John Brennan

In Describing CIA’s Attempted Intimidiation of Senate Intelligence Committee, Harry Reid Uses the Word “Unprecedented” Too

Back when Mark Udall first hinted about the CIA’s efforts to intimidate the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said CIA had taken “unprecedented action.”

That’s language Harry Reid repeats in a letter to John Brennan informing him that the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms will conduct a forensic review of the SSCI computers.

You are no doubt aware of the grave and unprecedented concerns with regards to constitutional separation of powers this action raises.

The language Reid uses in a letter to Eric Holder is even stronger.

As Majority Leader of the Senate, I have a responsibility to protect the independence and effectiveness of our institution. The CIA’s decision to access the resources and work product of the legislative branch without permission is absolutely indefensible, regardless of the context. This action has serious separation of powers implications. It is immaterial whether this action was taken in response to concerns about the Committee’s possession of a disputed document; this stands as a categorically different and more serious breach.

[snip]

In my capacity as the leader of the U.S. Senate, the CIA’s actions cause me great concern. The CIA has not only interfered with the lawful congressional oversight of its activities, but has also seemingly attempted to intimidate its overseers by subjecting them to criminal investigation. These developments strike at the heart of the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. Left unchallenged, they call into question Congress’s ability to carry out its core constitutional duties and risk the possibility of an unaccountable Intelligence Community run amok. The CIA cannot be permitted to undermine Congress’s ability to serve as an effective check on executive power as our nation’s Founders intended.

For all the talk of interbranch conflict, however, the letter to Brennan includes hints of partisan conflict. He asks Brennan to keep his staffers away from Senate staffers except the Sergeant-at-Arms.

To ensure its [the Sergeant-at-Arms review] independence, I ask that you take whatever steps necessary to ensure that CIA personnel refrain from further interaction relating to this issue with Senate staff other than the Segeant-at-Arms staff conducting the examination while the examination is underway.

This suggests there has been such contact. And there’s no reason to believe anyone from the Democratic side would be working back channel with Brennan’s spooks.

As I noted last week, the Republicans — especially Richard Burr, who would become Intelligence Chair if Republicans retake the Senate — have been going after Mark Udall aggressively. In the interim we’ve seen fairly obvious hit jobs that use the CIA-SSCI dispute to focus on Udall’s electoral prospects in November.

So while I believe everything Reid says about separation of powers — while I believe he regards this as an unprecedented threat to separation of powers — this also reeks of an attempt to prevent the collaboration of Republicans and the CIA.

We’ll see whether it has the other probable goal: giving DOJ an easy way to back out of any entanglement in this dispute.

Philip Mudd: Sitting Across from KSM Was Useful So Waterboarding Him 183 Times Was Too

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Philip Mudd — who was a top CIA analytical official until 2005 and then became a Deputy Director of FBI — has written a defense of torture in anticipation of the release of the Senate Torture Report.

The argument is actually fairly crafty. He acknowledges he probably will “question [the Report's] merits” once it comes out.

I don’t know what’s in the report, and I wasn’t approached during its preparation. I can only guess that I would be among those who question its merits once it enters the public domain.

Given that he effectively admitted to Steven Colbert back in September, above, he was responsible for inserting the tortured claim from Ibn Sheikh al-Libi that Iraq had ties to al Qaeda, and given that he left government after being denied a promotion because his analysts pushed for more torture [correction from Nada Bakos: the claim his analysts pushed for more torture floated when he retired is not accurate], what he likely means is that the Report is going to show very damning evidence about his actions.

But then Mudd appears to say nice things about democracy — as he did with Colbert.

This judgment, though, isn’t particularly relevant. In our system of checks and balances, there will often be times when overseers and officials from executive branch agencies don’t agree, and both parties have a right to speak on a matter that is of such interest to the public. We’re in a finger-pointing Beltway battle between two entities nobody much trusts. Let the people sort it out, after they see what both sides say; let the public decide where the pendulum rests.

There are key points that might get lost in this ugly rumble. Primary among them is the quality of the Senate report, which the CIA evidently argues is profoundly flawed and therefore misleading. This may well be true, but it’s not clear it should stand in the way of the report’s release. The agency has its perspective; the overseers have theirs.

[snip]

Time the release of the Senate report to coincide with the release of a CIA rebuttal. Give both sides their say, and then let the public weigh in. [my emphasis]

But in fact, Mudd’s defense of democracy — let the people sort it out! — is instead an appeal for a relativism in which there is no truth, only competing truths. Mudd suggests that since both sides get to have their say, we’ll come to an adequate outcome.

Of course, Mudd is full of shit on this point. FIrst, because Mudd, a torture defender, has for years been permitted by CIA to go on TV and write Daily Beast columns. He and other torturers have had opportunity to give uncontested rebuttals for years, even with the help of Hollywood. CIA’s torture critics, however, have been and even still are getting ominous warnings not to talk to the press. We’ve had 5 years in which only the torture fans get to defend torture, and that’s what Mudd considers a fair fight.

