As TPM’s Ryan Reilly noted yesterday, among the awards Attorney General Eric Holder gave out at yesterday’s Attorney General’s Award Ceremony was a Distinguished Service Award to John Durham’s investigative team that chose not to prosecute Jose Rodriguez or the torturers who killed their victims.
The 13th Distinguished Service Award is presented to team members for their involvement in two sensitive investigations ordered by two different Attorneys General. In January 2007, Attorney General Michael Mukasey asked Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham to lead a team that would investigate the destruction of interrogation videotapes by the CIA. Assistant U.S. Attorney Durham assembled the team and began the investigation. Then, in August 2009, Attorney General Holder expanded Assistant U.S. Attorney Durham’s mandate to include a preliminary review of the treatment of detainees held at overseas locations. This second request resulted in the review of 101 detainee matters that led to two full criminal investigations. In order to conduct the investigations, the team had to review significant amounts of information, much of which was classified, and conduct many interviews in the United States and at overseas locations.
The timing on this award–coming even as DOJ aggressively prosecutes John Kiriakou for talking about this torture–is particularly cynical.
Holder also presented a Distinguished Service Award to the team that crafted a $25 billion settlement effectively immunizing the banksters for engaging in systemic mortgage fraud.
The third Distinguished Service Award is presented to the individuals involved in procuring a $25 billion mortgage servicing settlement between the United States, 49 state attorneys general and the five largest mortgage servicers, representing the largest federal-state settlement in history. The settlement includes comprehensive new mortgage loan servicing standards, $5 billion to state and federal treasuries and borrowers who lost their homes to foreclosure, $20 billion in consumer relief and a $1 billion resolution of False Claims Act recoveries by the Eastern District of New York.
To get an idea of how outrageous it is to give an award to the torture non-prosecution team and the kabuki settlement team, compare what those teams did with the rest of the Distinguished Service recipients.
Five of these are for successful prosecutions–AU Optronics, MS-13 gang members, Raj Rajaratnam, Rod Blagojevich, William Jefferson. Another two–the Coreflood Botnet and Warsame actions–neutralized a threat, albeit through novel and controversial means. And then there are the teams that worked to make the criminal justice system more humane.
But rather than holding criminals accountable–punishing those that degraded our nation and created new reasons for people to join terrorists, punishing those who crashed our economy and stole the wealth of millions of families–the Durham and Mortgage Settlement teams made us less safe. They immunized crime, rather than punishing it.
“No one is above the law,” Eric Holder has said on other occasions. Not surprisingly, he didn’t say that yesterday, because it’s clear that some people–the torturers and the banksters–are indeed above the law.
I’m no fan of either Jose Rodriguez or John Brennan. So I take no pleasure that the former is blaming the latter for a big intelligence scam carried out against the CIA back in the day.
As head of the multi-agency Terrorist Threat Integration Center in 2003 and 2004, Brennan disseminated to the Bush White House a stream of CIA intelligence from a bogus source, former CIA officials say. Ridiculed by some with the CIA, the bogus intelligence nevertheless led to disruption in the U.S. and abroad, including an orange terror alert and the cancellation of dozens of international flights.
At the CIA, the information was controversial from the beginning, and many agency officials said at the time that it should not have been distributed. Jose Rodriguez, who was directing the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, said the CTC viewed the intelligence as “crazy.”
“We were very skeptical,” Rodriguez recalled.
“It was briefed by John. He was the guy who was bringing it there,” said Rodriguez, who added that he believes Brennan was trying to build up his own profile. “My own view is he saw this, he took this, as a way to have relevance, to take something important to the White House.”
But I am interested in why Rodriguez is doing this now–particularly since, as Defense News points out, he chose not to do so in his own book.
I can think of three possible reasons this is coming out now–they’re all wildarsed guesses. It’s possible that Brennan’s star is fading, so he’s vulnerable now in a way he wasn’t before.
It’s possible that some story behind the underlying scam this guy–Dennis Montgomery–carried out against the government is about to unfold. Continue reading
A funny thing happened when Judicial Watch tried to catch the White House buttering up Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal for the Zero Dark Thirty film. It caught CIA doing so.
