John Brennan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NSA Got Into Bed with the Saudis Just Before Our Technical Cooperation Agreement Expanded

In February 2011, around the time the CIA took over the hunt for Anwar al-Awlaki, NSA started collaborating with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior’s (MOI) Technical Assistance Directorate (TAD), under the umbrella of CIA’s relationship with MOI (it had previously cooperated primarily with the Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense).

On August 15, 2011, hackers erased the data on two-thirds of the computers at Saudi Aramco; American sources claim Iran was the culprit.

On September 30, 2011, CIA killed Anwar al-Awlaki, using drones operated from a base on Saudi soil.

On November 5, 2012, King Abdullah named close John Brennan ally Mohammed bin Nayef (MbN) Minister of the Interior; MbN had for some time been our top counterterrorism partner in the Kingdom.

On December 11, 2012, James Clapper expanded NSA’s Third Party SIGINT relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, for the first time formally including the Ministry of Interior’s Technical Affairs Directorate.

Between January 14 and 16, 2013 MbN traveled to Washington and met with just about every top National Security person (many of whom, including Brennan, were just assuming new jobs). On January 16, MbN and Hillary Clinton renewed and expanded the Technical Cooperation Agreement initiated in 2008. The TCA was modeled on the JECOR program used from the late 1970s until 2000 to recycle US dollars into development programs in Saudi Arabia; in this more recent incarnation, the Saudis recycle dollars into things like a 30,000 mercenary army and other military toys for internal stability and border control. Last year’s renewal — signed just over a month after Clapper made the Saudis full Third Person partners – added cybersecurity to the portfolio. The TCA — both the existing security resources and its expansion under close ally MbN — shored up the power base of one of our closest partners (and at a time when we were already panicking about Saudi succession).

In other words, in addition to expanding Saudi capabilities at a time when it has been cracking down on peaceful dissent, which is what the Intercept story on this document discusses, by giving the Saudi MOI Third Party status, we added to the power of a key ally within the royal family, and did so at a time when the TCA was already shoring up his power base.

We did so, the Information Paper makes clear, in part because MOI has access to internal Saudi telecommunications. While the Information paper talks about AQAP and Iran’s Republican Guard, they are also targeting Saudi targets.

And these new capabilities? They get coordinated through Chief of Station in Riyadh, the CIA. John Brennan’s agency.

It’s all very tidy, don’t you think?

CIA, Pakistan Taliban Bring Fighters to Syria…and a Global Polio Emergency

Recall that last fall, Barack Obama spent some time altering the public record on when CIA-trained death squads first entered Syria to move the date from just before the Ghouta sarin attack to just after (while also trying to shrink the size of those first groups). But the US was a month behind Pakistan’s Taliban, who also sent fighters to Syria, ostensibly on the same side as us this time, to fight pro-Assad forces. But while these efforts on the same side in Syria are having little success as Assad remains in power and might even be gaining the upper hand, the work of the CIA and Taliban on opposite sides in Pakistan has produced a devastating result, with the World Health Organization announcing yesterday that it has declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern over the spread of polio to countries where it previously had been eradicated:

After discussion and deliberation on the information provided, and in the context of the global polio eradication initiative, the Committee advised that the international spread of polio to date in 2014 constitutes an ‘extraordinary event’ and a public health risk to other States for which a coordinated international response is essential. The current situation stands in stark contrast to the near-cessation of international spread of wild poliovirus from January 2012 through the 2013 low transmission season for this disease (i.e. January to April). If unchecked, this situation could result in failure to eradicate globally one of the world’s most serious vaccine preventable diseases. It was the unanimous view of the Committee that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have been met.

Although fundamentalist Islamic groups have long accused vaccination campaigns, and especially polio vaccinations, of being efforts by the West to sterilize Muslims, the very high profile case of Dr. Shakeel Afridi carrying out a hepatitis vaccination ruse on on behalf of the CIA in an effort to obtain blood samples from Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad provided a refreshed incentive for attacks on vaccine programs.

Marcy pointed out the stupidity of Leon Panetta’s confirmation that Afridi worked with the CIA in the ruse the day before Panetta’s 60 Minutes segment ran:

Not only does this presumably put more pressure on Pakistan to convict Afridi of treason (he remains in custody), but it exacerbates the problem of having used a vaccination campaign as cover in the first place, confirming on the record that similar campaigns in poor countries might be no more than a CIA front.

