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 reader Tom has helpfully reminded me, both Mark Udall’s follow-up questions for Stephen Preston and the CIA’s declaration in ACLU’s FOIA to liberate the Torture Report describe the arrangements CIA required of the Senate Intelligence Committee staffers as they were working on the Torture Report.
Udall described how the CIA insisted on an “unnecessary multi-layered” process that added significantly to the time and cost of the report.
The CIA declined to provide the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence with access to CIA records at the Committee’s secure office space in the Hart Senate Office Building. Instead, the CIA insisted that the Committee review documents at a government building in Virginia. Once the CIA produced relevant documents related to the CIA detention and interrogation program, the CIA then insisted that CIA personnel—and private contractors employed by the CIA—review each document multiple times to ensure unrelated documents were not provided to a small number of fully cleared Committee staff. What role did you play in the decision to employ these unnecessary multi-layered review steps that delayed CIA document production to the Committee at significant governmental expense?
And the CIA declaration emphasizes how SSCI retained complete control over the materials in the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility in which its staffers had been required to work.
One key principle necessary to this inter-branch accommodation, and a condition upon which SSCI insisted, was that the materials created by SSCI personnel on this segregated shared drive would not become “agency records” even though this work product was being created and stored on a CIA computer system. Specifically, in a 2 June 2009 letter from the SSCI Chairman and Vice Chairman to the CIA Director, the Committee expressly stated that the SSCI’s work product, including “draft and final recommendations, reports or other materials generated by Committee staff or Members, are the property of the Committee” and “remain congressional records in their entirety.” The SSCI further provided that the “disposition and control over these records, even after the completion of the Committee’s review, lies exclusively with the Committee.”
Based on this inter-branch accommodation, SSCI personnel used the segregated shared drive to draft the document that is the subject of this litigation. As sections of the report reached a certain stage, the SSCI worked with the CIA information technology and security personnel to transfer these drafts from the segregated shared drive to the SSCI’s secure facilities at the U.S. Capitol complex so that the Committee could complete the drafting process in its workspaces.
Here’s the thing. The purported control SSCI had over the materials in this SCIF is central to CIA’s claim that the Torture Report is not an Agency document and therefore is immune from FOIA.
If SSCI did not have complete control over this material — if CIA could spy on SSCI at will (if, as seems to be the case when viewed in retrospect) — then it guts their argument that the Torture Report is a Congressional document.
If CIA pwned SSCI in that SCIF, then it should make this material (at least the draft reports, before they got moved over to SSCI’s own SCIF) FOIA-able.
So either CIA should be prosecuted for hacking SSCI. Or it should hand over the last draft of the report that resided on servers it felt free to hack into.
McClatchy has now posted an update to the tale of the CIA-SSCI spat.
It appears the following happened: Sometime around August, SSCI staffers working on a database at CIA discovered the internal CIA report, started under Leon Panetta, that corroborated the SSCI report. It also contradicted CIA’s official response to the SSCI Report.
Several months after the CIA submitted its official response to the committee report, aides discovered in the database of top-secret documents at CIA headquarters a draft of an internal review ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta of the materials released to the panel, said the knowledgeable person.
So having discovered even the CIA disagreed with the CIA’s response, the SSCI staffers took a copy with them.
They determined that it showed that the CIA leadership disputed report findings which they knew were corroborated by the so-called Panetta review, said the knowledgeable person.
The aides printed the material, walked out of CIA headquarters with it and took it to Capitol Hill, said the knowledgeable person.
Mark Udall raised the report in a December hearing. In January, CIA accused SSCI of absconding with the document.
After the CIA confronted the panel in January about the removal of the material last fall, panel staff concluded that the agency had monitored computers that they’d been given to use in a high-security research room at the CIA campus in Langley, Va., a McClatchy investigation found.
In response, the CIA asked DOJ to start an investigation.
Then there’s this weird question about the document. I’m not sure whether the issue is how the document first got included in the database at CIA, or whether it’s how it migrated to SSCI.
White House officials have held at least one closed-door meeting with committee members about the monitoring and the removal of the documents, said the first knowledgeable person.
The White House officials were trying to determine how the materials that were taken from CIA headquarters found their way into a data base into which millions of pages of top-secret reports, emails and other documents were made available to panel staff after being vetted by CIA officials and contractors, said the knowledgeable person.
