Richard Burr

DC’s Elite: Let Our General Go!

At almost precisely the moment the FBI started investigating who was pestering Tampa Bay socialite Jill Kelley, an investigation that would lead to the resignation and investigation of David Petraeus, John McCain called for an investigation into top Obama officials leaking details of covert ops to make themselves look good.

Outraged by two recent articles published by the New York Times, which exposed the extent of U.S. involvement in cyberattacks made against Iran and the White House’s secret ‘Kill List,’ John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) took to the Senate floor to admonish the administration, and accuse it of widespread disregard for national security.

“The fact that this administration would aggressively pursue leaks by a 22-year-old Army private in the Wikileaks matter and former CIA employees in other leaks cases, but apparently sanction leaks made by senior administration officials for political purposes is simply unacceptable,” McCain said.

Now, McCain is outraged! that former top Obama official David Petraeus is getting the callous treatment given to those being investigated for leaks.

U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) today released the following statement on the handling of the investigation into former CIA Director David Petraeus:

“While the facts of the case involving General David Petraeus remain unknown and are not suitable for comment, it is clear that this investigation has been grievously mishandled.

“It is outrageous that the highly confidential and law enforcement-sensitive recommendation of prosecutors to bring charges against General Petraeus was leaked to the New York Times. It is a shameful continuation of a pattern in which leaks by unnamed sources have marred this investigation in contravention to fundamental fairness.

“No American deserves such callous treatment, let alone one of America’s finest military leaders whose selfless service and sacrifice have inspired young Americans in uniform and likely saved many of their lives.”

And of course, McCain had no problem when the first story about poor Petraeus’ treatment appeared in December, quoting lots of McCain’s buddies calling for justice! for Petraeus.

McCain (and his sidekick Lindsey) are not the only ones rending their garments over the injustice of a top Obama official being investigated for leaking classified details to make himself look good. Jason Chaffetz keeps complaining about it. And Dianne Feinstein took to the Sunday shows to declare that Petraeus has suffered enough. Richard Burr apparently made false claims about how the Espionage Act has been wielded, of late, even against those whose leaks caused no harm.

Golly, you’d think all these legislators might figure out they have the authority, as legislators, to fix the overly broad application of the Espionage Act.

Meanwhile, Eli Lake — who launched the campaign to Let Our General Go last month — has an odd story complaining about Petraeus’ treatment. To Lake’s credit, he mentions — though does not quote — how Petraeus celebrated John Kiriakou’s guilty plea. Here’s what Petraeus said then about the importance of respecting your vows to secrecy:

It marks an important victory for our agency, for our intelligence community, and for our country. Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.

Lake also suggests Paula Broadwell’s job — writing fawning biographies of the man she was fucking — was the same as Bob Woodward’s.

What’s more, Broadwell herself was writing a second book on Petraeus. When Broadwell — a graduate of West Point — was writing her first biography of him, she was given access to top secret information covering the period in which Petraeus commanded allied forces in Afghanistan. This arrangement is common in Washington for established authors. Sources for Bob Woodward, whose books often disclose classified information that is provided to him through semi-official leaks, are not investigated for betraying state secrets.

Maybe it is, maybe Woodward is nothing more than a power-fucker. But it obscures the key difference (which should not be true but is) that when the White House sanctions a book, they get to sanction self-serving leaks for it.

Finally, Lake misstates something about selective treatment.

Senior officials such as Petraeus, who serve at the highest levels of the national security state, are almost never punished as harshly as low- and mid- level analysts who are charged with leaking. When former CIA director John Deutch was found to have classified documents on his unsecure home computer, he was stripped of his security clearance and charged with a misdemeanor. 

An even better example — one not mentioned at all — is when Alberto Gonzales was found to have kept a CYA file, full of draft OLC memos and notes from a briefing on the illegal wiretap program, in a briefcase in his house. He resigned at the beginning of that investigation (and it has never been clear how much that played a role in his resignation; there are many interesting questions about Gonzales’ resignation that remain unanswered). But he suffered no consequences from keeping unbelievably sensitive documents at his house, aside from being denied the sinecure all other Bush officials got.

That said, that’s true of a lot of people in sensitive positions. Of the 40 witnesses who might be called against Jeffrey Sterling, for example, 6 have been found to have mistreated classified information (as has Sterling himself); that includes his direct supervisor while at CIA as well as 3 others cleared into the Merlin op (and I’m certain that doesn’t include Condi Rice, whose testimony the AIPAC defendants would have used to show how common leaking to the press was, nor does it include one other witness I strongly suspect has been involved in another big leak case). CIA withheld that detail from DOJ until right before the trial was due to start in 2011. But it does offer at least one metric of how common mistreating classified information is.

The prosecution of it, of course, is very selective. And that’s the problem, and David Petraeus’ problem, and Congress’ problem.

Yet that won’t ensure that Congress does anything to fix that problem with the means at their disposal, legislating a fix to stop the misuse of the Espionage Act. That’s because they like the overly broad use of it to cudgel leakers they don’t like. Just not the ones they’re particularly fond of.