More embarrassing still, it caught the CIA asking NYT’s spook reporter, Mark Mazzetti, to find out how much Maureen Dowd (pictured here posing as a blogger covering the Prop 8 trial) would expose the CIA’s own involvement in the movie.
It seems some DOD sources had leaked information to MoDo that exposed the CIA.
It was clear that the White House had outsourced the job of manning up the president’s image to Hollywood when Boal got welcomed to the upper echelons of the White House and the Pentagon and showed up recently — to the surprise of some military officers — at a C.I.A. ceremony celebrating the hero Seals.
“This didn’t come from me…and please delete after you read,” Mazzetti wrote when he forwarded MoDo’s entire column to Marie Harf. “See, nothing to worry about”
Except Harf apparently is less skilled at destroying evidence than Jose Rodriguez, cause there the email is, exposing the collaboration between reporter and reportee.
Things got more interesting when NYT Managing Editor Dean Baquet got involved, after Politico’s Dylan Byers asked for comment. Baquet stuck up for Mazzetti.
“The optics aren’t what they look like,” he went on. “I’ve talked to Mark, I know the cirucmstance, and given what I know, it’s much ado about nothing.”
At which point, I suspect, MoDo went apeshit, given the suggestion Baquet left that she routinely shares her work before publication with her colleagues, allowing them to warn others about what she writes. Cause then NYT’s own flack, Eileen Murphy, wrote Byers to assure him this is not, in fact, “much ado about nothing.”
“Last August, Maureen Dowd asked Mark Mazzetti to help check a fact for her column. In the course of doing so, he sent the entire column to a CIA spokeswoman shortly before her deadline. He did this without the knowledge of Ms. Dowd. This action was a mistake that is not consistent with New York Times standards.”
Consider: this is the best face the Gray Lady can put on this rather cozy relationship with the nation’s spy agency, claiming that Mazzetti’s spying on MoDo for the CIA was a “mistake.”
But what I want to know is this: is this how the NYT conducts fact checks? Or just fact checks of its MoDos and other columnists? “Here, beat writer. I’m writing a column suggesting Obama has a very small penis. Can you ‘fact check’ it and make sure I’ve got the details correct?” And how often do these “fact checks” get sent off as a beat sweetener in the information economy of the beltway?
The Senate Intelligence Committee’s new anti-leak laws are the part of the Intelligence Authorization that will generate the most attention. Greg Miller already got Dianne Feinstein to admit there’s no reason to think one of the new provisions–permitting only the most senior intelligence officials to do background briefings–will limit leaks.
Feinstein acknowledged that she knew of no evidence tying those leaks or others to background sessions, which generally deal broadly with analysts’ interpretations of developments overseas and avoid discussions of the operations of the CIA or other spy services.
Another of the provisions–requiring intelligence committee heads to ensure that every sanctioned leak be recorded–ought to be named the Judy Miller and Bob Woodward Insta-Leak Recording Act.
(a) RECORD REQUIREMENT.—The head of each element of the intelligence community shall ensure that such element creates and maintains a record of all authorized disclosures of classified information to media personnel, including any person or entity under contract or other binding agreement with the media to provide analysis or commentary, or to any person or entity if the disclosure is made with the intent or knowledge that such information will be made publicly available.
I’m sure someone can think of some downside to this provision, but I can’t think of it at the moment (which is why Obama will probably find some way to eliminate it). It will end some of the asymmetry and abuse of classification as it currently exists.
In addition, there are a bunch of provisions that are just dumb bureaucracy.
But it’s this one that is deeply troubling. Among the other provisions making nondisclosure agreements more rigorous is a provision that would allow an intelligence community head to take away a person’s pension if they “determine” that an individual violated her nondisclosure agreement.
Document Exploitation blog has read Jose Rodriguez’ book so I don’t have to!
Seriously, I will eventually get around to reading Rodriguez’ book, when I can get it cheaper than toilet paper. But until then, I’m glad a document wonk has done the work.
