By my count, John Rizzo completes his first lie in his purported “memoir,” Company Man, at the 64th word:
Zubaydah complained in his diary (see page 84) before he was captured in 2002 that he was being called Osama bin Laden’s heir when he wasn’t even a member of al Qaeda. And in his Combatant Status Review Board hearing in 2007 (see page 27), Zubaydah described his interrogators admitting he wasn’t Al Qaeda’s number 3, not even a partner. And in a 2009 habeas document the government calls Zubaydah an Al Qaeda affiliate, not a member (see 35 to 36 and related requests).
And yet Rizzo tells this lie right in the first paragraph of his book.
Granted, I’m more sympathetic to this lie than many of Rizzo’s other lies. I understand why he must continue telling it.
Back in 2002, Rizzo told John Yoo that Abu Zubaydah was a top al Qaeda figure during the drafting of the August 1, 2002 Bybee Memo authorizing torture. And based on that information, Yoo wrote,
As we understand it, Zubaydah is one of the highest ranking members of the al Qaeda terrorist organization, with which the United States is currently engaged in an international armed conflict following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.
Our advice is based upon the following facts, which you have provided to us. We also understand that you do not have any facts in your possession contrary to the facts outlined here, and this opinion is limited to these facts. If these facts were to change, this advice would not necessarily apply.
Zubaydah, though only 31, rose quickly from very low level mujahedin to third or fourth man in al Qaeda. He has served as Usama Bin Laden’s senior lieutenant.
If Rizzo were to admit that the representations he made to Yoo back in 2002 were false, then the legal sanction CIA got to conduct torture would crumble.
And unlike a lot of the lies CIA — and John Rizzo in particular — told DOJ during the life of the torture program, I’m not absolutely certain CIA knew this one to be a lie when they told it. CIA (and FBI) definitely believed Zubaydah was a high ranking al Qaeda figure when they caught him. In his CSRT, Zubaydah describes admitting he was al Qaeda’s number 3 under torture. Though it’s not clear whether that was the torture that took place before or after the memo authorizing that torture got written, raising the possibility that CIA presented lies Zubaydah told under torture to DOJ to get authorization for the torture they had already committed. But by the time of the memo, CIA had also had 4 months to to read Zubaydah’s diaries, which make such matters clear (and had it in their possession, so that by itself should invalidate the memo). So they should have and probably did know, but I think it marginally conceivable they did not.
Still, that doesn’t excuse journalists who have these facts available to them yet treat Rizzo as an honest interlocutor, as James Rosen is only the latest in a long line of journalists to do.
So as a service to those journalists who aren’t doing the basic work they need to do on this story, I thought I’d make a list of the documented lies Rizzo tells just in the first 10 pages of his “memoir.” These don’t include items that may be errors or lies. These don’t include everything that I have strong reason to believe is a lie or that we know to be lies but don’t yet have official documentation to prove it. They include only the lies that are disproven by CIA and other official documents that have been in the public domain for years.
These lies, like Rizzo’s lie about Abu Zubaydah’s role in 9/11, also serve important purposes in the false narrative the torturers have told.
I’ve gone through this exercise (I’m contemplating a much longer analysis of all the lies Rizzo told, but it makes me nauseous thinking about it) to point out that any journalist who treats him as an honest interlocutor, accepting his answers — he made some of the same claims to Rosen as he made here — as credible without real challenge is just acting as a CIA propagandist.
Don’t take my word for it — take the CIA’s word, as many of Rizzo’s claims are disproven by CIA’s own documents!
Update, April 21: Ben Wittes, in his review of this tract: “Rizzo is just being honest.” To be fair, Wittes appears to have meant it to describe Rizzo’s unvarying viewpoint, always serving his loyalty to the CIA. But in a review that doesn’t mention Rizzo’s serial lies, it’s embarrassing.
(1) Abu Zubaydah was not CIA’s first significant “catch.” Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was, though the CIA outsourced his torture to the Egyptians.
(3) Correspondence describes tapes of Abu Zubaydah’s torture in April 2002, not July 2002, as Rizzo claims. (see PDF 1)
(3-4) Obviously, CIA had another option besides torture: to let the FBI continue interrogating Zubaydah. Even if you don’t believe FBI had the success they claim to have had, they were an alternative that Rizzo makes no mention of.
(4) The first torture memo was not the August 1, 2002 one. Yoo wrote a shorter fax on July 13, 2002, which (according to the OPR Report) is actually the memo CTC’s lawyers relied on for their guidance to the torturers.
(5) Jose Rodriguez did not decide to destroy the tapes in October; he decided on September 5, the day after first briefing Nancy Pelosi on torture (without having told her they had already engaged in it).
(5) CIA did not follow the guidelines laid out in the Bybee memo for waterboarding, as CIA’s IG determined in 2004, and at least by the time the CIA IG reviewed the tapes, there was a great deal censored via damage, turning off the camera, or taping over of the content.(see PDF 42 and this post)
(6) The Gang of Eight was not briefed in 2002; only the Gang of Four (the Intelligence Committee heads) was. According to CIA’s own records, only one Congressional leader got a timely briefing, Bill Frist in 2004 (though Pelosi was briefed as HPSCI Ranking Member in 2002).
