On the same day that Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, spoke to the press alongside US President Barack Obama in Washington, Bob Woodward teamed with Greg Miller to release confirmation that Pakistan’s government has agreed to and collaborated in choosing targets for the US “secret” drone program inside Pakistan. Participation by Pakistan, and especially its military, has long been known by close observers and the regular insistence by Pakistan’s government that drone strikes are a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty is viewed cynically as the government’s need to provide domestic political cover.
On first thought, the timing of this revelation seems to break the basic tenets of what Marcy describes as the Bob Woodward Law that applies to classified information being leaked to Woodward:
As explained by John Rizzo in the context of the Obama Administration’s leaks to Bob Woodward, they can and do insta-declassify stuff for their own political purposes all the time. They can do it to make the President look important; they can do it to lie us into an illegal war; they can do it to ruin the career of someone who might expose the earlier lies.
The timing of this leak seems to be aimed more at embarrassing Obama than making him look important. The description of the joint appearance by the New York Times is quite interesting if one assumes that Sharif and Obama were aware that the leak was about to be published:
But Mr. Sharif said after the meeting that he had asked Mr. Obama to halt American drone strikes in Pakistan, broaching an issue that has aggravated tensions. The president did not respond publicly, saying only that the two sides needed to find ways to fight terrorism “that respect Pakistan’s sovereignty, that respect the concerns of both countries.”
So Obama would not address the drone issue directly in his public remarks. But it seems that Sharif was not particularly enthusiastic in his obligatory public denouncement of drone strikes: Continue reading
The same day that the White House released 94 pages of Benghazi emails, which not only show that most at CIA supported the talking points used by the Administration but also include annotations of the CIA roles involved that reveal far more about CIA’s structure than any FOIA response I’ve ever seen, Tommy Vietor went on the record about UndieBomb 2.0 with both the WaPo and MSNBC. It appears he did so to reinforce the fear-mongering language Eric Holder used (though like Holder, Vietor doesn’t explain why John Brennan got a promotion after contributing to such a damaging leak). He said this to WaPo.
Vietor said that it would be a mistake to dismiss the unauthorized disclosure because al-Qaeda failed to carry out its plot.
“We shouldn’t pretend that this leak of an unbelievably sensitive dangerous piece of information is okay because nobody died,” he said.
But the WaPo account also seems to serve (like the Benghazi email dump does) to place blame on CIA.
It answers a question I hinted at yesterday: whether the CIA and White House were on different pages on what to do with the AP story. Reportedly, after AP had given the CIA time to kill Fahd al-Quso (the WaPo doesn’t mention that was the purpose of the delay), CIA’s Mike Morell told the AP the security issue had been addressed, but asked for one more day. As AP considered that request, the White House overrode that discussion.
Michael J. Morell, the CIA’s deputy director, gave AP reporters some additional background information to persuade them to hold off, Vietor said. The agency needed several days more to protect what it had in the works.
Then, in a meeting on Monday, May 7, CIA officials reported that the national security concerns were “no longer an issue,” according to the individuals familiar with the discussion.
When the journalists rejected a plea to hold off longer, the CIA then offered a compromise. Would they wait a day if AP could have the story exclusively for an hour, with no government officials confirming it for that time?
The reporters left the meeting to discuss the idea with their editors. Within an hour, an administration official was on the line to AP’s offices.
The White House had quashed the one-hour offer as impossible. AP could have the story exclusively for five minutes before the White House made its own announcement. AP then rejected the request to postpone publication any longer.
This must be the crux of the animosity here. CIA told AP the danger had passed (though according to some reports, our informant was still in Yemen). At that point, the AP should have and ultimately did feel safe to publish. But then the White House made this ridiculous request, effectively refusing to let AP tell this story before the White House had a shot at it.
Which is why this claim, from Tommy Vietor, is so absurd.
But former White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor, recalling the discussion in the administration last year, said officials were simply realistic in their response to AP’s story. They knew that if it were published, the White House would have to address it with an official, detailed statement.
“There was not some press conference planned to take credit for this,” Vietor said in an interview. “There was certainly an understanding [that] we’d have to mitigate and triage this and offer context for other reporters.”
Jeebus Pete! If your idea of “mitigating and triaging” AP’s fairly complimentary story is to make it far, far worse by hinting about the infiltrator, you’re doing it wrong!
Vietor, who presumably had a role in setting up the conference all at which Brennan tipped off Richard Clarke (though according to Brennan, he did not sit in on the call), insists to MSNBC that telling someone we had “inside control” of this plot does not constitute a gigantic clue that the entire plot was just a sting.
Tommy Vietor, then chief national security spokesman for the White House, disputed the idea that Brennan disclosed sensitive details in his background briefing and said it was “ridiculous” to equate Brennan’s use of the phrase “inside control” with having an “informant.”
