The Problem with Equating Travel Routes and Terrorism: 34 Dead Civilians

A few weeks back, Seton Hall published a report showing that since the DC Circuit reversed the habeas petition of Mohammed al-Adahi, “the practice of careful judicial fact-finding was replaced by judicial deference to the government’s allegations. Now the government wins every petition.” The report traced a number of factors that, before al-Adahi, judges examined with some skepticism, but after, fairly regularly accepted as evidence that a detainee was a member of al Qaeda.

Among those factors were staying in certain guest houses and traveling a particular route that–the government effectively claimed–meant you were a terrorist. Thus, it no longer mattered whether you had fought for al Qaeda. In the absence of more direct evidence, the government argued that where you traveled was one piece of evidence that you should be detained as a terrorist.

Tellingly, while the government has a declaration they routinely submit in Gitmo cases on the significance of guest houses to al Qaeda, they have not (as far as I know) ever submitted a similar declaration providing evidence for a tie between travel routes and al Qaeda membership (the closest they have is a report on Tora Bora which seems to argue “if you were in this vicinity you must have been in Tora Bora and, Osama bin Laden!”). In fact, that’s part of what infuriated David Tatel in the Latif case–the way the majority opinion simply accepted the government’s evidence about Latif’s travel back to Pakistan–where hundreds of innocent of Arabs were picked up at the time–as corroboration for the error-ridden report the government submitted as its main proof that Latif could be detained.

Latif left Kabul in November 2001 and then traveled through Jalalabad before eventually arriving at the Pakistani border where Pakistani authorities detained him. According to the government, this path mirrors that of Taliban soldiers retreating from Kabul. Although not contending that this evidence is dispositive, the government argues that because Latif’s admitted route is consistent with that of Taliban soldiers and with information in the Report, it is a helpful piece in the puzzle, bolstering its claim that the Report’s inculpatory statements are accurate.

Fair enough, but how helpful? If this route is commonly used by innocent civilians, then the evidence is not that helpful at all. To understand why, consider a simple hypothetical. Suppose the government were to argue in a drug case that the defendant drove north from Miami along I-95, “a known drug route.” Familiar with I-95, we would surely respond that many thousands of non-drug traffickers take that route as well. Given what we know about our own society, the I-95 inference would be too weak even to mention. Cf Almerfedi, 2011 WL 2277607, at *4 n.7 (noting that some conduct such as possessing an AK-47 is so “commonplace in Afghanistan [that it] does not meaningfully distinguish an al Qaeda associate from an innocent civilian”). On the other hand, if the alleged drug trafficker had driven along an infrequently traveled country road, then a contention that that road was “a known drug route” would carry more weight. The burden of proof is on the government to demonstrate whether travel on a particular route to the Pakistani border, when considered in context, is mqre like the lonely country road and thus worthy of consideration when it comes to distinguishing between enemy combatants and innocent civilians.

I raise all this not just to point you to the Seton Hall report, which is well worth your time. But because today, SCOTUS will decide whether or not to accept two cases–Latif and Uthman–in which these issues are central (we won’t find out whether they’ll take the cases until Monday).

And because of this WSJ report, showing the tragic result of assuming that travel patterns must be indicative of terror ties: 34 dead civilians, targeted by Turkish warplanes after a US drone spotted a caravan of Kurdish smugglers using a route frequented by PKK guerrillas.

Above and out of sight, a U.S. Predator drone loitered. It was on a routine patrol when U.S. personnel monitoring its video feeds spotted the caravan just inside Iraq and moving toward the Turkish border, according to U.S. officials and the Pentagon’s assessment of the fatal strike.

U.S. military officers at the Fusion Cell in Ankara couldn’t tell whether the men, bundled in heavy jackets, were civilians or guerrilla fighters. But their location in an area frequented by guerrilla fighters raised suspicions. The Americans alerted their Turkish counterparts.

[snip]

Then Turkish warplanes appeared. “It was like a lightning bolt,” Mr. Encu said. “I saw a bright light and the force of the explosion threw me to the ground…When I turned my head I could see bodies on fire and some were missing their heads.”

