so with any detainee.

As striking as the evidence that CIA only briefed prospectively on torture that had been used for as many as 7 months, however, is what happened next. CIA moved to destroy evidence.

The day after that initial briefing in which CIA told Congress it might torture in the future, it “determined that the best alternative to eliminate those security and additional risks is to destroy these tapes.” Then, the following day, CTC altered its own notes on the substance of the briefing, taking out a sentence (it’s not clear what that sentence said). CIA’s Office of Congressional Affairs never finalized a description for this, and at one time even listed Jane Harman as the attendee rather than Pelosi. In fact, in a list of the briefings on torture compiled in July 2004, it did not treat this briefing as one covering torture at all.

In addition, for some reason a briefing for Bob Graham and Richard Shelby  initially scheduled for September 9 got rescheduled for the end of the month, September 27. According to available records, Jose Rodriguez did not attend. According to Bob Graham’s notoriously meticulous notes, the briefing was not conducted in a SCIF, but instead in Hart Office Building, meaning highly classified information could not have been discussed. Graham says it chiefly described the intelligence the CIA claimed to have gotten from their interrogation program. Graham insists waterboarding did not come up, but Shelby, working off memory, disputes that claim.

February 4 and 5, 2002: CIA gets Republican approval to destroy the torture tapes, kills SSCI’s nascent investigation, and refuses to explain torture’s Presidential authorization

By November 2002, Bob Graham had started to hear vague rumors about the torture program. He did not, he says, receive notice that CIA froze Gul Rahman to death after dousing him with water or even hear about it specifically. But because of those rumors, Graham moved to exercise more oversight over the torture program, asking to have another staffer read into the program, and asking that a staffer see a Black Site and observe interrogation. That effort was thwarted in the first full briefing CIA gave Congress on torture on February 4, 2002, when CIA told Pat Roberts (who had assumed Senate Intelligence Chair; newly Ranking Member Jay Rockefeller was not present at this briefing, though a staffer was) they would not meet Graham’s requests. CIA claims — but Roberts disputes — that he said he could think of “ten reasons right off why it is a terrible idea” to exercise such oversight.

In addition to getting Roberts to quash that nascent assessment, CIA gave Roberts the following false information:

  • CIA described Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri “as founts of useful information” about “on-going terrorist operations, information that might well have saved American lives.” While Abu Zubaydah provided some useful information, the “ongoing operations” were often invented. Moreover, of all the information Abu Zubaydah gave up under torture, just 10 bits of it were deemed important enough to appear in the 9/11 Report.
  • CIA told Roberts about the “difficulty of getting that information from [Nashiri and Zubaydah], and the importance of enhanced techniques in getting that information.” Public records show CIA repeatedly attributed to Abu Zubaydah either things FBI had elicited without torture or things CIA learned via other means.
  • CIA claimed Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were not yet compliant. “[T]hey have not, even under enhanced techniques, revealed everything they know of importance.” Subsequent reports made clear that in both cases, they were fully compliant but people within CIA demanded more torture believing they were withholding information.
  • To get Roberts to buy off on the destruction of the torture tapes, CIA told Roberts “the match” between what appeared in the torture tapes and what got recorded in CIA logs “was perfect” and that the CIA OGC lawyer who had reviewed the tapes “was satisfied that the interrogations were carried out in full accordance with the guidance.” While it is in fact true that CIA OGC claimed the tapes were an exact match, in fact the tapes had already been significantly altered (and the taping system had been shut down for some torture sessions), and the tapes showed that the torturers had not followed DOJ’s guidelines on torture. CIA also appears to have neglected to tell Roberts that 2 of the tapes showed interrogations involved Nashiri.

The Memorandum of Understanding of this briefing appears to be one of only two that got finalized (it actually included a reference that Goss and Harman had been briefed on the torture tape, but not that Harman warned against destroying it).

The February 5, 2003 briefing involving Porter Goss and Jane Harman is just as interesting, though CIA has refused to release their notes from it.

