The Terrorism Intelligence and the Briefing Schedule

I suggested yesterday that one of the explanations for the CIA’s unreliable record of briefings on torture and terrorism in 2002 and 2003 might reflect an attempt to hide certain information.

Did CIA not reveal they were torturing detainees to dodge any question about the accuracy of claims about Iraq intelligence? 

While we don’t know the full schedule of briefings on Iraq intelligence, the schedule of intelligence documents pertaining to Iraqi ties to terrorism suggests that might be possible. Significantly, according to Bob Graham and Nancy Pelosi, they were not briefed that Abu Zubaydah had been tortured before the NIE appeared integrating his August 2002 interrogation reports. And Jane Harman was not informed he had been tortured until after the last major report on Iraqi links to terrorism came out in January 2003.

Here are the intelligence documents mentioned in the SSCI Report on Iraq, interspersed with the torture briefings.

September 21, 2001: Document written by Cofer Black (then Director of CounterTerrorism) and Near East and South Asia Directorate. Distributed only to President’s Daily Brief principals, and not revealed to Congress until June 2004. The document is described as "taking a ‘Q&A’ approach to the issue of Iraq’s possible links" to 9/11.

October 2001:  NESA document discussing Iraq’s overall ties to terrorism.CIA refused to share the document with SSCI, explaining its dissemination was limited to PDB readers.

December 18, 2001: Ibn Sheikh al-Libi captured.

February 22, 2002: First report doubting al-Libi’s claims of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda.

March 28, 2002: Abu Zubaydah captured.

June 21, 2002, Iraq and al-Qaida: Interpreting a Murky Relationship: Ostensibly a joint project between CTC and NESA, the report was a subject of a CIA Ombud invsetigation into a complaint from a NESA analyst alleging that the document did not adequately reflect the views of NESA. The document was intentionally expansive, as described by Jamie Miscik: "If you were going to stretch to the maximum the evidence you had, what could you come up with?"

July 26, 2002: OLC orally authorized waterboarding.

July 31, 2002: Second report doubting al-Libi’s claims of ties between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Summer 2002, Dougie Feith’s Propaganda: This led to a series of briefings in August 2002 apparently designed to reinsert previously discredited claims into the CIA stream of intelligence. In particular, George Tenet agreed to hold up the production of Iraqi Support for Terrorism until CIA could attend a meeting with Feith’s people; the meeting took place on August 20, 2002. Feith’s briefers also gave a presentation to Scooter Libby and John Hannah on September 16, 2002, in which they openly criticized CIA reporting on this topic.

September 4, 2002: Pelosi and Goss briefed on torture. Apparently not told that waterboarding had already been used with Abu Zubaydah.

September 19, 2002, Iraqi Support for Terrorism: This document appears to be the source of much of the content of the Iraq NIE pertaining to Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda specifically and terrorism in general, but Congress did not receive the document itself until October 2003. Much of the intelligence relies on foreign intelligence service sources and much of it focuses on Iraqi ties to Palestinian terrorist groups (which suggests it’s likely that Israeli and Jordanian intelligence were critical to the document). 

September 27, 2002: Graham and Shelby briefed on interrogations. Graham maintains they were not briefed on torture.

October 1, 2002: Iraq NIE.

January 2003, Iraqi Support for Terrorism: This document was the "final major terrorism analysis produced prior" to the start of the Iraq War. While the document was significantly the same as the September 19, 2002 document (which had not been provided to Congress), it omitted discussion of key sources, including one that appears to be an Iraqi National Congress [Chalabi] source and others that describe what foreign service had provided much of the intelligence. It also integrated intelligence from al Qaeda detainees collected "between September 2002 and January 2003." With regard to Iraqi ties to al Qaeda, the document says "our knowledge of Iraq’s ties to terrorism is evolving [redacted], suggesting some influence from al Qaeda detainee interrogations. It admits to the inconsistency of the reports coming from "al-Qaida detainee debriefings," stating, "The limited reporting available to analysts on al-Qaida’s attitude toward cooperating with the Iraqi regime was contradictory." The report appears to incorporate four interrogation reports from Abu Zubaydah (which say there wasn’t much of relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda though did say Zarqawi and others had good relationships with Iraq), and al-Libi (which in the Iraq report is redacted, but we know would say involved a training relationship in Iraq). [For more on the al Qaeda intell that shows in this report see HuffPo and TPMM.] 

February 4, 2003: Pat Roberts briefed on torture, including on Abu Zubaydah’s and al-Nashiri’s waterboarding.

