Thanks to Edward Snowden, almost 22% of Americans have adopted more complex passwords, one of the most basic things they could do to keep themselves safer online.
That’s according to a Pew Research study released this week tracking how Americans have responded to the disclosures about government spying. It found that 87% of Americans are aware of the surveillance programs. And of those 87%, 25% are using more complex passwords. That likely means they’ve ditched passwords like “password” and replaced them with things that are harder for the average criminal hacker to guess.
That’s actually a very significant change, all brought about by one guy’s effort to illuminate what our government is doing. It won’t protect most people against the NSA, but will make people safer from identity theft.
Meanwhile, Congress is diddling away passing a bill, CISA, that probably would not have prevented any known hack. I’d say Snowden is doing a better job at protecting the country.
On March 12 of this year, Dianne Feinstein plaintively asked Jim Comey to read the full SSCI Torture Report. Before giving a really lame answer about how FBI doesn’t torture to excuse why he (and his staffers) hadn’t read, perhaps even opened, the report, he asserted he had read the Executive Summary. “You asked me to do it during my confirmation hearing, I kept that promise and read it.”
Particularly given what we now know — specifically, that Comey concurred in an opinion retroactively authorizing the torture of Janat Gul, whom the Torture Report shows was tortured largely to get torture approved again — that led me to review precisely what transpired between Comey and Feinstein during his 2013 confirmation process. Granted, the report was not yet public, so no one could ask Comey directly whether he knew that’s what CIA was scheming — to torture Janat Gul largely to get torture approved again — at least not publicly.
But what kind of commitment did they get?
First of all, at least in the public hearing, Comey did not promise to fulfill Feinstein’s request. Moreover, she requested that he do more than read the Summary — she said he should read all 6,000 pages, emphasizing the importance of the case studies (which would show far more specifics about what was done to Janat Gul than the Summary does).
I’d like to ask you to personally review our report. It’s a big deal to review it — it’s 6,000 pages. But I think it’s very important. You have that background. And I think it’s important to read the actual case studies.
During his turn, after pointing to how shoddy the memo Comey did concur in was, Sheldon Whitehouse reiterated Feinstein’s request that Comey read the entire report, noting that the specific details of the torture cases showed how much CIA lied about what went on. (It’s not clear whether the details surrounding the Janat Gul case would have been clear before Whitehouse left SSCI, so it’s not clear whether he knew those specific details — the ones most pertinent to Comey’s role on concurring in torture — during this hearing.)
In any case, after recommending he read the full report, Feinstein then went on to the memo Comey did concur in, asking him to explain why he had said in an email that the Principals were “unaware” or “willfully blind” when they reapproved torture.
Feinstein: You described telling Attorney General Gonzales that CIA interrogation techniques were, quote, simply awful, end quote. That quote, there needed to be a detailed factual discussion, end quote of how they were used before approving them and that, quote, it simply could not be that the Principals would be willfully blind.
Here’s the question: Why did you believe that there was a danger that the Principals on the National Security Council were unaware, or willfully blind to the details of the CIA program?
Comey: Thank you Senator. Because I heard … I heard no one asking that third critical question. As you recall I said [in response to a Pat Leahy question] I think there are 3 critical questions with any counterterrorism technique, but especially with the interrogations. Is it effective — something the CIA was talking about. Is it legal under the — Title 18 Section 2340, the legal question. And then this last question, is this what we should be doing. And instead, I heard nothing, and in fact it was reported to me that the White House’s view was only the first two questions matter. If the CIA says it works and DOJ will issue a legal opinion that it doesn’t violate the statute, that’s the end of the inquiry. And, as you said, Senator, I thought that was simply unacceptable.
The answer is interesting given that — earlier in the hearing — he had confirmed (or at least claimed) to Pat Leahy what I believed to be true, that he was out of the loop on the Article 16 CAT memo. I’ve believed that because on May 31, 2005, Comey was still trying (futilely) to influence the Principals through Alberto Gonzales, while still framing the discussion in terms of the earlier May 10 memo, not the May 30 one that got finalized the day before.
He also seemed unaware in his email that (as reported by the Torture Report) CIA had started torturing Abu Faraj al-Libi 3 days earlier, based on the May 10 memos and anticipating the May 30 one.
But he should have known — because he was in the loop on some discussions going back to the previous summer — that CIA felt it needed a memo addressing whether torture complied with the Constitution and therefore the Convention on Torture. Indeed, that’s what CIA had demanded in a July 29, 2003 hearing Comey attended part of; is he now claiming (which would be possible but notable) that they only addressed that demand after he and Bellinger left the meeting? That claim, given Comey’s emphasis on 18 USC 2340 rather than legal questions more generally, is rather curious.
In any case, Comey’s answer last week now appears all the more lame, given that Feinstein had in fact asked him to read the full report, not just the summary.
In any case, having gotten Comey to agree during his confirmation hearing to the notion that there are things the US shouldn’t do, even if they’re legal, Feinstein took this principle, and tried to get Comey to apply it to force feeding at Gitmo.