Five days after the briefing, Harman wrote a letter questioning whether torture had been reviewed from a policy perspective and advising against destroying Abu Zubaydah’s torture tape. In addition, she asked if the President had signed off, revealing that she didn’t know that the Finding she had been briefed on included torture. The CIA and the White House met to decide how to respond. In the end, CIA General Counsel Scott Muller’s response didn’t really answer any of Harman’s questions, nor note her warning against destroying the torture tape.

Also note: in the month before these briefings, the CIA prepared what appears to be a tear-line document on Abu Zubaydah. While it’s not certain the document was prepared to brief the Gang of Four, it matches what we know to have been said to Roberts, especially as regards to the torture tapes. But it also reveals real discrepancies between the tear-line (Secret) claims and the Top Secret claims it was based on, notably inflating the value of Abu Zubaydah’s intelligence below the tear-line.

September 4, 2003: An innocuous briefing left off some of the tracking

We don’t really know what happened in the September 4, 2003 briefings of both Goss and Harman and Roberts and Rockfeller, which is a shame because it would have covered Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s treatment (and that of Ammar al-Baluchi, whom we now know may have been treated even worse than his uncle). In fact, it was left off lists of “sensitive” briefings at different times.

July 2004: CIA has to tell Congress even CIA(‘s IG) thinks they lied

On May 7, 2004, CIA’s IG John Helgerson completed his report finding that the torture had exceeded guidelines and questioning the value of the intelligence obtained using it. On June 23, the Roberts and Rockefeller got copies (it’s not clear whether Goss and Harman got advance copies). On July 13, 2004, CIA briefed Goss and Harman again.

The briefing did include some details from CIA IG John Helgerson’s report on the program — that it violated the Convention Against Torture and did not comply with the OLC memos. He also explained that both Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s waterboarding was problematic, the first in execution and the second in number.

As part of that briefing (or by reading the IG Report), Harman learned that the Finding authorized this torture; in the briefing she pointed out the Finding had only authorized detention and capture, not interrogation.

But CIA persisted in a narrow dodge and two false claims:

  • CIA claimed that none of the at least 3 or 4 detainees who had died in CIA custody by that point were in the interrogation program; by that, it meant only that they weren’t part of the RDI program, but CIA did in fact torture them before they died.
  • CIA claimed we had not used any torture before the OLC memos, which is only true if you ignore that al-Libi and Mohamed’s torture was carried out by proxies.
  • CIA claimed it did not start torturing Abu Zubaydah until August 1; in reality, they had started torturing him earlier.

There are few details on the briefing CIA gave Roberts and Rockefeller on July 15.

These are just the details of the lies CIA itself has documented and released CIA telling Congress. There are other allegations of CIA lies in briefings, though those records were not released under FOIA. And things started getting really funky in 2005, as Dick Cheney started participating in CIA briefings to try to defeat the Detainee Treatment Act. In addition, CIA briefed Pete Hoekstra (who had become the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee) on the morning they destroyed the torture tapes; the content of that briefing has never been revealed.

None of this excuses Congress, of course: the knew enough to know this was problematic.

But it is clear that CIA lied to them both to boost the value of the torture they were doing and to diminish the problems and abuses.

The “McCain Committee” Would Be Full of NSA Defenders

Imagine a McCain Committee as the inheritor of the tradition of Frank Church and Otis Pike.

(Yes, I did that to make bmaz’ head explode.)

That seems to be what John McCain intends with his resolution calling for a Committee to Investigate the Dragnet. (h/t Steven Aftergood)

Only, McCain proposes to investigate not just whether NSA has engaged in things it was not authorized to do. But also to investigate Snowden’s leaks themselves and the potential role of contractors in making leaks more likely.