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The Government Continues to Play Redaction Games with Latif

I’ve now read all the documents the government issued and reissued on April 30 in some detail (District Court Opinion; Circuit Opinion; Cert Petition; Government Response; Latif Reply). As I’ve noted, in addition to releasing their own response to Adnan Farhan Abd al Latif’s cert petition, the government also released less-redacted versions of the previous filings in the case.

As it turns out, the government primarily released a lot of stuff that would make Janice Rogers Brown’s opinion look less batshit crazy, if you ignore that they had been hiding her Wizard of Oz analogy in the name of national security. For example, it released information making it clear that all the government’s data on whether Latif is married or not is inconsistent, which of course is all blamed on Latif.

The ploy seems to have worked; Ben Wittes, who seems unconcerned that three reports on Latif (his DOD intake form and two conflicting reports from the same interview at Gitmo) prove that such intelligence reports cannot practically be afforded the presumption of regularity without the government’s own case files–and frankly, their case here–falling apart, now thinks “Judge Brown’s reading of [the evidence against Latif] strikes me as very likely preferable to the one the district court adopted.”

That said, with the newly released information, I’m increasingly convinced they’re using the redaction process not to protect national security, but to cheat.

The redactions get worse to make it harder to find problems with the government’s recruiter story

There are a few examples where in this round, the government has actually redacted more information on the second round–mostly information on Ibrahm al-Alawi starting on page 10 in the District Court opinion (compare the “less redacted version” with the original release). Since this stuff is all already available in other documents, this mostly amounts to pettiness, but it does serve to hide a central part of the government’s argument. They claim the similarities between Latif’s story about the charity worker Ibrahim al-Alawi and the known al Qaeda recruiter Ibrahim Balawi (who is usually called Abu Khalud) provides corroboration for the government’s story. Yet none of the eight or so detainees recruited by Abu Khalud IDed Latif. And–as I hope to show–the records on these other detainees suggest they should have been able to, if Abu Khalud and al-Alawi were really the same guy. In other words, while this redaction doesn’t limit the amount of information out there, it does make it harder for people to quickly see how flimsy one crucial part of the government’s argument is.

Adding half a line in the redaction process

More curious appears on page 1 (PDF 68) of the Tatel’s opinion. There appear to be about half a line-which is redacted–that has been added to the third and fourth line of the opinion. As a result, Tatel’s reference to “(the Report)” is shifted onto the next line and the alignment of the entire rest of the paragraph changes.

Here’s the original release:

And here’s the latest release:

Now, the space is about what a reference to the document name–TD-314/00684-02–would take up on the line. Maybe they’ve simply added that. But still, what’s the protocol for just adding something into the record just before SCOTUS reviews it? Did Tatel approve this addition?

Hiding Latif’s explanations for how TD-314/00684-02 implicated him

There’s another apparent redaction that–if I’m right about its content–serves to prevent us from seeing a thoroughly unclassified but nevertheless critical part of Latif’s (or perhaps just David Tatel’s) argument. There are repeated discussions of Latif’s theory for how TD-314/00684-02 got so screwed up as to implicate him in fighting for the Taliban. Kennedy discusses it at 14–though almost all the explanations remain redacted. Rogers Brown summarizes these at 4, though one clause remains redacted.

But Latif says his statements were misunderstood or, alternatively, [redacted] were misattributed to him.

There’s a long discussion on 26 in Rogers Brown and on 24-25 (PDF 92-93) in Tatel. All of these have been newly released in significant part. Except for a key part of Tatel’s argument.

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Abu Zubaydah to DOD: Charge Me Now!

Abu Zubaydah’s legal team just wrote the Convening Authority for the Military Commissions demanding that it charge Zubaydah.

This letter requests that the Convening Authority immediately commence proceedings against our client, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn (abu Zubaydah), ISN # 10016. Failure to act would raise serious questions about the integrity and legitimacy of the Convening Authority and, indeed, of the whole process established to try or release Guantanamo detainees.

[snip]

Nearly six years ago, President Bush announced that abu Zubaydah and thirteen other so-called high-value detainees were to be tried by a military commission:

So I’m announcing today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and 11 other terrorists in CIA custody have been transferred to the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. They are being held in the custody of the Department of Defense. As soon as Congress acts to authorize the military commissions I have proposed, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on September the 11th, 2001, can face justice. (Cheers, applause)….
With these prosecutions, we will send a clear message to those who kill Americans: No matter how long it takes, we will find you and we will bring you to justice. (Emphasis added)

It’s an interesting legal tactic. If the Convening Authority doesn’t charge AZ, it will surely present a Constitutional challenge on speedy trial grounds. But, as the letter makes clear, any charge would fall far short of the claims made about AZ over the last decade.