I presume someone in the White House gave Panetta permission to go blab this on 60 Minutes; I assume he’s in no more legal jeopardy than Dick Cheney was when he insta-declassified Valerie Plame’s identity.

But shit like this discredits every single claim national security experts make about the need for secrecy. I mean, how are CIA officers ever going to recruit any more assets when the assets know that the CIA director may, at some time in the future that’s politically convenient, go on 60 Minutes and confirm the relationship?

Afridi was eventually sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, not on treason but on other dubious charges and in a shopped venue. And the fallout in Pakistan’s tribal areas from US confirmation of the vaccination ruse was exactly as might be expected: multiple deadly attacks on polio vaccine workers and many new cases of paralyzed children.

While the polio virus circulating in Syria doesn’t appear to have come directly with the Taliban fighters sent from Pakistan, it is indeed a strain from Pakistan’s tribal areas that is in Syria now:

Thirteen cases of wild poliovirus type 1 (WPV1) have been confirmed in the Syrian Arab Republic. Genetic sequencing indicates that the isolated viruses are most closely linked to virus detected in environmental samples in Egypt in December 2012 (which in turn had been linked to wild poliovirus circulating in Pakistan).

WHO is recommending drastic measures, primarily calling for all travelers from Pakistan, Cameroon and Syria to be vaccinated for polio, preferably at least four weeks prior to international travel, but at least at departure if it hasn’t been done earlier. WHO is also calling for increased efforts in vaccinations in countries (Afghanistan, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Somalia and Nigeria) where the virus is known to be present but from which transmission has not been seen.

So the fears from two years ago on the impact of the CIA’s actions on polio eradication are now met. But keep in mind that it’s not just vaccine programs that were put at risk by this incredibly stupid move. A large alliance of humanitarian groups complained directly to the CIA that all humanitarian groups were put at risk by the move, since the CIA ruse was carried out under cover of a humanitarian organization. Will John Brennan be able to heed this advice?

Judge Collyer’s Factually Erroneous Freelance Rubber Stamp for Killing American Citizens

As I noted on Friday, Judge Rosemary Collyer threw out the Bivens challenge to the drone killings of Anwar and Abdulrahman al-Awlaki and Samir Khan.

The decision was really odd: in an effort to preserve some hope that US citizens might have redress against being executed with no due process, she rejects the government’s claims that she has no authority to decide the propriety of the case. But then, by citing precedents rejecting Bivens suits, including one on torture in the DC Circuit and Padilla’s challenge in the Fourth, she creates special factors specifically tied to the fact that Awlaki was a horrible person, rather than that national security writ large gives the Executive unfettered power to execute at will, and then uses these special factors she invents on her own to reject the possibility an American could obtain any redress for unconstitutional executions. (See Steve Vladeck for an assessment of this ruling in the context of prior Bivens precedent.)

The whole thing lies atop something else: the government’s refusal to provide Collyer even as much information as they had provided John Bates in 2010 when Anwar al-Awlaki’s father had tried to pre-emptively sue before his son was drone-killed.

On December 26, Collyer ordered the government to provide classified information on how it decides to kill American citizens.

MINUTE ORDER requiring the United States, an interested party 19 , to lodge no later than January 24, 2014, classified declaration(s) with court security officers, in camera and ex parte, in order to provide to the Court information implicated by the allegations in this case and why its disclosure reasonably could be expected to harm national security…, include[ing] information needed to address whether or not, or under what circumstances, the United States may target a particular foreign terrorist organization and its senior leadership, the specific threat posed by… Anwar-al Aulaqi, and other matters that plaintiff[s have] put at issue, including any criteria governing the use of lethal force, updated to address the facts of this record.

Two weeks later, the government moved to reconsider, both on jurisdictional grounds and because, it said, Collyer didn’t need the information to dismiss the case.

Beyond the jurisdictional issue, the Court should vacate its Order because Defendants’ motion to dismiss, which raises the threshold defenses of the political question doctrine, special factors, and qualified immunity, remains pending. The information requested, besides being classified, is not germane to Defendants’ pending motion, which accepts Plaintiffs’ well-pled facts as true.

As part of their motion, however, the government admitted to supplementing the plaintiffs’ facts.

Defendants’ argument that decedents’ constitutional rights were not violated assumed the truth of Plaintiffs’ factual allegations, and supplemented those allegations only with judicially noticeable public information, the content of which Plaintiffs did not and do not dispute.

