If It Sounds Too Good for the Goss, It’s Worth a Second Gander

The NYT allowed a bunch of gosslings to tell them a story anonymously that they were unwilling–at least partly for legal reasons–to say on the record. They told a story of Porter Goss heroically refusing Stephen Hadley’s (and by association, Dick Cheney’s) pressure to keep the CIA in the torture business.

Acutely aware that the agency would be blamed if the policies lost political support, nervous C.I.A. officials began to curb its practices much earlier than most Americans know: no one was waterboarded after March 2003, and coercive interrogation methods were shelved altogether in 2005.


Provoked by the abuse scandal at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and pushed by Senator John McCain of Arizona, who had been tortured by the North Vietnamese, the 2005 bill banned cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

Top C.I.A. officials then feared that the agency’s methods could actually be illegal. Mr. Goss, who had succeeded Mr. Tenet at the C.I.A., wrote a memorandum to the White House saying the agency would carry out no harsh interrogations without new Justice Department approval.

The national security advisor, Mr. Hadley, was angered by the C.I.A.’s response. He called Mr. Goss at home over the Christmas holidays to complain; Mr. Goss, backed by his lawyers, would not budge. Mr. Hadley decided he could not push the C.I.A. to do what it thought might be illegal.

But there’s a problem with this story.

Robert Grenier.

Grenier was head of Counterterrorism at the CIA during the Christmas holiday of 2005-6. Yet he was fired within weeks of Goss’ heroic stand against torture because–CIA sources said–he was "insufficiently forceful" against al Qaeda.

His boss at the clandestine service, the nation’s senior human intelligence officer, was said to regard him as insufficiently forceful in the battle with al Qaeda.

"The word on Bob was that he was a good officer, but not the one for the job and not quite as aggressive as he might have been," one official said.

Vincent Cannistraro was more explicit about what "not aggressive enough" means: that Grenier was opposed to waterboarding.

Vincent Cannistraro, a former head of counter-terrorism at the agency, said: “It is not that Grenier wasn’t aggressive enough, it is that he wasn’t ‘with the programme’. He expressed misgivings about the secret prisons in Europe and the rendition of terrorists.”

Grenier also opposed “excessive” interrogation, such as strapping suspects to boards and dunking them in water, according to Cannistraro.

And while Grenier himself said the continued disappearance of the High Value Detainees was a big part of the problem, he also raised the insufficient clarity in law following the McCain Amendment–precisely the problem Goss is said to have confronted.

Now, it may be that Jose Rodriguez (the "boss at the clandestine service" described in the first excerpt) decided to sack Grenier without the input of or against the wishes of his own boss, Porter Goss (precisely the tale, of course, that Goss tells about the destruction of the torture tapes just months earlier). It may be that Cheney went through Goss to Rodriguez to get him to fire Grenier (note, in the NPR interview, Grenier makes it clear he was unloved at the White House). It may be that Grenier was the source of the pushback that Goss now claims credit for. It may really be that Rodriguez and Grenier supported the same policies, but just despised each other. 

But if Porter Goss really did resolve this issue at the end of 2005, then it would have mooted one of the big reasons for ousting Grenier. Nevertheless, Grenier was sacked, just weeks later. (Then again, Goss himself was sacked just months later.)

Now, I don’t know what the explanation is–why Goss claims to have stood against torture in December-January but then overseen the firing of someone for being insufficiently pro-torture in February. Maybe, there’s a perfectly good explanation. But for the moment, the gosslings refusing to say these things on the record for legal reasons aren’t giving that good explanation. 

36 replies
  1. oldtree says:

    Again, thanks EW! It is hard to make lists, but you are in the top 5 of all reporters today. We know it.

    and darn if that gossling description of derring do doesn’t sound like an idiot reading my pet goat to a group of kids?

  2. dolso says:

    It would be very interesting to hear Bob Grenier’s perspective on how things evolved.

    • emptywheel says:

      Thank you. I thought of it while walking the dog, cursing at the Canadian Geese which–in the particular park we were at–are like large rodents that poop everywhere. I do my best work walking the dog.

      • behindthefall says:

        Canadian Geese nest every year in the duck pond here, and they have been reliably friendly and accomodating towards each other. This year there is a new flavor, though: thin-necked, smaller, and mean, aggressive, pushy, bullying, hissy, head-shaking, loud … there goes the neighborhood. I wonder how the other pairs are ever going to be able to pull off a few clutches of eggs and then raise young with these disruptive newbies. I could see how the bullying ones could reduce the number of offspring of the placid ones, but, unless the “bad” behavior really is destined to take over the population, what about placid behavior will push back and confer a selective advantage over hostility?

        The serial firings you recount sound consistent with someone even higher insisting on documented torture. I guess the order of firings is consistent, too. A outranks B outranks C. B and C protest against what A wants. A decides to ditch B and C. A says to B, “You might keep your job if you fire C.” B fires C. Then A says to B, “Just fooling. You’re fired.” Who is A?

