Did Tommy Vietor Hang Out CIA on UndieBomb 2.0?

The same day that the White House released 94 pages of Benghazi emails, which not only show that most at CIA supported the talking points used by the Administration but also include annotations of the CIA roles involved that reveal far more about CIA’s structure than any FOIA response I’ve ever seen, Tommy Vietor went on the record about UndieBomb 2.0 with both the WaPo and MSNBC. It appears he did so to reinforce the fear-mongering language Eric Holder used (though like Holder, Vietor doesn’t explain why John Brennan got a promotion after contributing to such a damaging leak). He said this to WaPo.

Vietor said that it would be a mistake to dismiss the unauthorized disclosure because al-Qaeda failed to carry out its plot.

“We shouldn’t pretend that this leak of an unbelievably sensitive dangerous piece of information is okay because nobody died,” he said.

But the WaPo account also seems to serve (like the Benghazi email dump does) to place blame on CIA.

It answers a question I hinted at yesterday: whether the CIA and White House were on different pages on what to do with the AP story. Reportedly, after AP had given the CIA time to kill Fahd al-Quso (the WaPo doesn’t mention that was the purpose of the delay), CIA’s Mike Morell told the AP the security issue had been addressed, but asked for one more day. As AP considered that request, the White House overrode that discussion.

Michael J. Morell, the CIA’s deputy director, gave AP reporters some additional background information to persuade them to hold off, Vietor said. The agency needed several days more to protect what it had in the works.

Then, in a meeting on Monday, May 7, CIA officials reported that the national security concerns were “no longer an issue,” according to the individuals familiar with the discussion.

When the journalists rejected a plea to hold off longer, the CIA then offered a compromise. Would they wait a day if AP could have the story exclusively for an hour, with no government officials confirming it for that time?

The reporters left the meeting to discuss the idea with their editors. Within an hour, an administration official was on the line to AP’s offices.

The White House had quashed the one-hour offer as impossible. AP could have the story exclusively for five minutes before the White House made its own announcement. AP then rejected the request to postpone publication any longer.

This must be the crux of the animosity here. CIA told AP the danger had passed (though according to some reports, our informant was still in Yemen). At that point, the AP should have and ultimately did feel safe to publish. But then the White House made this ridiculous request, effectively refusing to let AP tell this story before the White House had a shot at it.

Which is why this claim, from Tommy Vietor, is so absurd.

But former White House national security spokesman Tommy Vietor, recalling the discussion in the administration last year, said officials were simply realistic in their response to AP’s story. They knew that if it were published, the White House would have to address it with an official, detailed statement.

“There was not some press conference planned to take credit for this,” Vietor said in an interview. “There was certainly an understanding [that] we’d have to mitigate and triage this and offer context for other reporters.”

Jeebus Pete! If your idea of “mitigating and triaging” AP’s fairly complimentary story is to make it far, far worse by hinting about the infiltrator, you’re doing it wrong!

Vietor, who presumably had a role in setting up the conference all at which Brennan tipped off Richard Clarke (though according to Brennan, he did not sit in on the call), insists to MSNBC that telling someone we had “inside control” of this plot does not constitute a gigantic clue that the entire plot was just a sting.

Tommy Vietor, then chief national security spokesman for the White House, disputed the idea that Brennan disclosed sensitive details in his background briefing and said  it was “ridiculous” to equate Brennan’s use of the  phrase  “inside control” with having an “informant.”

It’s a nonsense claim, of course. Someone fucked up the “mitigating and triaging” process, and that’s what made this leak so dangerous, not AP’s initial story. But, presumably because AP didn’t let White House tell the official story before they reported their scoop (and did they plan on telling us all we had inside control on the op if they got to tell the story first?!?), the AP has, as far as we know, borne the brunt of the investigation into the leak.

For the moment let me reiterate two more details.

It appears that Vietor is blaming CIA for the way this went down. And guess what? The guy who blathered about “inside control” has now taken over the CIA.

Then there’s this. Eric Holder noted yesterday that the investigation into David Petraeus for leaking classified information — understood to be limited to his mistress Paula Broadwell, mind you — is ongoing. That means the FBI interview he had on April 10 was not sufficient to answer concerns about his involvement in leaking classified information.