But also because while John Brennan’s CIA may argue the report is flawed, whoever drafted the Panetta Report actually agreed with the Senate Report. Let’s have that report as CIA’s rebuttal, what say you, Mudd?

The “CIA” doesn’t think the report was flawed; the CIA’s institutional defenders do.

Then, couched in another apparent nod to democracy, Mudd suggests that torture was useful.

Do Americans, and their representatives in lawmaking bodies, want their security services to interrogate prisoners using these tactics? Do they believe these tactics represent American values?

If the answer is “no,” the question of whether the tactics are successful becomes moot. Let’s assume, for the moment, that we all accepted as fact that the tactics were hugely successful in eliciting valuable intelligence. Would this then change the argument? I hope not: If you want to judge that these programs aren’t appropriate for a democratic society, that judgment shouldn’t come with a sliding scale. So why waste time on the question of the program’s utility? Why pretend that the answer would sway those who believe America should never again return to the tactics the CIA used?

As an intelligence officer who was at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center during the early 2000s, and was once its deputy director, my views of this debate are not complex, and they won’t be changed by this report. The al Qaeda prisoners we held at CIA facilities helped us understand the adversary. A lot? A little? Somewhere in between? Outside observers can debate it, but it’s hard to argue that sitting across from the most senior leaders of your adversary, over a long period of time, isn’t helpful to understanding how they think and act. It is.

This judgment, though, is as irrelevant today as it will be the day this Senate report appears in public.

One of America’s top analysts lays out the defense for torture efficacy this way:

“Sitting across from the most senior leaders of your adversary [is] helpful to understanding how they think and act.”

Therefore,

Torture is useful.

This is what CIA considers crack analysis!!!! It’s useful to sit down with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and therefore it was useful to waterboard him 183 times!!!

Apparently one of CIA’s former top analysts doesn’t understand that one can sit down with someone — the FBi had a pretty good track record at doing this — without engaging in medieval torture first. This former top analyst feigns not understanding that “sitting across from” someone is different from “pretending you’re drowning” someone over and over and over and over.

Maybe instead of releasing the report we should just let CIA’s torturers continue to expose just how stupid they really are (or pretend to be). Because while Mudd’s pre-rebuttal was meant to sound all democratic and whatnot, when you look closely it just exposes the stupidity of those who defend torture.

Update: I’ve changed the title of this to match exactly how Mudd characterized the sitting with KSM.

Did CIA’s Handsomely Paid Contractors Doctor Its Log Books, Again?

I wanted to return to one other detail of John Brennan’s (designed to be made public, I believe) January 27 letter to Dianne Feinstein explaining the urgent need to continue the “investigative, protective, or intelligence activity” targeted at CIA’s overseers.

In the letter, Brennan describes the original basis for CIA’s claimed suspicion into SSCI this way:

CIA maintains a log of all materials provided to the Committee through established protocols, and these documents do not appear in that log, nor were they found in an audit of CIA’s side of the system for all materials provided to SSCI through established protocols. Because we were concerned that there may be a breach or vulnerability in the system for housing highly classified documents, CIA conducted a limited review to determine whether these files were located on the SSCI side of the CIA network and review audit data to determine whether anyone had access the files. [my emphasis]

The original basis CIA used to justify investigating their overseers was a log purportedly recording which documents they had been given.

Recall that CIA worked with contractors — SAIC, as I understand it — to review and re-review each document before they turned it over to SSCI.

CIA insisted that the Committee review documents at a government building in Virginia. Once the CIA produced relevant documents related to the CIA detention and interrogation program, the CIA then insisted that CIA personnel—and private contractors employed by the CIA—review each document multiple times to ensure unrelated documents were not provided to a small number of fully cleared Committee staff.

This process accounts for much of the $44 million cost of the report.

The log must have come out of this process: contractors, being paid handsomely by the CIA to slow the investigation, recording each document that they claimed to hand over to investigators.

So at the base of Brennan’s claim is a log, made by self-interested contractors employed by CIA, about torture.

The CIA’s contractors don’t have a very reliable history recording issues relating to torture.

Recall that — contrary to much of the public reporting on the matter — the destruction of the torture tapes did not just destroy ugly images of torture inflicted on Abu Zubaydah.

In addition, by destroying the torture tapes, CIA destroyed evidence that:

  • The CIA’s contractors used torture on Abu Zubaydah that exceeded the guidelines provided by DOJ
  • The CIA’s contractors’ descriptions of those torture techniques — in written cables and logs — did not match what they had actually done to Abu Zubaydah
  • By the time CIA shut down the Thai black site and decided to stop taping their torture, someone (the CIA’s contractors?) had already destroyed or sabotaged a number of the torture tapes, including ones depicting waterboarding

That is, one of the likely reasons why CIA destroyed the torture tapes is that their handsomely paid self-interested contractors produced a substantively inaccurate log about torture.