My favorite part of this passage, though, is that contractors are helping choose with documents CIA’s overseers are allowed to see.
Because contractors should surely have more visibility into what the CIA does than CIA’s overseers, right?
All of which is to say the SSCI busted the CIA for lying in their official response to the Committee. And as a result, CIA decided to start accusing the Committee of breaking the law. And now everyone is being called into the Principal’s office for spankings.
This reminds me of what happened when Gitmo defense lawyers tried to independently identify the identities of their clients torturers. The lawyers got too close to the torturers, which set off a process that ultimately led to John Kiriakou, as the sacrificial lamb, going to jail.
But it seems that this is part of a larger CIA effort to stall. As McClatchy notes, CIA took 3 extra months to provide their initial response to SSCI. Then this erupted 2 months later. It has now been almost 3 months since Udall first revealed the existence of the Panetta report. Which brings us just 8 months away from an election in which the Democrats stand a good chance of losing the Senate, and with it, the majority on the Committee that might vote to declassify the report in defiance of CIA’s wishes. Which may be why Saxby Chambliss is fanning the CiA’s flames for them.
“I have no comment. You should talk to those folks that are giving away classified information and get their opinion,” Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said when asked about the alleged intrusions.
Stall, stall, stall. It’s what CIA did with the OPR report, it’s what they did with the torture tape investigation, and now this.
CIA may well suck at doing their job — getting intelligence that is useful to the country. But they sure are experts at outlasting any oversight onto their real activities.
In January, Ron Wyden and Mark Udall suggested that CIA was hacking into US computers.
Wyden asked (43;04) John Brennan whether the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act applied to the CIA.
Wyden: Does the federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act apply to the CIA?
Brennan: I would have to look into what that act actually calls for and its applicability to CIA’s authorities. I’ll be happy to get back to you, Senator, on that.
Wyden: How long would that take?
Brennan: I’ll be happy to get back to you as soon as possible but certainly no longer than–
Wyden: A week?
Brennan: I think that I could get that back to you, yes.
Minutes later, Mark Udall raised EO 12333′s limits on CIA’s spying domestically (48:30).
Udall: I want to be able to reassure the American people that the CIA and the Director understand the limits of its authorities. We are all aware of Executive Order 12333. That order prohibits the CIA from engaging in domestic spying and searches of US citizens within our borders. Can you assure the Committee that the CIA does not conduct such domestic spying and searches?
Brennan: I can assure the Committee that the CIA follows the letter and spirit of the law in terms of what CIA’s authorities are, in terms of its responsibilities to collect intelligence that will keep this country safe. Yes Senator, I do.
It appears the target of this hacking was the Senate Intelligence Committee itself.
The CIA Inspector General’s Office has asked the Justice Department to investigate allegations of malfeasance at the spy agency in connection with a yet-to-be released Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA’s secret detention and interrogation program, McClatchy has learned.
The criminal referral may be related to what several knowledgeable people said was CIA monitoring of computers used by Senate aides to prepare the study. The monitoring may have violated an agreement between the committee and the agency.
The committee determined earlier this year that the CIA monitored computers – in possible violation of an agreement against doing so – that the agency had provided to intelligence committee staff in a secure room at CIA headquarters that the agency insisted they use to review millions of pages of top-secret reports, cables and other documents, according to people with knowledge.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, a panel member, apparently was referring to the monitoring when he asked CIA Director John Brennan at a Jan. 9 hearing if provisions of the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act “apply to the CIA? Seems to me that’s a yes or no answer.”
NYT adds that CIA started spying on SSCI after learning it had accessed documents they didn’t want them to.
The action, which Mr. Udall did not describe, took place after C.I.A. officials came to suspect that congressional staff members had gained unauthorized access to agency documents during the course of the Intelligence Committee’s years-long investigation into the detention and interrogation program.
This is effectively the same treatment the CIA extends to Gitmo lawyers and defendants, where it spies to see what they’re saying about its torture methods.
But I bet it will be treated with more seriousness.
Mark Udall just wrote Obama a sometimes cryptic letter asking him to commit to declassifying the Senate Intelligence Report torture report. In it, he:
But I’m particularly interested in this oblique comment:
As you are aware, the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the Committee in relation to the internal CIA review, and I find those actions to be incredibly troubling for the Committee’s oversight responsibilities and for our democracy. It is essential that the Committee be able to do its oversight work — consistent with our constitutional principle of the separation of powers — without the CIA posing impediments or obstacles as it is today.