The plaintiffs even disputed that they didn’t dispute these claims, pointing out that they had introduced claims about:

  • AQAP’s status vis a vis al Qaeda
  • Whether the US is in an armed conflict with AQAP
  • The basis for Awlaki’s listing as a Special Designated Global Terrorist

Ultimately, even Collyer scolds the government for misstating the claims alleged in the complaint.

The United States argued that the factual information that the Court requested was not relevant to the Defendants’ special factors argument because special factors precluded Plaintiffs’ cause of action, given the context in which the claims, “as pled,” arose––that is, “the alleged firing of missiles by military and intelligence officers at enemies in a foreign country in the course of an armed conflict.” Mot. for Recons. & to Stay Order at ECF 10. The United States, however, mischaracterizes the Complaint. Continue reading

The Torture Apologists Raise Brennan’s Torture-Derived Scary Memos

Some time in mid-2004, 8 high ranking National Security officials gave then presiding FISA Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly a briefing. Their goal was to convince her the then halted and now-discontinued Internet dragnet program was so important, and the terrorist threat against the US so great, she should write a shoddy legal opinion authorizing NSA to restart the program under the authority of the FISA Pen Register statute.

As part of the briefing, they replicated a process they had used for Bush’s illegal wiretap program: to have CIA’s analytical people write what they called a “scary memo” explaining why al Qaeda was so dangerous we had to continue that dragnet.

After the terrorism analysts completed their portion of the memoranda, the DCI Chief of Staff added a paragraph at the end of the memoranda stating that the individuals and organizations involved in global terrorism (and discussed in the memoranda) possessed the capability and intention to’ undertake further terrorist attacks within the United States. The DCI Chief of Staff recalled that the paragraph was provided to him initially by a senior White House official. The paragraph included the DCI’s recommendation to the President that he authorize the NSA to conduct surveillance activities under the PSP. CIA Office of General Counsel (OGC) attorneys reviewed the draft threat assessment memoranda to determine whether they contained sufficient threat information and a compelling case for reauthorization of the PSP. [my emphasis]

As head of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (and later as head of the nascent National Counterterrorism Center), John Brennan oversaw that “scary memo.”

Last year, John Brennan admitted that he used information derived from the torture program (he calls it the detention and interrogation  program) for those “scary memos.”

Burr: I’m still not clear on whether you think the information from CIA interrogations saved lives.  Have you ever made a representation to a court, including the FISA court, about the type and importance of information learned from detainees including detainees in the CIA detention and interrogation program?

Brennan: Ahm, first of all, in the first part of your question, as to you’re not sure whether I believe that there has been information … I don’t know myself.

Burr: I said I wasn’t clear whether I understood, whether whether I was clear.

Brennan: And I’m not clear at this time either because I read a report that calls into question a lot of the information that I was provided earlier on, my impressions. Um. There, when I was in the government as the head of the national counterterrorism center I know that I had signed out a number of um affirmations related to the uh continuation of certain programs uh based on the analysis and intelligence that was available to analysts. I don’t know exactly what it was at the time, but we can take a look at that.

Burr: But the committee can assume that you had faith if you made that claim to a court or including the FISA court, you had faith in the documents in the information that was supplied to you to make that declaration.

Brennan: Absolutely. At the time if I had made any such affirmation, i would have had faith that the information I was provided was an accurate representation. [my emphasis]

We can imagine the kind of things Brennan might have used in his “scary memos” and that briefing to Kollar-Kotelly, on which the entire FISC-authorized dragnet .

Hassan Ghul — whom CIA tortured even after he provided critical information about Osama bin Laden’s courier — was already in custody, and given uncertainty about when his torture started, may have provided such information.

Continue reading

The Neverending CIA Drone Story Actually about Outsourced Intelligence

On March 20, 2013, I wrote one of several stories calling bullshit on reports that CIA would get out of the drone business. Not only did John Brennan’s actions up to that point (as opposed to what had been leaked to journalists anonymously) make it clear he intended for CIA to keep that portfolio. But his confirmation testimony made it clear he intended to retain and use CIA’s paramilitary — as distinct from traditional military — capabilities (and no, I’m not sure where the line between the two lies).

Today, the NYT has another of those stories reporting that — shock!! — I was right after all. It has a new twist though. It selectively quotes from Brennan’s confirmation materials to suggest he testified he would get CIA out of paramilitary operations.