All that said, I might be excited about McCain’s proposal to review the dragnet, as described:

(3) The nature and scope of National Security Agency intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities, including intelligence-collection programs affecting Americans, that were the subject matter of the unauthorized disclosure, including–

(A) the extent of domestic surveillance authorized by law;

(B) the legal authority that served as the basis for the National Security Agency intelligence-collection programs, operations, and activities that are the subject matter of those disclosures;

(C) the extent to which such programs, operations, and activities that were the subject matter of such unauthorized disclosures may have gone beyond what was authorized by law or permitted under the Constitution of the United States;

(D) the extent and sufficiency of oversight of such programs, operations, and activities by Congress and the Executive Branch; and

(E) the need for greater transparency and more effective congressional oversight of intelligence community activities.

There’s just one problem with McCain’s proposal.

Here’s the list of the people who would be on the Committee (he provides titles, I’m providing names):

  • Diane Feinstein
  • Saxby Chambliss
  • Carl Levin
  • Jim Inhofe
  • Tom Carper
  • Tom Coburn
  • Robert Menendez
  • Bob Corker
  • Pat Leahy
  • Chuck Grassley
  • Jello Jay Rockefeller
  • John Thune
  • A Harry Reid pick
  • A Mitch McConnell pick

There are a number of very big NSA defenders on this list — in addition to DiFi and Saxby, both Jello Jay and Coburn are Intel Committee members who have never questioned the dragnet (indeed, Coburn has called for getting rid of the controls on the phone dragnet!). Chuck Grassley, too, has generally been supportive of the dragnet in SJC hearings on the subject. Most of the rest are simply not the caliber of people who might critically assess the dragnet much less show real interest in Americans’ privacy. Only Carl Levin and Pat Leahy, alone among the 12 named members, have been explicitly skeptical of the dragnet at all.

McCain proposes a Select Committee to investigate the dragnet. And he proposes to fill it with people who are really happy with the dragnet as it currently exists.

Update: Just to give a sense of how terrible this make-up for a Select Committee is, compare it with the bipartisan list of 26 Senators who asked James Clapper for more information on other uses of Section 215 last June. Just one Senator from that list — Pat Leahy — would be on McCain’s committee.

Update: Haha! Via Matt Sledge, DiFi shot McCain’s idea down pretty quickly.

I Hate to Say I Told You So, John Brennan Covering Up Torture Report Edition

Man, have the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee — particularly Dianne Feinstein and Jay Rockefeller — been pawned. One of their key issues during John Brennan’s confirmation was the declassification of the 6,000 page torture report.

Based on both Saxby Chambliss’ representation of comments Brennan made in their private meeting and on the delayed CIA response about the report, I predicted Brennan would be stating publicly what he stated privately (not having read most of the report yet) to Saxby.

During John Brennan’s confirmation process, he answered questions about the Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture with two faces. To Saxby Chambliss in private, he said he thought the report was a prosecutorial document, set up to come to pre-ordained conclusions. Publicly, to Democrats, he said he was shocked–shocked!–by what he had read in the Executive Summary of the report.

It was quite clear that Brennan was playing the lawmakers who would get to vote on his confirmation, but they didn’t delay his confirmation to resolve the report declassification.

When Brennan’s confirmation got delayed by demands to exercise oversight, the CIA delayed its response — originally due February 15 — on the contents of the report. Indefinitely.

All of this, of course, sets up Brennan to refuse to declassify the report because he believes (and, importantly, believed from the start, according to Saxby Chambliss) that the people who have now rushed his confirmation through were acting in an unfairly prosecutorial mode when they spent 5 years documenting what CIA did in its torture program.

Here’s what Brennan said to Jan Schakowsky yesterday when she asked about the report.

SCHAKOWSKY: Let me ask you also, Mr. Brennan, as you know, the Senate Intelligence Committee report on former CIA detention and interrogation practices is under review with the — within the administration and the agency. Comments were originally due back to the committee on February 15, though the reply has now been delayed indefinitely.

On March 7 in the New York Times, former CIA Senior Analyst, Emile Nakhleh said that if any person can take this on, it would be you, Director Brennan. It’s you and that, quote, “the institution would benefit from the eventual — eventual declassification and release of the study.”

