Gravely Damaging Intelligence Gaps

Just two or three more bits on this Panetta declaration and the related Vaughn Index (Part One, Part Two).

Before he insisted in his declaration, implausibly, that he wasn’t trying to hide embarrassing information that might show legal wrong-doing, Leon Panetta gave this general explanation for why he couldn’t release this information:

I want to emphasize to the Court that the operational documents currently at issue contained detailed intelligence information, to include: intelligence provided by captured terrorists; intelligence requirements that CIA prioritized at specific points in time; what the intelligence community did not know about enemies in certain time frames, i.e., intelligence gaps;


Much information in the documents is intelligence that was being provided to the field and intelligence that was being gathered from the interrogations. This sensitive intelligence provides important insight into what the CIA knew–and did not know, i.e. intelligence gaps–at specific points in time on specific matters of intelligence interest. I have determined that the disclosure of intelligence about al Qai’da reasonably could be expected to result in exceptionally grave damage to the national security by informing our enemies of what we knew about them, and when, and in some instances, how we obtained the intelligence we possessed.

Remember, earlier this year the ACLU and CIA agreed that the Agency could exclude raw intelligence cables from this FOIA response.

In response to earlier orders, the CIA originally identified appropximately 3,000 documents potentially responsive to paragraph 3 of the Court’s April 20, 2009 Order. Those 3,000 records included "contemporaneous records," which were created at the time of the interrogations or at the time the videotapes were viewed, "intelligence records," which do not describe the interrogations but contain raw intelligence collected from the interrogations, "derivative records," which summarize information contained within the contemporaneous records, and documents related to the location of the interrogations that, upon further review by the CIA, were determined not to relate to the interrogations or to the destroyed videotapes.

With respect to paragraph 3 of the April 20, 2009 Order, the parties jointly propose that the Government address the contemporaneous and derivative records, but not the intelligence records or the other records that ultimately proved to be unrelated to the interrogations or the videotapes. [my empahsis]

Nevertheless, even before Panetta says he can’t turn over this material because it would reveal the identities of our counterintelligence officers and the location at which we conducted these interrogations, he says he can’t turn over this material because it’ll reveal the intelligence that went into and came out of the interrogations, even though this is not the primary record of intelligence gathered in the interrogations.

Now, there’s one obvious reason Panetta’d be fearful of releasing this stuff; he doesn’t want to reveal how we prioritized the information we sought from Abu Zubaydah and Rahim al-Nashiri. Imagine the scandal, of course, if the cables were to reveal that the first questions we asked Zubaydah after waterboarding him in August 2002 pertained to purported ties to Iraq? (I have no evidence it was and the CIA said they didn’t tie any Iraq questions to waterboarding–but that’s the sort of question we ought to be asking.)


But I’m particularly interested in the key thrust of his concern: intelligence gaps. Panetta says the US citizens cannot have these documents because they’ll reveal what we "did not know about enemies in certain time frames." It’ll reveal "what the CIA knew–and did not know, i.e. intelligence gaps–at specific points in time on specific matters of intelligence interest."

Aside from the obvious governance reason to reveal that–if the CIA was totally ignorant about stuff when it shouldn’t have been, the taxpayer ought to know that–consider his emphasis on gaps and timing.

What we didn’t know and when we didn’t know it.

I can think of one really big intelligence gap that the CIA filled either before or after it started torturing Abu Zubaydah: the critical detail that Abu Zubaydah was not–as George Bush had proclaimed–the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, but was instead a sort of travel agent for a training camp that al Qaeda had tried to shut down as a competitor.

I can see why it’d be embarrassing to have to reveal that fact–not least because of the President’s crowing about catching the purported mastermind of the attacks. After all, if Abu Zubaydah wasn’t who we claimed him to be–if he wasn’t a top al Qaeda figure with actionable intelligence on upcoming attacks–then the whole torture thing becomes illegal.

I can see how Leon Panetta wouldn’t want us to learn when the CIA found about this critical detail. 

40 replies
  1. klynn says:

    Uh oh.

    Would the torture tape destruction investigation reveal this?

    (Son-of-klynn just read this post and exclaimed, “Holy shiitake mushrooms! That’s not good.)

  2. plunger says:

    “I want to emphasize to the Court that the operational documents currently at issue contained detailed intelligence information, to include: intelligence provided by captured terrorists;…”

    How did the word “Alleged” manage to become separated from all discussion of these purported “captured terrorists?”

    Some of these are victims of kidnappings, while others are fighting for what they perceive to be their homeland, which has been invaded by an occupying force. None of these individuals has been determined to be a “terrorist” under the law, as none of them have received a trial.


    How did our media and our society allow our language to be so hijacked?

    Where is the presumption of innocence until proven guilty?

    • fatster says:

      Did our media allow our language to be hijacked or did our media actively participate in the hijacking?