And at the base of the CIA’s witch hunt into SSCI staffers is a log about torture presumably made by handsomely paid self-interested contractors.

John Brennan’s Parallel “Investigative, Protective, or Intelligence Activity”

Yesterday, Jack Goldsmith defended CIA lawyer Robert Eatinger for referring Senate Intelligence Committee staffers for criminal investigation. Eatinger had no choice but to refer his Agency’s overseers, you see, because EO 12333 required it.

I knew Eatinger a bit when I was at OLC a decade ago, and based on that experience I agree with John Rizzo that “[h]e doesn’t have a political bone in his body” and “[i]f he made this referral, it’s because he felt it was the right and necessary thing to do.”

It might be useful to articulate the standard for the “right and necessary thing to do,” because I think that standard is at the bottom of this corner of the controversy.  The standard comes from Section 6.1(b) of E.O. 12,333, which imposes a duty on the CIA Director to:

Report to the Attorney General possible violations of Federal criminal laws by employees and of specified Federal criminal laws by any other person as provided in procedures agreed upon by the Attorney General and the head of the department, agency, or establishment concerned, in a manner consistent with the protection of intelligence sources and methods, as specified in those procedures;

I believe that the CIA Director delegates this duty to the CIA General Counsel.

Note how low the bar is for the referral—possible violations of federal law.  Think about what that low standard means.  It means that CIA often has a duty to refer a matter to DOJ that it is reasonably confident does not violate federal law, simply because the matter possibly violates federal law.  As John Radsan noted in his study of the CIA General Counsel’s Office, the low standard results in CIA making “several referrals to the Justice Department in a typical month.”  It might seem that these frequent referrals are signs of lawlessness, but in fact they are a mechanism of accountability. The very soft trigger of “possible” as opposed to “likely” or “actual” violations promotes significant over-reporting and allows another Agency, DOJ, to decide the appropriate action in the first instance.” [my emphasis]

Nice try.

But there’s a significant problem with that. In response to Ron Wyden’s question about whether CIA is subject to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act — a polite way of suggesting CIA hacked the Committee server — John Brennan told Wyden,

The statute does apply. The Act, however, expressly “does not prohibit any lawfully authorized investigative, protective, or intelligence activity … of an intelligence agency of the United States.” 18 U.S.C. § 1030(f).

In other words, Brennan implicitly asserts the CIA snooping on SSCI was legal because CIA was engaged in lawfully authorized “investigative, protective, or intelligence activity.”

Side note: what are the chances that Brennan, who likes to remind that he’s not a lawyer when he gets legally dangerous questions, consulted with CIA’s Acting General Counsel Robert Eatinger in crafting this response to Wyden?

But let’s look at when and how Brennan chose to engage in what he claims is either “investigative, protective, or intelligence activity” and when and how Eatinger found SSCI’s oversight of CIA reached the “low bar” that merited referral.

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Where the Bodies Are Buried: A Constitutional Crisis Feinstein Better Be Ready To Win

In a piece at MoJo, David Corn argues the Senate Intelligence Committee – CIA fight has grown into a Constitutional crisis.

What Feinstein didn’t say—but it’s surely implied—is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It’s a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.

I absolutely agree those are the stakes. But I’m not sure the crisis stems from Feinstein “going nuclear” on the floor of the Senate today. Rather, I think whether Feinstein recognized it or not, we had already reached that crisis point, and John Brennan simply figured he had prepared adequately to face and win that crisis.

Which is why I disagree with the assessment of Feinstein’s available options as laid out by Shane Harris and John Hudson in FP.

If she chooses to play hardball, Feinstein can make the tenure of CIA Director John Brennan a living nightmare. From her perch on the intelligence committee, she could drag top spies before the panel for months on end. She could place holds on White House nominees to key agency positions. She could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress and she could hit the agency where it really hurts: its pocketbook. One of the senator’s other committee assignments is the Senate Appropriations Committee, which allocates funds to Langley.

Take these suggestions one by one: Feinstein can only “drag top spies” before Congress if she is able to wield subpoena power. Not only won’t her counterpart, Saxby Chambliss (who generally sides with the CIA in this dispute) go along with that, but recent legal battles have largely gutted Congress’ subpoena power.

Feinstein can place a hold on CIA-related nominees. There’s even one before the Senate right now, CIA General Counsel nominee Caroline Krass, though Feinstein’s own committee just voted Krass out of Committee, where Feinstein could have wielded her power as Chair to bottle Krass up. In the Senate, given the new filibuster rules, Feinstein would have to get a lot of cooperation from her Democratic colleagues  to impose any hold if ever she lost Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s support (though she seems to have that so far).

But with Krass, what’s the point? So long as Krass remains unconfirmed, Robert Eatinger — the guy who ratcheted up this fight in the first place by referring Feinstein’s staffers for criminal investigation — will remain Acting General Counsel. So in fact, Feinstein has real reason to rush the one active CIA nomination through, if only to diminish Eatinger’s relative power.