What is the current status of the review of the report and can you please just, if you could, discuss the importance as a leader of the — the leader of the CIA of its release?

BRENNAN: Well, clearly, it’s — it’s an important report that was issued by the — the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. I have as — as recently as earlier this [week] spoken with both the chairman and the vice chairman of the — the committee telling them that I am in the process of the reviewing of the — the document and will be getting back to them shortly. This is a 6,000 page document that has, you know, millions of pages behind it in terms of what was reviewed.

And so it’s my obligation as the Director of CIA to make sure that my response back to them is going to be thorough and as accurate as possible and will convey my views about what that report portrays about CIA’s past practices, what we have learned from that experience running the program as well as from that report and also to identify things that I might think that the — the committee may have — the committee’s report might not accurately represent. [my emphasis]

Schakowsky asked about the import of releasing the report, and Brennan instead responded by talking about using the report as a lessons learned document and also objecting to some of the things found in it.

But it sure looks like, unless someone starts pulling teeth, CIA will be “learning from this experience as well as from the report” in private, because Brennan pointedly didn’t respond to Schakowsky’s question about releasing the document publicly.

Ah, But Are You Like George W. Bush?

I’ve been in an car dealer service waiting room all morning, so I’m late to the story about Barack Obama telling Jello Jay Rockefeller he’s not as bad as Dick Cheney.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) confronted the president over the administration’s refusal for two years to show congressional intelligence committees Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memos justifying the use of lethal force against American terror suspects abroad.

[snip]

In response to Rockefeller’s critique, Obama said he’s not involved in drafting such memos, the senators told POLITICO. He also tried to assure his former colleagues that his administration is more open to oversight than that of President George W. Bush, whom many Democratic senators attacked for secrecy and for expanding executive power in the national security realm.

“This is not Dick Cheney we’re talking about here,” he said, according to Democratic senators who asked not to be named discussing the private meeting.

Aside from the fact that — as I’ve pointed out — Obama is actually worse than the last year of the Bush Administration, when Acting OLC head Steven Bradbury was sharing OLC memos with Congress, I’m struck that Obama seems to forget he is the President, not the Vice President.

The comparison still is inapt. George Bush didn’t write any Executive Orders pretending to be transparent and his classification Executive Order effective empowered Dick Cheney to classify and instadeclassify at will (an authority that John Brennan seemed to use while he was in the White House).

But like Bush, Obama has people working for him who are as allergic to oversight as Dick Cheney. I pointed out yesterday, for example, that Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, thinks he shouldn’t even answer questions in open session and tried to stop publishing the number of people with security clearances.

Under Bush, DOD hid pictures of coffins; under Obama DOD just started hiding numbers of drone strikes.

Cheney went to the mat to hide who he had met with on his Energy Task Force. Obama’s National Security Council went to the mat to hide any mention that the President had authorized the torture program — and they hid it, they explained, because they were still using that very same authorization (though to do thinks like engage in targeted killings).

Obama seems to be hiding behind his own stated good intention (even while he admitted to Democratic Senators he would feel the way they do now if he were still in the Senate) just like Bush hid by his stated good intention that no one would leak the name of a CIA officer. Both, meanwhile, were either ignoring or pretending to ignore the sheer paranoia about secrecy of the men that work for them.

DiFi and the Silly Season of Senate Committee Music Chairs

A little over an hour ago, there was some rather notable news tweeted out by CNN:

Intel cte’s @SenFeinstein will give up the chair and move to Judiciary, source tells @CapitolHillCNN. @SenatorReid to announce today

I have talked to both sources at both the Senate Judiciary Committee and Personnel offices and have yet to hear a denial. This is, then, significant news as to a complete reshuffling of key Majority Senate Leadership assuming it continues to bear out.

First off, a tenured Senator like Feinstein does not leave a high value Committee Chairmanship without another, or something higher, on the offer. CNN said she it is to “move to Judiciary”. But DiFi has long been a member of the SJC, that can only portend she will then become Chairman of Judiciary.