Furthermore, if the CA doesn’t respond here, then the letter’s predictions of a lost legitimacy may well bear out.

Abu Zubaydah has not been tried, has not been charged, and has not even had military commission counsel assigned to him. He has requested the appointment of military commission counsel repeatedly but has received no response. This overt failure to prosecute a supposed terrorist leader causes the world to wonder why. One possibility is that the claims, despite their number and decibel level, are simply untrue, so that the government cannot prove all (or any) of them. A second possibility is that the prosecution would be successful but only at the unacceptable cost of exposing the government to worldwide censure for the manner in which Zubaydah was treated and the evidence against him was obtained. The third possibility, worst of all, is both that the claims are not true and that his treatment is too shameful to be revealed to the world.

Curiously, the letter mentions the Bush Administration’s efforts to destroy Phillip Zelikow’s dissent on the OLC memos. It describes that as “spoilation of evidence. But it doesn’t describe the spoilation of the other big piece of evidence (and likely one of the main reasons the government can’t charge AZ, in addition to his mental stability): the torture tapes.

In any case, it’s a very interesting approach and one that, if successful, I’d expect more detainees (particularly Mohammed al-Qahtani) to try.

DOD: Consider Whether We’ve Made Detainees Crazy in Periodical Review

Section 1023 of the Defense Authorization mandated that the Administration tell Congress how it was implementing Obama’s Executive Order providing periodic review of Gitmo detainees’ continued need to be detained.

SEC. 1023. PROCEDURES FOR PERIODIC DETENTION REVIEW OF INDIVIDUALS DETAINED AT UNITED STATES NAVAL STATION, GUANTANAMO BAY, CUBA.

(a) PROCEDURES REQUIRED.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the appropriate committees of Congress a report setting forth procedures for implementing the periodic review process required by Executive Order No. 13567 for individuals detained at United States Naval Station, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107–40; 50 U.S.C. 1541 note).

Here’s the directive complying with that requirement.

I’ll have plenty to say about it. But for the moment, I got hung up on this:

3. STANDARD. Continued law of war detention is warranted for a detainee subject to periodic review if such detention is necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States. In making that assessment, the PRB may review all relevant materials including information from the final Task Force assessments produced pursuant to Reference (k); the work product of a prior PRB; or any relevant intelligence produced subsequent to either. Application of this standard is specifically not intended to require a re-examination of the underlying materials that supported the work products of either Reference (k) or a prior PRB and is not intended to create a requirement that each PRB conduct a zero-based review of all original source materials concerning a detainee. In assessing whether a detainee continues to meet this standard, the PRB may consider:

[snip]

(6) The detainee’s physical and psychological condition.

We know, of course, that there are a number of people at Gitmo–starting with Abu Zubaydah and Mohammed al-Qahtani–we’ve driven completely insane with our torture and abuse, who we can’t try but also can’t release (not that we’d release either of these two anyway).

But this seems to be a tacit admission that we won’t release people we’ve driven crazy. Because, Freedom!, I guess. So are we now saying that because our treatment has made them insane we will now use that as reason to keep them in custody?

Though maybe once these guys get to be so old they’re having health problems, maybe then we’ll finally release them.

What If the Biggest Risk ISN’T Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Giving Speeches?

The guy who covered up CIA’s torture, Jose Rodriguez, worries that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed might give a speech during the course of his military commission.

Although he acted defiantly in court, Rodriguez said KSM would like nothing more than a forum to preach radical Islam.

“This is a process that will continue for a long time,” Rodriguez said. “I have heard he may plead not guilty, and if he does, he’ll use the [legal] process as his platform . . . to talk about his jihadist beliefs.”

[snip]

“It seemed to us that he was looking for a platform from which he could spout his hatred for all things American, and a trial would certainly present that opportunity,” Rodriguez writes. “It strikes me as more than a little ironic that several years later, Attorney General Eric Holder almost granted KSM his wish.”