Feinstein could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress. But that would again require either subpoenas (and the willingness of DOJ to enforce them, which is not at all clear she’d have) or cooperation.

Or Feinstein could cut CIA’s funding. But on Appropriations, she’ll need Barb Mikulski’s cooperation, and Mikulski has been one of the more lukewarm Democrats on this issue. (And all that’s assuming you’re only targeting CIA; as soon as you target Mikulski’s constituent agency, NSA, Maryland’s Senator would likely ditch Feinstein in a second.)

Then FP turns to DOJ’s potential role in this dispute.

The Justice Department is reportedly looking into whether the CIA inappropriately monitored congressional staff, as well as whether those staff inappropriately accessed documents that lay behind a firewall that segregated classified information that the CIA hadn’t yet cleared for release. And according to reports, the FBI has opened an investigation into committee staff who removed classified documents from the CIA facility and brought them back to the committee’s offices on Capitol Hill.

Even ignoring all the petty cover-ups DOJ engages in for intelligence agencies on a routine basis (DEA at least as much as CIA), DOJ has twice done CIA’s bidding on major scale on the torture issue in recent years. First when John Durham declined to prosecute both the torturers and Jose Rodriguez for destroying evidence of torture. And then when Pat Fitzgerald delivered John Kiriakou’s head on a platter for CIA because Kiriakou and the Gitmo detainee lawyers attempted to learn the identities of those who tortured.

There’s no reason to believe this DOJ will depart from its recent solicitous ways in covering up torture. Jim Comey admittedly might conduct an honest investigation, but he’s no longer a US Attorney and he needs someone at DOJ to actually prosecute anyone, especially if that person is a public official.

Implicitly, Feinstein and her colleagues could channel Mike Gravel and read the 6,000 page report into the Senate record. But one of CIA’s goals is to ensure that if the Report ever does come out, it has no claim to objectivity. Especially if the Democrats release the Report without the consent of Susan Collins, it will be child’s play for Brennan to spin the Report as one more version of what happened, no more valid than Jose Rodriguez’ version.

And all this assumes Democrats retain control of the Senate. That’s an uphill battle in any case. But CIA has many ways to influence events. Even assuming CIA would never encourage false flags attacks or leak compromising information about Democrats, the Agency can ratchet up the fear mongering and call Democrats weak on security. That always works and it ought to be worth a Senate seat or three.

If Democrats lose the Senate, you can be sure that newly ascendant Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr would be all too happy to bury the Torture Report, just for starters. Earlier today, after all, he scolded Feinstein for airing this fight.

“I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly,”

Burr’s a guy who has joked about waterboarding in the past. Burying the Torture Report would be just the start of things, I fear.

And then, finally, there’s the President, whose spokesperson affirmed the President’s support for his CIA Director and who doesn’t need any Democrats help to win another election. As Brennan said earlier today, Obama “is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.” And I suspect Brennan has confidence that Obama won’t do that.

Which brings me to my comment above, on AJE, that Brennan knows where the literal bodies are buried.

I meant that very, very literally.

Not only does Brennan know firsthand that JSOC attempted to kill Anwar al-Awlaki on December 24, 2009, solely on the President’s authority, before the FBI considered him to be operational. But he also knows that the evidence against Awlaki was far dodgier than it should have been before the President authorized the unilateral execution of an American citizen.

Worse still, Feinstein not only okayed that killing, either before or just as it happened. But even the SSCI dissidents Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich declared the Awlaki killing “a legitimate use of the authority granted the President” in November.

I do think there are ways the (Legislative) Democrats might win this fight. But they’re not well situated in the least, even assuming they’re willing and able to match Brennan’s bureaucratic maneuvering.

Again, I don’t blame Feinstein for precipitating this fight. We were all already in it, and she has only now come around to it.

I just hope she and her colleagues realize how well prepared Brennan is to fight it in time to wage an adequate battle.

John Brennan Trolls Emptywheel Even Before He Prevaricates in Response to Dianne Feinstein

Screen shot 2013-03-08 at 1.27.57 PMThere’s a lot to be said about John Brennan’s appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations today (video here). I’m actually most interested in Brennan’s refusal, twice, to answer questions about whether the NSA needs to engage in bulk collection.

QUESTION: Good morning. Tom Risen with U.S. News and World Report. I’d like to follow up on some — talk about the intelligence gaps. Edward Snowden, yesterday, said that he’s accused the NSA’s mass surveillance of distracting from pinpointed, credible threats. Do you think from where you sit that there’s been any intelligence gaps in the NSA or the CIA on how they could conduct monitoring or spying better?

BRENNAN: Well, you know, anybody who violates their oath in terms of protecting sensitive classified information really has done a great disservice not just to the country, but also has put the American people at harm. NSA, CIA, and others now are looking at what it is that we need to do to mitigate whatever types of — of gaps that we might now face as a result of — of disclosures, publicly.

