Behold, John Brennan’s Scary Memo!

Brennan with TortureI’ve been writing for a long time about the “Scary Memos” the government used to justify its dragnet.

As the Joint IG Report described, they started in tandem with George Bush’s illegal wiretap program, and were written before each 45-day reauthorization to argue the threat to the US was serious enough to dismiss any Fourth Amendment concerns that the President was wiretapping Americans domestically.

Jack Goldsmith relied on one for his May 6, 2004 memo reauthorizing some — but not all — of the dragnet.

Yesterday, James Clapper’s office released the Scary Memo included in the FISA Court application to authorize the Internet dragnet just two months later, on July 14, 2004.

ODNI calls it the Tenet Declaration — indeed it is signed by him (which, given that he left government on July 11, 2004 and that final FISC applications tend to be submitted days before their approval, may suggest signing this Scary Memo was among the very last things he did as CIA Director).

Yet the Memo would have been written by the Terrorist Threat Integration Center, then headed by John Brennan.

Much of the Scary Memo describes a “possible imminent threat” that DOJ plans to counter by,

seeking authority from this Court [redacted] to install and use pen register and trap and trace devices to support FBI investigations to identify [redacted], in the United States and abroad, by obtaining the metadata regarding their electronic communications.

There is no mention of NSA. There is no mention that the program operated without legal basis for the previous 2.5 years. And there’s a very curious redaction after “this Court;” perhaps CIA also made a show of having the President authorize it, so as to sustain a claim that all this could be conducted exclusively on Presidential authority?

After dropping mention of WMD — anthrax! fissile material! chemical weapons! — the Scary Memo admits it has no real details about this “possible imminent threat.”

[W]e have no specific information regarding the exact times, targets, or tactics for those planned attacks, we have gathered and continue to gather intelligence that leads us to believe that the next terrorist attack or attacks on US soil could be imminent.


Reporting [redacted] does not provide specific information on the targets to be hit or methods to be used in the US attack or attacks.

But based on “detainee statements and [redacted] public statements since 9/11,” the Scary Memo lays out, CIA believes al Qaeda (curiously, sometimes they redact al Qaeda, sometimes they don’t) wants to target symbols of US power that would negatively impact the US economy and cause mass casualties and spread fear.

It took an “intelligence” agency to come up with that.

Based on that “intelligence,” it appears, but not on any solid evidence, CIA concludes that the Presidential conventions would make juicy targets for al Qaeda.

Attacks against or in the host cities for the Democratic and Republican Party conventions would be especially attractive to [redacted].

And because of that — because CIA’s “intelligence” has decided a terrorist group likes to launch attacks that cause terror and therefore must be targeting the Presidential conventions — the FBI (though of course it’s really the NSA) needs to hunt out “sleeper cells.”

Identifying and disrupting the North American-based cells involved in tactical planning offers the most direct path to stopping an attack or attacks against the US homeland. Numerous credible intelligence reports since 9/11 indicate [redacted] has “sleepers” in North America. We judge that these “sleepers” have been in North American, and the US in general, for much of the past two years. We base our judgment, in part, [redacted] as well as on information [redacted] that [redacted] had operatives here.

Before we get to what led CIA to suggest the US was targeted, step back and look at this intelligence for a moment. This report mentions detainee reporting twice. It redacts the name of what are probably detainees in several places. Indeed, several of the claims in this report appear to match those from the exactly contemporaneous document CIA did on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to justify its torture program, thus must come from him.

Yet, over a year after KSM had been allegedly rendered completely cooperative via waterboarding, CIA still did not know the answer to a question that KSM was probably one of the only people alive who could answer.

We continue to investigate whether the August 2001 arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui may have accelerated the timetable for the 9/11 attacks because he knew of al-Qa’ida’s intention to use commercial aircraft as weapons.

Nevertheless, they believed KSM was being totally straight up and forthcoming.

Note, too, the CIA relied on claims of sleeper cells that were then two years old, dating back to the time they were torturing Abu Zubaydah, whom we know did give “intelligence” about sleeper cells.

To be sure, we know CIA’s claims of a “possible imminent threat” in the US do not derive exclusively from CIA’s earlier torture (though CIA had claimed, just months earlier, that their best intelligence came from that source for the Inspector General’s report).