One of the more interesting observations from DocEx pertains to Judge Hellerstein’s apparent misreading of CIA’s promises to fix their contemptuous document responses. Click through for that. (Though now that I understand that Hellerstein was unsuccessfully trying to expose that the President had authorized all this torture, perhaps he believed he had achieved a just result.)
But the real “ah ha” for me was this–showing that the CIA lawyer that reviewed the already-damaged torture tapes and found evidence of that damage not noteworthy…
This report appears to show McPherson admitting that he saw some of the tapes were partially blank, or had snow on them.
[Redacted] for many of the tapes one 1/2 or 3/4 of the tape “there was nothing.” [Redacted] on some tapes it was apparent that the VCR had been turned off and then turned back on right away. [Redacted] on other tapes the video quality was poor and on others the tape had been reused (taped over) or not recorded at all. [Redacted] The label on some tapes read “interrogation session,” but when viewed there was just snow. [Redaction] did not make note of this in [redaction] report. [Redaction] estimated that “half a dozen” videotapes had been taped over or were “snowy.”
Though he claims not to have noticed that two of the tapes were broken (though perhaps they were broken later). When asked why he had not reported the blank tapes in his report, McPherson said he didn’t find that “noteworthy.”
… Was also the lawyer who provided the original, contemptuous FOIA response.
Rodriguez’s account also sheds new light on a crucial lynchpin in the ACLU FOIA case by identifing the CIA attorney from the Office of General Counsel (OGC) who viewed the videotapes in Nov. 2002 as “one of the assistant general counsels” whom Rodriguez calls “a very senior Agency officer.” The attorney was later interviewed by the CIA Office of Inspector General (OIG) about that review. Rodriguez’s small, but important details corroborate earlier reporting by the AP and WashPo that the OGC attorney was John L. McPherson, who based on unrelated court filings, was an Assistant General Counsel as of 2001 and later became an Associate General Counsel.
Why is this significant? Hellerstein found the tapes subject to FOIA because they were “identified and produced to” the CIA’s OIG “as part of its investigation into allegations” of unauthorized interrogations and human rights violations. Yet Hellerstein stopped short of finding the CIA in contempt in part because “the individuals responsible for processing and responding to plaintiffs’ FOIA requests may not have been aware of the videotapes’ existence before they were destroyed.”
Remarkably, however, the crucial FOIA response from the CIA regarding the records of the OIG in April 2005 (ergo, 7 months prior to the destruction of the tapes) was written by none other than John L. McPherson. Continue reading
As Ali Soufan has been making the rounds rebutting Jose Rodriguez’ self-serving lies, he has said something, repeatedly, that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention.
Soufan has notes that prove Rodriguez is lying.
He actually first mentioned them publicly (AFAIK) in his book, Black Banners.
In early 2008, in a conference room that is referred to as a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF), I gave a classified briefing on Abu Zubaydah to staffers of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The staffers present were shocked. What I told them contradicted everything they had been told by Bush administration and CIA officials.
When the discussion turned to whether I could prove everything I was saying, I told them, “Remember, an FBI agent always keep his notes.” Locked in a secure safe in the FBI New York office are my hand-written notes of everything that happened with Abu Zubaydah [redacted] (434-435; my emphasis)
He mentions them again later in the book, almost begging someone to go get them.
It was apparent from the [torture] memos that the introduction of EITs was based on lies. The proof resides in my notes–locked, as noted earlier, in FBI vaults. (526)
Soufan repeated this emphasis on his notes in a piece explaining why Jose Rodriguez’ lies might help Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri in his military commission.
Nonetheless, the government has my investigative notes, as well as daily reports, and the inspector general also found instances where Rodriguez’s team went far beyond what they had approval for and the legal guidelines set forth by the George W. Bush administration, including holding a drill to Nashiri’s head. [my emphasis]
And in the Q&A with Amy Davidson, Soufan again mentions that documentary proof that Rodriguez is lying.
The claim about waterboarding leading to unmasking of K.S.M. as the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks is similarly false. We got that information in April, 2002, before the contractors hired by the C.I.A. Counterterrorism Center even arrived at the site. One by one, the successes claimed by E.I.T. proponents have been shown to be false.