“Unprecedented” is a pretty strong word.
Senator Udall’s office was unable to offer more clarity about this unprecedented action.
Updated: Changed the title because it implied Udall was saying this unprecedented action was about covering up torture, which is more than he said.
By my count, Senate Intelligence Committee members asked CIA General Counsel nominee and Acting OLC Head Caroline Krass 3 questions, plus follow-ups, about torture (these are my summaries):
Granted, these questions come from people who have been particularly concerned about the Senate Torture report. So perhaps they’re just asking to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
But the questions, together, point to several potential loopholes around Obama’s purported ban on torture (even ignoring the way Executive Orders can be pixie dusted).
After all, as far as we know, the September 17, 2001 “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification remains active. That MON explicitly calls for partnering with countries that torture, both close partnership with Egypt (which was the first country we used to torture detainees), but even countries like Syria.
Then there’s the perennial question — which was the driving question in 2004 and 2005, which led to OLC memos Udall has made clear were based on CIA’s lies — of our compliance with the Convention Against Torture. We seem to have a sustained interest in humiliating detainees. Should we assume we continue to do so?
Finally, Udall’s question about the 2007 OLC memo, with his particular focus on sleep deprivation. As long ago as Faisal Shahzad’s interrogation, there have been suggestions that the High Value Interrogation Group might have found ways to keep detainees awake for extended periods. And while public explanations attributed Abu Anas al-Libi’s abbreviated shipboard interrogation to his own hunger strike, I do wonder whether some kind of coercion wasn’t also involved. Plus, there were claims that the CIA Annex in Benghazi was conducting interrogations. So I would be unsurprised if CIA were using sleep deprivation, again.
Again, perhaps Udall and Heinrich are asking these questions just to measure whether or not Krass would prevent CIA from getting back into the torture business. But I do find the questions troubling.
In the follow-up questions for CIA General Counsel nominee Caroline Krass, Ron Wyden asked a series of his signature loaded questions. With it, he pointed to the existence of still-active OLC advice — Jack Goldsmith’s May 6, 2004 memo on Bush’s illegal wiretap program — supporting the conduct of a phone (but not Internet) dragnet based solely on Presidential authorization.
He started by asking “Did any of the redacted portions of the May 2004 OLC opinion address bulk telephony metadata collection?
Krass largely dodged the question — but did say that “it would be appropriate for the May 6, 2004 OLC opinion to be reviewed to determine whether additional portions of the opinion can be declassified.”
In other words, the answer is (it always is when Wyden asks these questions) “yes.”
This is obvious in any case, because Goldsmith discusses shutting down the Internet dragnet program, and spends lots of time discussing locating suspects.
Wyden then asked if the opinion relied on something besides FISA to conduct the dragnet.
[D]id the OLC rely at that time on a statutory basis other than the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for the authority to conduct bulk telephony metadata collection?
Krass dodged by noting the declassification had not happened so she couldn’t answer.
But the 2009 Draft NSA IG Report makes it clear the answer is yes: NSA collected such data, both before and after the 2004 hospital showdown, based solely on Presidential authorization (though on occasion DOJ would send letters to the telecoms to reassure them both the metadata and content collection was legal).
Finally, Wyden asks the kicker: “Has the OLC taken any action to withdraw this opinion?”
Krass makes it clear the memo is still active, but assures us it’s not being used.
OLC generally does not reconsider the status of its prior opinions in the absence of a practical need by an element of the Executive Branch to know whether it can rely upon the advice in connection with its ongoing operations. My understanding is that any continuing NSA collection activities addressed in the May 6, 2004 opinion are being conducted pursuant to authorization by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and thus do not rely on the advice of the opinion.
Of course, just yesterday both Dianne Feinstein and Mark Udall made it clear that no one at DOJ is paying close attention to EO 12333 — that is, Presidentially — authorized activities. So how would she know?
One way or another, the Executive Branch still has OLC sanction to conduct a phone dragnet off the books, using only Presidential authorization.
The question is whether, in addition to pointing to this authorization, Wyden is also suggesting that the Executive is currently using it.