(8) John McPherson did not review the tapes after Christmas, 2002; he reviewed them about a month earlier. (see this post and linked underlying documents)
(8) Jay Rockefeller was not briefed in January 2003; only a staffer of his was. See this post for all the lies they told Pat Roberts in that briefing.
(9) While John Helgerson did not write about techniques that had not been authorized, he did describe that the waterboard as performed did not follow the guidelines given by DOJ. (see PDF 42) Rizzo also doesn’t note Helgerson’s observations about the tampering done to the tapes, which may have hidden unauthorized techniques.
(10) It is false that the 9/11 Commission Report relied heavily on Abu Zubaydah’s interrogations. They are cited just 10 times, and at least one of those was not corroborated.
But much of this has been clear for even longer, having been exposed in some form in 2009-10.
Yet much of that got lost in CIA’s aggressive attack on Congress — one that anticipated what we’ve seen and will surely continue to see with the release of the Torture Report. At the time, CIA attempted to claim Congress had been fully briefed on torture, and therefore shouldn’t criticize the agency. Yet it gradually became clear how laughable CIA’s claims were. Along the way details of the lies CIA told in briefings came out.
The lies CIA told Congress in its first several years of the torture program include that it,
There are a number of claims CIA made that are almost certainly also false — most notably with regards to what intelligence came from torture — but most of that didn’t get recorded in the CIA’s records. I fully expect we’ll find details of those in the Senate Intelligence Committee report.
September 17, 2001: Bush signs “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification that authorizes capture and detention of top al Qaeda leaders, but leaves CIA to decide the details of that detention
Before I focus on the briefings, some background is in order.
Torture started as a covert operation authorized by the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification. Under the National Security Act, the Intelligence Committees had to be briefed on that Finding and they were. However, the Finding was structured such that it laid out general ideas — in this case, the capture and detention of senior al Qaeda figures — and left the implementation up to CIA. As a result, key members of Congress (notably, Jane Harman, who was Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee for much of the period during which the program operated) apparently had no idea that the Finding they had been briefed on in timely fashion actually served as the Presidential authorization for torture until years later. Also, since that September 17, 2001 Finding authorized both torture and the outsourcing of nasty jobs to foreign intelligence partners, the earliest torture, such as that of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in Egyptian custody starting in February 2002 and Binyam Mohamed in Pakistani custody starting in April 2002, should be considered part of the same covert op.
April to July 2002: CIA tortures Abu Zubaydah based solely on Presidential authorization
By now there is no dispute: the CIA started torturing Abu Zubaydah well before the August 1, 2002 memo that purportedly prospectively authorized that treatment. CIA even exceeded early verbal guidance on things like sleep deprivation, after which CIA unilaterally authorized what CIA had done retrospectively. The CIA appears to have gotten in real trouble when they moved to conduct mock burial with Abu Zubaydah, to which Ali Soufan objected; his objections appear to be the reason why mock burial (and by extension, mock execution) was the only technique John Yoo ultimately rejected. On July 13, after Michael Chertoff refused to give advance declination of prosecution to CIA for things they were ostensibly talking about prospectively but which had in fact already occurred, Yoo wrote a short memo, almost certainly coached by David Addington but not overseen by Yoo’s boss Jay Bybee, that actually served as the authorization CIA’s CTC would rely on for Abu Zubaydah’s torture, not the August 1 memos everyone talks about. As a result, CIA could point to a document that did not include limits on specific techniques and the precise implementation of those techniques as their authorization to torture.
CIA had, in internal documents, once claimed to have briefed the Gang of Four (then Porter Goss, Nancy Pelosi, Richard Shelby, and Bob Graham) in April 2002. But after being challenged, they agreed they did not conduct those briefings. This, then, created a problem, as CIA had not really briefed Congress — not even the Gang of Four — about this “covert op.”
Septmber 4, 2002: CIA provides initial trial balloon briefing to Pelosi and Goss, then starts destroying evidence
On September 4, 2002, 7 months after Egypt started torturing Ibn Sheikh al-Libi at America’s behest, almost 5 months after CIA started torturing Abu Zubaydah, and over a month after the OLC memo that purportedly started a month of torture for Abu Zubaydah, Jose Rodriguez, a CTC lawyer, and Office of Congressional Affairs head Stan Moskowitz first briefed Congress on torture techniques.
The record supports a claim that CIA provided some kind of description of torture to Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss. It supports a claim that neither objected to the techniques briefed. Both Pelosi and Goss refer to this briefing, however, as a prospective briefing. Goss referred to the torture techniques as “techniques [that] were to actually be employed,” not that had already been employed, and when asked he did not claim they had been briefed on techniques that had been used. Pelosi claimed,
I was informed then that Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed.
Those conducting the briefing promised to inform the appropriate Members of Congress if that technique were to be used in the future.
Thus, at least as far as Goss and Pelosi are concerned, over a month after they first waterboarded Abu Zubaydah (and many more after Egypt had waterboarded al-Libi for us), CIA implied they had not yet done so with any detainee.