February 5, 2003: Porter Goss and Jane Harman briefed on torture, including on Abu Zubaydah’s and al-Nashiri’s waterboarding.

Ferbuary 5, 2003: Colin Powell’s address to the UN, integrates already-discredited intelligence from Ibn Sheikh al-Libi on alleged ties between Iraq and al Qaeda.

March 1, 2003: Capture of KSM. In response to SSCI questions asked about KSM, CIA admitted KSM "maintained that he was unaware of any collaborative relationship between al-Qaida and the former Iraqi regime, citing ideological disagreements as an impediment to closer ties. In addition, he was unable to corroborate reports that al-Qaida associate Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi had traveled to Iraq to obtain medical treatment."

March 19, 2003: Start of Iraq War.

This timeline shows several things.

First, there were two pieces of intelligence used to get us into war that were collected using torture: al-Libi’s claims of training ties between Iraq and al Qaeda, and Abu Zubaydah’s claims of close relations between Zarqawi (and others) and Iraq. Further, given that "the questions regarding al-Qaida’s ties to the Iraqi regime were among the first presented to senior al-Qaida operational planner Khalid Shaikh Muhammad following his capture, there is a possibility KSM had told interrogators he knew of no ties between Iraq and al Qaeda before the invasion. But that was not communicated to Congress. (Note: Dick Cheney tried to make expansive claims of such ties on March 16, but was prevented, so it’s possible he learned of KSM’s intelligence before the war started.)  Curiously, the Iraq report makes no mention of intelligence from Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who had been captured in September 2002 (though neither does the 9/11 Report in its treatment of potential ties). In other words, of the potentially known intelligence prior to the war, two pieces got communicated to Congress, that from al-Libi and that from Zubaydah, whereas any refutation (if it had been collected from KSM yet) was not communicated to Congress.

Al-Lbi’s claims of an Iraq-al Qaeda tie was definitely coerced using torture. Given the timing, Zubaydah’s claim may have come from his August waterboarding or it may have come later, when treatment of him grew less harsh.

Also note: the SSCI Iraq Report, at least, overstates Zubaydah’s role–calling him a "senior coordinator"–and underplays KSM’s role–claiming he had a "limited role in the administration of al-Qaida" (the descriptions of al-Libi are completely redacted). While that’s the SSCI Report, and not the underlying intelligence, it may suggest the intelligence community overstated the reliability of Abu Zubaydah by continuing to overstate his role in Al Qaeda long after they discovered their understanding of his seniority was incorrect.

Now, one thing we’ve heard nothing about is whether–and when–Congress got briefed on intelligence from Ibn Sheikh al-Libi’s capture and torture, though it would have been part of CIA’s role in capturing and interrogating al Qaeda pursuant to the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification, and as part of what was then a covert op, should have been briefed to Congress. But Pelosi and Graham insist they were not breifed on the torture of Abu Zubaydah in fall 2002, at a time when they were both trying to challenge the intelligence in the Iraq NIE. If Pelosi’s and Graham’s accounts are correct, then (and assuming no one got briefed on al-Libi’s torture before the war), it means the only chance a Democrat had to question whether torture contributed to inaccurate intelligence used to make the case for war was Jane Harman’s briefing on February 5, 2003. And that briefing happened virtually simultaneously with Colin Powell’s speech at the UN, which did rely heavily on al-Libi’s claims. 

Nancy Pelosi and Bob Graham are pointing to a connection between the bad Iraq intelligence and the inaccurate claims about the torture briefings. One thing appears to be true: given the schedule of briefings–particularly CIA’s failure to reveal they were already using torture in those September 2002 briefings–it limited the opportunities for Democrats to question whether the Bush Administration was using torture-induced intelligence to make their case for the Iraq War. 

34 replies
  1. AZ Matt says:

    Bush wanted a war in Iraq and Cheney got him the excuse for it through torture. The Plame affair threatened to derail it. Cheney wanted pretty much what Bush did but I think wanted to instill fear of American power in the Middle East and elsewere. Their egos were too big to contain.

  2. perris says:

    Nancy Pelosi and Bob Graham are pointing to a connection between the bad Iraq intelligence and the inaccurate claims about the torture briefings. One thing appears to be true: given the schedule of briefings–particularly Tia’s failure to reveal they were already using torture in those September 2002 briefings–it limited the opportunities for Democrats to question whether the Bush Administration was using torture-induced intelligence to make their case for the Iraq War.

    in addition;

    congress and everyone briefed were prohibited from discussing that briefing with anyone at pain of trial for treason

    if the president said they had legal council informing them these techniques were within the law the person briefed could not question that statement, could not research that statement

    that is an EXTREMELY important point

    • marksb says:

      I remember us all being pretty upset with all this back when…
      So if the president is doing something illegal and unethical, causing harm and death and violating treaties, and Congressional leaders are briefed but told the information is top secret and they are under penalties of treason if they say or do anything about the information received…
      Well, how can this be? It just seems so wrong!
      (My idealism, dashed on the rocks of reality. Damn.)