    • emptywheel says:

      Well, keep in mind, Panetta is referring to just Abu Zubaydah and al-Nashiri. Al-Nashiri maintains he was just a businessman who happened to keep getting money from OBL. And Zubaydah admits he’s a mujahadeen (albeit one that trained peopel to fight on the battle field and refused to attack innocents).

      But you’re not talking about the really egregious cases of kidnapping and mistaken identity.

      • plunger says:

        Understood, but it is a new twist (post-9/11), that high level government officials would fail to use the “alleged” qualifier when speaking of individuals with cases before a judge, no? As to the broader issue of egregious kidnapping and mistaken identity, the prevailing trend is to brand ALL individuals swept up in the alleged GWOT as “terrorists,” and the media is purposely advancing the trend.

  3. BayStateLibrul says:

    On Detainee photos

    “To me, it’s a life and death bill,” Graham said.
    No, my dear Graham, your vote on National Health Care will be a life and death vote.
    You’ve got the fucking wrong bill…

    • fatster says:

      Did you see that link I posted at 21 on the previous thread? If you didn’t, you might want to check it out.

  4. plunger says:

    It may very well be that the some of correspondence related to these interrogations reveal from whom the instructions were being given, including in some cases, a country of origin other than the United States and a military or intelligence agency of that other country. Were torture sessions streamed via live feed to the OVP? I’d say the odds are exceptionally high that the answer is yes. Were the “tapes” that were destroyed actual tape, or digital files? If they were digital, they may exists in places other than the United States. If so, that’s a hell of a lot of leverage to use against a country.

  5. PAR4 says:

    I remember an intelligence gap,the CIA didn’t know the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse after 50 years of Cold War.

  6. skdadl says:

    Forgive me for muttering to myself, but since we’re doing language here, I’m chewing hard over the difference between “purposely” and “purposefully” (Panetta’s choice of term — see Cherry Pick 1). Maybe there isn’t a difference. Bugs me, though. Never mind.

    • fatster says:

      Well, you got me a-googling, and here’s what I found (from the UK, do note).

      “To do something purposely is to do it deliberately or on purpose: Please don’t move those books: I put them there purposely. To do something purposefully is to do it with determination: ‘Right, you naughty children, here I come!’ he said, and strode purposefully into the garden.”…..82663.html

      • skdadl says:

        Yes — that’s what I’m chewing over. “Purposely” = on purpose. “Purposefully” = with a purpose … which is a little fuzzier.

        Then again, the people who write these things may not be thinking all that precisely. Or they’re glad we’re confused. Or EW was right the first time.

  7. LabDancer says:

    You have to wonder if there’s a critical distinction being pithed here between at least two distinct duo-dimensional conceptions, each comprised of, on the one plane, a “thing” the CIA claims “we” — meaning the CIA — did not know, and on the other [or at leat AN other] plane, the CIA’s ability, or willingness, to commit to a discrete point along the relentless path of time at which the CIA claims not to have known that “thing”.

    For example, it would not seem to be a matter of any great concern that the CIA was not functionally clear on the critical [to actionable intelligence in this particular context, that is] distinctions between the Shi’ia and Sunni sects of Islam in the early 1950s at a time when the object was to destabilize the democratically elected secular national government of Iran the better to facilitate importing fossil-based energy produce from Iran, because fossil-based energy produce is pretty fungible and WTF difference does it make that whether or not it’s coming from a country with a constitution that mandates reference to religious protocols, tracts and interpretations.

    However in contrast, it WOULD seem a matter of some serious concern that the CIA was not functionally clear on such distinctions in first decade of the third millenium, at a time when PRESUMABLY the object was to secure the nation from further catastrophic attacks from organizations comprised predominantly if not entirely of Sunni Muslims.

    • Mary says:

      Well, one thing we do know and it is not a big time secret and that is that the CIA’s actions resulted in taking people like Ali Soufan who spoke the language and had background on al-Qaeda or a Dan Coleman or a Jack Cloonan and replacing them with, however well meaning, guys named “Deuce” with no prior al-Qaeda background and no language skills.

      So we know there was a self-created gap directly resulting from torture policies and I guess Panetta could be asked to clarify whether or not he means gaps in what US intel knew, vs. self created gaps resulting from the policy decision to engage in torture.

  8. BoxTurtle says:

    Problem here is that what we didn’t know and when we didn’t know IS something that would be very usful to an enemy and is something we would legitimately want to keep secret.

    The judge needs to be able to sort through and decide what can become public. I trust neither side.

    Boxturtle (And I only trust the courts a little more. Too many judges think the constitution is optional)

  9. plunger says:

    But I’m particularly interested in the key thrust of his concern: intelligence gaps. Panetta says the US citizens cannot have these documents because they’ll reveal what we “did not know about enemies in certain time frames.” It’ll reveal “what the CIA knew–and did not know, i.e. intelligence gaps–at specific points in time on specific matters of intelligence interest.”

    Perhaps these documents would reveal that none of the detainees anywhere in the entire system had anything whatsoever to do with 9/11…a fact that U.S. citizens cannot be allowed to learn of.