As striking as the evidence that CIA only briefed prospectively on torture that had been used for as many as 7 months, however, is what happened next. CIA moved to destroy evidence.
The day after that initial briefing in which CIA told Congress it might torture in the future, it “determined that the best alternative to eliminate those security and additional risks is to destroy these tapes.” Then, the following day, CTC altered its own notes on the substance of the briefing, taking out a sentence (it’s not clear what that sentence said). CIA’s Office of Congressional Affairs never finalized a description for this, and at one time even listed Jane Harman as the attendee rather than Pelosi. In fact, in a list of the briefings on torture compiled in July 2004, it did not treat this briefing as one covering torture at all.
In addition, for some reason a briefing for Bob Graham and Richard Shelby initially scheduled for September 9 got rescheduled for the end of the month, September 27. According to available records, Jose Rodriguez did not attend. According to Bob Graham’s notoriously meticulous notes, the briefing was not conducted in a SCIF, but instead in Hart Office Building, meaning highly classified information could not have been discussed. Graham says it chiefly described the intelligence the CIA claimed to have gotten from their interrogation program. Graham insists waterboarding did not come up, but Shelby, working off memory, disputes that claim.
February 4 and 5, 2002: CIA gets Republican approval to destroy the torture tapes, kills SSCI’s nascent investigation, and refuses to explain torture’s Presidential authorization
By November 2002, Bob Graham had started to hear vague rumors about the torture program. He did not, he says, receive notice that CIA froze Gul Rahman to death after dousing him with water or even hear about it specifically. But because of those rumors, Graham moved to exercise more oversight over the torture program, asking to have another staffer read into the program, and asking that a staffer see a Black Site and observe interrogation. That effort was thwarted in the first full briefing CIA gave Congress on torture on February 4, 2002, when CIA told Pat Roberts (who had assumed Senate Intelligence Chair; newly Ranking Member Jay Rockefeller was not present at this briefing, though a staffer was) they would not meet Graham’s requests. CIA claims — but Roberts disputes — that he said he could think of “ten reasons right off why it is a terrible idea” to exercise such oversight.
In addition to getting Roberts to quash that nascent assessment, CIA gave Roberts the following false information:
The Memorandum of Understanding of this briefing appears to be one of only two that got finalized (it actually included a reference that Goss and Harman had been briefed on the torture tape, but not that Harman warned against destroying it).
The February 5, 2003 briefing involving Porter Goss and Jane Harman is just as interesting, though CIA has refused to release their notes from it.
Five days after the briefing, Harman wrote a letter questioning whether torture had been reviewed from a policy perspective and advising against destroying Abu Zubaydah’s torture tape. In addition, she asked if the President had signed off, revealing that she didn’t know that the Finding she had been briefed on included torture. The CIA and the White House met to decide how to respond. In the end, CIA General Counsel Scott Muller’s response didn’t really answer any of Harman’s questions, nor note her warning against destroying the torture tape.
Also note: in the month before these briefings, the CIA prepared what appears to be a tear-line document on Abu Zubaydah. While it’s not certain the document was prepared to brief the Gang of Four, it matches what we know to have been said to Roberts, especially as regards to the torture tapes. But it also reveals real discrepancies between the tear-line (Secret) claims and the Top Secret claims it was based on, notably inflating the value of Abu Zubaydah’s intelligence below the tear-line.
September 4, 2003: An innocuous briefing left off some of the tracking
We don’t really know what happened in the September 4, 2003 briefings of both Goss and Harman and Roberts and Rockfeller, which is a shame because it would have covered Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s treatment (and that of Ammar al-Baluchi, whom we now know may have been treated even worse than his uncle). In fact, it was left off lists of “sensitive” briefings at different times.
July 2004: CIA has to tell Congress even CIA(‘s IG) thinks they lied
On May 7, 2004, CIA’s IG John Helgerson completed his report finding that the torture had exceeded guidelines and questioning the value of the intelligence obtained using it. On June 23, the Roberts and Rockefeller got copies (it’s not clear whether Goss and Harman got advance copies). On July 13, 2004, CIA briefed Goss and Harman again.
The briefing did include some details from CIA IG John Helgerson’s report on the program — that it violated the Convention Against Torture and did not comply with the OLC memos. He also explained that both Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s waterboarding was problematic, the first in execution and the second in number.
As part of that briefing (or by reading the IG Report), Harman learned that the Finding authorized this torture; in the briefing she pointed out the Finding had only authorized detention and capture, not interrogation.
But CIA persisted in a narrow dodge and two false claims:
There are few details on the briefing CIA gave Roberts and Rockefeller on July 15.
These are just the details of the lies CIA itself has documented and released CIA telling Congress. There are other allegations of CIA lies in briefings, though those records were not released under FOIA. And things started getting really funky in 2005, as Dick Cheney started participating in CIA briefings to try to defeat the Detainee Treatment Act. In addition, CIA briefed Pete Hoekstra (who had become the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee) on the morning they destroyed the torture tapes; the content of that briefing has never been revealed.