Shorter GOP Intelligence: “Oversight’s Out for Summer!”


I’m just now getting around to the GOP rebuttal to the Senate Report. While it does raise a few decent points, it engages in a whole slew of the kind of word games the Bush Administration used to hide torture in the first place (I honestly would love to read a serious study of this whole project as an epistemological exercise).

Thus far, however, I most adore this paragraph on Congressional oversight.

The Study claims, “[t]he CIA did not brief the Senate Intelligence Committee leadership on the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques until September 2002, after the techniques had been approved and used.”88 We found that the CIA provided information to the Committee in hearings, briefings, and notifications beginning shortly after the signing of the Memorandum of Notification (MON) on September 17, 2001. The Study’s own review of the CIA’s representations to Congress cites CIA hearing testimony from November 7, 2001, discussing the uncertainty in the boundaries on interrogation techniques.89 The Study also cites additional discussions between staff and CIA lawyers in February 2002.90 The Study seems to fault the CIA for not briefing the Committee leadership until after the enhanced interrogation techniques had been approved and used. However, the use of DOJ-approved enhanced interrogation techniques began during the congressional recess period in August, an important fact that the Study conveniently omitted.92 The CIA briefed HPSCI leadership on September4, 2002. SSCI leadership received the same briefing on September 27, 2002.93

I am somewhat sympathetic to the first claim. As it notes, at a briefing for what appears to be the Senators (as opposed to staff) on November 7, 2001, Deputy Director of Operations said something that should have set off alarm bells.

Deputy Director of Operations (DDO) James Pavitt assured the Committee that it would be informed of each individual who entered CIA custody. Pavitt disavowed the use of torture against detainees while stating that the boundaries on the use of interrogation techniques were uncertain—specifically in the case of having to identify the location of a hidden nuclear weapon.2447

2447 “We’re not going to engage in torture. But, that said, how do I deal with somebody I know may know right now that there is a nuclear weapon somewhere in the United States that is going to be detonated tomorrow, and I’ve got the guy who I know built it and hid it? I don’t know the answer to that.” (See transcript of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence MON briefing, November 7, 2001 (DTS #2002-0611);

Whoa!

Pavitt effectively said, just as the government started to round up people like Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in Afghanistan, “we’re not going to torture but then again maybe we will.” And while it is crystal clear he failed to meet the terms he laid out — Congress was not informed about each detainee, there was never a detainee in custody who had set a nuclear bomb nor even a ticking time bomb scenario, much less Abu Zubaydah, who was put on ice for over a month before the worst of the torture — his contemplation of using torture in case of a ticking time bomb should have been the moment for Congress to say, “Whoa! Stop!”

There’s no reason to believe the February briefing discussed the torture.

Which brings us to the September briefings.

Now, first of all, elsewhere in their rebuttal, the GOP note that Abu Zubaydah was subjected to torture in April (largely, but not entirely, sleep deprivation). They make much — some of it justified – of the Report for not dealing with this as torture. But here, they adopt the same approach the Report did and ignore that torture and point out that the DOJ-approved torture (that is, the torture that had some authorization beyond the Memorandum of Notification, rather than the torture that relied exclusively on it) started during Congressional recess, so whatever was the poor CIA to do about Richard Shelby and Bob Graham being on vacation? (FWIW, Graham remained actively involved in the Joint Inquiry into 9/11 during that period; it’s when he first started getting incensed about Saudi Arabia’s role in the attack.)

Schools out for summer!

Except it wasn’t out.

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As the official schedule from the period makes clear, the Senate met (marked by strike-through) on August 1, the day the torture memos were signed. Under the National Security Act, the Gang of Four, at least, are supposed to be briefed before a covert op. Clearly the Executive knew enough about what they planned to do with Abu Zubaydah on August 1 to be able to brief it before they started on August 4. (In case you’re wondering, the Senate was also in session in April to be briefed.)

I am, however, rather interested that the GOP is adopting the argument that CIA had to wait until September to roll out a new product, just as Andy Card was doing with the Iraq War at that same time. Especially given the way both Nancy Pelosi and Bob Graham have noted that the Executive was lying about both in that same period.

Finally, there’s the final claim — that Bob Graham and Richard Shelby got the same briefing that Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss did. The claim commits another of the crimes the rebuttal accuses the Report of — insisting you can’t find out what happened at a briefing without interviewing the participants, which the GOP did no more than the SSCI staffers did.

But from the available evidence, we can be pretty sure Graham and Shelby did not get the same briefing that Pelosi and Goss did.

As I’ve laid out, someone(s) in the Pelosi and Goss briefing noted that the torture described in the briefing — which CIA had already done, though they didn’t tell Pelosi and Goss that — would be illegal in another country. The next day, CIA ramped up discussions of destroying the torture tapes that depicted that illegal torture. The next, Jose Rodriguez and a lawyer altered their record of the briefing to take out that reference to illegality. And, for some reason, the Graham and Shelby briefing, which had been scheduled for September 9, got postponed until the end of the month. Rodriguez did not attend the SSCI briefing, as he had the HPSCI one. And it appears to have been held in less secure space.