During his confirmation hearings, Mr. Brennan obliquely criticized the performance of American spy agencies in providing intelligence and analysis of the Arab revolutions that began in 2009, and said the C.I.A. needed to cede some of its paramilitary role to the Pentagon.

“The C.I.A. should not be doing traditional military activities and operations,” he said.

This is what the quote actually looked like in context.

MIKULSKI: So, let me get to my questions. I have been concerned for some time that there is a changing nature of the CIA, and that instead of it being America’s top spy agency, top human spy agency to make sure that we have no strategic surprises, that it has become more and more executing paramilitary operations.

And I discussed this with you in our conversation. How do you see this? I see this as mission-creep. I see this as overriding the original mission of the CIA, for which you’re so well versed, and more a function of the Special Operations Command. Could you share with me how you see the CIA and what you think about this militarization of the CIA that’s going on?

BRENNAN: Senator, the principal mission of the agency is to collect intelligence, uncover those secrets, as you say, to prevent those strategic surprises and to be the best analytic component within the U.S. government, to do the allsource analysis that CIA has done so well for many, many years. At times, the president asks and directs the CIA to do covert action. That covert action can take any number of forms, to include paramilitary.

[snip]

And the CIA should not be doing traditional military activities and operations. [my emphasis]

That is, Brennan was not suggesting CIA should get out of paramilitary ops. On the contrary, he said CIA should retain that ability but not do traditional military activities.

His responses to questions for the record were even more clear.

What role do you see for the CIA in paramilitary-style intelligence activities or covert action?

The CIA, a successor to the Office of Strategic Services, has a long history of carrying out paramilitary-style intelligence activities and must continue to be able to provide the President with this option should he want to employ it to accomplish critical national security objectives.

How do you distinguish between the appropriate roles of the CIA and elements of the Department of Defense in paramilitary-style covert action?

As stated in my response to Question 6 above, the CIA and DOD must be ready to carry out missions at the direction of the President. The President must be able to select which element is best suited. Factors that should be considered include the capabilities sought, the experience and skills needed, the material required, and whether the activity must be conducted covertly.

The NYT quotes one more Brennan claim with much more fidelity, however, and in a way that is far more illuminating to the story it tells.

“Despite rampant rumors that the C.I.A. is getting out of the counterterrorism business, nothing could be further from the truth,” the C.I.A. director said during a speech last month at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The agency’s covert action authorities and relationships with foreign spy services, Mr. Brennan said, “will keep the C.I.A. on the front lines of our counterterrorism efforts for many years to come.”

Those lines come from this speech, which was most closely watched as Brennan’s rebuttal to Dianne Feinstein on the torture report, but which in fact declared the war on terror would continue along the same lines as it had since 9/11.

And despite rampant rumors that the CIA is getting out of the counterterrorism business, nothing could be further from the truth. CIA’s global mission, our intelligence collection, analysis, and covert action authorities and capabilities, as well as our extensive liaison relationships with intelligence and security services worldwide, will keep CIA on the frontlines of our counterterrorism efforts for many years to come.

Which is interesting, because the items reported in NYT’s story all say more about the US remaining hostage to the way we outsourced certain intelligence activities after 9/11 than anything else.

As a reminder, the Gloves Come Off Memorandum crafted by Cofer Black and signed on September 17, 2001 included a number of different activities. In addition to capturing and detaining top al Qaeda leaders (which became the torture program) and killing top al Qaeda figures using Predator drones (which remains in CIA hands), it authorized heavily subsidizing (“buying” was the word Bob Woodward used) Arab liaison services, originally including Jordan and Egypt but presumably adding Saudi Arabia once we got over the fact that the Saudis had ties to the attack. In a 2006 interview, John Brennan echoed and endorsed Cofer Black’s plan when discussing the war on terror.

With that in mind, consider the real scope of the details described in the NYT story:

  • After another catastrophically badly targeted strike — this time on a wedding — Yemen has banned JSOC’s drones but continues to permit CIA to fly them; CIA’s flights operate out of Saudi territory, presumably with significant Saudi involvement
  • Pakistan continues to permit only drone strikes run by CIA
  • Jordan required that CIA be in charge of training Syrian rebels and other fighters there
  • CIA missed the Arab Spring because it relied so heavily on Egypt’s Omar Suleiman, to whom we had outsourced our earliest torture

That is, the NYT is really reporting that, in spite of nominal efforts to change things, we remain captive to those relationships with liaison services, almost 13 years after 9/11. And that happens to also translate into operating drone strikes in such a way that two countries which were implicated in the 9/11 attacks — Pakistan and especially Saudi Arabia — have managed to stay relevant and above criticism by sustaining (perhaps artificially) our dependence on them.