It’s interesting this is coming down to a conflict between White House and CIA, isn’t it?

34 replies
  1. scribe says:

    Well, CIA needs to be more-than-reined-in. They’ve been getting away with far too much shit for far too long.

    But, more to my initial point, where you say Vietor’s claims are absurd (which I accept), what set of additional facts we’re not discussing would serve to make what he’s saying not absurd?

    Other than the WH not wanting to talk about this publicly at all, of course.

  2. emptywheel says:

    @scribe: While I think there are many other possibilities, isn’t the most obvious possibility that Brennan fucked up and part of their damage control has been to hang CIA out to dry?

  3. orionATL says:

    “…this leak of an unbelievably sensitive dangerous piece of information…”

    “unbelievably sensitive”, “dangerous”. what is (are) those sensitive, dangerous pieces of information?

    that there was “inside control” of the attempted bombing?

    who would be hurt by this being revealed in the american press? well, the undercover guy(s) in yemen might have been in for some really bad days. but they are not the nation.

    would any part of our population or infrastructure, including our armed forces, have been seriously endangered? if so, specifically and in detail, who and how?

    as an aside, assuming it was the notification to aqap of spies inside their organization that is the big deal:

    so it’s o.k. for the v.p., with the president’s permission, to out a cia noc agent working on nuclear weaponry

    but not o.k. for the ap to publish a story that unwittingly reveals by implication that a saudi-british? double agent was in their midst?

    i’m not inclined to stiffle the press here so a spy can have a nice, safe getaway period.

    oh, and if the ap had NOT published it’s story, when the bomb never went off, just how long would it then have taken aqap to guess what happened?

  4. scribe says:

    @emptywheel: Fer sher. I’m just trying to decide whether it’s just CIA being hung out for screwing up, or that the Admin is going after Brennan.

    Not that the latter is that likely, given how they’ve loved him so far.

  5. Frank33 says:

    Oh How I love the smell of multi-universe scandals. AP, Undies, Angry Teabaggers and someone named Tommy Vietor. Is he a comedian?

    There is serious national security stuff so I am being selfish. Thousands of military rapes. Twenty more years of war according to Danger Room. Vets and everyone need jobs. Stupid mainstream media mavens think they are so special and should get a Shield Law.

    But the mavens at Swampland are weighing in on Benghazi and Vickie Nuland is a MAJOR PLAYER.

    The CIA made the big changes It’s true, as has been widely reported, that State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland raised the strongest objections to the draft talking points. A charitable interpretation is that Nuland objected to CIA language that cast unfair blame on the State Department for inadequate security at a site which mainly conducted CIA business. Less charitable is that Nuland was reflexively covering for her department, and perhaps for her boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (although as a former aide to Dick Cheney, Nuland is no Hillaryland footsoldier). Either way, it was the CIA’s deputy director, Michael Morell, who struck language from the talking points which had detailed his agency’s past warnings about growing security threats in Benghazi.

    Even less chariable is that perhaps Vickie wanted to replace Hillary Clinton, and be the next Secretary of State. So Vickie “hosed” Susan Rice. And I can link Vickie-Kagan-Petraeus. Has P4 done his testifying?

    Vickie, for the good of the nation, resign. It is sad that I may not have Vickie to kick around anymore.

  6. lefty665 says:

    Nice piece EW. The plot thickens with Betrayus perhaps more in the middle than thought. They had his communications from investigating Broadwell. They knew about Brennan’s big mouth, and had content of his calls, including the conference call, from their end.

    Why the overreach with AP? What did they not know, or need, after getting Betrayus’s communications and Brennan flapping his jaw?

    They got enough on Betrayus to cashier him. Could this be a conflict between the administration and CIA past? Perhaps a “reverse Benghazi” to put a stake in Betrayus’s political ambitions and to deflect Repub witch hunts? Stringing up Betrayus would divert attention from Brennan’s known leaking and let him finish his career back home at CIA protecting all from charges of torture while playing with drones.

    But why the overreach with AP? What were they looking for? Was it a message to whistle blowers? Was it a message to the press? Was it just because they were pissed at AP and could?

