Over the last few days, I’ve tracked the accusations and counter-accusations between CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee.
A number of people have asked why, as a way to end this issue, the Committee doesn’t just declassify the entire SSCI Report.
But it’s not so simple as that.
It’s not clear there are the votes to release the Report.
Recall that when the Committee approved the Report back in 2012, the vote was largely split on party lines, with the exception of John McCain, who voted as an Ex Officio member (as Ranking Member of Senate Armed Services Committee) to release the Report. McCain is no longer SASC Ranking member: Jim Inhofe is, and I’m betting he’s not going to vote to release the Report.
There are few other changes in the Committee proper since the report was originally finalized. Martin Heinrich and Angus King have replaced Bill Nelson and Kent Conrad, and Susan Collins and Tom Coburn have replaced Olympia Snowe and Roy Blunt.
And while Heinrich has quickly become one of the better overseers on the Committee, including on torture, it’s not actually clear whether King would vote to release the report. Collins, too, has been reported to be undecided (and her vote would be critical to making this a “bipartisan vote,” now that McCain doesn’t have a vote). There are even hints that Mark Warner wouldn’t vote to support its declassification (though he supported its finalization).
And importantly, King and Collins have been reported to be undecided after the time when, in January, the Committee at least began to suspect they’d been surveilled.
There are, obviously, two different issues (though Saxby Chambliss, at least, sides with CIA on both counts). But there’s been little outcry from the swing votes on releasing the underlying report itself.
Update: h/t to JK for the link to the Collins/King report I was not finding.
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.
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 addition to the apparent miscommunication between Mark Udall and Acting (and presumably soon to be confirmed) DOJ National Security Division Head John Carlin, there was an even more telling exchange in today’s hearing.
In it, Martin Heinrich asked whether DOJ had yet written down its radical new policy of giving notice to defendants caught using Section 702.
Heinrich: As you know in October 2013, after months and months of discussion and debate in which you and the NSD were involved, DOJ adopted a new policy by which Federal prosecutors would inform defendants when they intended to offer evidence informed, obtained, or derived from intelligence collected under Section 702 of FISA. And when you and I met in December you informed me that that policy had not yet been reduced to a formal written policy, and so, Mr. Carlin, I wanted to ask, is that process done yet and has that policy been finalized and if so has it been disseminated in written form?
Carlin: Thank you Senator, and thank you for having taken the time to meet prior to this uh, hearing, in terms of the question, it is my understanding that it was the practice of the, uh, or policy of the Department, to inform a defendant in a criminal case, to give notice, if there was 702 information that was going to be used against them prior to, uh, prior to this change in practice. The change in practice had to do with a particular set of circumstances when there was an instance where information obtained from one prong of the FISA statute, 702, was used and led to information that led to another prong of FISA, Title I FISA, being used, and that when the notice was given to the defendant that that notice was referring to one type of FISA but not both types of FISA. And that is the practice that we uh reviewed and changed, so that now defendants are receiving notice in those instances of both types of uh, FISA, the review of cases affected like that, uh, affected by that continues, but we have filed such notice now, I believe in three uh criminal matters, including the case of Mohamed Mohamud, the individual convicted by a jury of attempting to uh use an explosive device in a Christmas tree lighting ceremony. In reference to that case we’ve now filed, um, there’s a filing in that case we should provide to your staff where we lay out what our practice is and I will ensure that that filing is distributed to US Attorneys offices across the country so they know exactly what our position is in that issue.
Heinrich: That’s helpful. And so you’ll share that with the committee as well?
Carlin: Yes sir.
Now, Carlin might be forgiven for all the uming and ahing here. After all, the filing he appears to be referring to is sort of an extended effort to pretend that “derived from” doesn’t mean “derived from,” all in an effort to pretend DOJ hasn’t been deliberately hiding this (in Mohamud’s case) for over 3 years.
But kudos to Carlin for not using that verb — derived — in his answer, choosing instead to use “was used and led to information that led to.”
All that said, Carlin did admit what has been clear for some time: that DOJ has been hiding Section 702 collected information by getting Title I warrants they provide to defendants. Which is another way of saying all the reassurances people have given about the protections given to people collected incidentally in Section 702 fall flat, because what has actually been happening is the government uses that incidental collection to justify Title I warrants.