Ryan Grim at Huffington Post has also picked up this shuffle, and beat me to the punch by a few minutes:

If Feinstein does take over leadership of the Judiciary Committee, that could ease the passage in the Senate of a renewed assault weapons ban, which was passed under President Bill Clinton in 1994 but expired in 2004. The shooting rampage on Friday in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children and six adults were murdered by a gunman with a military-style assault weapon and high-capacity magazines, has renewed calls for stricter gun control legislation.

On Tuesday, speaking in the Capitol before the party’s weekly caucus lunch, Feinstein told reporters who had asked her whether she will jump to Judiciary, “Keep tuned. I think it is [going to become open], and I think it’ll happen.”

On Monday, Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) who was the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, passed away at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Now that Inouye’s post is empty, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is rumored to be looking at taking over Appropriations — in turn opening up the leadership slot at Judiciary. Feinstein could then move from her current spot as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee to chair Judiciary.

That is good, fast reporting and coincides with what I can discern. And Appropriations Chair is a long time traditional home for the Senate Pro-Tem, which Pat Leahy became with yesterday’s passing of Inouye.

So, what about SSCI? Next in line would, by seniority, be Jay Rockefeller. But, as Mother Jones’ Nick Baumann pointed out, Rockefeller gave up leadership at Intel nearly three years ago to take over the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee helm, and there is no reason to think he would double back. That gave a brief glimmer of hope that Ron Wyden might get the nod at SSCI, but HuffPo’s Grim, in a tweet, thinks he is more likely to take over the helm of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the outgoing Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, who did not seek reelection. That would mean the next senior Democrat on SSCI as Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

Now, if I were Wyden, I would want the SSCI job over Energy. It is likely most progressives would like him there as well, which is why the smart money likely says Reid talks him into the Energy Chair.

So, we are into the Congressional equivalent of Formula One silly season; i.e. the end of the year shuffling of drivers before the season is really over. The one real wildcard here is Wyden.

The Only Independent Reviewer of Targeting and Minimization Refuses to Review It

On May 4, Senate Intelligence Committee members Ron Wyden and Mark Udall asked the Intelligence Community Inspector General to determine whether it was feasible to determine how many US persons have been spied on under the FISA Amendments Act.

The Temporally Perfect Fuck You

On May 22, the Committee marked up the renewal of the Act. During consideration of the bill, the Committee rejected Wyden and Udall’s efforts to require the IGs quantify such numbers based on their pending request to the IGs.

During the Committee’s consideration of this legislation, several Senators expressed a desire to quantify the extent of incidental collection under Section 702. I share this desire. However, the Committee has been repeatedly advised by the ODNI that due to the nature of the collection and the limits of the technology involved, it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed under Section 702 authority. Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have requested a review by the Inspector General of the NSA and the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community to determine whether it is feasible to estimate this number. The Inspectors General are conducting that review now, thus making an amendment on this subject unnecessary. SSCI report on the bill reminds that the IC IGs are authorized–but not required too–conduct reviews of Section 702.

Note, elsewhere the bill report includes these authorized but not mandatory reviews as part of the “robust oversight” of this spying program.

In addition, the Inspectors General of the Department of Justice and certain elements of the Intelligence Community are authorized to review the implementation of Section 702 and must provide copies of any such reviews to the Attorney General, DNI, and congressional committees of jurisdiction.

Yet in rejecting the motion to actually mandate a review, Dianne Feinstein’s report emphasizes that this authority is optional.

Also while marking up the bill, Wyden and Udall attempted to direct the Committee’s Technical Advisory Group to review what was really going on with the FAA. That motion was ruled out of order (Kent Conrad joined Wyden and Udall on this one vote–otherwise the committee voted against all their efforts for greater oversight).

We also proposed directing the committee’s Technical Advisory Group to study FISA Amendments Act collection and provide recommendations for improvements. We were disappointed that our motion to request that the Technical Advisory Group study this issue was ruled by our colleagues to be out of order.

