WaPo has a biting profile of Robert Litt, ODNI’s General Counsel who made one more failed attempt to rationalize James Clapper’s lies to Congress last week.
One of the most newsworthy bits is that WaPo published the name of Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, the analyst who got Khaled el-Masri kidnapped and tortured by mistake, for the first time.
A far more subtle but equally important detail comes in its description of why House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers banned Litt from appearing before the Committee last summer.
Some lawmakers have found Litt’s manner off-putting at best. Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, made clear to the DNI’s office last summer that Litt was no longer welcome before his panel.
“The committee has not found Bob to be the most effective witness to explain complex legal and policy issues,” said a U.S. government official familiar with the falling-out. Rogers was also bothered that Litt faulted the committee for not doing more to share information about the surveillance programs with other members, unaware that doing so would have violated committee rules. [my emphasis]
For what it’s worth, I suspect Rogers is not worried as much about Litt’s honesty (Rogers hasn’t objected to James Clapper or Keith Alexander’s lies, for example, and has himself been a key participant in sustaining them), but rather, for his usual candor and abrasiveness, which the article also shows inspiring members of Congress to want to repeal the dragnet. Litt couches his answers in legalese, but unlike most IC witnesses, you can often parse it to discern where the outlines of truth are.
But I am acutely interested that Litt blames Rogers for not “doing more to share information about the surveillance programs with other members.”
That refers, of course, to Rogers’ failure to make the Administration’s notice on the phone dragnet available to members in 2011, before the PATRIOT Reauthorization. As a result of that, 65 Congressmen voted to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act without full notice (perhaps any formal notice) of the phone dragnet — a sufficiently large block to make the difference in the vote. In spite of that fact, the Administration and even FISA Judges have repeatedly pointed to Congress’ reauthorization of the phone dragnet to explain why it’s legal even though it so obviously exceeds the intent of the Section 215 as passed.
Apparently Litt blames Rogers for that. And doing so got him banished from the Committee.
Frankly, Litt is right in this dispute. Rogers’ excuse that committee rules prevented him from sharing the letter the Administration stated they wanted to be shared with the rest of Congress rings hollow, given that just one year earlier, Silvestre Reyes did make the previous letter available. If committee rules prevent such a thing, they are Rogers’ committee rules, and they were fairly new at the time. (Ironically, by imposing those rules, Rogers prevented members of his own party, elected with strong Tea Party backing, from learning about intelligence programs, though he may have just imposed the rules to increase the value of his own special access.)
So it is Rogers’ fault the Administration should not be able to claim Congress ratified the FISA Court’s expansive understanding of Section 215.
And Rogers and Litt’s spat about it make it clear they both know the significance of it: claims of legislative ratification fail because Congress did not, in fact, know what they were voting on, at least in 2011.
Unsurprisingly, that has not prevented the Administration from making that claim. Litt himself made a variety of it before PCLOB in November, months after he had this fight with Rogers.
[NSA General Counsel Raj] DE: So in other words, and some of this is obviously known to you all but just to make sure members of the public are aware, not only was this program approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court every 90 days, it was twice, the particular provision was twice re-authorized by Congress with full information from the Executive Branch about the use of the provision.
MR. LITT: I just want to add one very brief comment to Raj’s in terms of the extent to which Congress was kept informed. By statute we’re required to provide copies of significant opinion and decisions of the FISC to the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees of both Houses of Congress and they got the materials relating to this program, as we were required to by law.
Now, Litt’s intejection here is particularly interesting. He doesn’t correct De. He shifts the claim somewhat, to rely on Judiciary and Intelligence Committee notice. But even there, his claim fails, given that the Administration did not provide all relevant opinions to those Committees until after the first dragnet reauthorization in 2010. Litt probably thinks that’s okay because he didn’t qualify when Congress got the materials.
But it’s still a blatant lie, according to the public record.
More significantly, the Administration repeated that lie to both the FISC and, more significantly still, the 3 Article III Judges presiding over challenges to the dragnet generally.
