CIA Finally Declassifies “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification Reference

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Back in 2012, I wrote a series of posts on the Obama Administration’s extraordinary efforts to censor this title. (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4, post 5, post 6post 7, post 8)

The title was part of some smart CYA on the part of George Tenet. When things started to go south with the torture program in 2003, he wrote this document, ostensibly putting order to the torture program, but also making it clear the whole thing operated on Presidential authority. (The document, which should have been released to David Passaro in his criminal trial for torturing a detainee who subsequently died, was withheld, which prevented him from pointing out anything he did, he did with Presidential approval, so Tenet’s CYA didn’t help him at all.)

The judge in ACLU’s lawsuit to liberate torture documents, Alvin Hellerstein, decided the language should not be censored, and ordered the government release it. Then National Security Advisor Jim Jones wrote a secret declaration stating that it could not be disclosed. All the while, ACLU thought they were fighting to release a description of waterboarding, when in fact Hellerstein was trying to force the Administration to release the single detail that torture had been done on the President’s order.

But the Second Circuit overruled Hellerstein, declaring these 8 words a source and method (for the record, I guessed exactly what was behind the redaction so their secret was only useful for legal challenges).

That the torture program operated pursuant to a Finding (that is, as a covert op) had long been known thanks to blabby CIA types like John Rizzo. But it was formally declassified as part of the Torture Report. It got released today as part of a Jason Leopold lawsuit.

So there you have it. “Presidential Memorandum of Notification of 17 September 2001.” A secret Obama fought to the circuit court, now public for all the world to see.

It doesn’t feel so momentous, does it?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. galljdaj says:

    it seems to me it s proof the lil bush gang are all war criminals and owe a trip to the ICC

  2. Evangelista says:

    “It doesn’t feel so momentous, does it?”

    Probably the best person to ask this question would be david Passaro.

    If the question was asked of me, today, in 2016, my answer would be “No; None of the allegation in the Passaro case seems anything but pretty much normal current United States of America Police Procedure. Except there is no evidence of a high-tech TAZER, cattle-prod-with-a-20-foot-range, being used in the torture of Wali. I don’t know that American Cops would know what to do without their ‘make-’em-dance-on-a-wire’ tool of the trade.

    As for lying officials, prevaricating court personnel and legal game playing and bullshitting representatives of ‘ha-ha-“justice”-hee-hee,’ when was the last time that was new enough in the United States to make a gasp of outrage sound more than stagey? Sacco-Vanzetti?
    .
    If I may ask without being mistaken for a hack Republican Party flack, Isn’t it maybe about time to send the Mexican-style “Justice” and “Justice System” back to Mexico, and wall it off there?

    (P.S.
    The kind of “walling off” our current system appears to have come to the point of needing is the kind seen in that famous Goya painting showing the Spanish lawyer before the French jury with an arm raised and, lawyer-like, getting in the last word…)

  3. EH says:

    I see this as part and parcel to Cheney’s “make me do it” philosophy. They will protect to the death (or appeals court) every layer that encircles problematic orders.

  4. pdaly says:

    Reading here at emptywheel.net has always been an experience of seeing the news YEARS before hearing the same “news” elsewhere.
    .
    Any reaction from former U.S. Rep from California Jane Harman?
    .
    Is the CIA the classifying agency after all for the MON reference? and not the National Security Council? Remember the Executive’s legal argument that CIA spokesperson’s earlier reference to a Presidential directive was not an ‘official disclosure’ –implying that the CIA didn’t have the authority to declassify?
    .
    Are the presidential candidates (Clinton, Sanders, Trump) going to field questions about the Gloves Come Off MON? Do they plan to keep Bush Jr on the hook for it? Or do they plan to write their own MON or new Finding?

    • Jeffrey Kaye says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard a peep of criticism of the CIA from Clinton or Trump. Actually, Clinton was apparently involved in approving CIA drone killings! Sanders is lukewarm, scaling himself way back from, say… 1974.

      Sanders: I No Longer Want To Abolish The CIA, But “I Have A Lot Of Problems” With Their Activities

      February 24, 2016

      Sanders: I No Longer Want To Abolish The CIA, But “I Have A Lot Of Problems” With Their Activities

      CHRIS CUOMO, CNN: All right. So, now I know this was a while ago, but it has been reported that in 1974 you said the CIA is a dangerous institution that has “got to go.” You went on to say the CIA was accountable to no one except “right-wing lunatics who use it to prop up fascist dictatorships.”

      Do you stand by those comments that you said back then?

      SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: No, I don’t.

      That was 40 years ago.

      Since then I’ve served as eight years as mayor of the city of Burlington. I spent 16 years in the House and nine years in the United States Senate.

      But let me tell you this, I do have concerns about past activities of the CIA. CIA was involved in the overthrow of a gentleman named Mohammad Mosaddegh way back when in Iran, overthrew him on behalf of British oil.

      And you know what happened? That led to the Iranian Revolution and we are where we are today.

      The CIA was involved in the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile, a democratic candidate, he won a fair election, the CIA overthrew him.

      So I have a lot problems with some parts of our history, which continues, by the way, to the present.

      CUOMO: But the institution itself of the CIA?

      SANDERS: Oh, the CIA plays an important role. But have they done things which they should not have done on behalf of the United States government? Absolutely.

      http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2016/02/24/sanders_i_no_longer_want_to_abolish_the_cia_but_i_have_a_lot_of_problems_with_their_activities.html

      • pdaly says:

        Thanks for the link.
        Hoping the question is constantly posed during the run up to the presidential election. Even a ‘no comment’ or ‘undecided’ answer would be entertaining.

  5. jasmine311 says:

    The first time I clicked on the document from Tenet it came up, but subsequently it won’t come up–just a lot of symbols–it’s in some weird code.

  6. Jeffrey Kaye says:

    I don’t know that this answers the question as to how the torture program got authorized. According to a newly unredacted portion of the IG report (p. 11):

    “The 17 September 2001 MON [approx. one line redacted] authorizes the DCI, acting though CIA, to undertake operations ‘designed to capture and detain persons who pose a continuing, serious threat of violence or death to U.S. persons and interests or who are planning terrorist activities.’ Although the MON does not specifically mention interrogations of those detained, this aspect of the CTC Program can be justified as part of CIA’s general authority and responsibility to collect intelligence.

    “The DCI delegated responsibility for implementation of the MON to the DDO and D/CTC. Over time, CTC also solicited assistance from other Agency components, including OGC, OMS, OS, and OTS.”

    — So I read this as the MON authorizing the detention and rendition program, but not the “EIT” torture program. CIA seems to have fashioned that on its own. Hence Bush never ordered torture. CIA undertook that on its own, and once Bush and NSC “principals” were briefed, retroactive approval was given.

    Do you see things in the same way? If true, it shows that CIA is the wild elephant in the room once again, and not the pure servant of the executive branch it claims to be.

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