None of this excuses Congress, of course: the knew enough to know this was problematic.
But it is clear that CIA lied to them both to boost the value of the torture they were doing and to diminish the problems and abuses.
The traditional media is catching up to my post the other day focusing on Robert Eatinger, the CIA lawyer who referred Senate Intelligence Committee staffers for criminal investigation. Welcome traditional media!!
Just to expand the discussion of how deeply involved CTC’s lawyers — including, but not limited to, Eatinger — have been in torture, I thought I’d expand on my post from the other day with a timeline of CTC documents and consultation, most from its legal team, that might be among the 1,600 mentions of Eatinger in the Senate Torture Report that Dianne Feinstein referred to the other day.
I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center—the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study.
Note, some of this information relies on the OPR report; at least three of CTC’s lawyers refused to cooperate with that report, two based on advice of counsel. Remember too that, just as happened with the SCIF CIA made the Senate Intelligence Committee use, between 10 and 61 torture documents disappeared from DOJ’s OLC SCIF during the period when OPR was working on its report.
April 2002: Months before the first torture memo, CTC’s lawyers, in consultation with NSC and DOJ, approved 24-48 hours of sleep deprivation for use with Abu Zubaydah (who, remember, was still recovering from life-threatening bullet wounds). The torturers promptly exceeded those limits. So CTC, on its own, approved the new amounts because, they claimed, Abu Zubaydah hadn’t suffered any adverse consequences. (See PDF 113-114)
After consulting with the NSC and DOJ, CTC[redacted] originally approved 24-48 hours of sleep deprivation.
In April 2002 CTC[redacted] learned that due to a misunderstanding, that time frame had been exceeded.
However, CTC[redacted] advised that since the process did not have adverse medical effects or result in hallucinations (thereby disrupting profoundly Abu Zubaydah’s senses or personality) it was within legal parameters.
After August 1, 2002: After the Bybee Memos laid out which torture techniques were permitted, then, CTC chief lawyer Jonathan Fredman sent out legal guidance to the torturers in Thailand. Rather than relying on the Bybee Memos, he relied on a July 13, 2002 John Yoo memo, purportedly prepared without the knowledge of Bybee (but, given the timing, probably written in response to Chertoff’s refusal to provide pre-declination andwith coaching from David Addington). The earlier memo lacked some of the key caveats of the later ones.
September 6, 2002: On September 4, 2002, Jose Rodriguez and a lawyer from CTC briefed Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss on torture. The following day, CIA started discussing destroying the torture tapes. Then, on September 6, a lawyer from CTC altered the record of the briefing to Pelosi and Goss. (see PDF 84 and PDF 11-12)
October 2, 2002: CTC top lawyer Jonathan Fredman briefs Gitmo about torture and says a number of inflammatory things about detainee treatment.
December 24, 2002: CTC completes memo advocating for destruction of torture tapes.
Early 2003: After DOJ told CIA’s Inspector General to develop its own set of facts for review of any criminal liability in torture, John Yoo and Jennifer Koester start freelancing with CTC’s lawyers to develop the “Legal Principles” or “Bullet Points” document which expanded on the analysis officially approved by OLC. Koester told DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility the document would be used to assess the legality of the torture.
She understood that the Bullet Points were drafted to give the CIA OIG a summary of OLC’s advice to the CIA about the legality of the detention and interrogation program. [Koester] understood that the CIA OIG had indicated to CTC[redacted] that it might evaluate the legality of the program in connection with its investigation, and that the Bullet Points were intended to demonstrate that OLC had already weighed in on the subject.
June 16, 2003: In her review, Koester took out language CIA had included saying that “comparable, approved techniques” to those approved in the Bybee Memo did not violate law or the Constitution. But when CTC’s lawyers sent the “Bullet Points” back to OLC in 2003 as an attempted fait accompli, that language had been inserted back into the memo.
April 2004: Eatinger takes over as top CTC lawyer.
Unknown date: CTC’s lawyers write a declination memo recommending against charges for Salt Pit manager Matt Zirbel in the murder of Gul Rahman based on (according to Jay Bybee’s characterization) an entirely intent-based exoneration. (see footnote 28)
Notably, the declination memorandum prepared by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Section regarding the death of Gul Rahman provides a correct explanation of the specific intent element and did not rely on any motivation to acquire information. Report at 92. If [redacted], as manager of the Saltpit site, did not intend for Rahman to suffer severe pain from low temperatures in his cell, he would lack specific intent under the anti-torture statute. And it is also telling that the declination did not even discuss the possibility that the prosecution was barred by the Commander-in-Chief section of the Bybee memo.
May 11, 2004: White House meeting, possibly attended by Eatinger, at which White House lawyers tell CIA not to destroy torture tapes.
June 2004: According to John Rizzo, Eatinger attends White House meeting at which White House lawyers instruct not to destroy torture tapes.
August 4-5, 2004: CTC lawyers provide Daniel Levin additional information on waterboarding; the Torture Report found this information to be inaccurate.
August 19, 2004: Another CIA letter, from a lawyer other than John Rizzo, the Torture Report found to be inaccurate.