So we are trying to stay ahead of the challenge, do what we can, both in the HUMINT and SIGINT, as well as other fronts, working very closely with our intelligence partners. But, you know, distractions, you know, do take away from our focus on the — the substantive functional issues that really deserve our full attention.

[snip]

MITCHELL: And can you [keep our country safe] without the mass collection of metadata?

BRENNAN: You know, there — there are a lot of challenges as that digital domain has changed. You know, you ask five people what metadata means, you know, they’ll have probably five different explanations. Probably three or four of them are going to be totally off the mark. Metadata itself is changing. You know, content, bulk data collection, these are things that, you know, really, you know, challenge the mind as far as, how are you going to ensure that if there is a terrorist in this country and he’s determined to do harm with, you know, a conventional explosive or a, you know, biological or chemical weapon, how are you going to be able to operate at the speed of light so that if you get intelligence you find out where that person is? You know, as I said, memories of 9/11, I think, recede in the smoldering ashes on the Manhattan landscape. [my emphasis]

Brennan first responds to Snowden’s claim by attacking his person, without addressing his claim. He then babbles about the challenge of thinking of bulk data. “Content, bulk data collection, these are things that, you know, really, you know, challenge the mind.” Which is a not very graceful way to dodge the question. But he doesn’t answer the question either time.

Most reporters, however, are focusing on Brennan’s prevarications in response to Dianne Feinstein’s statement today.

Well, first of all, we are not in any way, shape or form trying to thwart this report’s progression, release. As I said in my remarks, we want this behind us. We know that the committee has invested a lot of time, money and effort into this report, and I know that they’re determined to put it forward.

We have engaged with them extensively over the last year. We have had officers sit down with them and go over their report and point out where we believe there are factual errors or errors in judgment or assessments. So we are not trying at all to prevent its release.

As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into, you know, Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that. I mean, that’s — that’s just beyond the — you know, the scope of reason in terms of what we would do.

[snip]

This review that was done by the committee was done at a facility where CIA had a responsibility to make sure that they had the computer wherewithal in order to carry out their responsibilities, and so if there was any inappropriate actions that were taken related to that review, either by CIA or by the SSCI staff, I’ll be the first one to say we need to get to the bottom of it.

And if I did something wrong, I will go to the president, and I will explain to him exactly what I did, and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.

Golly! We would never do any such thing as spy! And even if we get caught, only the President can make me leave, not the Committee.

But I’m most excited that Brennan chose to troll yours truly to introduce his talk.

Now just over a year ago, I had the privilege of placing my hand on the very first printed copy of the Constitution, a draft edited and annotated personally by George Washington himself that is one of the most treasured items held in the National Archives. With my hand on that document, Vice President Biden swore me in as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

I chose to take my oath on that precious piece of history as a clear affirmation of what the Constitution means to all of us at the agency. We have no higher duty than to uphold and defend the rule of law as we strive every day to protect our fellow citizens. Like so many things involving, CIA, though, people read nefarious intentions into my decision to take my oath on an early draft of the Constitution that did not contain the Bill of Rights, our Constitution’s first 10 amendments.

So at the risk of disappointing any conspiracy theorists who might be here today, let me assure all of you that I, along with my CIA colleagues, firmly believe in and honor not only the Constitution, but also the Bill of Rights, as well as all subsequent amendments to our Constitution. I just happen to be guilt of being an ardent admirer of George Washington and of the historical foundations of this great country. [my emphasis]

You’ll recall that I was among the first to point out that John Brennan staged a photo op at his swearing in, and either botched the photo op or unveiled his real beliefs, because he swore to protect and defend a Constitution that includes no First or Fourth Amendment.

Take that Dianne Feinstein! You may have accused John Brennan of violating Articles I, II, and III today. But Brennan’s still responding to me busting him for violating the First and Fourth Amendment.

Robert Eatinger, Lawyer Who Approved Torture Tape Destruction, Tries to Intimidate Senate Investigators

Dianne Feinstein just gave a barn burner of a speech explaining the CIA/SSCI fight over the Torture Report. There are a lot of details I’ll return to.

But one of the most important issues, in my mind, is the detail that the Acting General Counsel of the CIA, Robert Eatinger, referred the Senate Intelligence Committee investigators to DOJ for investigation. (h/t to DocexBlog for identifying Eatinger) Feinstein correctly interpreted this as an attempt to intimidate her staffers as they complete the investigation.

And, as Feinstein made clear, Eatinger is a key focus of the report. Feinstein revealed that Eatinger (whom she did not name) was named, by name, (if I heard Feinstein’s claim correctly) 1,600 times in the Torture Report.

At least some of those mentions surely describe CIA’s decision to destroy the torture tapes, an act Eatinger sanctioned.

Former CIA clandestine branch chief Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who ordered the destruction of the tapes, has said through his attorney that he based his decision on legal advice from agency lawyers. The lawyers, Steven Hermes and Robert Eatinger, did not endorse the tapes’ destruction but rather concluded there was “no legal impediment” to disposing of them, according to sources briefed on their advice.