And while I’ve only interviewed half the people who attended those briefings, there does seem to be abundant evidence they were different. Not only that they were different, but different because of the reaction someone in the HPSCI briefing had.

Whatever. I guess it’s nice to know that departing Vice Chair Saxby Chambliss and rising Chair Richard Burr both think the CIA should get none of the oversight legally required during recess.

The “DSOP Accommodation”

In what may serve as the public transition moment from Dianne Feinstein to Richard Burr (in part because Saxby Chambliss was absent), the Senate Intelligence Committee considered the nomination of Nick Rasmussen to head National Counterterrorism Center yesterday. He’s long served as the Deputy anyway, so he’s very well qualified, and the hearing was one of those love affairs you often see (though in this case I’m not aware of any big flags that the Committee might soon regret, as I predicted during John Brennan’s confirmation).

That said, I highly recommend Rasmussen’s Additional Prehearing Answers. Along with a really accessible (and welcome) description of many of NCTC’s functions, it includes (question 17) what appears to be his description of his role in developing the Drone Rule Book.

I wanted to also point to his discussion of the Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning (see questions 11 and 13). In 2012, DSOP was described as an important part of CT, but one Congress had largely neglected:

The Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning is supposed to be the mechanism for government-wide strategic operational planning and is half of NCTC’s mission, yet oversight is negligible.  The seeming importance of DSOP has been highlighted in testimony by NCTC leadership, yet relatively unchallenged by Congress in hearings.  In his statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as nominee for the Director of the NCTC, Adm. John Scott Redd called strategic operational planning “substantial, daunting and, I believe, very necessary.”[xii]  Through the years, SOP has been called “truly revolutionary”[xiii] as the government has “come together in ways…never seen during…decades of government service.”[xiv]  Despite caveats of strategic operational planning as “new to the US government,” [xv]SOP was called “foundational”[xvi] to counterterrorism efforts.  Succeeding NCTC Director Michael Leiter said he was “more convinced than ever that success against terrorism will only come through such coordinated and synchronized efforts—to include the full weight of our diplomatic, financial, military, intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement activities.” [xvii]  For such weighty importance, however, Congress hardly paid attention to DSOP.

Since then, however, it has become clear that one reason Congress hadn’t been paying attention is because the Executive wasn’t sharing details on it. In John Brennan’s prehearing questions, for example, the Committee hammered him a bit for withholding information.

Question 23: Please describe any involvement you have had in the Administration’s responses to the Committee’s requests for the strategies produced by the Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning, including whether you personally made any decision or recommendation regarding the Committee’s access to such strategies and, if so, providing the specific legal basis for your decision or recommendation.

A: In my capacity as Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, I have conferred with NCTC Director Matt Olsen on how to determine what elements of those NSS-led counterterrorism implementation plans that NCTC’s Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning (DSOP) has contributed to should be shared with the Committee. DSOP supports the NSS in helping to draft and coordinate some–not all–CT implementation plans and to compile related department and agency activities. These documents often contain policy-focused information from the NSS that is deliberative in nature; include information on non-intelligence-related activities that departments and agencies may be pursuing; and, in some cases, access to documents is limited by the NSS due to security sensitivities around the CT planning/implementation effort. I have worked with Director Olsen to share with the SSCI those plans or parts of plan that are not deliberative in nature and that involve intelligence activities. I have supported NCTC’s decision to respond to SSCI requests for briefings/information on the non-deliberative, intelligence-related aspects of particular plans and would support SSCI requests for briefings/information from other parts of the intelligence community, including CIA, as it relates to particularly plans.

The question on this topic addressed to Rasmussen is more circumspect.

Question 13: Historically, the Committee has had difficulty in obtaining the strategies that are produced by NCTC’s Directorate of Strategic Operational Planning. If confirmed, will you abide by the current accommodation that has been reached between the Committee and NCTC?

A: Yes. I am familiar with the accommodation that has been reached with the Committee with respect to the strategies that DSOP produces and, if confirmed,, I would continue to abide by it.

The response doesn’t really reveal whether the SSCI is actually learning what kind of schemes get considered during this strategic response to terrorism; it sure seems to be limited.

As it happens, two of the maybe 12 questions addressed to Rasmussen addressed the question as well.  Rising Chair Burr challenged Rasmussen what he — in this DSOP role — would do strategically to combat terrorism (I liked his emphasis that DSOP, not NSC, is actually the agency in charge).

Burr: What is NCTC as the Executive agent for our nation’s strategy gonna do about [the broad threat of terrorism]?