Less than 3 weeks after this Scary Memo was written, we’d begin to see public notice of this “possible imminent threat,” when Tom Ridge raised the threat level on August 1, 2004 because of an election year plot, purportedly in response to the capture of Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan in Pakistan on July 13 (which could only have been included in “the Tenet declaration” if Khan were secretly arrested and flipped earlier, because Tenet was no longer CIA Director on July 13). But what little basis the election year plot had in any reality dated back to the December 2003 British arrest and beating of Khan’s cousin, Babar Ahmed, which would lead to both Khan’s eventual capture as well as the British surveillance of Dhiren Barot as early as June 10 and the latter’s premature arrest on August 3. KSM’s nephew, Musaad Aruchi, was also handed over by Pakistan to CIA on June 12; best as I know, he remains among those permanently disappeared in CIA’s torture program. This would also lead to a new round of torture memos reauthorizing everything that had been approved in the August 1, 2002 Bybee Memo plus some.

The claims the US was a target derive, based on the reporting in the NYT, from Dhiren Barot. Barot apparently did want to launch a terrorist attack. Both KSM and Hambali had identified Barot during interrogations in 2003, and he had scouted out attack sites in the US in 2000 and 2001. But his active plots in 2004 were all focused on the UK. In 2007 the Brits reduced his sentence because his plots weren’t really all that active or realistic.

Which is to say this election plot — the Scary Plot that drives the Scary Memo that provided the excuse for rolling out (or rather, giving judicial approval for continuing) an Internet dragnet that would one day encompass all Americans — arose in significant part from 2003 torture-influenced interrogations that led to the real world detention of men who had contemplated attacking the US in 2000, but by 2004 were aspirationally plotting to attack the UK, not the US, as well as men who may have been plotting in Pakistan but were not in the US.

That, plus vague references to claims that surely were torture derived, is what John Brennan appears to have laid out in his case for legally justifying a US dragnet.

You see, it’s actually John Brennan’s dragnet — it all goes back to his Scary Memo — and his role in it is presumably one of the reasons he doesn’t want us to know how many lies went into the CIA torture program.

Brennan’s Scary Memo provides yet more evidence how closely linked are torture and the surveillance of every American.

19 replies
  1. Saltinwound says:

    Once they used the conventions in the memo, they had to take the threat seriously. This might help to explain the armored NYPD of 2004, plus their infiltration of protest groups. Lots of arrests. I think Secret Service was in charge.

    • emptywheel says:

      Right. The intelligence is a wonderful snapshot of what they used to justify declaring martial law in NYC.

  2. wallace says:

    emptywheel, this is your best analysis of the dragnet bullshit so far. Brennen should be indicted. Just because he’s the main one responsible for this entire NSA thwarting of the 4th Amendment. Alexander and Clapper are part of it, and should also be indicted. But Brennan is the head honcho who has masterminded the insidious Surveillance State based on torture and lies. I would submit, this is partly why the CIA doesn’t want the Torture report released UNREDACTED, as it would probably provide the proof why the NSA should be dismantled.

  3. Jeff Kaye says:

    Great analysis, Marcy!

    I have a tangential interest in the memo, as it mentions (and not the first time this has been documented) that Tenet spent seven years working for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the very same institution that was charged with investigating Tenet’s own torture program. For over four of those years, Tenet was SSCI Staff Director!

    After leaving SSCI, Tenet went straight to the White House, where he worked as “Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for Intelligence Programs.”

    If this were any other institution, there would be an outcry, or a least some raised eyebrows, over this revolving door between IC regulators and the IC itself. One has to ask whether what we have with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees isn’t an instance of what George Stigler called “regulatory capture.”

    But, you may ask, isn’t there a big conflict between the SSCI and the CIA over the former’s attempt to regulate the latter, in the sense of holding them accountable for their torture-interrogation program.

    In fact, given the amount of worldwide outrage over the revelations surrounding the US/CIA/DOD torture program, the actions of the SSCI appear to be one of helping the CIA with damage control, rather than really bringing the scofflaws to heel.