The Administration keeps running around, telling everyone who is obligated to listen that Congress has ratified their expansive interpretation of the phone dragnet. It’s not true. And the fact that Litt and Rogers fought — way back in the summer — over who is responsible makes it clear they know it’s not true.
But they still keep saying it.
Although many people have been long familiar with her name and career, there seems to be new buzz about the [possible] identity of the female CIA operative lionized in the bin Laden killing and talk of the town movie “Zero Dark Thirty“.
The Twitters are abuzz this morning, but this article from John Cook at Gawker last September tells the tale:
Her name is Alfreda Frances Bikowsky and, according to independent reporters Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy, she is a CIA analyst who is partially responsible for intelligence lapses that led to 9/11. The two reporters recently released a “documentary podcast” called “Who Is Richard Blee?” about the chief of the agency’s bin Laden unit in the immediate run-up to the 9/11 attacks and featuring interviews with former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, former CIA agent Bob Baer, Looming Tower author Lawrence Wright, 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Keane, and others. In it, Nowosielski and Duffy make the case that Bikowsky and another CIA agent named Michael Anne Casey deliberately declined to tell the White House and the FBI that Khalid al-Mihdhar, an Al Qaida affiliate they were tracking, had obtained a visa to enter the U.S. in the summer of 2001. Al-Mihdhar was one of the hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77. The CIA lost track of him after he entered the U.S.
Bikowsky was also, according to Nowosielski and Duffy, instrumentally involved in one of the CIA’s most notorious fuck-ups—the kidnapping, drugging, sodomizing, and torture of Khalid El-Masri in 2003 (El-Masri turned out to be the wrong guy, and had nothing to do with terrorism). As the Associated Press’ Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo reported earlier this year, an analyst they described only by her middle name—”Frances”—pressed for El-Masri to be abducted even though some in the agency weren’t convinced he was the terrorist that Frances suspected he was. Instead of being punished or fired for the error, “Frances” was eventually promoted to running the Global Jihad Unit by then-CIA director Michael Hayden. According to Goldman and Apuzzo’s story, “Hayden told colleagues that he gave Frances a pass because he didn’t want to deter initiative within the counterterrorism ranks.”
My, my, the CIA does have problems keeping secrets lately, don’t they? A point saliently noted by Marcy in relation to both Matt Bissonnette and the Mexican “trainers” who were involved in in an ambush. I guess the de rigueur Obama Administration leak prosecution will be along any second.
It is fairly amazing Bikowsky’s name has been kept out of the real limelight surrounding [speculation on] Zero Dark Thirty this long, considering her known involvement in the other issues, especially the one about gleefully horning in on the torture show viewing [which Bikowsky did in regards to KSM]. An attitude that speaks volumes as to →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading
The government has responded to ACLU’s FOIA for a bunch of WikiLeaks cables by releasing redacted versions of just 11 of the 23 cables they FOIAed (I’ve copied, ACLU’s inventory of what they got below the fold).
Some of their redactions are unsurprising–details that show officials from other governments sucking up to the US. But some of the redactions clearly serve only to “hide” details of the government’s own cover up of its torture program. For example, consider this passage, which is part of a substantial redaction in the FOIA release.
Meanwhile, the Embassy has been involved in DOJ-led talks to have Zaragoza – who attended the April 16 press conference – lead a four-person team of GOS officials to Washington for a possible meeting with U.S. Deputy AG David Ogden or AG Eric Holder during the week of May 18. Zaragoza’s wife, who is Conde Pumpido’s chief of staff, would reportedly be one of the four.
The passage only describes internal discussions between Embassy personnel in Spain and DOJ; there’s no mention of any Spanish actions or statements.
Yet it’s tremendously damaging to the Obama Administration because it explains how discussions between the US and Spain got from this April 1, 2009 suggestion Chief Prosecutor Javier Zaragoza made (this is also redacted but could easily be claimed as one of those embarrassing exchanges with a foreign government official).
Zaragoza noted that Spain would not be able to claim jurisdiction in the case if the USG opened its own investigation, which he much preferred as the best way forward and described as “the only way out” for the USG.