Rasmussen: [pauses] The role that NCTC plays in carrying out Strategic Operational Planning in support of the government is one that has us tied very closely to the National Security Council staff and the policy development process for pursuing strategies against–on counterterrorism. We work with the National Security Council staff to develop whole of government plans to address our counterterrorism concerns in each of the theaters around the world. Not just one single theater, for ex–as you would well expect, Senator. The efforts to develop strategies against ISIL is at a particularly energetic pace right now. But our Strategic Operational Planning capability is also brought to bear on the whole array of CT challenges we face, in Africa, in Asia, in South Asia, every region you can think of. And so I would consider our job at NCTC to make sure that we aren’t leaving any holes in that fabric of strategy as we look out across all of the different CT challenges that we face, while at the same time prioritizing where effort needs to be most energetically directed. And that of course right now would argue for a lot of effort to be directed at the challenges we’re facing in Syria and Iraq.

And Angus King askedwhy we don’t develop something akin to the Kennan containment strategy used against the Soviet Union.

Rasmussen: The strategies that we try to help produce at NCTC in support of the National Security Council staff — in my answer to Chairman Feinstein [sic] are typically whole of government strategies, not just relying on our intelligence capabilities or our military capabilities but also trying to take advantage of the abilities, the resources we have across the government to try to produce the conditions that would over time eat away at support for terrorism in some of these conflict locations, um, overseas. At the same time, we all go into it understanding well that those effort will ultimately take years if not decades to play out for us to reap the benefits of those kinds of strategies, and in the meantime, you’re left to manage a very difficult threat environment.

Note that, whatever Rasmussen’s commitment to the DSOP “accommodation” to share information with SSCI, he still seems to defer to NSC on this topic, even though the law says that NCTC should take the lead.

It may well be that the White House (properly, to a point) believes that strategic planning against terrorism is an inherent Executive function. But it doesn’t seem like the White House should be hiding all this — to whatever extent it is — from its Congressional overseers, particularly given how easily the fight against terrorism can turn into support for terrorism.

One Potential Civil Liberties Bright Spot from Yesterday’s Shellacking: Thad Cochran

There has been a lot of belated attention to the impact that Mark Udall’s loss yesterday will have on the Senate Intelligence Committee. I’ve been pointing to the possibility of a Udall loss and a Richard Burr Chairmanship since March. I warned you all of this when there was still time to do something about it!

Yesterday’s election will have huge impact on intelligence matters. It’s crystal clear, for example, that Burr has zero intention of exercising any oversight into the intelligence community, as we know he has been uninterested in their law-breaking in the past. I actually think Burr may be more interested in their competence than Feinstein has been, but that may be just a pipe-dream.

Burr might even be the very very rare Gang of Four member who doesn’t use the position to leak what the intelligence community wants to make public to the press. I say that because Burr was a key player in requiring the White House to provide the committees a list of sanctioned leaks, which I actually think was a badly needed reform (though I have no idea whether the White House has complied).

There’s also the matter of the 3 or 4 new Republicans that will gain seats on the Intelligence Committee (adding at least one for the majority, along with replacing Saxby Chambliss and Tom Coburn, both of whom retired). It’d be nice to see a libertarian among these — perhaps someone like Mike Lee, given that Utah has a lot of intelligence equities. But I highly doubt Mitch McConnell would put anyone with an interest in civil liberties on the Committee.

But there is one area where yesterday’s shellacking might harbor good news for civil liberties: Thad Cochran.

With Republicans in the majority, Barb Mikulski (D-NSA) will lose her Chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee; Cochran is expected to get that Chair. Mikulski has always been — even more than Dianne Feinstein — the impediment to any real civil liberties change in the Senate, because she is far more powerful. Importantly, she served as a guarantee that smart policies put through on appropriations bills — like Alan Grayson’s elimination of a requirement that NIST consult with the NSA on encryption standards, and the Massie-Lofgren amendment to defund back door searches — would not make it into any final bill.

Losing the majority, even losing Mikulski on Appropriations on all other matters, is a huge loss, don’t get me wrong.

But it does mean that Thad Cochran might, just maybe, allow good things to move through the Senate on appropriations. With Barb Mikulski there was no chance in hell of doing something on an appropriations bill. Without her, there’s at least a possibility. (Remember that Ted Stevens permitted a Ron Wyden amendment defunding TIA to go through appropriations in 2003, so such things are not unheard of.)

There’s no reason to believe that Cochran, in general, is any friendlier to civil liberties than Mikulski. But he’s not the NSA’s own personal senator. And that may be a tiny bright spot.

Richard Burr Prepares to Capitalize on Refusing to Exercise Intelligence Oversight

In James Risen’s new book, he provides new details on what happened to the NSA whistleblowers — Bill Binney, Kurt Wiebe, Ed Loomis, Thomas Drake — who tried to stop President Bush’s illegal wiretap program, adding to what Jane Mayer wrote in 2011. He pays particular attention to the effort Diane Roark made, as a staffer overseeing NSA on the House Intelligence Committee, to alert people that the Agency was conducting illegal spying on Americans.

As part of that, Risen describes an effort Roark made to inform another Congressman of the program, one who had not been briefed: Richard Burr.