Ironically, Rupert’s rag decided to plug these Rodriguez fears the day after KSM and his co-defendants tied up the military commission in knots not by speaking, but by remaining silent.

Judge [James] Pohl turns to Mohammed’s attorneys and his right to counsel. Mr. Mohammed, he says, pursuant to the Manual for Military Commissions, you are today represented by two military lawyers, Derek Poteet and Jason Wright, your detailed counsel. Do you understand this?

There’s a pause – the first of many, as we’ll soon see – as the court and counsel wait for the defendant’s responds.  KSM doesn’t give one, and Judge Pohl notes as much. Very well, he continues, detailed counsel will be provided to you.

No response.

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Going to Jihad with the Medical Records You Have, Not the Jihad Fighters You Might Want

I want to apologize to Janice Rogers Brown. In this post, I suggested she agreed with the argument the government used to dismiss evidence that corroborated Adnan Farhan Abd al Latif’s explanation for why he traveled to Afghanistan.

As I explained, Latif’s US intake form recorded that he had medical records with him when he was taken into US custody. Both David Tatel and Henry Kennedy found those records to corroborate the story Latif has told for a decade about why he traveled to Afghanistan: he was seeking affordable medical care to treat a head injury he had sustained in 1994. The government, however, dismissed the indication that Latif had medical records with him, suggesting that the notation provided “evidence only that Latif said he had medical records with him at the time he was seized rather than that he in fact had them.”

The government, at the same time as arguing that a report of an interrogation conducted in Pakistani custody should be afforded a presumption of regularity, was arguing that the solider that filled out Latif’s US intake form was not following the procedure laid out in the Army Field Manual. It was, in short, arguing that a Pakistani intake report should be presumed regular, but not a US military intake report.

I mistakenly assumed Rogers Brown must have accepted the government’s argument that Pakistani intake reports should be afforded the presumption of regularity but not US intake reports.

But as a newly declassified passage makes clear, that’s not what Rogers Brown did. Instead, she accepted Judge Kennedy’s treatment of the intake report as regular, but argued that the detail that Latif had medical records with him when captured reinforced her own argument that the Pakistani intake report should be presumed to be regular.

“[T]he reliability of evidence can be determined not only by looking at the evidence alone but, alternatively, by considering sufficient additional information permitting the factfinder to assess its reliability.” Bensayah v. Obama, 610 F.3d 718, 725-26 (D.C. Cir. 2010). The only piece of extrinsic evidence the district court relied on does nothing to weaken the presumption of regularity. The district court found Latif was captured with medical records in his possession. based on a government document’s statement to that effect. . The record contains a medical benefits referral from Yemen’s Ministry of Defense, a “medical report” from a Jordanian Hospital confirming that Latif was admitted in 1994 for a “head injury,” and a report from Yemen’s Ministry of Public Health recommending in 1999 that Latif pursue further treatment at his own expense. This evidence corroborates Latif’s assertions about his medical condition and incidentally corroborates the Report’s description of his medical trip to Jordan-but it does nothing to undermine the reliability of the Report. The Government is tasked with proving Latif was part of the Taliban or otherwise detainable-not disproving Latif’s asserted medical condition. There· is no inconsistency between Latif’s claim that Ibrahim promised him medical treatment and the Report’s statement that Ibrahim recruited him for jihad. Both may be true. For example, Ibrahim could have promised Latif the medical treatment he needed to induce him join the Taliban.

That was awfully nice of Judge Rogers Brown, to fix the fundamental flaw in the government’s argument about presumption of regularity (that is, that they weren’t even affording their own documents the presumption of regularity).

But that makes Rogers Brown’s Wizard of Oz tale even more fantastic. She argues that because some witch–posing as a good witch, no doubt–told Latif he could find a new head from a wizard in Afghanistan, and because Latif went there with medical records in tow to meet that wizard, and according to a report she finds credible never once fired a shot, that constitutes proof that our poor Tin Yemeni Man in search of an uninjured brain was a member of the Taliban.

Beware, America. Because not only did Rogers Brown’s decision permit the government to detain anyone based on any intelligence report they can conjure up, regardless of how obviously unreliable. But she has also equated searching for medical care with terrorism.

Confirmed: The Government Is Blowing Up Habeas with an Interrogation Report Involving Pakistan

In addition to declassifying the analogies to the Wizard of Oz Janice Rogers Brown made in her opinion on Adnan Farhan Abd Al Latif’s habeas petition, the government also declassified passages from the Latif cert petition.