It’s a nonsense claim, of course. Someone fucked up the “mitigating and triaging” process, and that’s what made this leak so dangerous, not AP’s initial story. But, presumably because AP didn’t let White House tell the official story before they reported their scoop (and did they plan on telling us all we had inside control on the op if they got to tell the story first?!?), the AP has, as far as we know, borne the brunt of the investigation into the leak.
For the moment let me reiterate two more details.
It appears that Vietor is blaming CIA for the way this went down. And guess what? The guy who blathered about “inside control” has now taken over the CIA.
Then there’s this. Eric Holder noted yesterday that the investigation into David Petraeus for leaking classified information — understood to be limited to his mistress Paula Broadwell, mind you — is ongoing. That means the FBI interview he had on April 10 was not sufficient to answer concerns about his involvement in leaking classified information.
It’s interesting this is coming down to a conflict between White House and CIA, isn’t it?
I’m going to have a few more posts on Ron Wyden’s letter to John Brennan in advance of Brennan’s confirmation hearing.
In light of the Zero Dark Thirty debate and Dianne Feinstein’s spat with Michael Morell, I find this passage rather interesting.
I am particularly interested in getting your reaction to the report’s revelation that the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information about its interrogation program to the White House, the Justice Department, and Congress, and your view on what steps should be taken to correct inaccurate statements that were made to the public.
Frankly, it shouldn’t be a “revelation” that CIA lied to the Justice Department and Congress, at least. As I was able to show from publicly released documents, CIA was running an op on Congress. And it presented misleading documents to DOJ, both in terms of details about the techniques CIA would use as well as the crimes committed under the torture program (though I think both Congress and especially DOJ allowed themselves to be lied to at various points).
Nevertheless, it is apparently a significant conclusion of the torture program that CIA was lying to every potential avenue of oversight over their program.
Frankly, any approach to Brennan’s confirmation hearings that doesn’t also demand public release of the torture report would be yet more dereliction of Congress’ oversight role (either in his role in the White House or his prospective role at CIA, John Brennan would seem to have a significant role in Classification Authority for the torture program, so it should be a fair demand). Sadly, we probably won’t get it.
But even as a slew of journalists and film critics debate whether ZD30 is a CIA effort to pitch their torture program in the best light or not, we have yet more confirmation that CIA lied … to everyone (except maybe Cheney and Addington?).
Even as Wyden asks Brennan what steps he’ll take to make sure CIA doesn’t lie to every entity exercising oversight over it, Zero Dark 30 continues to pack theaters and convince squishy liberals torture worked.
It cannot be sheer coincidence that Dianne Feinstein released two letters to acting CIA Director Michael Morell just hours before WaPo published yet another fact-free defense of torture from Jose Rodriguez.
In addition to demanding proof for assertions Morell made–after DiFi sent her first letter–in a letter to CIA employees about Zero Dark Thirty…
In your December 21, 2012, statement to CIA employees regarding the film, Zero Dark Thirty, you state that “the film creates the strong impression that enhanced interrogation techniques” were “the key to finding Bin Ladin” and that this impression “is false.” However, you went on to refer to multiple streams of intelligence that led CIA analysts to conclude that Bin Ladin was hiding in Abbottabad and stated that “Some came from detainees subjected to enhanced techniques, but there were many other sources as well. And, importantly, whether enhanced interrogation techniques were the only timely and effective way to obtain information from those detainees, as the film suggests, is a matter of debate that cannot and never will be definitively resolved.”
DiFi also noted (in her first letter) that the false assertions in the film tracked public claims made by Michael Hayden and Rodriguez.
As you know, the film depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees. The film then credits CIA detainees subjected to coercive interrogation techniques as providing critical lead information on the courier that led to the UBL compound. While this information is incorrect, it is consistent with public statements made by former Director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, and former CIA Director Michael Hayden.
DiFi sent her first letter December 19. Morell made his incorrect claims two days later. Then DiFi demanded he back his claims on Monday.
Then here we are, on Thursday, with Rodriguez both denying the brutal aspects of the torture depicted in the movie resemble what the CIA did, while claiming (as DiFi predicted) that torture was central to finding Osama bin Laden.
I guess this is why the name of Jane Harman–who may have been terrible on a number of points but pushed back on the Bush Administration’s torture regime–got floated in the last few days as CIA Director, instead of Morell, who had previously been a lock?
In addition to preventing Morell from officially directing the CIA, DiFi does have another way to respond to this insubordination: to release her long report showing that torture not only didn’t work, but did resemble the brutal scenes in the movie.
Mind you, she’s going to face an increasingly fierce battle over classification. Does CIA retain primary classification authority for the program–in which case they’ll fight her? Or does Obama–and will the CIA’s godfather, John Brennan, allow the report to be released?
In any case, this seems a clear moment when DiFi’s authority (indeed, when Congress’ authority) on an issue on which she has been productive, is being challenged head on.
We shall see whether the Congressional overseer or the torturer wins this battle.