Despite the warning from (HPSCI’s Republican Staff Director Tim) Sample not to talk with anyone else on the committee about the program, she privately warned Chris Barton, the committee’s new general counsel, that “there was an NSA program of questionable legality and that it was going to blow up in their faces.” In early 2002, Roark also quietly arranged a meeting between Binney, Loomis, and Wiebe and Richard Burr, a North  Carolina Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. Binney told Burr everything they had learned about the NSA wiretapping program, but Burr hardly said a word in response. Burr never followed up on the matter with Roark, and there is no evidence he ever took any action to investigate the NSA program.

I’m not actually surprised that Burr learned the Intelligence Community was engaging in illegal behavior and did nothing. From what we’ve seen in his response to torture, he has served entirely to help CIA cover up the program and protect the torturers. Indeed, in his treatment of John Brennan’s confirmation, he made efforts to ensure Brennan would have to protect the torturers too.

So it’s no surprise that Burr heard details of an illegal program and ignored them.

Still, it’s worth highlighting this detail because, if Democrats do lose the Senate as they are likely to do in November, Richard Burr will most likely become Senate Intelligence Committee Chair. While Dianne Feinstein may be a badly flawed Chair overseeing the IC, Burr will be a nightmare, unloosing them to do whatever they’re ordered.

That’s the kind of career advancement that comes to a guy who remains silent about wrongdoing.

The Torture Apologists Raise Brennan’s Torture-Derived Scary Memos

Some time in mid-2004, 8 high ranking National Security officials gave then presiding FISA Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly a briefing. Their goal was to convince her the then halted and now-discontinued Internet dragnet program was so important, and the terrorist threat against the US so great, she should write a shoddy legal opinion authorizing NSA to restart the program under the authority of the FISA Pen Register statute.

As part of the briefing, they replicated a process they had used for Bush’s illegal wiretap program: to have CIA’s analytical people write what they called a “scary memo” explaining why al Qaeda was so dangerous we had to continue that dragnet.

After the terrorism analysts completed their portion of the memoranda, the DCI Chief of Staff added a paragraph at the end of the memoranda stating that the individuals and organizations involved in global terrorism (and discussed in the memoranda) possessed the capability and intention to’ undertake further terrorist attacks within the United States. The DCI Chief of Staff recalled that the paragraph was provided to him initially by a senior White House official. The paragraph included the DCI’s recommendation to the President that he authorize the NSA to conduct surveillance activities under the PSP. CIA Office of General Counsel (OGC) attorneys reviewed the draft threat assessment memoranda to determine whether they contained sufficient threat information and a compelling case for reauthorization of the PSP. [my emphasis]

As head of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (and later as head of the nascent National Counterterrorism Center), John Brennan oversaw that “scary memo.”

Last year, John Brennan admitted that he used information derived from the torture program (he calls it the detention and interrogation  program) for those “scary memos.”

Burr: I’m still not clear on whether you think the information from CIA interrogations saved lives.  Have you ever made a representation to a court, including the FISA court, about the type and importance of information learned from detainees including detainees in the CIA detention and interrogation program?

Brennan: Ahm, first of all, in the first part of your question, as to you’re not sure whether I believe that there has been information … I don’t know myself.

Burr: I said I wasn’t clear whether I understood, whether whether I was clear.

Brennan: And I’m not clear at this time either because I read a report that calls into question a lot of the information that I was provided earlier on, my impressions. Um. There, when I was in the government as the head of the national counterterrorism center I know that I had signed out a number of um affirmations related to the uh continuation of certain programs uh based on the analysis and intelligence that was available to analysts. I don’t know exactly what it was at the time, but we can take a look at that.

Burr: But the committee can assume that you had faith if you made that claim to a court or including the FISA court, you had faith in the documents in the information that was supplied to you to make that declaration.

Brennan: Absolutely. At the time if I had made any such affirmation, i would have had faith that the information I was provided was an accurate representation. [my emphasis]

We can imagine the kind of things Brennan might have used in his “scary memos” and that briefing to Kollar-Kotelly, on which the entire FISC-authorized dragnet .

Hassan Ghul — whom CIA tortured even after he provided critical information about Osama bin Laden’s courier — was already in custody, and given uncertainty about when his torture started, may have provided such information.

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How the Torture Report Declassification Is Likely to Work

Aspiring Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr has announced he will vote to declassify the Torture Report.

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., also said he planned to vote to declassify.

[snip]

Burr added: “We’ve already expressed our opposition to the content.”

Declassifying, he said, is “the only way that we get minority views out there,” because the Republicans plan to offer their views on the report.

This gives a pretty strong indication of where this Torture Report debate will go — and why CIA got so quiet all of a sudden, aside from former CIA lawyer John Rizzo’s tireless propaganda efforts.

The Committee would have published dissenting views in any case, but Republican Susan Collins specifically included them in her support for the report.

What we’re going to get will be the Executive Summary, Findings, and Additional and Dissenting Views. Because we’ll get just the Executive Summary, we won’t get much hard detail — aside from that which has been public for years — about the allegations that will appear in the Executive Summary, which will make it harder to rebut any claims CIA’s defenders make.