  7. harpie says:

    I’m probably hopelessly behind, but fwiw, I don’t think they’re going after Brennan:

    Brennan strongly denied he had leaked any sensitive or secret information to the media. Sources familiar with Brennan’s conference call with the TV pundits said at least two of the former officials who were on the call with Brennan had not been contacted by leak investigators.

    I find it interesting that [according to the sources] at least two of these people were not contacted in such a “sweeping” investigation.

    If that is the case, I’m wondering why that might be. And, it would be another indication that the leak investigators did not follow their own procedures [pdf], for instance:

    All reasonable attempts should be made to obtain information from alternative sources before considering issuing a subpoena to a member of the news media, and similarly all reasonable alternative investigative steps should be taken before considering issuing a subpoena for telephone toll records of any member of the news media.

  8. emptywheel says:

    @Phil Perspective: Yeah, there are a bunch of problems with it. None all that interesting, though. I’m not sure Booman has followed this closely enough–or the AQAP infiltrations and the way they’ve been dealt with publicly in the past–to get that though.

    Also, he totally misunderstands my use of language, assuming I’m addressing Vietor, for example, when it’s obviously abt WH response in general.

  9. Ben Franklin says:


    Wasn’t Brennan’s nomination after the interview and clearing? I don’t know how Brennan is regarded within CIA, but it seems an olive branch and to keep him in the fold. There is much rumored about cryptic warnings to Obama (Join JFK) wrt war crimes et al. Is it likely he would hang them to dry?

  10. JTMinIA says:

    @harpie: I may be behind (too) and maybe I’m just a tin-hatter at heart, but my read is that this is all between Obama and Betrayus, not Obama vs Brennan or anyone else that is still around. I’m very interested to see what happens with the investigation of Betrayus.

  11. lysias says:

    @Ben Franklin: The obvious response of a responsible president to such a threat from the CIA would be for the president to reveal the threat to enough people so that, if the threat is carried out, blame can immediately be placed on the guilty organization, to let the organization know that he has done that, and then to proceed to do the things the organization has told him not to do.

  12. emptywheel says:

    @Ben Franklin: Yup.

    I don’t think he should be prosecuted for the leak. But neither do I think someone who did something as stupid as it should be promoted.

  13. Ben Franklin says:

    @Phil Perspective:

    Booman is taking a ration of shite from his commentators.( I thought all contrarian risks had been duly discharged)

    “I’m only doing this once as I am exhausted”

    Peddling that stationary bike is trying.

  14. What Constitution says:

    What we have here is — or at least is designed to be able to be called — a failure to communicate. It’s sort of like an example of splitting the infinitive incorrectly. Like “to boldly go” instead of “boldly to go”, only moreso. They might have said “considered unbelievably serious” when they meant to say “unbelievably considered serious.” One way, it’s a big deal; the other way, Brennan doesn’t have to worry about his job. So which is it? There’s plausible deniability floating around here, just in case somebody finally wades through all the chaff to ask that one piercing question. What, exactly, is that question, EW?

  15. thatvisionthing says:

    @harpie: I am SO hopelessly behind on this one that the thing I see is the Bradley Manning trial — substitute AP for Wikileaks. Maybe they’ll finally get it. Unapproved news is a national security secret, and even an international news organization can be effectively guilty without being charged. In America. Hello.

  16. thatvisionthing says:

    @thatvisionthing: Actually, they’ve come up with a new law for it, just by speaking it into being: “wantonly publishing”


    ALEXA O’BRIEN: …[Bradley Manning] pled not guilty to one of the more provocative and disturbing charges against him. It’s never been used before. In fact it’s not tied to any existing federal criminal violation or punitive article under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It’s what’s called “wantonly publishing.”

    HARRY SHEARER: (laughs)

    ALEXA O’BRIEN: (laughs)

    HARRY SHEARER: I think we both of us do that every day.

    ALEXA O’BRIEN: Yeah. That’s why it’s so terrifying.


    ALEXA O’BRIEN: But the crazy thing about this charge is that the knowledge element parallels the knowledge element in the aiding the enemy charge, so it essentially dovetails into aiding the enemy.