Newly declassified passages make it clear the report in question is TD-314/00684-02

Among the passages newly declassified is this paragraph from the document at the heart of the Latif case.

History: Subject met Ibrahim Al-((‘Alawi)) from Ibb during 2000. ‘Alawai talked about jihad and Afghanistan and convinced subject that he should travel to Afghanistan. Subject did not know if ‘Alawi had actually participated in any jihad activity himself. Subject departed home in early August 2001, travelled by car to San’a, then by airplane to Karachi. He took a taxi to Quetta, then crossed into Qandahar where he went to the grand mosque, where he met ‘Alawi. He went to ‘Alawi’s house, where he remained for three days. ‘Alawi owned a taxi in Qandahar, and had his family with· him. ‘Alawi took him to the Taliban, who gave him weapons training and put him on the front line facing the Northern Alliance north of Kabul. He remained there, under the command of Afghan leader ((Abu Fazl)), until Taliban troops retreated and Kabul fell. Subject claimed he saw a lot of people killed during the bombings, but never fired a shot. He went to Jalalabad, then crossed into Pakistan with fleeing Arabs, guided by an Afghan named Taqi ((AIlah)). While he was with the Taliban, he encountered ((Abu Hudayfa)) the Kuwaiti, ((Abu Hafs)) the Saudi, and ((Abu Bakr)) from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) or Bahrain.

By comparing that paragraph with the parts of Latif’s Gitmo file sourced to TD-314/00684-02, we can be virtually certain that the document at issue is, in fact, TD-314/00684-02. (Each sentence below is followed by the page on which it appears in Latif’s Gitmo file.)

Detainee admitted Ibrahim Aliwee convinced detainee to travel to Afghanistan for jihad and admitted staying at Abu Khulud’s residence for a short period in Kandahar. (5) Detainee admitted receiving weapons training from the Taliban and then fighting in support of the Taliban on the front lines. Detainee remained there until the Taliban retreated and Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance. (6)

Detainee admitted after training he was sent to the front lines north of Kabul. Detainee remained there until the Taliban retreated and Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance. (6-7) Detainee claimed he saw a lot of people killed during the bombings, but never fired a shot. (3) Detainee then traveled to Jalalabad, AF, and crossed into Pakistan with fleeing Arabs, guided by Taqi Allah. (3) While detainee was with the Taliban, he encountered Abu Hudayfa the Kuwaiti; Abu Hafs the Saudi, and Abu Bakr from the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain. (3)

The last two sentences, in particular, make the match particularly clear, given that those details were newly added to Latif’s Gitmo file from TD-314/00684-02 in 2008. Also note, the only major claim in the paragraph above not clearly sourced to TD-314/00684-02 in Latif’s file–“He remained there, under the command of Afghan leader ((Abu Fazl)), until Taliban troops retreated and Kabul fell”–appears this way in Latif’s Gitmo file without clear attribution but in a paragraph otherwise sourced to TD-314/00684-02:

He remained in Kabul under the command of Afghan leader Abu Fazl, until Taliban troops retreated and Kabul fell.

All of this makes it virtually certain that the report in question is TD-314/00684-02.

Newly declassified passages also show that the interrogation in question happened while Latif was in Pakistani custody

We can also show with a high degree of certainty that the interrogation in question happened while Latif was still in Pakistani custody.

This sentence, from page 10 of the cert petition, makes it fairly clear that the interrogation, if not the document itself, dates to December 2001 (the CIA file has a 2002 date, so it probably wasn’t drafted until the following month).

 The government’s case was “primarily based” on a single document, created [~1 word redacted] in late December 2001 [3-4 words redacted].

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Janice Rogers Brown Sings “Follow the Yellow Brick Road” as She Guts Habeas

The government has released a new version of the DC Circuit opinion in the Latif case. (Via DC Circuit Review h/t scribe)

I suppose it should comfort us that the government no longer considers this passage from Janice Rogers Brown’s opinion to be classified. [I’ve underlined the bits the government previously claimed were classified; see PDF 39-40 to compare.]