Moreover, I would not be in the least surprised if the same rule that applies to CIA Publication Review Board decisions — that the writings of torture critics like Ali Soufan and Glenn Carle are aggressively censored, while the views of torture boosters like Rizzo and Jose Rodriguez will be permissively published — applied here. The CIA has — as McClatchy emphasizes — already assumed they’ll do the declassification review. And in spite of calls for the White House to take the lead, I expect they won’t. After all, the White House has relied on CIA to hide the Executive Privilege-lite documents (which I suspect would show that CIA only lied to some people at the White House, but not to people like David Addington). So CIA is owed something by the White House.

That mutual embrace of incrimination will provide the CIA a great deal of protection.

Remember, too, that torture critics have gotten recent warnings not to speak publicly, even while Rodriguez and Rizzo blather away.

And all this — what will surely be calls that Democrats have unfairly tainted noble Jose Rodriguez’ reputation — will play out against electoral politics, as Republicans try to take out Mark Udall for his opposition to torture.

Thus far, too, the torture boosters have laid the groundwork to win this debate. Even ignoring Rizzo and Rodriguez’ books, they’ve been working the press with details, as compared to the vague releases that the Torture Report will find CIA lied.

Which is my pessimistic way of saying that unless torture critics get a lot more serious about the propaganda onslaught the Republicans plan to launch to defend torture, this Torture Report release may not do all that much good at all. Torture critics largely lost this debate in 2009, and they’ll actually have less new information with which to fight this if CIA gets its way on declassification.

In Describing CIA’s Attempted Intimidiation of Senate Intelligence Committee, Harry Reid Uses the Word “Unprecedented” Too

Back when Mark Udall first hinted about the CIA’s efforts to intimidate the Senate Intelligence Committee, he said CIA had taken “unprecedented action.”

That’s language Harry Reid repeats in a letter to John Brennan informing him that the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms will conduct a forensic review of the SSCI computers.

You are no doubt aware of the grave and unprecedented concerns with regards to constitutional separation of powers this action raises.

The language Reid uses in a letter to Eric Holder is even stronger.

As Majority Leader of the Senate, I have a responsibility to protect the independence and effectiveness of our institution. The CIA’s decision to access the resources and work product of the legislative branch without permission is absolutely indefensible, regardless of the context. This action has serious separation of powers implications. It is immaterial whether this action was taken in response to concerns about the Committee’s possession of a disputed document; this stands as a categorically different and more serious breach.

[snip]

In my capacity as the leader of the U.S. Senate, the CIA’s actions cause me great concern. The CIA has not only interfered with the lawful congressional oversight of its activities, but has also seemingly attempted to intimidate its overseers by subjecting them to criminal investigation. These developments strike at the heart of the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches. Left unchallenged, they call into question Congress’s ability to carry out its core constitutional duties and risk the possibility of an unaccountable Intelligence Community run amok. The CIA cannot be permitted to undermine Congress’s ability to serve as an effective check on executive power as our nation’s Founders intended.

For all the talk of interbranch conflict, however, the letter to Brennan includes hints of partisan conflict. He asks Brennan to keep his staffers away from Senate staffers except the Sergeant-at-Arms.

To ensure its [the Sergeant-at-Arms review] independence, I ask that you take whatever steps necessary to ensure that CIA personnel refrain from further interaction relating to this issue with Senate staff other than the Segeant-at-Arms staff conducting the examination while the examination is underway.

This suggests there has been such contact. And there’s no reason to believe anyone from the Democratic side would be working back channel with Brennan’s spooks.

As I noted last week, the Republicans — especially Richard Burr, who would become Intelligence Chair if Republicans retake the Senate — have been going after Mark Udall aggressively. In the interim we’ve seen fairly obvious hit jobs that use the CIA-SSCI dispute to focus on Udall’s electoral prospects in November.

So while I believe everything Reid says about separation of powers — while I believe he regards this as an unprecedented threat to separation of powers — this also reeks of an attempt to prevent the collaboration of Republicans and the CIA.

We’ll see whether it has the other probable goal: giving DOJ an easy way to back out of any entanglement in this dispute.

Aspiring Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr Goes After Mark Udall

Yesterday, I predicted the CIA and its Republican apologists would try to use the torture crisis to knock off a few Democrats in an attempt to retake the Senate. If that happened, Richard Burr, who would become Senate Intelligence Chair, would surely kill the Torture Report as one of his first acts.

And all this assumes Democrats retain control of the Senate. That’s an uphill battle in any case. But CIA has many ways to influence events. Even assuming CIA would never encourage false flags attacks or leak compromising information about Democrats, the Agency can ratchet up the fear mongering and call Democrats weak on security. That always works and it ought to be worth a Senate seat or three.

If Democrats lose the Senate, you can be sure that newly ascendant Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr would be all too happy to bury the Torture Report, just for starters. Earlier today, after all, he scolded Feinstein for airing this fight.

“I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly,”

Burr’s a guy who has joked about waterboarding in the past. Burying the Torture Report would be just the start of things, I fear.