    HARRY SHEARER: Now, “wantonly publishing” is actually legislative language in some law?

    ALEXA O’BRIEN: Well, in oral arguments early on in the pretrial, the government argued that it was, you know, in terms of punishment that it was analogous to espionage but that it was far, far worse than espionage. And the defense came back and said, “This is a made-up offense. This shouldn’t be allowed.”

    Wantonly publishing — seriously? Apparently you can’t make this stuff up, unless you’re the government. But if ew wants to make a scale of egregious leaking, as seen by the govt, there’s a whole new ballpark. And there we all were over in the lamplight of the law — pish. War crimes in the ballpark? Never look, you won’t find them there.

  17. Ben Franklin says:

    O’Brien is held up as a lefty by the reichwing, and I guess if you are talking about the theory of relativity, she’s the Unified Field Theory.

  18. joanneleon says:

    I’m wondering if this was aimed at you, Marcy, based on Twitter convos.

    “There was not some press conference planned to take credit for this,” Vietor said in an interview. “There was certainly an understanding [that] we’d have to mitigate and triage this and offer context for other reporters.”

    As for the Booman post, that’s a typical “conspiracy theorist!” smear from the apologist when they’ve got nothing. Looks that way to me anyway,

    The CIA v. White House thing is interesting. Add the conflict between State and CIA on Benghazi and boy do you have one hot mess, and it was happening in an election year (which I’m sure made things even more convoluted).

  19. thatvisionthing says:

    “Which means any leak the government doesn’t like is potentially a death-eligible offense” – Bradley Manning expert witness Yochai Benkler, interviewed on Scott Horton Show in April about his article in the New Republic, “The Dangerous Logic of the Bradley Manning Case”:


    Yochai Benkler: But I think realistically, if we’re talking about leaking, if we’re talking about Bradley Manning and similar national security leaks, simply disagreeing is not going to fall within these tools. But we don’t have to go there to understand how dangerous. Because here’s the thing. We live at a moment where there’s so little transparency, there is so little disclosure, where there is increasing classification of materials, where there is increasing resistance to Freedom of Information Act requests, where there is crackdown on all sorts of actual disclosure in national security such that increasingly it’s only the occasional whistleblower, it’s only the occasional leak that gives us big insights into what’s going on. Even when we have formal processes like the Senate investigation into the torture program and its results. So you have a program that is considered by the senators who participated in it as probably the most important Senate oversight practice ever, and yet none of us can read it because it’s classified. So when you have this kind of overclassification and massive secrecy – in courts we see the government implementing the state secrets doctrine. With the Senate they only allow them to do oversight if they keep it secret so we don’t find out about it. In that situation, leaking becomes in some sense our safety valve of last resort, and implementing this kind of truly terrorizing law that would say, “At our discretion, if you leak to a newspaper, we could go after you for a death-eligible offense,” that’s just too much.

    terrorizing law — are John Brennan and David Petraeus interchangeable with Bradley Manning, except Manning only leaked info that was Secret and below and already shared with 4,000,000 other people on the SIPR net? I’m visualizing it.

  20. thatvisionthing says:

    @thatvisionthing: Early data point on the Espionage Act scale of wanton publishing:


    Yochai Benkler in the New Republic: “..the [Obama] Administration revived the World War I Espionage Act, an Act whose infamous origins included a 10-year prison term for a movie director who made a movie that showed British soldiers killing women and children during the Revolutionary War and was therefore thought to undermine our wartime alliance with Britain…”

  21. thatvisionthing says:

    @Ben Franklin: O’Brien’s publishing transcripts, so neither left-right, though perhaps lefty in that she is doing it for common good, not for pay. Benkler wrote in The New Republic.

  22. orionATL says:


    tx, tvt.

    i hadn’t seen binkler’s interview.

    his comment which you quote is as succinct a summary of the extremely dangerous (for a representative democracy) authoritarian control of information about govt conduct by those conducting govt as any i have ever read previously.

  23. thatvisionthing says:

    @Ben Franklin:

    From the interview:

    HARRY SHEARER: Do you have a legal background?

    ALEXA O’BRIEN: No. (laughs) That’s the crazy thing about this trial, you know. I started off in the pretrial, like, what is going on? Like, especially with just all the military abbreviations. But, you know, I’ve had an education.