And, almost certainly, the President’s implicit role in all these actions gives the CIA the institutional clout to make sure it retains whatever parts of this portfolio it cares to.

This, at least, should be the story.

In all of these countries, it’s not clear whether our reliance on these long-term partners helps or exacerbates the war on terror. But no one should maintain any illusions that it will change.

After US Adventure in Death Squad Training for Syria, Brennan Now Complains About al Qaeda Training There

Trying to prove once again that no level of hypocrisy is ever high enough for the US security theater industrial complex, today’s New York Times gives space for John Brennan to lament the use of Syria as a training ground for al Qaeda terrorists. Never mind that the US touted its efforts at developing death squads to send into Syria last fall, we must be outraged against this latest development:

Dozens of seasoned militant fighters, including some midlevel planners, have traveled to Syria from Pakistan in recent months in what American intelligence and counterterrorism officials fear is an effort to lay the foundation for future strikes against Europe and the United States.

“We are concerned about the use of Syrian territory by the Al Qaeda organization to recruit individuals and develop the capability to be able not just to carry out attacks inside of Syria, but also to use Syria as a launching pad,” John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, told a House panel recently.

But wait a minute. Didn’t we spend all that time and money droning the shit out of the terrorists in Pakistan? Oh, yeah:

The extremists who concern Mr. Brennan are part of a group of Qaeda operatives in Pakistan that has been severely depleted in recent years by a decade of American drone strikes. But the fighters still bring a wide range of skills to the battlefield, such as bomb-building, small-arms tactics, logistics, religious indoctrination and planning, though they are not believed to have experience in launching attacks in the West.

That is just classic Brennan security theater. We are supposed to get our panties in a wad about a group that he spent years to render “severely depleted” and now they suddenly are going to move to Syria, where they will magically develop the ability to attack the West even though they “are not believed to have experience in launching attacks in the West”.

Okay, then. Recall that just back in September, the US was thumping its chest over its own efforts in training death squads for Syria. Except that Obama then had to doctor the record a bit on the timing and size of the first death squad we sent in when it coincided too closely with the chemical weapons attack in August. Oh, and we had to tell people that the guy eating his opponent’s heart really was from one of the moderate groups we were training.

The bottom line is that the US can use the region to train any group of terrorists it wants to use in service of its own goals, but nobody else is allowed to do exactly what we are doing.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Syria remains dire.  Reuters reports on a just released but not published report from the UN. And, of course, the US is wasting no time in spinning the findings of the report:

A U.N. report on how Syria’s neediest civilians are often not accessible to humanitarian relief workers makes it clear that the government of President Bashar al-Assad shoulders most of the blame, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.

/snip/

“What the report shows is that the magnitude and frequency of violence committed by the Assad regime far outstrips that of the armed groups in Syria,” a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“The Syrian government’s massive and indiscriminate use of violence is the single most important factor driving the humanitarian crisis,” the official said. “The report is very clear on this and in pointing to the government’s failure to implement the resolution’s provisions.”

Information released to date doesn’t make either side look very good: Continue reading

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.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
bmaz People can talk+squawk ignorantly about the border, and control thereof, but they are politically motivated jackasses http://t.co/XVTrzpC9pB
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bmaz You want horror of Juarez, go see @dcbigjohn feed of last 24 hrs. If you think that is representative, get your head out of your ass. #NOT
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bmaz It was easy for @RubenGallego who I unconditionally supported, to be progressive, will he be so now? @downwithtyranny @ralonzo #TimeTells
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bmaz @Will_Bunch One of these teams may arguably have better pitching than the other.
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bmaz @nicholsong I may join, cause I currently have no dental plan #ThanksObama
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bmaz @nicholsong Also, al-Qaida and ISIS, right?
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bmaz @nicholsong And, heck, parenting is HARD. I mean that. But this shit is just too much.
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bmaz @nicholsong Meh, I have no issue with that. These are not great parents that thought this a good idea.
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bmaz @nicholsong Different times and places though. I would be dead if I had learned to drive where we live now.
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bmaz @nicholsong Hey, my daughter turns 19 tomorrow and has never sought her driver's license. I had my first accident at age 14.
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bmaz @nicholsong This was a freaking UZI pistol with lame stock, at best!
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