  10. Mary says:

    Other possible reasons:

    The raw intelligence might reveal things like – Zubaydah wasn’t al-Qaeda (a necessary premise for the OLC memos to apply) but was eventually tortured into an admission of the incorrect; lots of wild misinformation was generated by the torture; comparative discussions of torture being done under our proxy in places like Syria and Egypt and Morocco and our knowledge and participation in that torture and use of rendition for the specific purpose of torture; admissions against interest by the CIA torturers (contractors and employers) and offhand references to direct authorization by OVP or WH or NSC personnel for things not in the memos; etc.

  11. Jkat says:

    i don’t get it .. any gaps we’re discussing here were “things the CIA didn’t know” in 2oo3 .. [spook year] .. i can’t see where anything from six long years ago could possibly be actionable today .. and whatever it was CIA didn’t know ..and whenever it was “the spooks didn’t know it” along with whatever caused those gaps .. has surely been addressed long ‘ere now .. so what’s the deal .. ???

    there’s something else involved here imo than just a gap and a time frame .. and i’d lay odds on the fishing expedition for iraq-911 connection scenario..

    and i don’t trust panetta .. he’s a fish out of water ..imo .. he’s far more suited to be a slimy snake than a spookmeister..

    and we’re right back to the obvious falsehood about the information not being witheld because it would “cause embarassment” .. or reveal illegal acts …

    this whole affair is down-the-rabbit-hole with alice … they’re obfuscating .. and that says volumes …

    • emptywheel says:

      That’s sort of my point. You can defend not revealing your ignorance in 2oo2 if it’s–say–2oo3. But in 2oo9?

      You might be able to argue they were trying to hide the SIGINT they were picking up–but Jeebus, you’d think by now they’re be thrilled to have the opportunity to claim that the warrantless wiretap program wasn’t a total waste ofmoney.

      • bmaz says:

        You might be able to argue they were trying to hide the SIGINT they were picking up–but Jeebus, you’d think by now they’re be thrilled to have the opportunity to claim that the warrantless wiretap program wasn’t a total waste ofmoney.

        If they had this evidence, Bush would have trotted it out.

  12. floundericiousMI says:


    I noticed in your earlier posts “1000 words” and the first “Cherry Pick”…

    The photograph of Zubaydah that they withheld was dated October 11, 2002…the log of documents shows a long sequence of 2 and 3 page documents leading up to October 11, 2002, which had an 11 page cable!

    There maybe something significant that happened to/around/about Zubaydah.

    (I know, hard to believe, but it was an interesting spike in activity on the date of the photo they’re withholding)


    • emptywheel says:

      Absolutely agree.

      Also not some of the cables show a medical report, some don’t.

      I don’t THINK they waterboarded AZ again after August. But they kept “walling” people, I think. Or maybe they just plain old beat him because they were bored.

  13. Jkat says:

    purposely .vs. purposefully .. i don’t think there’s much meat on that bone .. it’s an easy grammatical construct to confuse .. and i don’t think panetta is enough of a word maven to pick one or the other as a precise distinction which would signify a major difference …

    one would have to be a very astute grammarian to indend such precision .. and i just don’t think there’s much “there” ..

    if it were calvin trillin .. yes .. leon panetta.. not so much so .. imo ..

    i’d hold that in abeyance until there was more evidence to demonstrate the word choice was more than a grammatical faux pas ..

    • skdadl says:

      Oh, I probably agree with you (although this isn’t grammar — it’s usage, or semantics). I mean, we’re dealing here with guys who describe brute force as “technique,” so it makes a lot of sense that they would just choose the word that sounded fancier to them, even if they didn’t know the distinctions.

      NB: I’m running on the assumption that Panetta doesn’t write his own stuff, but that could be wrong.

  14. fatster says:

    O/T. Some threads back someone very cleverly remarked on all the “Czars” Obama has, referencing the Romanovs. Someone over at either picked up on the remark or else was thinking the same thing. Here they are:


  15. Mary says:

    “grave damage”

    I guess there’s no chance Panetta means damage to the unmarked grave where they tossed the body of the 20 yo they froze to death in Afghanistan?

  16. cinnamonape says:

    October 12, 2002 – Bali Bombing. If the time signatures are based on US Time (EST) then the date may be actually on October 12, 2002…and remember that some of these interrogations occurred in Thailand. The Bali Bombing was the first major terrorist attack after 9/11. It likely would have been a topic of interest for interrogation…any AQ (or mujahideen) links to SE Asian groups, tactical or financial support, etc.

    • Rayne says:

      Now THAT makes some rational sense and almost seems legitimate.

      One might wonder how much advance info was available about the Bali bombing before it happened.

      [edit: forgot to add this is a point where different timelines collapse and overlap.]

  17. gaby says:

    I’ve also wondered when abu zubata went ftrom travel agent somewhat delusional to master mind,if hes the mastermind whos osama? oh yeah we can’t find osama ..ever wonder if cheney got off watching the torture in his office before the fire?

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