  3. ghostof911 says:

    Of the various purposes for applying torture (extracting forced confessions, gratifying sadistic impulses, etc.), one important one is its use as a loyalty test for rising within the ranks of the CIA. Poppy Bush displayed unbounded loyalty early in his career. For his role in the blowing out of JFK’s brains, Poppy was later rewarded as CIA chief and President.

    By balking, Grenier passed up his chance for for a prominent Pennsylvania Avenue address.

  4. SmileySam says:

    In the beginning of 2005 would of been about the time that Cunninghams problems were under investigation. That whole affair included rumors about both Goss and his underlings. Strippers, Hookers, and late night Poker games at the Watergate Hotel could of contributed to the removal of Goss. The politics of DC being what they are odds are those that hated Goss may have lead the FBI to Duke Cunningham and more. Just saying there may of been more than one reason for Goss to have been fired or they could all have been connected…

  5. posaune says:

    Grenier . . . didn’t he testify in Scooter’s trial about answering the phone and dragging someone out of a meeting? Am I making this up?

    • emptywheel says:

      Nope, you’re not making it up. And to make it more interesting, you’ll recall that Grenier at first did not remember telling Libby he had told him about Plame’s ID, but then he “remembered” in July 2005.

      Not saying there’s a connection, of course, but it’s worth noting.

  6. danps says:

    Hi Marcy. Another great post, thanks.

    Shouldn’t the NYT start to become part of this story too? This looks like yet another violation of their ostensible anonymity policy, and given the circumstances it is serving to obscure rather than reveal the truth. At what point should it start getting some bad publicity for allowing these characters to use self-serving spin to shape the public narrative of a vitally important issue? It doesn’t seem like a very helpful stance for the Newspaper of Record to take.

  7. JohnLopresti says:

    It has to have been a tumultuous time at Langley. CQ’s J Stein in October 2007 mentioned humorously the founding of a Nova Scotia pinot vineyard by one of the Gosslins after their twenty-month epoch in Langley drew to a close. Some travelogs insist that part of CAN has some great canine tours to such getaways. None of these links appear to resolve the questions about Goss’ crew’s exit, or even which NS vineyard is Moorhead’s.

    • skdadl says:

      If those are Canada geese (forgive the pedantry, but that’s what they are called — given the migration, they are as much Merkin as Canuck), then this is the War of 1812 revisited.

      A title for the ages indeed, EW. My thanks to you along with everyone else’s for a lifeline to sane thought.

      • Mary says:

        No, those are ducks (”genus/species notwithstanding”) but they are waddling around the WH and much cuter than Porter and his crew.

    • Leen says:

      Greenwalds piece on the Aipac trial possibly being dismissed was the first time I have ever questioned Greenwald’s integrity>

      (what is the possibility that Judge Ellis would not dismiss after he made it so difficult for the government to go forward with the trial)

      5 EW you must walk your dogs a great deal …thanks for what you do.

      Grenier and Goss actually sound like they were trying to do their jobs

        • Leen says:

          sorry that took me so long.

          Saturday May 2, 2009 13:45 EDT
          The need of the most powerful to turn themselves into victims

          “Although it’s true — as I argued three years ago and again yesterday — that the prosecution of the two former AIPAC officials was wrong and abusive, that hardly means there was no wrongdoing here.”

          that sentence really got under my skin “wrong and abusive” since when did holding people accountable for alleged crimes of espionage becoame ‘wrong and abusive”

          If Rosen and Franklin get off why is Larry Franklin sitting in prison? He passed the intelligence onto Americans. These guys allegedly passed on the classified intelligence to Israeli officials.

          What is good for the goose is good for the gander. I say FREE FREE LARRY FRANKLIN . It has been determined that passing classified intelligence around is “business as usual” Free Free Larry Franklin

  8. bobschacht says:

    “boss as the clandestine service”

    Perhaps as = at?

    Good catch with Grenier. Goss was such a turd from the get-go. Seems to be good at being devious, not so good at doing real intelligence work.

    Bob in HI

  9. bobschacht says:

    Because we have paid much attention to the Bybee memos, David Swanson writes today about An Even Worse Bybee Memo. This is a 48-page memo to the “counsel to the president” (Alberto Gonzales) titled “Authority of the President Under Domestic and International Law to Use Military Force Against Iraq,” dated October 23, 2002, when he was Assistant Attorney General. Has this been covered here?

    Bob in HI

  10. WilliamOckham says:

    Perhaps someday, somebody in the MSM will clue in to the following facts. According to the Bushies, we stopped using coercive techniques in 2005. That means, at least according to Dick Cheney, that George W. Bush wasn’t keeping us safe for the last 3+ years of his term. Not to mention that George W. Bush released more people from Gitmo than Barack Obama will, even if Obama releases all of those left.

    Also, if we stopped using torture in 2005, why all the fuss over getting new torture memos? The OLC is only supposed to write memos in response to actual questions from an agency, not hypotheticals. Think about that for a minute. Why were they asking those questions? (I think the folks here know it was CYA for past actions, but I want the MSM) to ask the question.

  11. dosido says:

    The only reason a bush official gets fired is when they disagree. so great catch with the bs.