September 5, 2004: Another CIA letter, from a lawyer other than John Rizzo, the Torture Report found to be inaccurate.
September 19, 2004: Another CIA letter, from a lawyer other than John Rizzo, the Torture report found to be inaccurate.
February 2, 2005: A CTC lawyer worked closely with Daniel Levin to try to finish the Combined Memo before Levin moved to NSC. At that point, the Memo did not include waterboarding. Nevertheless, Levin did not complete it, and Steve Bradbury would add waterboarding back in when he completed the memo that April.
Febraury 14, 2005: CTC panics because Congress might hold hearings into detainee treatment.
March 1, 2005: Steven Bradbury’s main contact for Combined and other torture memos is a CTC attorney. The Torture Report found information used in these memos to be inaccurate.
March 2, 2005: CTC sends Re: Effectiveness of the CIA Counterintelligence Interrogation Techniques to Steven Bradbury for use in Special Needs argument in torture memos. Similar memos that have been released have made demonstrably false claims. John Rizzo says CTC lawyers were involved in drafting this document.
April 15, 2005: CTC sends Briefing Notes on the Value of Detainee Reporting to Steven Bradbury for use in Special Needs argument in torture memos. Similar memos that have been released have made demonstrably false claims. Rizzo says CTC lawyers were involved in drafting this document.
May 10, 2005: Steven Bradbury completes two OLC memos — the Techniques Memo and Combined Memo — that the Torture Report found are based on inaccurate information.
May 30, 2005: Bradbury completes a third OLC memo — the CAT Memo — that the Torture Report found is based on inaccurate information.
November 8, 2005: The day CIA destroyed the torture tapes, someone from CTC/LGL gave HPSCI Chair Pete Hoekstra a briefing with no staffers present. (see page 32) The briefing was included in a summary of all Congressional briefings completed that day.
November 8, 2005: Eatinger and another CTC lawyer claim there is no legal reason to retain the torture tapes, in spite of several pending legal requests covering the videos. Jose Rodriguez orders their destruction.
January 25, 2006: Another letter from a lawyer other than John Rizzo that Torture Report may have found to be inaccurate.
April 19, 2006: Fax from a lawyer other than Rizzo that Torture Report may have found to be inaccurate.
May 18, 2006: Letter from a lawyer other than Rizzo, claiming torture techniques would be used for safety reasons, the Torture Report may have found to be inaccurate.
Update: h/t to DocEx blog for some additions to this timeline.
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.
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.
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.
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?
As part of my ongoing focus on Executive Order 12333, I’ve been reviewing how the Bush Administration changed the EO when, shortly after the passage of the FISA Amendments Act, on July 30, 2008, they rolled out a new version of the order, with little consultation with Congress. Here’s the original version Ronald Reagan issued in 1981, here’s the EO making the changes, here’s how the new and improved version from 2008 reads with the changes.
While the most significant changes in the EO were — and were billed to be — the elaboration of the increased role for the Director of National Intelligence (who was then revolving door Booz executive Mike McConnell), there are actually several changes that affected NSA.
Perhaps the most striking of those is that, even while the White House claimed “there were very, very few changes to Part 2 of the order” — the part that provides protections for US persons and imposes prohibitions on activities like assassinations — the EO actually replaced what had been a prohibition on the dissemination of SIGINT pertaining to US persons with permission to disseminate it with Attorney General approval.
The last paragraph of 2.3 — which describes what data on US persons may be collected — reads in the original,
In addition, agencies within the Intelligence Community may disseminate information, other than information derived from signals intelligence, to each appropriate agency within the Intelligence Community for purposes of allowing the recipient agency to determine whether the information is relevant to its responsibilities and can be retained by it.
The 2008 version requires AG and DNI approval for such dissemination, but it affirmatively permits it.
In addition, elements of the Intelligence Community may disseminate information to each appropriate element within the Intelligence Community for purposes of allowing the recipient element to determine whether the information is relevant to its responsibilities and can be retained by it, except that information derived from signals intelligence may only be disseminated or made available to Intelligence Community elements in accordance with procedures established by the Director in coordination with the Secretary of Defense and approved by the Attorney General.
Given that the DNI and AG certified the minimization procedures used with FAA, their approval for any dissemination under that program would be built in here; they have already approved it! The same is true of the SPCMA — the EO 12333 US person metadata analysis that had been approved by both Attorney General Mukasey and Defense Secretary Robert Gates earlier that year. Also included in FISA-specific dissemination, the FBI had either just been granted, or would be in the following months, permission — in minimization procedures approved by both the DNI and AG — to conduct back door searches on incidentally collected US person data.
In other words, at precisely the time when at least 3 different programs expanded the DNI and AG approved SIGINT collection and analysis of US person data, EO 12333 newly permitted the dissemination of that information.
And a more subtle change goes even further. Section 2.5 of the EO delegates authority to the AG to “approve the use for intelligence purposes, within the United States or against a United States person abroad, of any technique for which a warrant would be required if undertaken for law enforcement purposes.” In both the original and the revised EO, that delegation must be done within the scope of FISA (or FISA as amended, in the revision). But in 1981, FISA surveillance had to be “conducted in accordance with that Act [FISA], as well as this Order,” meaning that the limits on US person collection and dissemination from the EO applied, on top of any limits imposed by FISA. The 2008 EO dropped the last clause, meaning that such surveillance only has to comply with FISA, and not with other limits in the EO.