Hermes and Eatinger, who only recently were interviewed by Durham, continue to work at the agency and have retained counsel, the sources said.

Feinstein described Eatinger’s key role as the Counterterrorism Center’s chief lawyer (presumably after Jonathan Fredman left). Some things CTC lawyers did were:

  • Approved the use of sleep deprivation before DOJ considered the question
  • Altered the record of the original briefing to Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss
  • Used a John Yoo freelanced memo as the basis of advice to CIA on torture
  • Collaborated with John Yoo to write a “Legal Principles” document that authorized otherwise unauthorized torture techniques

Lawyers probably associated with CTC also lied about the treatment of Hassan Ghul in 2004.

Eatinger also contributed to a CIA cover-up attempt in a key State Secrets case.

There’s a lot that’s amazing about this story. But I find it particularly telling that a lawyer trying to protect his own ass — trying to hide details of the 1,600 mentions of his name in the Torture Report — has targeted Senate Intelligence Committee staffers.

Update: Given that Eatinger is apparently the person who referred the Senate staffers, it is significant that Feinstein started her speech by raising the torture tape destruction.

The origin of this study: The CIA’s detention and interrogation program began operations in 2002, though it was not until September 2006, that Members of the Intelligence Committee, other than the Chairman and Vice Chairman, were briefed. In fact, we were briefed by then-CIA Director Hayden only hours before President Bush disclosed the program to the public.

A little more than a year later, on December 6, 2007, a New York Times article revealed the troubling fact that the CIA had destroyed videotapes of some of the CIA’s first interrogations using so-called “enhanced techniques.” We learned that this destruction was over the objections of President Bush’s White House Counsel and the Director of National Intelligence.

After we read about the tapes’ destruction in the newspapers, Director Hayden briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee. He assured us that this was not destruction of evidence, as detailed records of the interrogations existed on paper in the form of CIA operational cables describing the detention conditions and the day-to-day CIA interrogations.

The CIA director stated that these cables were “a more than adequate representation” of what would have been on the destroyed tapes. Director Hayden offered at that time, during Senator Jay Rockefeller’s chairmanship of the committee, to allow Members or staff to review these sensitive CIA operational cables given that the videotapes had been destroyed.

John Kiriakou’s Prosecution Is an Important Precedent to CIA – Senate Intelligence Committee Spat

On several occasions, I have pointed to the arbitrary system our classification system constructs. It asks government employees to spy on their colleagues. It permits agencies to conduct fishing expeditions into personal information as part of the polygraph process. It permits Agencies to selectively approve propaganda under the guise of pre-publication review (most notably in the case of Jose Rodriguez and John Rizzo). By stripping sensitive unclassified jobs of their Merit Board protection, even lower level staffers who don’t receive a clearance-related income boost are now subject to this arbitrary system. And Congress even tried to use pensions as another leverage point against cleared personnel.

The arbitrary nature of this system is perhaps most clear, however, when it comes to prosecutions.

Which is a point John Kiriakou made in an op-ed yesterday. In it, he suggests Leon Panetta and James Cartwright could be sitting next to him in Loretto Prison.

The [Espionage Act] states: “Whoever, lawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any … information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates … the same to any person not entitled to receive it … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.”

A transcript obtained by the organization Judicial Watch shows that, at a CIA awards ceremony attended by Boal, Panetta did exactly that. The CIA seems to acknowledge that Panetta accidentally revealed the name of the special forces ground commander who led the operation to kill Osama bin Laden, not knowing that the Hollywood screenwriter was part of an audience cleared to hear him speak. But intent is not relevant to Espionage Act enforcement.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled in my case that evidence of the accidental release of national defense information was inadmissible, and she added that the government did not have to prove that a leak of classified information actually caused any harm to the United States. In other words, the act of disclosing the kind of broad information covered by the Espionage Act is prosecutable regardless of outcome or motive.

The sensitivity of what Panetta revealed is not in question. The spokesman for the former CIA director said Panetta assumed that everyone present at the time of the speech had proper clearance for such a discussion. When the transcript of the speech was released, more than 90 lines had been redacted, implying that Panetta had disclosed a great deal more classified information than the name of an operative.

[snip]

If an intent to undermine U.S. national security or if identifiable harm to U.S. interests are indeed not relevant to Espionage Act enforcement, then the White House and the Justice Department should be in full froth. Panetta should be having his private life dug in to, sifted and seized as evidence, as happened to me and six others under the Obama administration.

[snip]

If Panetta and Cartwright aren’t accountable while Drake, Kim and I have been crucified for harming U.S. national security — all of us accused of or investigated for the same thing: disclosing classified information to parties not authorized to know it — then what does that say about justice in America or White House hypocrisy?

Kiriakou goes on to call for changes in the Espionage Act to focus on issues of intent and harm.

Kiriakou is, of course, correct that he got punished for things that Panetta and Cartwright have (so far, at least) escaped such levels of punishment for. (I’d also add the unnamed real sources for the UndieBomb 2.0 leak, who are being protected by the scapegoating of Donald Sachtleben.)