(h/t to KH for alerting me that the QFRs had been posted)
There were several curious exchanges in today’s hearing for Acting National Security Division AAG John Carlin to become the official AAG.
I’ll start with this exchange. (After 1:01, my transcription)
Udall: I want to talk about Executive Order 12333, with which you’re familiar. I understand that the collection, retention, or dissemination of information about US persons is prohibited under Executive Order 12333 except under certain procedures approved by the Attorney General. But this doesn’t mean that US person information isn’t mistakenly collected or obtained and then disseminated outside these procedures, so take this example. Let’s say the NSA’s conducting what it believes to be foreign to foreign collection under EO 12333 but discovers in the course of this collection that it also incidentally collected a vast trove of US person information. That US person collection should now have FISA protections. What role does the NSD have in overseeing any collection, retention, or dissemination of US person information that might occur under that executive order?
Carlin: Senator, so, generally the intelligence activities that NSA would conduct under its authorities pursuant to EO 12333 would be done pursuant to a series of guidelines that were approved by the Attorney General and then ultimately implemented through additional policies and procedures by NSA. But the collection activities that occur pursuant to 12333, if there was incidental collection, would be handled through a different set of oversight mechanisms than the Departments–by the Office of Compliance, the Inspector General there, the General Counsel there, and the Inspector General and General Counsel’s office for the Intelligence Community writ large, as well as reporting to these committees as appropriate.
Udall: So you don’t see a role for NSD in ensuring that that data is protected under FISA?
Carlin: Under FISA, no, under FISA we would have a direct role, so if it was under, if it was collection that was pursuant to the FISA statutes, so collection targeted at US persons, for example, or collection targeted at certain non-US persons overseas that was collected domestically such as pursuant to the 702 collection program. That would fall within the scope of the National Security Division. That’s information that — and oversight that we conduct through our oversight section in conjunction with the agencies. We would have the responsibility in terms of informing, of working with them to inform the court if there were any compliance incidents and making sure those compliance incidents were addressed.
Udall: My time’s obviously expired, but I think you don’t understand where I’m coming from here. One is to make sure the DOJ and you in your capacity have the most accurate information so you can represent United States of America and our citizens in the best possible way, and secondly that you have an additional role to play in providing additional oversight. Those are all tied to having information that’s factual, that’s based on what happened, and I’m going to continue to look for ways possible to make sure that’s what does happen, whether it’s under the auspices of the IC or the DOJ. You all have a responsibility to protect the Bill of Rights.
Udall asks Carlin about a “vast trove” of US person data collected under the guise of EO 12333, and asks whether NSD would have a role in protecting it under FISA.
Carlin responds by saying NSD wouldn’t have any role; only NSA and ODNI have oversight over EO 12333 compliance with the Attorney General approved guidelines.
At first, I thought Udall didn’t get Carlin’s point — that this data would get no FISA protection. (Earlier in the hearing, Dianne Feinstein had even pointed out EO 12333 collection gets less oversight, and suggested maybe NSD should play a role in EO 12333 compliance.)
But upon review, Udall may have been suggesting something else (I have a question in with his office seeking clarity on this point).
By all appearances, this was content, not metadata (under SPCMA, metadata collection is considered fair game).
US person content cannot be collected overseas — not intentionally at least — outside the purview of FISA sections 703 and 704.
And while admittedly I have yet to meet a lawyer who has been able to explain precisely how those statutes work, and while the White House has given particularly crazy answers on this point, it seemed that Carlin couldn’t even conceive of a way that US person content collected overseas would be protected under FISA.
He may simply be reflecting NSA policy that if they collect US person content overseas under EO 12333, they call it incidental and therefore never have to consider the FISA implications. And that may well be what the letter of the law provides (in which case I’m sure NSA never ever exploits that loophole, nosirree bob).
But he seemed completely unfamiliar with the concept that, under FISA Amendments Act, US persons do get FISA protection overseas.
Update: According to Udall’s spokesperson, he wasn’t specifically thinking of 703 and 704, but asking whether this data “should” fall under FISA and therefore under NSD’s oversight.
NPR’s Carrie Johnson reports that OLC head Virginia Seitz quietly left OLC before Christmas.
Virginia Seitz, who won Senate confirmation after an earlier candidate under president Obama foundered, resigned from federal service after two-and-a-half years on the job. The timing is unusual because her unit plays a critical role in drawing the legal boundaries of executive branch action —at a time when President Obama says he will do more to bypass a divided Congress and do more governing by way of executive order.