It sure didn’t take long to be proven right.

Republicans say that not only has the committee’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), provided selective information to the public about improper CIA conduct, but they are also now pointing the finger at Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.).

The Colorado Democrat, Republicans say, shouldn’t have disclosed internal Senate proceedings over the CIA investigation — something that some Republicans privately say should warrant an ethics committee review.

[snip]

“I think Mark did make some public releases that were committee-sensitive information, but that’s for the committee internally to handle,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a member of the committee. “That’s being reviewed right now.”

Udall said “No way” when asked Wednesday if he was involved in the leaking of sensitive information, saying he’s “done absolutely nothing wrong here.”

“If some of my colleagues on the Intelligence Committee really want to press the case that in referring to an executive branch abuse in my March 4 letter – what I called an ‘unprecedented action’ that the CIA had taken in relation to the internal CIA review – I have somehow violated Committee rules, I am more than happy to have that debate,” Udall said.

Udall added: “In fact, the only thing I’ve done is exercise vigorous oversight over senior intelligence officials who are all too often unwilling to cooperate with Congress.”

[snip]

Several Intelligence Committee Republicans also asserted that ethics charges should be filed against Udall for his public statements about the CIA’s interrogation program and about the agency’s reaction to the panel’s investigation into that program, including the March 4 letter.

But others on the panel, said the matter should be handled internally by the Intelligence Committee — not by the Ethics Committee.

Burr added: “If you look historically, the committee has cleaned up any mistakes that members have made. Members can do whatever they want to. My concern is that the release of information could potentially causes the losses of life to Americans. That to me, is a threshold that should be addressed.”

As I noted on Twitter, Burr is the distant relation of noted assassin Aaron Burr (which he joked about once when Treasury Secretary Jack Lew testified). He sure seems to take to the assassination role well. He’s now suggesting Mark Udall might potentially cause the loss of American life because he revealed that in 2009 the CIA agreed with what Senate Democrats (and John McCain) would ultimately conclude, that the CIA’s torture program was ineffective and they lied about it.

Right. Knowing the truth about CIA’s torture will kill us all.

In any case, this is all proceeding, very quickly, as I predicted. The Republicans will try to make this an election issue, helped in the background by CIA’s torturers, with the understanding that they will not only kill the Torture Report if Republicans take the Senate, but give CIA free rein.

But honest, the Intelligence Community has adequate oversight.

Where the Bodies Are Buried: A Constitutional Crisis Feinstein Better Be Ready To Win

In a piece at MoJo, David Corn argues the Senate Intelligence Committee – CIA fight has grown into a Constitutional crisis.

What Feinstein didn’t say—but it’s surely implied—is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It’s a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.

I absolutely agree those are the stakes. But I’m not sure the crisis stems from Feinstein “going nuclear” on the floor of the Senate today. Rather, I think whether Feinstein recognized it or not, we had already reached that crisis point, and John Brennan simply figured he had prepared adequately to face and win that crisis.

Which is why I disagree with the assessment of Feinstein’s available options as laid out by Shane Harris and John Hudson in FP.

If she chooses to play hardball, Feinstein can make the tenure of CIA Director John Brennan a living nightmare. From her perch on the intelligence committee, she could drag top spies before the panel for months on end. She could place holds on White House nominees to key agency positions. She could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress and she could hit the agency where it really hurts: its pocketbook. One of the senator’s other committee assignments is the Senate Appropriations Committee, which allocates funds to Langley.

Take these suggestions one by one: Feinstein can only “drag top spies” before Congress if she is able to wield subpoena power. Not only won’t her counterpart, Saxby Chambliss (who generally sides with the CIA in this dispute) go along with that, but recent legal battles have largely gutted Congress’ subpoena power.

Feinstein can place a hold on CIA-related nominees. There’s even one before the Senate right now, CIA General Counsel nominee Caroline Krass, though Feinstein’s own committee just voted Krass out of Committee, where Feinstein could have wielded her power as Chair to bottle Krass up. In the Senate, given the new filibuster rules, Feinstein would have to get a lot of cooperation from her Democratic colleagues  to impose any hold if ever she lost Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s support (though she seems to have that so far).

But with Krass, what’s the point? So long as Krass remains unconfirmed, Robert Eatinger — the guy who ratcheted up this fight in the first place by referring Feinstein’s staffers for criminal investigation — will remain Acting General Counsel. So in fact, Feinstein has real reason to rush the one active CIA nomination through, if only to diminish Eatinger’s relative power.

Feinstein could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress. But that would again require either subpoenas (and the willingness of DOJ to enforce them, which is not at all clear she’d have) or cooperation.

Or Feinstein could cut CIA’s funding. But on Appropriations, she’ll need Barb Mikulski’s cooperation, and Mikulski has been one of the more lukewarm Democrats on this issue. (And all that’s assuming you’re only targeting CIA; as soon as you target Mikulski’s constituent agency, NSA, Maryland’s Senator would likely ditch Feinstein in a second.)