I went before the Senate Judiciary Committee and under oath recounted what happened. And, as I note in “The Black Banners,” I sent daily reports from the secret interrogation location, to Washington, recording what happened, which the U.S. Government has in its possession.
The tapes also contained our interrogations, done with traditional techniques. The tapes would have shown under which circumstances Abu Zubaydah coöperated and when he stopped coöperating. But while the tapes were destroyed, our daily reports from the location are luckily safe and still in the government’s possession. [my empahsis]
Notes, notes, notes and daily reports, daily reports, daily reports.
Frankly, I think Jose Rodriguez was being naive when he claimed that having Jay Bybee’s signature on a memo authorizing some, but not all, of the torture the torturers had already done by August 1, 2002 constituted full authority for what they had done.
But before moving forward, Jose Rodriguez got his superiors, right up to the president – to sign off on a set of those techniques, including waterboarding.
Jose Rodriguez: We needed to get everybody in government to put their big boy pants on and provide the authorities that we needed.
Lesley Stahl: Their big boy pants on–
Jose Rodriguez: Big boy pants. Let me tell you, I had had a lot of experience in the agency where we had been left to hold the bag. And I was not about to let that happen for the people that work for me.
Lesley Stahl: There wasn’t gonna be any deniability on this one?
Jose Rodriguez: There was not gonna be any deniability. And I tell you something. In August of 2002, I felt I had all the authorities that I needed, all the approvals that I needed. The atmosphere in the country was different. Everybody wanted us to save American lives.
After all, to this day, these counterterrrorism programs are being run on a Memorandum of Notification that not only doesn’t comply with the terms of the National Security Act, but shields the President (Obama even more so than Bush) from any direct accountability, a carefully crafted deniability that the CIA has worked to preserve.
Lesley Stahl was apparently not up to the task of asking Rodriguez about the torture the torturers actually used which exceeded the terms of the authorization. She describes waterboarding as laid out in the Bybee Memo, without acknowledging that the torturers didn’t follow those guidelines. Stahl asserts as fact that the CIA kept Abu Zubaydah up for 3 straight days, when evidence suggests his sleep deprivation lasted longer, perhaps as long as 11 days. Had Stahl laid out the degree to which the torturers were known to have exceeded guidelines (both before and after those guidelines were codified in the Bybee Memo), she might have noted the underlying problem with this exchange.
Lesley Stahl: Oh, you had rules for each thing?
Jose Rodriguez: Yes, we had rules. And not only that, but every time we did any of this, we had to ask permission. The field had to ask permission of headquarters.
Lesley Stahl: Each time.
Jose Rodriguez: Each time.
As she herself pointed out, Rodriguez was not doing the torture. He wasn’t in the field. He was at HQ. In fact, he was one of the guys sitting in Langley giving the oral permissions for individual torture techniques both before and after Bybee signed his memo, the techniques that exceeded the rules laid out in Bybee. You’d think Stahl might have pointed that out.
Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin have released a statement that basically says Jose Rodriguez’ Big Boy Pants are on fire for the lies he has told about the torture program.
The statement is interesting for two reasons. First, it gets closer and closer to saying that the torture program was successful primarily in eliciting false confessions.
Further, it’s worth repeating, as discussed in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s 2008 report, the SERE techniques used in the CIA’s interrogation program were never intended to be used by U.S. interrogators. Rather, the techniques – which are based on Communist Chinese interrogation techniques used during the Korean War to elicit false confessions – were developed to expose U.S. soldiers to the abusive treatment they might be subjected to if captured by our enemies. An overwhelming number of experts agree, the SERE techniques are not an effective means to illicit accurate information. [my emphasis]
It’s really time for them to be as clear as their leaking aides are in saying, anonymously, that the torture program got–and was designed to get–false confessions.
Hopefully, as Jose Rodriguez’ torture tour continues, they’ll get over this reticence.
The statement also confirms what was described in this AP report: that the CIA detainee who provided the most important intelligence leading to Osama bin Laden–who has been reported as Hassan Ghul–did so before we tortured him.