I’m glad that’s all cleared up.
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.
Surprisingly, the most contentious comments from today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on were not directed at James “Too Cute by Half” Clapper, but instead John Brennan. Both Martin Heinrich (who used the Early Bird rule to ensure he got to speak early in the hearing) and Mark Udall hit on John Brennan’s comments about the SSCI torture report given what the CIA concluded in an internal review carried out under Leon Panetta. First, Martin Heinrich accused CIA of intimidating legitimate oversight.
[Heinrich] accused Brennan of making statements about the Intelligence panel’s interrogation report that are “meant to intimidate, deflect and thwart legitimate oversight.”
“There’s a chasm between the committee and Director Brennan on some of these issues, but it doesn’t appear to be in the director’s nature to accept those overtures, frankly,” Heinrich said.
“I respectfully and vehemently disagree with your characterization of the CIA’s cooperation with this committee,” Brennan responded.
Heinrich asked Brennan to explain why the Panetta review had been disbanded, wherein Dianne Feinstein interrupted and said that was no an appropriate question for the hearing, at which point Heinrich rebutted DiFi.
“Actually, it doesn’t fully answer the question,” Heinrich responded.
Later, Udall suggested that Brennan’s stonewalling on this internal report suggested he might have been less than forthcoming in his earlier answers about the torture report (remember, Brennan has been dodging Udall’s questions on the torture report for a year).
Udall then asked if the internal review contradicted Brennan’s statement, which the CIA director said was not appropriate to respond to in a public setting.
“Are you saying that the CIA officers who were asked to produce this internal review got it wrong? Just like you said the committee got it wrong?” Udall asked.
“Senator, as you well know, I didn’t say that the committee got it wrong,” Udall shot back. “I said there were things in that report I disagreed with, there were things that I agreed with and I look forward with working committee on the next steps in report.”
That’s when DiFi interrupted again, suggesting this wasn’t an appropriate discussion for this hearing.
Curiously, in spite of DiFi’s insistence that all mention of the Panetta report — or what led it to being quashed — take place in closed session, the CIA claims it might release their report (if they can also release their rebuttal of the Senate report). But they’re still fighting the release of the 6,000 page SSCI torture report.
They’re likely using the same dodge DOJ just used in a FOIA from Jason Leopold (who is also suing for some or all the same reports ACLU is). They said they can’t release the torture report because DiFi owns it (remember, Congress is immune from FOIA).
A report completed more than a year ago by a Senate panel that investigated the CIA’s torture program can only be released by the committee, which maintains complete “control” over the highly classified document, the Justice Department said in a court filing late Friday.
The Justice Department made that claim in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit I filed against the agency last September, in which I asked for a copy of the 300-page executive summary of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s (SSCI) much sought after $40 million torture report. The Justice Department asked a federal court judge Friday to dismiss my case, arguing it does not have the authority to disseminate the report because it is a “congressional record” as opposed to an “agency record,” which would make it subject to provisions of FOIA.
So DiFi doesn’t want Brennan to have to admit in public session that even the CIA found the CIA torture program didn’t work. And DiFi seems to be the single solitary hold-up for releasing her own Committee’s torture report.
Why is DiFi protecting John Brennan and his agency rather than overseeing them?
As part of a letter asking the Administration to provide more details on its drone and/or targeting killing program, Senators Wyden, Udall, and Heinrich have judged the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki to be “a legitimate use of the authority granted the President.” (Adam Serwer first reported on this letter here). That judgement — as well as the Senators’ further comments on Awlaki — may provide further hints about the killing. Here’s the full paragraph:
Having carefully reviewed the matter, we believe that the decision to use lethal force against Anwar al-Aulaqi was a legitimate use of the authority granted to the President. As the President noted in his May 2013 speech at the National Defense University, Mr. al-Aulaqi clearly made a conscious decision to join an organized fighting force that was (and is) engaged in planning and carrying out attacks against the United States, including the 2009 Christmas Day bombing and the 2010 cargo plane plot. By taking on a leadership role in this organization, involving himself in ongoing operational planning against the United States, and demonstrating the capacity and intent to carry out these operations, he made himself a legitimate target for military action. Additionally, while the US government did not publicly acknowledge that it was attempting to kill Mr. al-Aulaqi, this fact was nonetheless widely reported in US and international media. This disclosure served as the equivalent of a wanted poster, and if Mr. al-Aulaqi had been a wrongly targeted innocent man he could have turned himself in and cleared his name. Additionally, alternative reasonable means to apprehend Mr. al-Aulaqi or otherwise deal with the threat that he posed do not appear to have been available. Finally, based on what we have been told, lethal force appears to have been used against Mr. al-Aulaqi in a manner consistent with applicable international law. [my emphasis]
Recall that for a full year, Ron Wyden kept asking whether, “the President’s authority to kill Americans [is] based on authorization from Congress or his own authority as Commander-in-Chief?” Once he saw the Awlaki memos in February, he stopped asking.