As a result, the bill was voted out of committee on May 22 without any requirement that the intelligence community report on how many US persons it is spying on with FAA.

On June 15, the IC IGs finally got back to Wyden and Udall. (h/t Wired) Note the dates cited in the response.

On 21 May 2012, I informed you that the NSA Inspector General, George Ellard, would be taking the lead on the requested feasibility assessment, as his office could provide an expedited response to this important inquiry.

The NSA IG provided a classified response on 6 June 2012. I defer to his conclusion that obtaining such an estimate was beyond the capacity of his office and dedicating sufficient additional resources would likely impede the NSA’s mission. He further stated that his office and NSA leadership agreed that an IG review of the sort suggested would itself violate the privacy of U.S. persons.

As I stated in my confirmation hearing and as we have specifically discussed, I firmly believe that oversight of intelligence collection is a proper function of an Inspector General. I will continue to work with you and the Committee to identify ways that we can enhance our ability to conduct effective oversight. [my emphasis]

So IC IG Charles McCullough waited 17 days to even tell Wyden what he was going to do with the request, at which point–the eve of the bill markup–he told Wyden that Ellard would prospectively conduct the inquiry. So when the Committee decided not to mandate an IG review based on the “pending” review, it had not started yet. Continue reading

Philip Zelikow Saves Condi Rice’s Hiney (Again)

Back in April 2009, former State Department Counselor and all-around Condi Rice fixer Philip Zelikow revealed that “in 2005,” he had written a dissent to Steven Bradbury’s 2005 Memo finding the torture program complied with the Convention against Torture, but that most copies of it had been destroyed by the Administration.

At the time, in 2005, I circulated an opposing view of the legal reasoning. My bureaucratic position, as counselor to the secretary of state, didn’t entitle me to offer a legal opinion. But I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that:  The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department’s archives.

It turns out that David Addington didn’t succeed in destroying all the copies. The National Security Archive just liberated a copy.

Now, the memo (which was actually dated February 15, 2006) reveals Zelikow’s very sane legal argument that our torture program had to comply with the 8th Amendment. But it also reveals some subtleties about the bureaucratic maneuvering around torture. Notably, that Zelikow was trying to save Condi Rice’s arse again.

To understand why, go back to this post (see also this post), explaining what Bradbury was trying to do with his 2005 CAT Memo: respond to explicit concerns raised by Congress (probably Jay Rockefeller) about whether our torture program complied with the CAT. It shows how (as documented in the narrative on the process that Rockefeller released), the Senate Intelligence Committee had forced the Bush Administration to agree to consider whether our torture program violated CAT. The Administration agreed to do so only after the National Security Council–then chaired by Condi Rice–agreed.

According to CIA records, subsequent to the meeting with the Committee Chairman and Vice Chairman in July 2004, the CIA met with the NSC Principals to discuss the CIA’s program. At the conclusion of that meeting, it was agreed that the CIA would formally request that OLC prepare a written opinion addressing whether the CIA’s proposed interrogation techniques would violate substantive constitutional standards, including those of the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments regardless of whether or not those standards were deemed applicable to aliens detained abroad.

DOJ stalled for 10 months. Daniel Levin, as acting head of OLC, approved more individual torture techniques. Levin wrote an unclassified memo ignoring CAT. Congress continued to pressure. The Administration laterally transferred Levin because he wasn’t writing the memos they wanted, authorizing combined techniques and waterboarding and, somehow, finding that torture program complied with CAT. Bradbury got the job to write those memos. And then, finally, 10 months after SSCI demanded that DOJ consider CAT, Bradbury wrote his memo finding that the torture program did not violate CAT’s prohibition against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.

I lay out in the post the specious tricks Bradbury pulled to make that claim, and scribe laid out the legal reasons the arguments were so specious. But in specific regard to SSCI’s demand that OLC review whether the program complied with the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment, Bradbury punted by saying it didn’t have to, and certainly didn’t have to comply with the Eighth.