      • perris says:

        I remember back when we all found out about that scenario as well

        they set it up to cover their butt and take everyone with them if exposed

        payback time is close at hand, we need to not drop this ball

      • DWBartoo says:

        When Congressional leaders are so very careful about following the “law”, while those at the ‘top’ clearly are not, certainly puts an ostensible ‘democracy’ into considerable jeopardy.

        Bringing into question whether there is not some higher law that requires those who are the ‘representatives’ in a ‘representative democracy’ to appraise the people of not only what is being done in their names but that ‘what is being done’ also is part and parcel of the wholesale dismantlement of the rule of law AND the dismemberment of the Constitution.

        There are times when being a politician, in a democracy, requires somewhat more than hobnobbing on the cocktail circuit and seeking to ‘please’ money-laden lobbyists.

        Who could have imagined.

        BTW, looks like the top ‘political’ Brits have been ‘misbehaving’ worse than has been seen for a century or more. Ho hum.

        Doubtless some ‘wisdoms’ will now intone (for the clear edification and certain betterment of all), “It has ever been thus…”. To be followed, soon thereafter, by, “Shuck it up! And Move On!”


  3. phred says:

    EW, I just want to clear something up that has been puzzling me… On the one hand, we know torture will lead to false confessions and we know the al-Libi and AZ gave the interrogators what they wanted. On the other, it appears these false confessions were challenged all along the way. So it appears that even though Cheney was working to get a “slam dunk” confession, he never managed to do so. Yet, it should be possible to induce such a confession from torture. This suggests that even though there were people who were pushing to get a pre-determined answer, that there remained in the loop skeptical people who were more concerned about obtaining truthful information. Is that right? Is the reason that Cheney never truly managed to get what he needed due to the fact he could not handpick everyone involved in the intelligence gathering chain between the detainee, the WH, and Congress?

  4. NCDem says:

    Good morning, EW.

    Please note error on date for Harman’s briefing…change to 2003.

    One point I haven’t seen made yet but I’m sure will arise before all the facts are out is that the briefings were tailored to the person being briefed. Thus Graham and Pelosi, both of whom were known by the administration to be sketical, were offerred briefings that left out key details or enhanced other points as needed. This indeed is what you have been talking about for several weeks but yet we have little actual facts available to prove it.

    Congress needs to move to the 21st century. Every briefing to major committees should be digitized as well as transcribed and maintained by the committee’s staff. At any pount when an apporoved staffer or the Congress person wants to revisit a brief for the exact language, responses by others in the room, or names and ID’s of briefers, it is all available. No more…he said/she said problems. For national security, I understand note taking and items leaving the room where secret facts are being disclosed but not having a foolproof back up system is stupid.

  5. klynn says:

    The other day, I mentioned the possibility of “spook speak” in the briefings that used “obtuse in definition” language to congressional intel committee folks but is understood in specifics to intel folks.

    After reading Dr. Kirk’s oxdown and Scahill’s latest might there have been a reference to IRF teams aiding in intel gathering? Would their role even be fully understood?

    (Warning, those links are extremely graphic.)

    • behindthefall says:

      Our very own SS and Auschwitz guards. Haven’t we come up in the world, now. We’ll go down in history, too.

      Not one person involved is of any use to this country, now or in the future. And yes, Justice Must Be Seen To Be Done. By The World. Obama, are you listening?

  6. marksb says:

    What an amazing and excellent body of work, Marcy. Thank you.

    LA Times this morning has only one article, Panetta fires back on Pelosi on interrogations. Of course later in the body of the piece:

    CIA records indicate that Pelosi attended a briefing in September 2002 during which she was told about agency interrogation techniques that had been used. The records do not indicate with certainty that waterboarding was covered.


    Panetta did not directly say that Pelosi was wrong in her assertion, citing agency records.

    Parsing the truth, depending on the lack of attention and interest on the part of the national press.