  12. PPDCUS says:

    Thanks, EW. This just in from the Ministry of Truth ….

    As the morass deepens and darkens, Lanny Davis is doubling down on Jane Harman’s counter attack spin by declaring now, “I am a warrior on behalf of our Constitution.”


    What Jane Harman is on behalf of the U.S. Constitution starts with a W, but it’s not warrior.

  13. freepatriot says:

    the most enjoyable thing about visiting this blog is knowing that the repuglitards got NO FUCKING CLUE what they are dealing with

    the condiliar can’t outwit a 10 year old kid

    and we got a frickin human computer here

    insert random unsorted data

    push Marcy’s button

    wait a few minutes

    collect the itemized criminal charges (AND the frickin TIMELINE of the crime)

    and we don’t even have to put nickles in this woman to get her to do this stuff. She does it to stay SANE. How cool is that ???

    okay so we might have to put a FEW NICKLES in Emptywheel, but that’s a recent development

    an that’s just for some new hardware flunkies servants assistants (lucky bastids)

    so if ya like what ya see, put a nickle in the pot, and watch it get better

    I couldn’t find the link to Marcy’s donation page, so could somebody post it for me

    • Leen says:

      She said she does her best thinking ‘walking the dog”. Can we buy her a couple of more dogs. We could just pay a transcriber to walk with her

      Oh forgot Mr. emptywheel and she also needs to eat and sleep. Lucky for the Bush administration

  14. Leen says:


    amy did a piece on Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday party. Outstanding

    This man is a national treasure!

    Listen to the way Amy ends her interview and piece on Pete

    AMY GOODMAN: And for someone who isn’t so hopeful, who is listening to this right now, trying to find their way, what would you say?

    PETE SEEGER: Realize that little things lead to bigger things. That’s what Seeds is all about. And this wonderful parable in the New Testament: the sower scatters seeds. Some seeds fall in the pathway and get stamped on, and they don’t grow. Some fall on the rocks, and they don’t grow. But some seeds fall on fallow ground, and they grow and multiply a thousand fold. Who knows where some good little thing that you’ve done may bring results years later that you never dreamed of?

    thanks for all the little and big things that FDL folks do for justice and accountability. I really mean that. thanks

    • Styve says:

      You should see what the dolts at Powerline have to say about Seeger and the whole event. It is so out there that it’s almost funny.

  15. Styve says:

    Brad Friedman just posted a piece by Sibel Edmunds that involves many of the Goss and Gosslings EW is exposing. I haven’t read it all, but the potential blackmail angle should be of interest in the context of this discussion. A few paragraphs are below…as is the link.


    SIBEL EDMONDS: In Congress We Trust…Not

    The former FBI translator and whistleblower suggests blackmail may be at the heart of Congressional refusal to bring accountability and oversight to its own members – such as both Hastert and Harman – in matters of espionage and national security

    Exclusive to The BRAD BLOG…

    Guest Editorial by Sibel Edmonds


    The recent stunning but not unexpected revelations regarding Jane Harman (D-CA) by the Congressional Quarterly provide us with a little glimpse into one of the main reasons behind the steady decline in the integrity of Congress. But the story is almost dead – ready to bite the dust, thanks to our mainstream media’s insistence on burying ‘real’ issues or stories that delve deep into the causes of our nation’s continuous downward slide. In this particular case, the ‘thank you’ should also be extended to certain blogosphere propagandists who, blinded by their partisanship, myopic in their assessments, and ignorant in their knowledge of the inner workings of our late Congress and intelligence agencies, helped in the post-burial cremation of this case.

    Ironically but understandably, the Harman case has become one of rare unequivocal bipartisanship, when no one from either side of the partisan isle utters a word. How many House or Senate Republicans have you heard screaming, or even better, calling for an investigation? The right wing remains silent. Some may have their hand, directly or indirectly, in the same AIPAC cookie jar. Others may still feel the heavy baggage of their own party’s tainted colleagues; after all, they have had their share of Abramoffs, Hasterts and the like, silently lurking in the background, albeit dimmer every day. Some on the left, after an initial silence that easily could have been mistaken for shock, are jumping from one foot to the other, like a cat on a hot tin roof, making one excuse after another; playing the ‘victims of Executive Branch eavesdropping’ card, the same very ‘evil doing’ they happened to support vehemently. Some have been dialing their trusted guardian angels within the mainstream media and certain fairly visible alternative outlets. They need no longer worry, since these guardian angels seem to have blacked out the story, and have done so without the apparent need for much arm twisting…

    Hastert Redux

    I am going to rewind and take you back to September 2005, when Vanity Fair published an article, which, in addition to my case and the plight of National Security Whistleblowers, exposed the dark side of the then Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert (R-IL), and the corroborated allegations of his illegal activities involving foreign agents and interests.

  16. seesdifferent says:

    ew, great piece. My read of the Times article and what I know of Condi Rice suggested that she may have been a principal source. This would be consistent with her modus operandi. See http://www.dailykos.com/storyo…..ureUPDATED

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