What makes Latif’s current story so hard to swallow is not its intrinsic implausibility but its correspondence in so many respects with the Report he now repudiates. Like Dorothy Gale upon awakening at home in Kansas after her fantastic journey to the Land of Oz, Latif’s current account of what transpired bears a striking resemblance to the familiar faces of his former narrative. See THE WIZARD OF Oz (MGM 1939). Just as the Gales’ farmhands were transformed by Dorothy’s imagination into the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, it is at least plausible that Latif, when his liberty was at stake, transformed his jihadi recruiter into a charity worker, his Taliban commander into an imam, his comrades-in-arms into roommates, and his military training camp into a center for religious study.

Though it raises real questions why it was classified in the first place. Really? Our government classified a Wizard of Oz analogy! And it wonders why we doubt the men behind the curtain.

And a good thing they released it, too. It makes Rogers Brown’s comment earlier in the opinion analogizing Dorothy’s Uncle Henry to Judge Henry Kennedy look every bit as disrespectful as it did in the first draft…

Even doting Uncle Henry managed to evaluate Dorothy’s credibility when· she professed that the family and friends gathered around her bed had been with her in Oz. See THE WIZARD OF Oz (MGM 1939) (“Of course we believe you, Dorothy.”). The district court, by contrast, mustered only a guarded finding of plausibility.

But at least we know that Rogers Brown–and not Kennedy–is the one who has gotten lost in Oz.

But a look at numbered page 21 shows all you need to know about the government’s good faith in this reconsidered redaction. Read more

“The Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification

Operational flexibility: This is a highly classified area. All I want to say is that there was “before” 9/11 and “after” 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.

-Cofer Black, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, September 26, 2002

When Cofer Black, the main author of the plan laid out in the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification that appears to be at issue in the FOIA dispute between the CIA and White House and the ACLU (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4, post 5), testified before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, he described the expanded operational flexibility CIA’s counterterrorism efforts gained after 9/11 by saying “the gloves come off.”

As this post shows, the legal means by which “the gloves come off” was the MON in question. Thus, rather than referring to the MON by its date, perhaps the best way for us to think of it is as the “Gloves Come Off MON.”

Before we get into what the MON did, here’s what the National Security Act, as amended, says such MONs are supposed to do. The NSA requires the President to notify congressional intelligence and appropriations committees (or, in rare cases, the Gang of Eight) of any covert operations he has authorized the CIA to conduct. Some important excerpts:

SEC. 503. [50 U.S.C. 413b] (a) The President may not authorize the conduct of a covert action by departments, agencies, or entities of the United States Government unless the President determines such an action is necessary to support identifiable foreign policy objectives of the United States and is important to the national security of the United States, which determination shall be set forth in a finding that shall meet each of the following conditions:

(1) Each finding shall be in writing, unless immediate action by the United States is required and time does not permit the preparation of a written finding, in which case a written record of the President’s decision shall be contemporaneously made and shall be reduced to a written finding as soon as possible but in no event more than 48 hours after the decision is made.

[snip]

(5) A finding may not authorize any action that would violate the Constitution or any statute of the United States.

[snip]

(d) The President shall ensure that the congressional intelligence committees, or, if applicable, the Members of Congress specified in subsection (c)(2) [the Gang of Eight], are notified of any significant change in a previously approved covert action, or any significant undertaking pursuant to a previously approved finding, in the same manner as findings are reported pursuant to subsection (c).

As used in this title, the term ‘‘covert action’’ means an activity or activities of the United States Government to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the United States Government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly, but does not include—

(1) activities the primary purpose of which is to acquire intelligence, traditional counterintelligence activities, traditional activities to improve or maintain the operational security of United States Government programs, or administrative activities;

Basically, the MONs are supposed to provide an up-to-date written notice of all the  potentially very embarrassing things the CIA is doing. And given that MONs cannot authorize unconstitutional or illegal (within the US) actions, it should impose some legal limits to covert operations.

Dick Cheney, in a 1989 speech complaining about Congressional overreach in foreign policy (Charlie Savage just posted this), described how this requirement to inform Congress of covert ops provided a way for Congress to oppose such actions by defunding any ongoing ones.

The 1980 law [requiring notice] did not challenge the President’s inherent constitutional authority to initiate covert actions. In fact, that law specifically denied any intention to require advance congressional approval for such actions.