  7. perris says:

    let’s make bushco rue the day they did not give themselves pardons for the crimes the committed against this country, our future and our children’s hope

  8. yellowsnapdragon says:

    What did Powell know about torture being used for the intelligence that was included in his presentation to the UN? It has been reported that he was skeptical of the evidence in the presentation. Knowing that waterboarding had been used to extract false information would add another layer to Powell’s skepticism.

  9. WilliamOckham says:

    The problem with coerced false confessions is that they never check out. Anybody who knew anything about the Middle East knew that the link was total BS.

  10. stryder says:

    hey ew, the pres says your supposed to stop stirring up so much shit so congress can concentrate on more pressing matters.Now be a good girl and go pull some weeds or something.

    excellent work

  11. Leen says:

    The puzzle pieces starting to fall into place…maybe. As a soccer mom listening and watching the build up to the invasion of Iraq was appalling, frightening and fascinating all at the same time.

    Watching Bush administration officials (Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Rove) endlessly spin the false intelligence through MSM channels while hearing those (Scott Ritter, Pelosi, El Baradei, Kofi Anan, Carter, Ray McGovern hell I even heard McNamara questioning the intelligence before the invasion) who were questioning the validity and sources of the WMD intelligence was earth shaking and confusing.

    Just what the Bush administration was banking on. The “end justifies the means” and the “big lie” theories of the right wing radicals in the Office of Special Plans, WHIG, etc have had devastating consequences. Seems that folks like Feith, Bolton, Luti, Rhode, Ledeen, Cheney etc could give a rats ass.


    Were Luti and Rhode given immunity by Fitzgerald in the Plame outing?

  12. stryder says:

    Obama Dares Judge to Order Release Of NSA Spy Document

    SAN FRANCISCO — Setting the stage for a constitutional showdown, the Obama administration dared a federal judge here late Friday to do what no judge has yet done: disclose classified data the government has declared a national security state secret

    • oregondave says:

      From your linked article:

      . . . the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation material likely remains locked under the control of the Obama administration’s Litigation Security Section of the Justice Department, according to the record in the case.

      Last month, the government acknowledged that, in 2005, it purposely destroyed 92 videotapes to cover up evidence of mistreatment of U.S. terror suspects — evidence the American Civil Liberties Union was trying to bring to light in a New York federal court lawsuit against the Defense Department.


      • emptywheel says:

        Ominous and pretty bogus. There’s no connection between the two, there’s no reason to believe that the folks with these documents woudl destroy them (it’d be the easiest thing in the world to proscute the), and there’s no reason to lnik the two.

        And frankly, there’s no reaosn to expect anything but a middle ground out of this conflict.

          • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

            Question: is there any way that Bush has been privately indicted or charged, that none of us would know about, but that would have precluded his giving pardons?

            IANAL, after all, so have no grasp of such details.

  13. stryder says:

    Jon Eisenberg, an attorney for the al-Haramain lawyers – Wendell Belew and Asim Gafoor — is urging Walker to disclose the information without the government’s consent.

    atta boy Belew

  14. JohnLopresti says:

    So subcontractors rely on the Company to obtain its legal exonerations aprior andOr postipsofacto, at the behest of the political actors, amid stovepipes sprouting in 2001, 2002f. The political countervailing voices the past few days seem to target the usual opponents of what the neocons were doing, NPelosi, even the Company, as if even Tenet’s leadership remains in question, even if partly still classified. Seems a lot is going on. Some of the above commenters are addressing many parts of that, as well.

  15. chrisc says:

    Remember the Downing Street Memos? There was supposed to be a secret meeting of British intelligence and government officials on July 23, 2002. That date fits right into this timeline quite well. The evidence for the WMDS was weak, but the war was a go. That led Rummy and Cheney to ratchet things up a bit with Feith’s propaganda campaign. Blair wanted UN approval, too. Nasty bit of inconvenience.

  16. prostratedragon says:

    I got all interested a few lives back in the propaganda shop aspect and the rather naked way in which these fools were running it out of the U.S. government. Here are a few data points that look kind of interesting fitted in with EWs’s:

    December 17, 2001
    A CIA polygrapher examines Adnan I.S. al-Haideri at a hotel in Pattaya, Thailand. After some hours, the polygrapher concludes that Haideri’s story of recently-hidden Iraqi WMD was false. The examiner returned to Washington with his data.
    James Bamford, “The Men Who Sold the War,” Rolling Stone, November 17, 2005.

    December 17, 2001 or somewhat thereafter
    Ahmed Chalabi and Zaab Sethna place Haideri’s story with Paul Moran of the Australian Broadcasting Company, and Judith Miller of the New York Times, which together will result in worldwide broadcast and print dissemination. The agents do this despite the doubts raised by the polygraph examination of Dec. 17.
    James Bamford, “The Men Who Sold the War,” Rolling Stone, November 17, 2005.