Feinstein: You have looked at the Combination of EITs, the manner in which they are administered, and you have come to the conclusion that they form torture. These are people, now, 86 of them, who are no threat to this country. They’ve been cleared for transfer, many of whom are being force fed to keep them alive. In my view, this is inhumane, and I am very curious what you would say about this.
Comey refused to do so, at first making the same argument he is now: force-feeding at Gitmo is not part of the FBI’s job, then pleading ignorance about the practice (and, seemingly, protecting the use of force-feeding in an area where it’d be more pertinent to FBI use, especially given its use to get informants on gangs in California’s Pelican Bay, in US prisons).
Comey: If I were FBI Director, I don’t think it’s an area that would be within my job scope. But I don’t know more about what you’re describing than what you’re describ–
Feinstein: Well, let me just say it’s within all of our job scopes to care about how the United States of America acts.
Comey: I agree very much with that Senator. And I do also know that there are times in the Bureau of Prisons when the Federal authorities have had to force feed someone who’s refusing to eat and they try to do it in the least invasive way. What you’re describing I frankly wouldn’t want done to me but I don’t know the circumstances well enough to offer an opinion. I don’t think it would be worth much at this point.
Ultimately, though, Comey didn’t really fulfill his standard of reviewing to make sure counterterrorism techniques are effective and legal as well as reasonable. But that’s not surprising, because he didn’t exercise that standard in defending the phone dragnet either.
That’s not the end of the public exchange between Feinstein and Comey during his confirmation process, however. She asked him one more question on torture while invoking the report in her Questions for the Record.
In December 2012 the Senate Intelligence Committee adopted a bipartisan 6,300-page Study of the CIA’s former detention and interrogation program. The review is by far the most comprehensive intelligence oversight activity ever conducted by the Committee. The Study— which builds a factual record based on more than 6 million pages of intelligence community records—uncovers startling new details about the management, operation, and representations made to the Department of Justice, Congress, and the White House. I believe the Study will provide an important lessons learned opportunity for Congress, the executive branch, and the American people. You have testified that you raised objections about the CIA interrogation program with Attorney General Gonzales in May 2005 before departing the Department of Justice. In one of your emails that was made public in 2009, you described telling the Attorney General that the CIA interrogation techniques were “simply awful,” that “there needed to be a detailed factual discussion” of how they were used before approving them, and that “it simply could not be that the Principles would be willfully blind.” In your confirmation hearing you expressed frustration that there was not a wider policy discussion on this matter, which you believed—rightfully so—was of great importance and contrary to our values and ideals as a nation.
Should you be confirmed, how will your experience raising concerns about CIA’s so-called “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” behind closed doors influence your approach and leadership at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, your interactions with Congress, and your communications with the American people?
RESPONSE: My experience as Deputy Attorney General reinforced my long-standing view about the importance of fostering a culture of transparency, which I will bring to the FBI if I am confirmed as its new Director. I believe, as I did when I served as Deputy Attorney General, that if there are questions about whether proposed conduct is appropriate—consistent with our values —we should seek a vigorous debate about that conduct before going forward. In those circumstances, I am prepared to detail my concerns and reasoning to the relevant stakeholders, as I have done in the past. If confirmed, I intend to foster a culture at the Bureau that encourages subordinates to provide their candid advice to me and transparency with Congress and the American people, consistent with the Bureau’s law enforcement and national security responsibilities, and long-standing Executive Branch confidentiality interests.
Comey’s tribute to transparency is pretty absurd, given that under him his Agency has stalled on IG reports and redacted things from Congress that were shared in the previous IG Report.
But it’s also a throwaway question. I think Feinstein wanted Comey to reveal that he would share things he discovered with Congress. Given his nod to “Executive Branch confidentiality interests,” there’s no reason to believe he would.
Still, this question was even further away from the question of, “did you know, when you concurred in torture you now claim to recognize as torture, that the victim was someone tortured in part because CIA didn’t vet a fabricator (again) and in part because CIA was so anxious to win torture approval’?
It still doesn’t ask the question Comey should now be asked: when you concurred in retroactively authorizing the torture of Janat Gul, did you know CIA had been lying about him for the better part of a year? Did you know you were concurring in the torture of a man largely torture for legal cover?
I asked both Senator Feinstein’s office and the FBI whether any more specific question got asked in classified fashion but I got a No Comment and a non-answer.
My guess is that Feinstein didn’t come to a realistic understanding of just how cynical the CIA is and was until they started spying on her earlier this year, and so didn’t ask the questions during confirmation that might have made Comey’s willingness to — again — play useful idiot to the CIA’s crimes (including in investigating their spying on Congress).
But it deserves to be noted, even then, Comey was claiming that it is not the FBI Director to investigate the crimes committed by agents of the government.
Dianne Feinstein used the Federal Law Enforcement Appropriations hearing as an opportunity to implore Jim Comey to read the Torture Report.
I’m surprised neither by her request nor by her plaintive manner, given how most Federal Agencies have simply blown off the Report. But I am interested in the content of the exchange (my transcription).