The CIA detainee who provided the most significant information about the courier provided the information prior to being subjected to coercive interrogation techniques.
So we tortured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and he gave up invented locations for OBL (while hiding the courier). But we got key evidence from Ghul that might have led to OBL and … we tortured him anyway.
I wonder how many books Rodriguez is going to sell claiming that this program was effective?
I suspect it will be a full time job keeping up with all the Jose Rodriguez’ lies we’ll hear as he sells his book and his excuse for torture. But for the moment, look at this detail:
Jose Rodriguez: We were flooded with intelligence about an imminent attack. That al Qaeda had an anthrax program, and that they were planning to use it against us. And that they were seeking nuclear materials to use in some type of nuclear weapon. So we were facing a ticking, time bomb situation and we were very concerned.
I’ll come back to the anthrax later. But note that Rodriguez claims that we had to use torture because Al Qaeda was seeking nukes to use in some type of weapon.
In part, Rodriguez is doing the same thing Maureen Mahoney did when trying to protect Jay Bybee: pointing to intelligence Abu Zubaydah gave up under torture–regarding a Jose Padilla dirty bomb plot–as justification for the torture of AZ to get that same information.
But it also highlights how this program was designed to obtain false confessions. Here is Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri’s description of how his torturers invited him to give a false confession about nukes.
Number six. Usama bin Laden having a nuclear bomb. [REDACTED]. Then they used to laugh. Then they used to tell me you need to admit to those information. So I used to invent some of the stuff for them to say Usama bin laden had a, had a nuclear bomb. And they use to laugh and they were very happy. They were extremely happy because of the news. Then after that I told them, listen. He has no bomb. [my emphasis]
Jose Rodriguez says we had to torture because there were rumors of nukes (the same apparently unfounded claim the current Administration uses to justify drone strikes). Nashiri reveals that his torturers told him he had to confirm that rumor.
When he did, they laughed.
Did they need to torture because they had rumors of nukes? Or did they need to torture because they needed claims of nukes?
Three years ago, I rather sheepishly gave Dianne Feinstein kudos for the seriousness of the Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry into torture. I said then–and I maintain now–that reports of the investigation make it sound like a far more substantive investigation than I had at first worried it would be.
But I will say that the apparent timing of its release seems unfortunate. Because it is likely to come out in the wake of the Jose Rodriguez propaganda, the SSCI report is being portrayed as the other side of a two-sided debate rather than the result of the sustained, exhaustive inquiry it is.
A nearly three-year-long investigation by Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats is expected to find there is little evidence the harsh “enhanced interrogation techniques” the CIA used on high-value prisoners produced counter-terrorism breakthroughs.
President Barack Obama and his aides have largely sought to avoid revisiting Bush administration controversies. But the debate over the effectiveness of enhanced interrogations, which human rights advocates condemn as torture, is resurfacing, in part thanks to a new book by a former top CIA official.
In the book, “Hard Measures,” due to be published on Monday, April 30, the former chief of CIA clandestine operations Jose Rodriguez defends the use of interrogation practices including water-boarding, which involves pouring water on a subject’s face, which is covered with a cloth, to simulate drowning.
Whether the timing–coming out just as Mitt Romney and his torturer-advisors face off against Obama in the General Election–was planned or not, the effect will be to turn torture into a campaign issue with two sides treated as legitimate by a spineless press, rather than one side with self-preservation in mind and the other with exhaustive study.
And sadly, that will probably mean the most interesting (and politically explosive) result of the investigation gets lost, relegated to paragraph 26 of 27.
Critics also say that still-classified records are likely to demonstrate that harsh interrogation techniques produced far more information that proved false than true.
Dana Priest reveals that, when Jose Rodriguez tried to persuade her not to publish news of the black sites in 2005, he tried to argue torture “was producing real results and helping to keep the country safe.” We’re about to get validation that the example of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi was not unique (though his treatment was included in the scope of the SSCI study). If torture “was producing real results” those results were false confessions, not real intelligence.
If we’re going to have a debate about torture, the fact that Cheney and his torturers used it to create false stories to–among other things–get us into the Iraq War should be at the center of that debate.