And while DOJ’s official line is that Seitz left entirely for personal reasons, two sources told Johnson the ongoing discussions about whether to drone kill another American were another factor.
Two other sources suggested that aside from the tough work, another issue weighed heavily on her mind over the last several months: the question of whether and when the US can target its own citizens overseas with a weaponized drone or missile attack. American officials are considering such a strike against at least one citizen linked to al Qaeda, the sources said.
While a “law enforcement” source (but wait! the entire point of drone assassinations is they replace law enforcement with intelligence entirely!) suggests the decision has not yet been made.
A law enforcement source told NPR the controversy over the use of drones against Americans in foreign lands did not play a major role in Seitz’s decision to leave government, since the OLC is continuing to do legal analysis on the issue and there was no firm conclusion to which she may have objected or disagreed.
Which is sort of funny, because Kimberly Dozier’s report on the American in question says DOD, at least, has made its decision.
But one U.S. official said the Defense Department was divided over whether the man is dangerous enough to merit the potential domestic fallout of killing an American without charging him with a crime or trying him, and the potential international fallout of such an operation in a country that has been resistant to U.S. action.
Another of the U.S. officials said the Pentagon did ultimately decide to recommend lethal action.
And remember, as I’ve pointed out, this potential drone execution target is differently situated from Anwar al-Awlaki, in that there appears to be no claim this one is targeting civilians in the US.
But let’s take a step back and consider some other interesting details of timing.
First, on November 29 of last year, Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich released a letter they sent to Eric Holder asking for more clarity on when the President could kill an American.
[W]e have concluded that the limits and boundaries of the President’s power to authorize the deliberate killing of Americans need to be laid out with much greater specificity. It is extremely important for both Congress and the public to have a fully understanding of what the executive branch thinks the President’s authorities are, so that lawmakers and the American people can decide whether these authorities are subject to adequate limits and safeguards.
Retrospectively, it seems this letter may have pertained to this new execution target, particularly given the different circumstances regarding his alleged attacks against the US. I might even imagine this serving as a public demand that DOJ not simply rely on the existing Awlaki drone assassination memo, creating the need to do a new one.
Now consider how (currently acting OLC head) Caroline Krass’ confirmation hearing plays in. On December 17, Wyden asked her who had the authority to withdraw an OLC opinion (the opinion in question pertains to common commercial services in some way related to cybersecurity, but I find it interesting in retrospect).
Wyden: 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.
She said she did not “currently have that authority.” Was she about to get that authority in days or hours?
Then finally there are the implications for Krass’ confirmation. The leaks about this current drone execution target almost certainly came from Mike Rogers’ immediate vicinity. He’s torqued because Obama’s efforts to impose some limits on the drone war have allegedly made it more difficult to execute this American with no due process.
And while Rogers doesn’t get a vote over Krass’ confirmation to be CIA General Counsel, Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss do. And their efforts to keep CIA in the drone business may well have an impact on — and may have been motivated by — our ability to assassinate Americans.
I don’t recall Krass getting questions that directly addressed drone killing, though she did get some that hinted at the edges of such questions, such as this one:
Are there circumstances in which a use of force, or other action, by the U.S. government that would be unlawful if carried out overtly is lawful when carried out covertly? Please explain.
ANSWER: As a matter of domestic law, I cannot think of any circumstances in which a use of force or other action by the U.S. government that would be unlawful if carried out overtly would be lawful when carried out covertly, but I have not studied this question.
This seems to be a question she would have had to consider if she had any involvement in OLC’s consideration of a new drone execution memo.
All that said, she hasn’t yet gotten her vote (though any delay may arise from holds relating to the Senate Torture Report).
It just seems likely that — as we did in May 2005 when Steven Bradbury reapproved torture in anticipation of a promotion to head OLC — we’re faced yet again with a lawyer waiting for a promotion being asked to give legal sanction to legally suspect activity. My impression is that Krass has far more integrity than Bradbury (remember, she’s the one who originally imposed limits on the Libya campaign), so I’m only raising this because of the circumstances, not any reason to doubt her character.
It just seems like if you need lawyers to rubber stamp legally suspect activities, there ought to be more transparency about what promotions and resignations are going on.
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.