    HARRY SHEARER: And is anybody paying you to do this?

    ALEXA O’BRIEN: No. I’m self-funded. I mean, people donate, they make small donations, and people donate services to me. Like, I don’t have to pay for a hotel in the area. I stay locally. So my costs are low.

    I read that she and Kevin Gosztola just were jointly awarded an $8,000 grant by the Freedom of the Press Foundation, also that the Freedom of the Press Foundation is fundraising for a $50,000 court stenographer so the public can have access to a transcript when the trial starts in June. Seems like they should just give the money to O’Brien, she’s done such a great job. She transcribed Bradley Manning’s statement to the court, for example:


    They’ve both done amazing work. (And the AP and the rest of the MSM? … )

  24. thatvisionthing says:

    @thatvisionthing: Also, going back and forth between this post and EW’s one on Kodak and the lack of visionary thinking in terms of planning for new economy and loss of jobs with neoliberalism, NAFTA, etc. — what this shows me is that while the jobs went overseas or disappeared in other ways, work is still out there to do, plenty of it. The thing I’m seeing across the board is that people are just stepping up and pitching in and doing what they can see needs doing, without money and without employers being the driver. Look, work and value ≠ money. Probably why everybody seems to be running on empty. Reminds me of what my mom used to say when we’d ask her what’s for dinner: “Love and wish pudding.” It’s probably what her mom told her during the Depression.

  25. thatvisionthing says:

    @orionATL: Do not ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee and me — from the New Republic article:


    The judge, Col. Denise Lind, asked the prosecutors a brief but revealing question: Would you have pressed the same charges if Manning had given the documents not to WikiLeaks but directly to the New York Times?

    The prosecutor’s answer was simple: “Yes Ma’am.”

    And not just military but civilians can be prosecuted up to the death penalty:

    Big font quote: The charge of “aiding the enemy” is vague. But it carries the death penalty—and could apply to civilians as well as soldiers.


    Benkler: That’s especially true when you consider that “aiding the enemy” could be applied to civilians. Most provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice apply only to military personnel. But Section 104, the “aiding the enemy” section, applies simply to “any person.” To some extent, this makes sense—a German-American civilian in WWII could be tried by military commission for aiding German saboteurs under this provision. There has been some back and forth in military legal handbooks, cases, and commentary about whether and to what extent Section 104 in fact applies to civilians. Most recently, Justice Stevens’ opinion in the Supreme Court case of Hamdan implies that Section 104 may in fact apply to civilians and be tried by military commissions. But this is not completely settled. Because the authorities are unclear, any competent lawyer today would have to tell a prospective civilian whistleblower that she may well be prosecuted for the capital offense of aiding the enemy just for leaking to the press.

    which is what Daniel Ellsberg said in an earlier interview on the Scott Horton Show:


    Daniel Ellsberg: …by the way, the military clauses surprised me when I really saw an analysis of it. It says “any person.” It doesn’t have to be military. I didn’t know there were military regulations that could be applied to a civilian. I thought I was free of that charge now, being a civilian. No. You don’t even have to be a veteran like me. Any person, anybody else, who writes a letter to the editor that would lead some enemy like Osama to say, “Hey! Right on! I like that!” (laughs) “Post that one on the wall, that’s good,” is subject to the death penalty.

  26. thatvisionthing says:

    @thatvisionthing: Update: It’s even crazier than I thought. Kevin Gosztola says Manning is being prosecuted for release of unclassified material (Collateral Murder video) because he thought it was classified.


    So govt can make up “wanton publishing” laws that didn’t exist and even make up thought crimes to boot.

    Meanwhile, clear skies and happy days for David Finkel who (apparently) had same Collateral Murder video nonleaked to him (unclassified!) for his 2009 Army-friendly book The Good Soldiers. Finkel went on to win Nieman journalism prize ($10,000) for Good Soldiers and now is a MacArthur genius award winner ($500,000). So, who nonleaked the video to him?

  27. thatvisionthing says:

    @lysias: my fingers sit on my keys and are just all scrunched up and twitching — they seem to want to say something but…but…but…


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