But I’d go even further. Given reports that FBI is investigating whether Senate Intelligence Committee staffers violated the law for obtaining proof the Agency they oversee was hiding evidence from it, it’s crucial to remember how Kiriakou’s prosecution came about, which I laid out in this post.

It started when CIA officers claimed that when Gitmo defense attorneys provided photos of their clients torturers to them–having independently discovered their identity–the torturers were put at risk. DOJ didn’t believe it was a security risk; CIA disagreed and went to John Brennan. And after Patrick Fitzgerald was brought in to mediate between DOJ and CIA, the prosecution of John Kiriakou resulted.

As a reminder of where this all started, it’s worth reading this March 15, 2010 Bill Gertz article which was, AFAIK, the first public report of the investigation into the John Adams Project. It describes a March 9, 2010 meeting between Fitzgerald and the CIA.

The dispute prompted a meeting Tuesday at CIA headquarters between U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald and senior CIA counterintelligence officials. It is the latest battle between the agency and the department over detainees and interrogations of terrorists.

[snip]

According to U.S. officials familiar with the issue, the current dispute involves Justice Department officials who support an effort led by the American Civil Liberties Union to provide legal aid to military lawyers for the Guantanamo inmates. CIA counterintelligence officials oppose the effort and say giving terrorists photographs of interrogators has exposed CIA personnel and their families to possible terrorist attacks.

[snip]

According to the officials, the dispute centered on discussions for a interagency memorandum that was to be used in briefing President Obama and senior administration officials on the photographs found in Cuba. Justice officials did not share the CIA’s security concerns about the risks posed to CIA interrogators and opposed language on the matter that was contained in the draft memorandum. The memo was being prepared for White House National Security Council aide John Brennan, who was to use it to brief the president.

The CIA insisted on keeping its language describing the case and wanted the memorandum sent forward in that form.

That meeting, of course, would have taken place the day after Fitzgerald was appointed. So immediately after Fitzgerald got put in charge of this investigation, he presumably moderated a fight between DOJ, which didn’t think detainee lawyers pursuing their clients’ torturers via independent means threatened to expose the torturers’ identity directly, and CIA, which apparently claimed to be worried.

What happened with Kiriakou’s sentencing today is many things. But it started as–and is still fundamentally a result of–an effort on the part of CIA to ensure that none of its torturers ever be held accountable for their acts, to ensure that the subjects of their torture never gain any legal foothold to hold them accountable.

Continue reading

DOJ’s Leaky SCIF Double Standards

McClatchy’s latest in the CIA-Seante Intelligence Committee fight reports that FBI is now investigating Senate Intelligence Committee staffers for unauthorized removal of classified information from CIA’s SCIF.

The FBI is investigating the alleged unauthorized removal of classified documents from a secret CIA facility by Senate Intelligence Committee staff who prepared a study of the agency’s use of harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists in secret overseas detention centers, McClatchy has learned.

[snip]

The FBI investigation stemmed from a request to the Justice Department by the CIA general counsel’s office for a criminal investigation into the removal last fall of classified documents by committee staff from a high-security electronic reading room that they were required to use to review top-secret emails and other materials, people familiar with issue told McClatchy. The existence of the referral was first reported online Thursday afternoon by Time magazine.

[snip]

The investigation request by the CIA general counsel’s office is one of two criminal referrals sent to the Justice Department in connection with the committee’s 6,300-page report, which remains unreleased nearly 15 months after the panel voted to approve its final draft, according to those familiar with the case.

The second was made by CIA Inspector General David Buckley, they said. It relates to the monitoring by the agency of computers that the committee staff used to review millions of classified documents in the electronic reading room set up inside a secret CIA facility in Northern Virginia, they said.

Wow. This removal of a document from a SCIF containing torture documents sure escalated quickly.

Which is particularly remarkable given DOJ’s past response when torture documents walk out of a SCIF, even their own one.

Recall that sometime between 2005 and 2009, at least 10 and possibly as many as 31 documents critical to discussions over the legality of torture disappeared from the Office of Legal Counsel’s very own SCIF.

Some of the documents that went into the production of the torture memos–and should have been reviewed by OPR over the course of its investigation–disappeared some time in the last 5 years.

As I reported last September, after some delay in a FOIA response, Acting head of OLC, David Barron confessed that OLC could not find all of the documents that it had first listed on a 2006 FOIA response.

The problem, as Barron explained in his declaration, seems to stem from three things: CIA, not OLC, did the original FOIA search in 2005 and at that time did not make a copy of the documents responsive to FOIA; for long periods OPR had the documents, lumped in with a bunch of other torture documents, so it could work on is investigation; the documents got shuttled around for other purposes, as well, including other investigations and one trip to the CIA for a 2007 update to the FOIA Vaughn Index. [Here's the 2007 Vaughn Index and here's the Vaughn Index that accompanied Barron's declaration last September.]