    The Senate investigation only began years after the revelations about CIA torture were made public. Indeed, scandals over CIA torture and assassination have come and gone over the decades without the SSCI, including the SSCI under Tenet, initiating any major investigation.

    Moreover, even now, with some 6000+ pages of report and millions of pages of documentation, the SSCI has indicated that it will only release a few hundred pages of “Executive Summary.” This “Summary” will be so carefully controlled by the CIA, i.e., by the very agency the SSCI is supposed to be overseeing, that, as Jason Leopold revealed the other day, it will not even name key personnel like James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.

    But behind the hullaballoo over the CIA fight with Feinstein and her committee over the Executive Summary is the primary fact that the SSCI has suppressed its own report. Feinstein has said there is no planned release of the actual report itself, even though the mainstream press continues to treat the fight over censorship in the Executive Summary as a fight over the report itself. No, there is no fight over the main report. George Tenet’s former employers do not threaten the CIA with that.

    This is not the first time Congress has suppressed a report on the CIA. In 1976, Congress voted to suppress the House Select Committee on Intelligence’s Pike Report. A sampling of the report’s conclusions may help one understand why.

    “If this Committee’s recent experience is any test,” the Pike report concludes, “intelligence agencies that are to be controlled by Congressional lawmaking are, today, beyond the lawmaker’s scrutiny.”

    This was said even after the Committee had spent many months gathering a great deal of evidence (some of which today can be accessed here).

    The Pike Report was suppressed by Congress after it was completed and after the CIA complained. It was never officially released to the United States citizens who paid for it. The late Daniel Schorr famously released a leaked copy to the Village Voice, which published it to great fanfare. Schorr was castigated, and his career and liberty temporarily threatened.

    The history of what was in the Pike Report has mainly been ignored and forgotten, which is what happens when political history is suppressed.

    Could the CIA have learned from this that to keep matters under control that one of their own should be well-placed inside the very oversight instruments of Congress itself? Could this have been George Tenet’s role from his very first day working for SSCI?

    I have no evidence that is the case, but there is sufficient circumstantial evidence to present to at least ask the question.

    Here’s another question, though no one — and ponder that “no one” a bit — no one has asked Senator Feinstein and her committee why they are not releasing the full report. The taxpayers paid for it. The crimes ostensibly investigated therein constitute among the most heinous possible, being torture and murder by torture, ordered by the Chief Executive of the land.

    Why is the SSCI acting as an agent of cover-up? If the Congress cannot do their job of oversight, what options are left for civil society?

    • P J Evans says:

      If this were any other institution, there would be an outcry, or a least some raised eyebrows, over this revolving door between IC regulators and the IC itself.

      This is actually very common: regulatees become regulators, and then retire to nice jobs at the places they regulated. (See PG&E and the California PUC, for another excellent example of this revolving door. And then you start to understand how PG&E has stayed in business even though they’ve been violating regulations for decades.)

      • Jeff Kaye says:

        Yes, it is common, as you say. However, it is also common for people and journalists to raise questions about this very thing. Bills are proposed in legislatures putting forth reforms (often defeated or watered-down). — My point is that when it comes to the IC and Congressional oversight committees, there is not even a hint of such protest or attempt at reform. Instead, the Pike Committee’s conclusions stand as an epitaph on the project from its era of establishing functioning oversight.

        • P J Evans says:

          About all we can do is not vote for the people who can’t (or won’t) do the job they’re supposed to do. And try to get better candidates next time. (I’m tired, tired, tired of GOP-Lite running as Democrats, including our current Pres and the wanna-bes. If I’d wanted to be a Republican, I’d have registered as one.)

    • wallace says:

      quote “If this Committee’s recent experience is any test,” the Pike report concludes, “intelligence agencies that are to be controlled by Congressional lawmaking are, today, beyond the lawmaker’s scrutiny.” unquote

      I swear to god, no one gets it. The CIA ARE the government. Even then, they knew it. I mean, what other rational conclusion can one make, especially given…

      quote”Why is the SSCI acting as an agent of cover-up? If the Congress cannot do their job of oversight, what options are left for civil society?”unquote

      Why????I’m sorry, but I’m going to say this for the last time. READ the fucking Central Intelligence Act of 1947. If that doesn’t give you a’re wasting your time trying to figure this shit out. In essence..Truman handed over the keys of REAL power to the CIA. Eisenhower knew it. After all..look what has happened since. Even after the Church committee tried to rein in the CIA/NSA…LOOK WHAT THEY DID! They simply stuck their middle finger in the air and did what the fuck ever they wanted. And NO ONE CAN STOP THEM. Period. End of story.
      And now, who…and I am serious..given your statement..WHO CAN STOP THEM???