Then FP turns to DOJ’s potential role in this dispute.

The Justice Department is reportedly looking into whether the CIA inappropriately monitored congressional staff, as well as whether those staff inappropriately accessed documents that lay behind a firewall that segregated classified information that the CIA hadn’t yet cleared for release. And according to reports, the FBI has opened an investigation into committee staff who removed classified documents from the CIA facility and brought them back to the committee’s offices on Capitol Hill.

Even ignoring all the petty cover-ups DOJ engages in for intelligence agencies on a routine basis (DEA at least as much as CIA), DOJ has twice done CIA’s bidding on major scale on the torture issue in recent years. First when John Durham declined to prosecute both the torturers and Jose Rodriguez for destroying evidence of torture. And then when Pat Fitzgerald delivered John Kiriakou’s head on a platter for CIA because Kiriakou and the Gitmo detainee lawyers attempted to learn the identities of those who tortured.

There’s no reason to believe this DOJ will depart from its recent solicitous ways in covering up torture. Jim Comey admittedly might conduct an honest investigation, but he’s no longer a US Attorney and he needs someone at DOJ to actually prosecute anyone, especially if that person is a public official.

Implicitly, Feinstein and her colleagues could channel Mike Gravel and read the 6,000 page report into the Senate record. But one of CIA’s goals is to ensure that if the Report ever does come out, it has no claim to objectivity. Especially if the Democrats release the Report without the consent of Susan Collins, it will be child’s play for Brennan to spin the Report as one more version of what happened, no more valid than Jose Rodriguez’ version.

And all this assumes Democrats retain control of the Senate. That’s an uphill battle in any case. But CIA has many ways to influence events. Even assuming CIA would never encourage false flags attacks or leak compromising information about Democrats, the Agency can ratchet up the fear mongering and call Democrats weak on security. That always works and it ought to be worth a Senate seat or three.

If Democrats lose the Senate, you can be sure that newly ascendant Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr would be all too happy to bury the Torture Report, just for starters. Earlier today, after all, he scolded Feinstein for airing this fight.

“I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly,”

Burr’s a guy who has joked about waterboarding in the past. Burying the Torture Report would be just the start of things, I fear.

And then, finally, there’s the President, whose spokesperson affirmed the President’s support for his CIA Director and who doesn’t need any Democrats help to win another election. As Brennan said earlier today, Obama “is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.” And I suspect Brennan has confidence that Obama won’t do that.

Which brings me to my comment above, on AJE, that Brennan knows where the literal bodies are buried.

I meant that very, very literally.

Not only does Brennan know firsthand that JSOC attempted to kill Anwar al-Awlaki on December 24, 2009, solely on the President’s authority, before the FBI considered him to be operational. But he also knows that the evidence against Awlaki was far dodgier than it should have been before the President authorized the unilateral execution of an American citizen.

Worse still, Feinstein not only okayed that killing, either before or just as it happened. But even the SSCI dissidents Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich declared the Awlaki killing “a legitimate use of the authority granted the President” in November.

I do think there are ways the (Legislative) Democrats might win this fight. But they’re not well situated in the least, even assuming they’re willing and able to match Brennan’s bureaucratic maneuvering.

Again, I don’t blame Feinstein for precipitating this fight. We were all already in it, and she has only now come around to it.

I just hope she and her colleagues realize how well prepared Brennan is to fight it in time to wage an adequate battle.

Emptywheel Twitterverse
emptywheel Those saying Petraeus copped to a crime everyone commits: Are you all you DC insiders admitting you've lied to FBI too?
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emptywheel @armandodkos Which I can say bc I've been writing abt email problems IN DEPTH for over a decade.
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emptywheel @armandodkos No. I've got my position on story: anyone whining abt Hillary--and not email generally--is a fucking hack.
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emptywheel @armandodkos I did a half second google search bc that's all that was needed to prove your claim as made was false. Make a smarter claim!
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bmaz @ThePlumLineGS Relieved! But, seriously, with Roberts, it is hard to tell if he is really thinking that way or just exploring. Hard read.
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emptywheel @armandodkos Oh. In the 5 minutes since you claimed no one had covered it? Adept!
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bmaz @randiego2 @ThePlumLineGS Jesus, this one woman is just bawling that she gave up her life+it was all a waste because they DIDN'T KILL HER
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emptywheel @apblake If I were EPIC I'd at least ask for comment on how she can be sure relying on 10 month old declarations.
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emptywheel @apblake Judge addresses that. Says stuff that has been released should be turned over in full. But still backs investigation long-standing.
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emptywheel @armandodkos Like I said. I'm FAR MORE INTERESTED in solving serial problem, fr Hillary, Jeb, W, Yoo, IRS, everyone. Anything less idiotic
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emptywheel @armandodkos Call me crazy then. I think fucking morons that are hung up on poor embattled Hillary & not serial problem of email are idiots.
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bmaz @ThePlumLineGS Verrilli came off well. Frankly he always does come off better on the cold transcript. Dismayed so little Chevron discussion.
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March 2015
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