And while this paragraph doesn’t definitively answer that question, it does suggest an answer. This letter describes the President acting under authority “granted” to him, rather than inherent to the position. It describes Awlaki as having been the target of “military action.” And it concludes that, if everything they’ve been told is correct, the killing was “consistent with applicable international law.” All three of those details make it more likely the government operated under an AUMF justification than an Article II one. It also suggests that the military person pressed the actual button to kill Awlaki, given that there’s little way a CIA officer doing so would have been legal (and if that’s correct, then it means John Brennan has not made a single change to the drone program).
All that said, later in the letter, the Senators write,
We also believe the Executive Branch needs to clarify whether all lethal counterterrorism operations to date have been carried out pursuant to the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, or whether any have been based solely on the President’s own authorities.
So even while they suggest Awlaki’s killing was authorized under the AUMF, they still profess ignorance about whether all targeted killings have been. Also note they’re asking about “lethal counterterrorism operations,” not drone killing.
John Brennan made two interesting comments about FBI interrogation at his hearing last week. First, in response to a Martin Heinrich question, he suggested that the Army Field Manual shouldn’t be the interrogation standard for the entire government because the FBI “has its own processes and procedures.”
HEINRICH: Thank you. Do you believe that all agencies of the United States government should be held to the interrogation standards that are laid out in the Army Field Manual as it — as currently required by Executive Order 13491? And do you support efforts to codify those requirements into law?
BRENNAN: The Army Field Manual certainly should govern the U.S. military’s detention and interrogation of individuals.
The FBI has its own processes and procedures and laws that govern its activities. So what I wanted to do is to make sure that, you know, appropriate sort of attention is paid to FBI as opposed to the military.
Then, when Brennan was very patiently explaining to Marco Rubio that his ideas about detention and interrogation are erroneous and stupid (my words), he said this about FBI interrogations.
BRENNAN: No. Again, it’s tailored to the circumstances. Sometimes an individual will be Mirandized. Sometimes they will not be Mirandized right away. Mirandizing an individual means only that the information that they give before then cannot be used in Article III court.
But, in fact, the FBI do a great job as far as eliciting information after they’re Mirandizing them, and so they can get information as part of that type of negotiation with them, let them know they can in fact languish forever, or we can in fact have a dialogue about it intelligently.
“They can languish forever”? I didn’t think the Sixth Amendment had a “languish forever” exception.
But Brennan’s apparent belief there is one got me thinking about Minh Quang Pham, whom I wrote about here.
Pham is a Vietnamese immigrant to the UK who traveled to Yemen in December 2010 and went on to help Samir Khan produce Inspire magazine. He was arrested to great fanfare last June, when his May 24 indictment was purportedly unsealed. Though his docket shows no sign of that unsealing; rather, it says the indictment was unsealed two months later. He returned to the UK in December 2011, where he was held in immigration detention. It’s unclear whether he’s still there — the Brits can hold someone in detention indefinitely and extradition to the US has been taking a lot of time of late — or whether he was moved here either in June when DOJ had a big dog and pony show over his arrest or in August when the docket says his previously unsealed indictment was unsealed. That’s the last thing that appears in Pham’s docket. I’ve asked SDNY for a status report but have not yet gotten an answer.
In any case, one of the last people with ties to the UK or US to spend time with Anwar al-Awlaki and, especially, Samir Khan is languishing … somewhere.