To Obama’s April 16 assurances there would be no prosecutions for torture, to Eric Holder’s August 24 announcement (in the wake of the OPR Report, which was itself an investigation) of the John Durham investigation. In other words, the redacted paragraph provides key details showing that Spanish legal representatives met with DOJ as DOJ decided to launch an investigation that couldn’t seem to find a crime in years of torture evidence.
Similarly, this entire cable was withheld, including this passage which records only what the US Deputy Chief of Mission said to Germany’s Deputy National Security Adviser (so again, it doesn’t show anything embarrassing the Germans did).
In a February 6 discussion with German Deputy National Security Adviser Rolf Nikel, the DCM reiterated our strong concerns about the possible issuance of international arrest warrants in the al-Masri case. The DCM noted that the reports in the German media of the discussion on the issue between the Secretary and FM Steinmeier in Washington were not accurate, in that the media reports suggest the USG was not troubled by developments in the al-Masri case.
But, as I noted in this post, the passage appears to show Condi using her German counterpart to create the appearance that she had no concerns about German subpoenas.
Now, of course, this evidence of our government’s efforts to cover up their own torture isn’t really hidden. But so long as the government maintains that it remains classified, no one can use it–say, in a legal proceeding–to show high level obstruction of our own duty to investigate and prosecute this torture.
There are a couple of details I want to return to in this AP story on what has happened to those responsible for CIA’s biggest fuck-ups and crimes.
One is this discussion of the CIA Inspector General’s report on “erroneous” renditions.
While the inspector general was investigating the mishandled el-Masri case, congressional investigators discovered several other CIA renditions that seemed to rest on bad legal footing, a U.S. intelligence official said. The CIA looked into them and conceded that, yes, the renditions had been based on faulty analysis.
But the agency said the renditions would have been approved even if the correct analysis had been used, so nobody was disciplined.
Now, we’ve heard of this investigation before. References to it (but no details) appear in a lot of the documents or Vaughn Indices released as part of the torture and ghost detainee FOIAs (often in the form of Congress nagging the CIA for the results of the study). The most detailed early description of the investigation comes from a 2005 Dana Priest article that was also one of the earliest detailed description of Khaled el-Masri’s treatment.
The CIA inspector general is investigating a growing number of what it calls “erroneous renditions,” according to several former and current intelligence officials.
One official said about three dozen names fall in that category; others believe it is fewer. The list includes several people whose identities were offered by al Qaeda figures during CIA interrogations, officials said. One turned out to be an innocent college professor who had given the al Qaeda member a bad grade, one official said.
“They picked up the wrong people, who had no information. In many, many cases there was only some vague association” with terrorism, one CIA officer said.
Priest reviews several of the people rendered by the CIA but ultimately dumped in Gitmo which served–one of Priest’s sources explains–as the dumping ground for CIA’s mistakes.
Among those released from Guantanamo is Mamdouh Habib, an Egyptian-born Australian citizen, apprehended by a CIA team in Pakistan in October 2001, then sent to Egypt for interrogation, according to court papers. He has alleged that he was burned by cigarettes, given electric shocks and beaten by Egyptian captors. After six months, he was flown to Guantanamo Bay and let go earlier this year without being charged.
Another CIA former captive, according to declassified testimony from military tribunals and other records, is Mohamedou Oulad Slahi, a Mauritanian and former Canada resident, who says he turned himself in to the Mauritanian police 18 days after the 9/11 attacks because he heard the Americans were looking for him. The CIA took him to Jordan, where he spent eight months undergoing interrogation, according to his testimony, before being taken to Guantanamo Bay.
Another is Muhammad Saad Iqbal Madni, an Egyptian imprisoned by Indonesia authorities in January 2002 after he was heard talking — he says jokingly — about a new shoe bomb technology. He was flown to Egypt for interrogation and returned to CIA hands four months later, according to one former intelligence official. After being held for 13 months in Afghanistan, he was taken to Guantanamo Bay, according to his testimony.
Now, the AP piece doesn’t provide many new details, but two are worthy of note.
First, apparently Congress identified the erroneous renditions, not the CIA. That suggests the CIA was not forthcoming in admitting its mistakes to Congress (which is about par for the course).