Based on CIA assurances, we understand that the interrogations do not take place in any … areas over which the United States exercises at least de facto authority as the government. … We therefore conclude that Article 16 is inapplicable to the CIA’s interrogation practices and that those practices thus cannot violate Article 16.

[snip]

Because the high value detainees on whom the CIA might use enhanced interrogation techniques have not been convicted of any crime, the substantive requirements of the Eighth Amendment would not be relevant here, even if we assume that Article 16 has application to the CIA’s interrogation program.

After reading drafts of such bullshit, Jim Comey tried to convince Bradbury to fix it–to no avail.

Of note, however, here’s what then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Condi–who had become Secretary of State in the interim–had to say about the importance of complying with our treaty obligations.

The AG began by saying that Dr. Rice was not interested in discussing details and that her attitude was that if DOJ said it was legal and CIA said it was effective, then that ended it, without a need for detailed policy discussion.

And so, with the Secretary of State dismissing treaty obligations by saying “that ended it,” torture got approved for use by the Executive Branch again.

Zelikow’s memo admits that State didn’t object to Bradbury’s memo.

The State Department agreed with the Justice Department May 2005 conclusion that [Article 16] did not apply to CIA interrogations in foreign countries.

Now, Zelikow claims that passage of the McCain amendment–which was signed on December 30, 2005–is what changed the State Department’s interpretation. Continue reading

“The Patriot Act, which the president signed into law on October 2001″

I only noticed two things that might generously be considered typos (as opposed to outright falsehoods or lies of omission) in Dick Cheney’s entire infernal tome. There’s this reference to an October 10, 2002 speech from Jello Jay Rockefeller in support of the Iraq war:

One of the most eloquent statements of the necessity of removing Saddam came from Senator Jay Rockefeller, the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. (393)

On October 10, 2002, of course, Jello Jay was not yet Ranking Member of SSCI. Rather, Bob Graham was Chair. On October 10, 2002, Graham was saying the following about the war:

With sadness, I predict we will live to regret this day, Oct. 10, 2002, the day we stood by and we allowed these terrorist organizations to continue growing in the shadows.

[snip]

This timid resolution, I fear, will only increase the chance of Americans being killed, and that is not a burden of probability that I am prepared to take. Therefore I will vote no.

Yeah, Cheney’s misattribution probably wasn’t a typo, but instead a cynical attempt to pretend that the Democrat who had reviewed the intelligence behind the war most closely had backed the war, rather than correctly predicted it would heighten the threat of terrorism.

But I don’t think the grammatical error in the following passage, describing the relationship between Cheney’s illegal wiretap program and the PATRIOT Act (which turns 10 today), is really a typo either.

One of the first efforts we undertook after 9/11 to strengthen the country’s defenses was securing passage of the Patriot Act, which the president signed into law on October 2001.

Thus begins the passage in which Cheney describes the genesis of his illegal wiretap program. Of course, the passage should either say, “which the president signed into law on October 26, 2001,” or “which the president signed into law in October 2001.”
A minor point, but one that might suggest Cheney once had the date in there and then took it out.

You see, including the actual date would have really disrupted Cheney’s narrative, which suggests Congress passed the PATRIOT Act and only then did he begin thinking about how to use NSA to fight terrorism, which (implicitly) is why he didn’t include the illegal program in PATRIOT. After a description of how PATRIOT broke down the wall between intelligence and law enforcement in the first paragraph, Cheney continues,

I also thought it important to be sure the National Security Agency, or NSA, which is responsible for collecting intelligence about the communications of America’s adversaries, was doing everything possible to track the conversations of terrorists, so I asked George Tenet whether the NSA had all the authorities it needed. Tenet said he would check with General Mike Hayden, who was then director, and a short time later both of them came to see me in my office in the White House. Hayden explained that he had already made adjustments in the way NSA was collecting intelligence. Those adjustments were possible within NSA’s existing authorities, but additional authorities were needed in order to improve the coverage and effectiveness of the program.

A few paragraphs later, he continued.