    December 20, 2001
    Judith Miller reports claims by “defector” al-Haideri to have worked on renovations in Iraq of wells, villas, and a hospital to allow them to accomodate CBW weapons research.
    Jim Lobe, “Framing the Plame Case”, August 1, 2005.

    December 20, 2001
    On HardBall (CNBC at the time), James Woolsey touts the “find” of the Miller article of that day on al-Haideri: “This defector sounds quite credible.” Lobe continues, “Within a week, he [Woolsey] was telling the Washington Post that the case that Iraq was developing nuclear weapons was a ’slam dunk.’” The next week, Richard Perle has an Op-Ed in the NYTimes also touting the al-Haideri “intelligence.”
    Jim Lobe, “Framing the Plame Case”, August 1, 2005.

    Comparing these with what we now know about who was tortured around that time and why, it looks as if early on they thought they had the WMD angle covered, but still wanted the Al Qaeda link; I think even at the time it was clear that they felt they had to play the latter for the American public, while the WMD angle was for the UN.

  17. prostratedragon says:

    September 16, 2001
    VP Cheney appears on Meet the Press with Tim Russert. There is an exchange regarding Saddam and terrorists:
    TR: If we determine that [S.H.] is also harboring terrorists […] would we have any reluctance of going after Saddam Hussein?
    VPC: No.
    TR: Do we have evidence that he is harboring […]?
    VPC: […] There have been some activities related […] the focus is over here on Al Qaeda […] Saddam’s bottled up at this point.
    TR: Do we have any evidence linking Saddam Hussein or Iraqis to this operation?
    VPC: No.
    White House transcript.

    But by gum, “we”‘re going to get some!

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      I’ll see you and I’ll raise you:

      August 2002, Cheney gives his saber-rattler speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

      Aug-Sept 2002 The White House Iraq Group had begun meeting in order to ‘market’ the idea of a war against Iraq. It was led by Andy Card and included: Hughes, Rove, Matalin, Libby, Gerson, Calio, Hadley, among others.

      Pelosi was briefed Sept 4, 2002.

      Sept 8, 2002 the NYT front page carries an article about Saddam trying to make WMD. The article is attributed to Judith Miller and Michael Gordon. Condi, Cheney, Rumsfeld all go on teevee to echo the key catch phrases about ‘smoking guns‘ and ‘mushroom clouds‘. Cheney says,There’s a story in the New York Times this morning… I don’t want to talk about, obviously, specific intelligence sources, but it’s now public that… [Saddam] has been seeking to acquire, and we have been able to intercept and prevent him from acquiring through this particular channel, the kinds of tubes that are necessary to build a centrifuge.”

      {Taken from “Anatomy of Deceit“, by Marcy Wheeler, p. 28 from Chpt 2: “Deconstructing Judy”}

      I expect Judith Miller to be on Fox several times in coming weeks; she’s no doubt going to be spinning her deceitful little ass off. And no doubt James Carville will be trying to cut deals with some of his Dem buddies in an effort to keep his wife, Matalin, out of a long prison term.

      • newtonusr says:

        I expect Judith Miller to be on Fox several times in coming weeks; she’s no doubt going to be spinning her deceitful little ass off.

        She started up again no later than Friday. She performed exactly as scripted, leaving the inference that Pelosi lied and maligned the beleaguered CIA, but it was for others to decide if she should be lit afire and thrown in the pit.

        And I cannot believe that we are again in a posture to defend Nancy Pelosi.

      • prostratedragon says:

        Oh, we’re going to have fun. I’ve started working through about a 5-inch stack of cards that I haven’t touched in almost exactly 4 years.

        Now, we’ve all read mostly the same things, but different minds notice different things. As I said above, back then I got really interested in the blatancy of the propshop operations. Now that we see how the torture shop was to a great extent a wholly-owned subsidiary of the propshop, those old cullings have started shouting out to me.

  18. Civlibertarian says:

    the document says “our knowledge of Iraq’s ties to terrorism is evolving [redacted],

    Missing close quote in the above?

  19. timbo says:

    Where are the CIA documents protesting that it was preposterous to assume any links between Hussein and Al Qaeda? Or was it a known issue at CIA that CIA had used Iraq as a staging area for the Muhjahadeen in Afganistan during the 1980s…when the Bushies were allying themselves with Hussein before he “moved off the reservation”?

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