That’s significant because there are at least three things built into known FISA minimization procedures — the retention of US person data to protect property as well as life and body, the indefinite retention of encrypted communications, and the broader retention of “technical data base information” — that does not appear to be permitted under the EO’s more general guidelines but, with this provision, would be permitted (and, absent Edward Snowden, would also be hidden from public view in minimization procedures no one would ever get to see).
As I noted in January, comments Mark Udall made in the course of confirming Stephen Preston to be DOD General Counsel make it clear that CIA’s lies about a detainee generally believed to be Hassan Ghul are one of the new revelations in the Torture Report. For a number of reasons, I believe one thing CIA lied to DOJ about is when they tortured Ghul.
As I’ll show in a follow-up post, the question of when they tortured Hassan Ghul may reflect not just on the torture program, but also on the dragnet.
The public record claiming Ghul was tortured in July and August, 2004
We can lay out a rough timeline of the torture of the detainee believed to be Ghul based on several data points. First, Jay Bybee’s response to the Office of Professional Responsibility report (see page 22) makes it clear a July 2, 2004 Principals Committee meeting pertained to detainee “Janat Gul,” custody of whom CIA had reportedly (see PDF 59) just obtained (Bybee would not have been at the meeting — he had become a Circuit Court Judge over a year earlier — so he must be relying on what the OPR report says).
In addition, we can trace back the documents leading up to a reference to “Gul” in the May 30, 2005 CAT memo (see page 7). That reference describes an August 25, 2004 letter that asked for permission to use — among other things — water dousing and abdominal slaps. The approval to that request, dated August 26, 2004, cites the August 25 letter, an August 2, 2004 letter from John Rizzo, and a July 30, 2004 letter. An August 6, 2004 letter approving waterboarding also cites the August 2 Rizzo letter.
In the August 10, 2005 Techniques memo, some of these same documents are cited; the memo also reveals its subject was obese and had heart problems. Although the Techniques memo approved waterbaording, it said it was not used with the subject of the memo because of a medical contraindication.
All of this would seem to give the following chronology for Hassan Ghul’s torture (assuming he is the detainee referred to as Gul):
July 2, 2004: CIA obtains custody and in a Principals Committee meeting discusses his torture
July 7, 2004: Goldsmith provides guidance on acceptable techniques
July 22, 2004 (5 days after Goldsmith’s departure): John Ashcroft approves the use of all Bybee Memo techniques, except for waterboarding
July 30, 2004: Letter to Daniel Levin including description of torture techniques
August 1, 2004: Government raises threat level in advance of election year threats, announces surveillance of financial institutions, though reports are years old
August 2, 2004: Letter from John Rizzo to Levin, including details on when the CIA would use waterboarding and a medical and psychological assessment of Ghul
August 6, 2004: Daniel Levin advises that subject to reservations, CIA’s use of waterboarding not illegal
August 19, 2004: Letter to Daniel Levin detailing new limits on waterboarding
August 25, 2004: In letter to Daniel Levin asking to water douse Ghul, CIA claims the CIA believed (when it got custody) Ghul had actionable intelligence on “pre-election” threat to United States, had extensive connections to various al Qaeda leaders, members of the Taliban, and Zarqawi, and had tried to set up a meeting “at which elements of the pre-election threat were discussed”
August 26, 2004: Levin approves four new techniques with Ghul, including water dousing
This chronology suggests DOJ repeatedly told CIA waterboarding was not permissible in the weeks after Jack Goldsmith withdrew the Bybee Memo, but after the National Security establishment raised the threat level on August 1 because of years-old surveillance in the US, DOJ relented and approved waterboarding with Ghul. Subsequently, it appears, CIA decided Ghul was not healthy enough — either because of his heart condition or his obesity — to undergo waterboarding, so they instead water doused him in near-freezing temperatures.
The problem with this chronology
There is just one problem with that chronology: the CAT memo discusses two detainees (see page 6). The description of the first detainee — someone involved in the alleged 2004 pre-election threat — mentions the August 25 letter which elsewhere in the memo ties to Gul by name.
Back when John Yoo was finding ways to authorize President Bush’s illegal wiretap program — especially spying on Americans who were not agents of a foreign power — he changed the meaning of certain limits in EO 12333 without rewriting EO 12333. The President didn’t have to change EO 12333 to reflect actual practice, Yoo determined (relying on an Iran-Contra precedent), because ignoring EO 12333 amounted to modifying it.
An executive order cannot limit a President. There is no constitutional requirement for a President to issue a new executive order whenever he wishes to depart from the terms of a previous executive order. Rather than violate an executive order, the President has instead modified or waived it.
I call this pixie-dusting, where the Executive makes his own orders and directives disappear in secret.