      Look..I’ve tried over and over and put the truth out here. JAMES GARRISON had it nailed by 1967…

      1967 interview of Jim Garrison, District Attorney of New Orleans, who tried to prosecute one of the conspirators in the coup d’etat of November 22, 1963:
      “PLAYBOY: Many of the professional critics of the Warren Commission appear to be prompted by political motives: Those on the left are anxious to prove Kennedy was murdered by a conspiracy within the establishment; and those on the right are eager to prove the assassination was an act of “the international Communist conspiracy.” Where would you place yourself on the political spectrum — right, left of center?

      GARRISON: That’s a question I’ve asked myself frequently, especially since this investigation started and I found myself in an incongruous and disillusioning battle with agencies of my own Government. I can’t just sit down and add up my political beliefs like a mathematical sum, but I think, in balance, I’d turn up somewhere around the middle. Over the years, I guess I’ve developed a somewhat conservative attitude — in the traditional libertarian sense of conservatism, as opposed to the thumbscrew-and-rack conservatism of the paramilitary right — particularly in regard to the importance of the individual as opposed to the state and the individual’s own responsibilities to humanity. I don’t think I’ve ever tried to formulate this into a coherent political philosophy, but at the root of my concern is the conviction that a human being is not a digit; he’s not a digit in regard to the state and he’s not a digit in the sense that he can ignore his fellow men and his obligations to society. I was with the artillery supporting the division that took Dachau; I arrived there the day after it was taken, when bulldozers were making pyramids of human bodies outside the camp. What I saw there has haunted me ever since. Because the law is my profession, I’ve always wondered about the judges throughout Germany who sentenced men to jail for picking pockets at a time when their own government was jerking gold from the teeth of men murdered in gas chambers. I’m concerned about all of this because it isn’t a German phenomenon; it’s a human phenomenon. It can happen here, because there has been no change and there has been no progress and there has been no increase of understanding on the part of men for their fellow man. What worries me deeply, and I have seen it exemplified in this case, is that we in America are in great danger of slowly evolving into a proto-fascist state. It will be a different kind of fascist state from the one of the Germans evolved; theirs grew out of depression and promised bread and work, while ours, curiously enough, seems to be emerging from prosperity. But in the final analysis, it’s based on power and on the inability to put human goals and human conscience above the dictates of the state. Its origins can be traced in the tremendous war machine we’ve built since 1945, the “military-industrial complex” that Eisenhower vainly warned us about, which now dominates every aspect of our life. The power of the states and Congress has gradually been abandoned to the Executive Department, because of war conditions; and we’ve seen the creation of an arrogant, swollen bureaucratic complex totally unfettered by the checks and balances of the Constitution. In a very real and terrifying sense, our Government is the CIA and the Pentagon, with Congress reduced to a debating society. Of course, you can’t spot this trend to fascism by casually looking around. You can’t look for such familiar signs as the swastika, because they won’t be there. We won’t build Dachaus and Auschwitzes; the clever manipulation of the mass media is creating a concentration camp of the mind that promises to be far more effective in keeping the populace in line. We’re not going to wake up one morning and suddenly find ourselves in gray uniforms goose-stepping off to work. But this isn’t the test. The test is: What happens to the individual who dissents? In Nazi Germany, he was physically destroyed; here, the process is more subtle, but the end results can be the same. I’ve learned enough about the machinations of the CIA in the past year to know that this is no longer the dreamworld America I once believed in. The imperatives of the population explosion, which almost inevitably will lessen our belief in the sanctity of the individual human life, combined with the awesome power of the CIA and the defense establishment, seem destined to seal the fate of the America I knew as a child and bring us into a new Orwellian world where the citizen exists for the state and where raw power justifies any and every immoral act. I’ve always had a kind of knee-jerk trust in my Government’s basic integrity, whatever political blunders it may make. But I’ve come to realize that in Washington, deceiving and manipulating the public are viewed by some as the natural prerogatives of office. Huey Long once said, “Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism.” I’m afraid, based on my own experience, that fascism will come to America in the name of national security.” unquote

      I rest my case. In real terms..without a drop of blood..we suffered a coup d’etat, no if’s, and’s or butts. All you have to do is take the red pill. Or simply open your eyes.