With [Bush's] approval, I asked Dave Addington to work with General Hayden and the president’s counsel, Alberto Gonzales, to develop a legal process by which we could ensure the NSA got the authorizations Hayden needed.

It’s only five paragraphs after Cheney’s description of PATRIOT that he provides the date that–had he actually included the date of the PATRIOT Act–would have made clear that the illegal program started before the signing of the PATRIOT Act.

On October 4, 2001, the president, on the recommendation of the director of central intelligence and the secretary of defense, which the determination of the attorney general that it was lawful to do so, authorized the program for the first time.

Of course, Cheney leaves out some key details along the way, such as that Hayden briefed the House Intelligence Committee about what he was already doing on October 1, which elicited some questions from Nancy Pelosi, then the Ranking Member on HPSCI. Cheney doesn’t mention that Bush clamped down on briefing Congress on October 5. And he doesn’t mention that Pelosi raised questions about minimization, in writing, on October 11, but never got answers to those questions.

Cheney also doesn’t mention that David Kris, who was busy drafting the PATRIOT Act, got an OLC opinion on September 25 approving the one change to FISA he deemed necessary to make with the PATRIOT.

To reveal those details–the briefings to Congress, Pelosi’s questions, Kris’ ability to get FISA changed under PATRIOT–would have made it clear that the rest of the “legal approval” process Cheney describes could have–should have–instead been done with Congress as part of the PATRIOT Act. I may be nitpicking here, writing an absurdly long post about Cheney’s use of the wrong preposition. But Cheney’s choice to bypass Congress even as it was making changes to FISA remains the biggest piece of evidence that he knew he was engaging in an illegal program that Congress would not entirely approve.

There will be a number of retrospectives in “honor” of PATRIOT Act’s birthday today. ACLU’s got a nifty infographic (the image above is just one part of it).

But ACLU’s other “tribute” to the PATRIOT–a lawsuit to force the government to reveal its secret interpretation of PATRIOT Act–and Cheney’s typographical tell that he recognizes he deliberately chose not to get Congressional approval for the illegal wiretap program are even more important.

As horrible as the PATRIOT Act is, after all, both the Bush Administration and the Obama Administration have exceeded the plain meaning of the act. For ten years, then, it has not been enough that Congress has eagerly dealt away our civil liberties. But the Executive Branch will take even what Congress won’t give.

Glenn Fine Stepping Down as DOJ Inspector General

Back during the FISA Amendment Act, Jay Rockefeller tried hard to prevent DOJ’s Inspector General, Glenn Fine, to have any role in overseeing the revamped domestic surveillance program. I always assumed that was because Fine, unlike the other Inspectors General (except perhaps John Helgerson, whom Michael Hayden had thoroughly neutralized by that point anyway) was actually effective. Fine was a particular problem because he treated the work FBI did in its counterterrorist guise–like surveilling peace activists–as he did his other work.

Well, it looks like the expansive executive branch doesn’t have Glenn Fine to worry about anymore.

Glenn A. Fine is stepping down as Inspector General at the Department of Justice after a decade in the post, Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Monday.

“I believe it is time for me to pursue new professional challenges,” Fine, 54, said in a letter to President Barack Obama and to Holder in which he said he was proud of his service at DOJ.

Holder, in turn, praised Fine, who will depart in January. “In the Justice Department’s most critical operations and practices, especially our efforts to combat corruption, fraud, waste and abuse, the work done by the Office of the Inspector General is essential,” Holder said on the DOJ’s internal “watchdog.”

“Thanks to Glenn’s outstanding leadership, this Office has never been stronger,” Holder said in a statement.

Note, Fine’s office has recently been under attack for its recent report showing that Chris Christie and other Rove favorite US Attorneys like Mary Beth Buchanan were big spenders on the taxpayer dime. Let’s hope that noise machine whir has nothing to do with his departure.

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emptywheel @declanm Also, given Jeff Flake precedent doubt Gardener would get on Intel w/o making promises to back party line @BradMossEsq @Krhawkins5
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