The use of pixie-dust — so recently used to justify spying on people while pretending not to spy on them — ought to give you pause when you read this passage from President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive limiting US spying overseas (or, frankly, everything he said today, which all consists of the Executive exercising its prerogative to change and oversee Executive actions, but in no way includes any teeth to sustain such changes).
Nothing in this directive shall be construed to prevent me from exercising my constitutional authority, including as Commander in Chief, Chief Executive, and in the conduct of foreign affairs, as well as my statutory authority. Consistent with this principle, a recipient of this directive may at any time recommend to me, through the APNSA, a change to the policies and procedures contained in this directive.
Effectively Obama is laying out his prerogative to pixie dust this PPD.
And while the President admittedly would always have such prerogative, he didn’t include such a paragraph in his cyberwar PPD (which, of course, wasn’t meant to be public).
This PPD was designed to be ignored.
And I suspect our friends and adversaries know that.
I’ve been meaning to go back to an exchange that occurred during Caroline Krass’ confirmation hearing to be CIA’s General Counsel back on December 17. In it, Ron Wyden raised a problematic OLC opinion he has mentioned in unclassified settings at least twice in the last year (he also wrote a letter to Eric Holder about it in summer 2012): once in a letter to John Brennan, where he described it as “an opinion that interprets common commercial service agreements [that] has direct relevance to ongoing congressional debates regarding cybersecurity legislation.” And then again in Questions for the Record in September.
Having been ignored by Eric Holder for at least a year and a half (probably closer to 3 years) on this front and apparently concerned about the memo as we continue to discuss legislation that pertains to cybersecurity, he used Krass’ confirmation hearing to get more details on why DOJ won’t withdraw the memo and what it would take to be withdrawn.
Wyden: The other matter I want to ask you about dealt with this matter of the OLC opinion, and we talked about this in the office as well. This is a particularly opinion in the Office of Legal Counsel I’ve been concerned about — I think the reasoning is inconsistent with the public’s understanding of the law and as I indicated I believe it needs to be withdrawn. As we talked about, you were familiar with it. And my first question — as I indicated I would ask — as a senior government attorney, would you rely on the legal reasoning contained in this opinion?
Krass: Senator, at your request I did review that opinion from 2003, and based on the age of the opinion and the fact that it addressed at the time what it described as an issue of first impression, as well as the evolving technology that that opinion was discussing, as well as the evolution of case law, I would not rely on that opinion if I were–
Wyden: I appreciate that, and again your candor is helpful, because we talked about this. So that’s encouraging. But I want to make sure nobody else ever relies on that particular opinion and I’m concerned that a different attorney could take a different view and argue that the opinion is still legally valid because it’s not been withdrawn. Now, we have tried to get Attorney General Holder to withdraw it, and I’m trying to figure out — he has not answered our letters — who at the Justice Department has the authority to withdraw the opinion. Do you currently have the authority to withdraw the opinion?
Krass: No I do not currently have that authority.
Wyden: Okay. Who does, at the Justice Department?
Krass: Well, for an OLC opinion to be withdrawn, on OLC’s own initiative or on the initiative of the Attorney General would be extremely unusual. That happens only in extraordinary circumstances. Normally what happens is if there is an opinion which has been given to a particular agency for example, if that agency would like OLC to reconsider the opinion or if another component of the executive branch who has been affected by the advice would like OLC to reconsider the opinion they will come to OLC and say, look, this is why we think you were wrong and why we believe the opinion should be corrected. And they will be doing that when they have a practical need for the opinion because of particular operational activities that they would like to conduct. I have been thinking about your question because I understand your serious concerns about this opinion, and one approach that seems possible to me is that you could ask for an assurance from the relevant elements of the Intelligence Community that they would not rely on the opinion. I can give you my assurance that if I were confirmed I would not rely on the opinion at the CIA.
Wyden: I appreciate that and you were very straightforward in saying that. What concerns me is unless the opinion is withdrawn, at some point somebody else might be tempted to reach the opposite conclusion. So, again, I appreciate the way you’ve handled a sensitive matter and I’m going to continue to prosecute the case for getting this opinion withdrawn.
The big piece of news here — from Krass, not Wyden — is that the opinion dates to 2003, which dates it to the transition period bridging Jay Bybee/John Yoo and Jack Goldsmith’s tenure at OLC, and also the period when the Bush Administration was running its illegal wiretap program under a series of dodgy OLC opinions. She also notes that it was a memo on first impression — something there was purportedly no law or prior opinion on — on new technology.
Yet for some reason, it was not among the opinions Goldsmith chose to withdraw in 2004 (assuming he didn’t write it), nor will Eric Holder even respond to questions about why he won’t withdraw it now.
I wonder if Wyden has asked whether some opinion written since that time relies back on that 2003 opinion, just as the illegal wiretap programs relied back on Yoo’s Fourth Amendment stripping one?
Here and elsewhere, Rizzo alludes to the one torture technique John Yoo rejected, though he says “DOJ” rejected it because it was “so gruesome.” (Note the context in which this appears, though, as an afterthought to the sentence describing simulated drowning.)