But I’m interested too in the conclusion:the renditions had been based “on faulty analysis” but they would have been approved even if “the correct analysis” was used.
That suggests Inspector General John Helgerson, not long after CIA had finagled a way to limit his conclusions about torture, focused on just the analysis–presumably, the approval process–that went into the rendition. I’m not sure what that means, but looking back at Priest’s description of the problem behind “erroneous” renditions–notably, its reliance on torture-induced evidence from al Qaeda detainees–I wonder whether Helgerson assessed the actual facts behind the rendition, or just whether the rendition, using those faulty facts, would have been approved according to the right decision process. That is, I wonder whether the CIA decided that the disappearances that even it considers were wrong didn’t matter so much because they didn’t evaluate the lies and misinformation their torture program had introduced into the process by which they chose people to disappear.
That is, it appears CIA has labeled its disappearances simply a matter of flawed bureaucracy rather than a clear example of the problems that result when you eliminate due process.
There’s Matt, who froze Gul Rahman to death in the Salt Pit. Paul, his boss and the CIA Station Chief of Afghanistan, who ignored Matt’s requests for more help at the prison. There’s Albert, who staged a mock execution of Rahim al-Nashiri, and his boss, Ron, the Station Chief in Poland, who witnessed the forbidden technique and did nothing to stop it. There’s Frances, the analyst who was certain that Khaled el-Masri had to be the terrorist with a similar name, and Elizabeth, the lawyer who approved Frances’ decision to have el-Masri rendered and tortured. There’s Steve, the CIA guy who interrogated Manadel al-Jamadi and, some say, effectively crucified him. There’s Gerry Meyer, the Baghdad station chief, and his deputy, Gordon, who permitted the ghost detainee system in Iraq. And of course, there’s Jennifer Matthews, the Khost station chief who ignored warnings about Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi that might have prevented his attack (and her own death).
These are the CIA officers responsible for the Agency’s biggest known fuck-ups and crimes since 9/11.
The AP has a story tracking what happened to those officers. And it finds that few were held accountable, particularly not senior officers, and even those who were reprimanded have continued to prosper in the agency.
In the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, officers who committed serious mistakes that left people wrongly imprisoned or even dead have received only minor admonishments or no punishment at all, an Associated Press investigation has revealed.
Though Obama has sought to put the CIA’s interrogation program behind him, the result of a decade of haphazard accountability is that many officers who made significant missteps are now the senior managers fighting the president’s spy wars.
The AP investigation of the CIA’s actions revealed a disciplinary system that takes years to make decisions, hands down reprimands inconsistently and is viewed inside the agency as prone to favoritism and manipulation. When people are disciplined, the punishment seems to roll downhill, sparing senior managers even when they were directly involved in operations that go awry.
Paul–the guy who let the inexperienced Matt freeze Gul Rahman to death–is now chief of the Near East Division.
Ron–who watched Albert stage a forbidden mock execution–now heads the Central European Division.
Albert–who staged the mock execution–was reprimanded, left the CIA, but returned to the CIA as a contractor involved in training officers.
Frances–who insisted Khaled el-Masri be rendered and tortured–was not disciplined and now heads the CIA’s “Global Jihad” unit.
Elizabeth–the lawyer who approved el-Masri’s rendition–was disciplined, but has since been promoted to the legal adviser to the Near East Division.
Steve was reprimanded–not for his interrogation of al-Janabi, but for not having him seen by a doctor. He retired and is back at CIA as a contractor.
Gordon–the Deputy at the Baghdad station at the time of the worst torture–was temporarily barred from working overseas and sent to training; he’s now in charge of the Pakistan-Afghanistan Department of the Counterterrorism Center.
And, as the AP notes, several of these people are now among Obama’s key counter-terrorism advisors. (Of course, John Brennan, who oversaw targeting for Dick Cheney’s illegal wiretap program, is his top counter-terrorism advisor.)
No wonder Obama has no problem pushing our Egyptian torturer, Omar Suleiman, to lead Egypt. It’s completely consistent with our own practice of promoting our own torturers.