[snip]

Any time Congress feels that an operation is unwise, it may step in to prohibit funds in the coming budget cycle from being used for that purpose. As a result, all operations of extended duration have the committees’ tacit support.

That’s the understanding of the limitations MONs might impose on Presidents that Cheney brought to discussions of the Gloves Come Off MON.

Bob Woodward provides an extensive discussion of what George Tenet and Cofer Black requested in this MON in Bush at War.

At the heart of the proposal was a recommendation that the president give what Tenet labeled “exceptional authorities” to the CIA to destroy al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the rest of the world. He wanted a broad intelligence order permitting the CIA to conduct covert operations without having to come back for formal approval for each specific operation. The current process involved too much time, lawyering, reviews and debate. The CIA needed new, robust authority to operate without restraint. Tenet also wanted encouragement from the president to take risks.

Another key component, he said, was to “use exceptional authorities to detain al Qaeda operatives worldwide.” That meant the CIA could use foreign intelligence services or other paid assets. Tenet and his senior deputies would be authorized to approve “snatch” operations abroad, truly exceptional power.

Tenet had brought a draft of a presidential intelligence order, called a finding, that would give the CIA power to use the full range of covert instruments, including deadly force. For more than two decades, the CIA had simply modified previous presidential findings to obtain its formal authority for counterterrorism. His new proposal, technically called a Memorandum of Notification, was presented as a modification to the worldwide counterterrorism intelligence finding signed by Ronald Reagan in 1986. As if symbolically erasing the recent past, it superseded five such memoranda signed by President Clinton.

Woodward describes other things included in Tenet’s request:

  • Providing hundreds of millions to “heavily subsidize Arab liaison services,” effectively “buying” key services in Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria
  • Equipping Predator drones with Hellfire missiles for lethal missions to take out top al Qaeda figures Read more

The Memorandum of Notification the CIA Pretends Has Never Been Acknowledged

“We don’t do that sort of thing,” [Glenn Carle responded to a CIA Counterterrorism Center Deputy about “going beyond SERE” with a detainee].

“We do now,” Wilmington’s voice was flat. The conversation remained quiet.

“What about EO12333? We’ve never done that sort of thing. The Agency’d never do that. We’d need a finding, at least.”

[snip]

“We have it.” Wilmington’s manner brightened a little. “We have a letter from the president. We can do whatever we need to do. We’re covered.”

–Glenn Carle, The Interrogator: An Education, approved by CIA’s Publication Review Board prior to its summer 2011 publication

Yesterday, I described how the CIA appears to be refusing to release via FOIA any mention–or even a substitution mention–of references to the September 17, 2001 Presidential Memorandum of Notification the government claims authorizes torture and a bunch of other activities.

In this post I’d like to deal with AUSA Tara LaMorte’s March 9, 2012 claim that what I believe to be the MON has never been acknowledged before.

And that’s important because here, the references to [half line redacted] contained in the OLC memos reveals for the first time the existence and the scope of [1.5 lines redacted] That has never before been acknowledged, and would be acknowledged for the first time simply by revealing [few words redacted] in the OLC memos.

Now, as it happens, the CIA made an extensive declaration about the MON in a statement from Marilyn Dorn, the CIA’s Information Review Officer, back in 2007. The description of it–item 61–starts on page 34.

The declaration is actually pretty funny. ACLU had asked for any declarations signed by the President authorizing the torture program. There is none. So in her declaration, Dorn as much as said this MON–which doesn’t mention interrogation–was the MON in question.

Item No. 61 requested a “Directive signed by President Bush that grants CIA, the authority to set up detention facilities outside the United States and/or outlining interrogation methods that may be used against Detainees.” The CIA did not locate a document signed by President Bush outlining interrogation methods that may be used against detainees. The CIA did locate one document signed by President Bush that pertains to the CIA’s authorization to set up detention facilities outside the United States. The document responsive to Item No. 61 is a 14-page memorandum dated 17 September 2001 from President Bush to the Director of the CIA pertaining to the CIA’s authorization to detain terrorists.

So in response to ACLU’s FOIA, which basically said, “give us the legally-required MON that authorized torture,” Dorn said, “we don’t have one, but here’s what we’ve been using for all these years.” That’s pretty significant acknowledgment of what kind of authorization underlies the torture program.

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