Waterboarding: The interrogator would strap Zubaydah to an inclined bench, with his feet slightly elevated. A cloth would be placed over his forehead and eyes, and water would be applied to the cloth in a controlled manner—for 20 to 40 seconds from a height of 12 to 24 inches. The intention would be simulate the sensation of drowning. There was also another technique that I’m barred from describing that was so gruesome that the Justice Department later stopped short of approving it. [my emphasis]
As I reported almost 4 years ago, this technique actually should be unclassified, as DOJ released it in unredacted form in a draft of the Office of Professional Responsibility report.
The technique is mock burial.
They planned to use simulated drowning and simulated burial.
And Yoo didn’t reject it outright: he told Rizzo he would “need more time” if he wanted that technique to be approved.
Although Yoo told us that he had concluded that the mock burial technique would violate the torture statute, he nevertheless told the client, according to Fredman and Rizzo, that he would “need more time” if they wanted it approved.
Moreover, Yoo likely rejected it not because he found it gruesome (remember, Yoo has said he would seriously consider authorizing torturers crushing a child’s testicles to make his father talk). He almost certainly rejected it because Ali Soufan called the torturers’ plan to stick Abu Zubaydah (whose gunshot wounds were still not entirely healed) into a coffin, “borderline torture,” and then left the torture site and complained to his superiors. So (again, this is supported but not confirmed by the public record) when Michael Chertoff — then head of the Criminal Division and trying to ensure he wouldn’t have to charge the torturers with torture because the FBI witnessed and then complained about it — reviewed the techniques, this one presented a problem.
That DOJ approved, instead, both small and large box confinement shows they had no squeamishness with putting someone inside a box to simulate death. And we have reports that small or large box confinement got used as mock burial later in the torture program.
Plus, Rizzo does provide one other detail that helps explain one detail of how they planned to simulate burial.
For the small box, the interrogator would have the option to place a harmless insect inside.
That is, the insect they approved for use with Zubaydah was tied to the small — not the large — box. Stick him in a box, make him think he was buried alive, only to find an insect crawling around in there, as if he were 6 feet under.
Perhaps that’s why they never used the insect? Because they could never conduct unfettered live burial like they wanted, because Ali Soufan objected to it.
In any case, Rizzo will no doubt get a lot of mileage claiming that DOJ got squeamish about a single torture technique. But the truth is DOJ got cornered by the legal dilemma presented by a complaint about a coffin.
Jane Mayer has obtained a set of questions Mark Udall made CIA General Counsel Stephen Preston answer before he would release a hold on the latter’s confirmation as DOD General Counsel. They address CIA’s response to the Senate Intelligence Committee torture report. I will have more to say about these answers later (see also this post from Katherine Hawkins).
But for now I want to point to one of the few questions Preston really didn’t answer. While the non-answer is not at all surprising, it does have implications far beyond torture.
The CIA response to the Committee Study states: “while it would have been prudent to seek guidance from OLC on the complete range of techniques prior to their use, we disagree with any implication that, absent prior OLC review, the use of the ‘unapproved’ techniques was unlawful or otherwise violated policy.”
The comment does two things.
First, it confirms CIA tortured before John Yoo authored memos authorizing that torture.
That confirmation is news, though we’ve long known it to be true.
But it also reflects CIA’s view that the legality of specific torture techniques did not stem from OLC review and authorization of them.
Udall asked Preston,
Please state whether you agree with this legal determination and explain your legal reasoning.
To which Preston responded,
On the particular point raised in (c) of the question, I also agree that CIA should have sought guidance from OLC with regard to the complete range of interrogation techniques prior to their use. I understand the Agency’s response to the SSCI’s study to acknowledge this point, noting only that failure to so engage with OLC did not, in and of itself, render any given technique unlawful.
Preston doesn’t actually say whether he agrees with the Agency’s legal determination or not, which was, after all Udall’s question. Which gets him out of answering Udall’s question about his legal reasoning.
But Preston has, for all intents and purposes, already answered that question in his speech last year on CIA’s use of lethal force. In it, he laid out was required for the use of lethal force (he doesn’t say it, but this includes lethal force against an American citizen) to be legal under US law.
Let’s start with the first box: Authority to Act under U.S. Law.
First, we would confirm that the contemplated activity is authorized by the President in the exercise of his powers under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, for example, the President’s responsibility as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief to protect the country from an imminent threat of violent attack.
In addition, we would make sure that the contemplated activity is authorized by the President in accordance with the covert action procedures of the National Security Act of 1947, such that Congress is properly notified by means of a Presidential Finding.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, Preston doesn’t even acknowledge the National Security Act’s requirement that covert actions be legal under US law.
His speech makes it clear he agrees with the CIA’s response on torture. The CIA doesn’t need OLC approval for covert operations (which torture was during its early years), the implication seems clear, because the only thing needed to make covert operations legal is Presidential authorization with adequate Congressional notice.
This is a stance that most discussions on drones and torture miss. The CIA doesn’t believe it needs OLC memos — whether authorizing belly slaps or the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. It may consider it prudent to have OLC authorization in hand, mind you. But it does not believe such authorization gives covert operations any more legal sanction that simply the President’s authorization.