And, somewhere along the way, at least 10 documents originally identified in 2005 as responsive to the FOIA got lost.

Poof!

Not only did DOJ apparently do nothing about their own leaky SCIF, they took some time to even tell the ACLU about it. What’s a few sensitive torture documents escaping from their SCIFs after all?

But now, when it’s the CIA being compromised rather than the CIA doing the compromising, things quickly escalate to potentially criminal investigations.

DOJ seems to have a remarkably inconsistent standard response when torture documents disappear from SCIFs. I wonder why that is?

If CIA Pwned SSCI’s Segregated Shared Drive, the Torture Report Should Be FOIA-able

As reader Tom has helpfully reminded me, both Mark Udall’s follow-up questions for Stephen Preston and the CIA’s declaration in ACLU’s FOIA to liberate the Torture Report describe the arrangements CIA required of the Senate Intelligence Committee staffers as they were working on the Torture Report.

Udall described how the CIA insisted on an “unnecessary multi-layered” process that added significantly to the time and cost of the report.

The CIA declined to provide the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence with access to CIA records at the Committee’s secure office space in the Hart Senate Office Building. Instead, the CIA insisted that the Committee review documents at a government building in Virginia. Once the CIA produced relevant documents related to the CIA detention and interrogation program, the CIA then insisted that CIA personnel—and private contractors employed by the CIA—review each document multiple times to ensure unrelated documents were not provided to a small number of fully cleared Committee staff. What role did you play in the decision to employ these unnecessary multi-layered review steps that delayed CIA document production to the Committee at significant governmental expense?

And the CIA declaration emphasizes how SSCI retained complete control over the materials in the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility in which its staffers had been required to work.

One key principle necessary to this inter-branch accommodation, and a condition upon which SSCI insisted, was that the materials created by SSCI personnel on this segregated shared drive would not become “agency records” even though this work product was being created and stored on a CIA computer system. Specifically, in a 2 June 2009 letter from the SSCI Chairman and Vice Chairman to the CIA Director, the Committee expressly stated that the SSCI’s work product, including “draft and final recommendations, reports or other materials generated by Committee staff or Members, are the property of the Committee” and “remain congressional records in their entirety.” The SSCI further provided that the “disposition and control over these records, even after the completion of the Committee’s review, lies exclusively with the Committee.”

[snip]

Based on this inter-branch accommodation, SSCI personnel used the segregated shared drive to draft the document that is the subject of this litigation. As sections of the report reached a certain stage, the SSCI worked with the CIA information technology and security personnel to transfer these drafts from the segregated shared drive to the SSCI’s secure facilities at the U.S. Capitol complex so that the Committee could complete the drafting process in its workspaces.

Here’s the thing. The purported control SSCI had over the materials in this SCIF is central to CIA’s claim that the Torture Report is not an Agency document and therefore is immune from FOIA.

If SSCI did not have complete control over this material — if CIA could spy on SSCI at will (if, as seems to be the case when viewed in retrospect) — then it guts their argument that the Torture Report is a Congressional document.

If CIA pwned SSCI in that SCIF, then it should make this material (at least the draft reports, before they got moved over to SSCI’s own SCIF) FOIA-able.

So either CIA should be prosecuted for hacking SSCI. Or it should hand over the last draft of the report that resided on servers it felt free to hack into.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
JimWhiteGNV RT @DCreDC: Please note, #MI03, @RepJustinAmash's brave (1 of 8) and humane No vote tonight against funding the 5%-effective #IronDome whil…
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JimWhiteGNV RT @drunkenpredator: "Also, we blew some folks up with robots. Lotta folks, come to think of it."
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JimWhiteGNV @Pedinska Indeed. Then it turns into what we call UFC grooming.
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bmaz Just saw my first @RubenGallego commercial on TV, was at 6:51pm on @CNN Good to see, need more. Go Ruben!
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bmaz It is really brave of High Holy Civil Rights Constitutional Law Scholar+Humanitarian Obama to "condemn" the Palestinians in face of genocide
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JimWhiteGNV This grooming session looks peaceful for now, but is likely to escalate to violence. http://t.co/gdcySOJOkN
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emptywheel Apparently Director of "Intelligence" Clapper doesn't remember that just 5 years ago govt declassified more than 480 pages of torture docs.
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emptywheel RT @ChadPergram: DNI Clapper: The redactions were the result of an extensive & unprecedented interagency process..to protect sensitive clas…
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emptywheel @Casual_Obs Most of what @onekade is riffing on is in this post. http://t.co/HBWMUN6eR9 I was riffing too.
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emptywheel @Casual_Obs No, I used that. It's the mid-point of estimates, but as @onekade notes, some estimates are 3X that.
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emptywheel @jilliancyork You had me worried! @EFF
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emptywheel @Kittfornow Well, sure. But faking accountability while protecting the powerful comes naturally to Bayh. Like breathing. @onekade
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