      • wallace says:

        quote”I rest my case. In real terms..without a drop of blood..we suffered a coup d’etat,”unquote

        Let me rephrase that. In real terms, the CIA created an Orwellian world of torture and murder, has overthrown governments, spied on the entire planet, including our own domestic citizens, built a massive corporate and financial infrastructure while running amok across the face of this planet running drugs, money, weapons, aircraft, and god only knows what else, while our Congress sits shaking in fear of even opening their pathetic mouth in case their own pathetic lives are tossed on the microscopic scrutiny of world wide media. As to blood..they’ve spilled an ocean full of blood. In essence, these sub-human psychopaths are the posterchild of evil. PERIOD. Now excuse me while I puke.

  4. What Constitution? says:

    So, like, does this mean torture worked? I mean, look at the colossal infrastructure, look at the comprehensiveness, look at what the War on Terra hath wrought — and it ties to secret references to demonstrably unsupported speculation grounded in “Bad Guys probably don’t like us” with an overlay of “we tortured some Bad Guys and it’s clear they don’t like us”.

    Ten years, billions of dollars and the implementation of a surveillance state that we are fighting first just to understand, let alone getting to a point of formulating an effective effort to wind down — and this is what we’re shown was the state of the thought processes that presumed the right thing to do was secretly destroy our Constitutional liberties?

    Thanks, Marcy. Again.

  5. Joanne Leon says:

    I think I got an answer to this question once before, apologies for that, but I can’t remember who the main actors are in KSA. Which prince is Brennan most allied with? Is it Bandar or a competitor of Bandars?

  6. wallace says:

    One more thing…
    quote”Why is the SSCI acting as an agent of cover-up? “unquote

    The answer is so simple even a moron can figure it out. BECAUSE..if they DID release it..they know.. the United States Government , THEMSELVES included, will forever be known as ..

    WAR CRIMINALS. stop. end of story.

  7. Helsinki Encore says:

    “If the Congress cannot do their job of oversight, what options are left for civil society?”

    Sure, congress is gelded, the US has no independent judiciary, and elections are carefully managed for public futility.
    The closest thing to legitimate authorities you have are in Geneva. Committee Against Torture meets in November:

    Treaty bodies, charter bodies and special procedures are systematically delegitimating the US government.

    When a regime degenerates to this point, the only option is to go over its head to the world. Your institutions and authorities are out there banging on the door. All civil society has to do is let them in.

  8. Nell says:

    The Brennan-written scary memo as analyzed in this excellent post is an apt example of something I wrote about several years ago:

    :: Torture is designed to … serve the goals of limitless, lawless “war”: to humiliate and break opponents, to divide them from supporters, to terrify those not actively in opposition into staying inactive, and, most importantly, to justify the operations of the dirty war within which torture takes place: commando raids, assassinations, spying, kidnaping, secret and/or indefinite (and unreviewable) detention, and further torture. ::

    @Jeff Kaye: I can’t believe I’m just now learning that Brennan was the staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. And now that I know that, I wonder why I ever thought the committee might release the full torture report.
    (And thanks again for your valuable and cogent comments on my long-ago post!)

    • bevin says:

      ” I can’t believe I’m just now learning that Brennan was the staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.’
      Not Brennan, Tenet.

  9. x174 says:

    exquisite and grueling work. thanks, mt, for your tireless efforts at piecing together the banality of this third rate farce.

    those in charge of us intel are nothing lowlife dirtbags.

    the glamour of American intelligence had faded to a cowardly slime green.

    i’m glad you’re on our side.

Comments are closed.