Feinstein: One of my disappointments was to learn that the six year report of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Detention and Interrogation Program sat in a locker and no one looked at it. And let me tell you why I’m disappointed. The report — the 6,000 pages and the 38,000 footnotes — which has been compiled contains numerous examples of a learning experience, of cases, of interrogation, of where the Department could learn — perhaps — some new things from past mistakes. And the fact that it hasn’t been opened — at least that’s what’s been reported to me — is really a great disservice. It’s classified. It’s meant for the appropriate Department. You’re certainly one of them. I’d like to ask if you open that report and designate certain people to read it and maybe even have a discussion, how things might be improved by suggestions in the report.
Comey: And I will do that Senator. As you know, I have read the [makes a finger gesture showing how thick it was] Executive Summary. You asked me to do it during my confirmation hearing, I kept that promise and read it. There’s a small number of people at the FBI — as I understand it — who have read the entire thing. But what we have not done — and I think it’s a very good question, is have we thought about whether there are lessons learned for us? There’s a tendency for me to think “we don’t engage in interrogation like that, so what’s there to learn?”
Feinstein: You did. And Bob Mueller pulled your people out, which is a great tribute to him.
Comey: Yeah. So the answer is yes, I will think about it better and I will think about where we are in terms of looking at the entire thing. I don’t know enough about where the document sits at this point in time and you mentioned a lock box, I don’t know that well enough to comment on it at this point.
Feinstein and Comey appear to have differing understandings of whether anyone at FBI has actually read the report, with Comey believing someone has read it — and professing ignorance about a “lockbox” — and Feinstein referring to a report that no one has read it, a belief that may come in part from the responses the government is making to FOIA requests. Is FBI lying about whether anyone has opened this in its FOIA responses?
But I’m also interested both that Comey hasn’t read further and that he hasn’t considered whether FBI might have anything to learn from it.
Tellingly, Comey suggests FBI would have nothing to learn because “we don’t engage in interrogation like that, so what’s there to learn.” But as Feinstein corrects, FBI did engage in “interrogation like that,” but then Bob Mueller withdrew his interrogators. Remember that Ali Soufan was present at the Thai black site for Abu Zubaydah’s first extreme sleep deprivation and long enough to see the torturers bring out a coffin-like box. His partner, Steve Gaudin, stayed even longer. That stuff doesn’t appear in the summary (the report’s silence on this earlier phase of Abu Zubaydah’s torture is one of CIA’s legitimate complaints). Moreover, there are moments later in the torture program when one or another FBI Agent (including Soufan) were present for other detainees’ interrogation, particularly for isolation. Comey wanted to suggest FBI was never involved in torture, but Feinstein reminded him they were.
Still, Feinstein seems to believe that Mueller withdrew Agents out of some kind of squeamishness. I think the record (especially from FBI Agents in Iraq who declined to write certain things down) suggests, instead, that Mueller withdrew his Agents to ensure that the FBI would never be witness to crimes committed against detainees which might force them to investigate those crimes. Indeed, it seems that in summer 2002 — at a time when US Attorney Jim Comey was relying on Abu Zubaydah’s statements to detain Jose Padilla — DOJ found a way to bracket the treatment that had already occurred and remain mostly ignorant of that which would occur over the next several years. Feinstein should know that but seems not to; Comey almost certainly does.
Which makes Comey’s explanation all the more nonsensical. There’s stuff like the anal rape, even in the Executive Summary, that probably wasn’t investigated (though the statute of limitations probably has expired on it). There’s probably far, far more evidence of crimes that have never been investigated in the full report. And yet … the premier law enforcement agency may or may not have taken the report out of storage in a lock box?
Consider me unconvinced.
Besides, Comey’s claim that “we don’t engage in interrogation like that” ignores that FBI is supposed to be the lead agency in the High Value Interrogation Group, about which there have been numerous hints that things like food and sleep deprivation have been used. His explanation that “we don’t engage in interrogation like that,” is all the more curious given FBI’s announcement earlier this week that the guy in charge of one HIG section just got assigned to lead the Dallas Division.
Director James B. Comey has named Thomas M. Class, Sr. special agent in charge of the FBI’s Dallas Division. Mr. Class most recently served as section chief of the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group in the National Security Branch (NSB) at FBI Headquarters (FBIHQ). In this position, he led an FBI-lead interagency group that deploys worldwide the nation’s best interrogation resources against significant counterterrorism targets in custody.
Who’s in charge of HIG, then? And is it engaging in isolation?
Finally, I am specifically intrigued by Comey’s apparent lack of curiosity about the full report because of his actions in 2005.
As these posts lay out (one, two), Comey was involved in the drafting of 2 new OLC memos in May 2005 (though he may have been ignorant about the third). The lies CIA told OLC in 2004 and then told OLC again in 2005 covering the same torture were among the worst, according to Mark Udall. Comey even tried to hold up the memo long enough to do fact gathering that would allow them to tie the Combined memo more closely to the detainee whose treatment the memo was apparently supposed to retroactively reauthorize. But Alberto Gonzales’ Chief of Staff Ted Ullyot told him that would not be possible.
Pat [Philbin] explained to me (as he had to [Steven Bradbury and Ted Ullyot]) that we couldn’t make the change I thought necessary by Friday [April 29]. I told him to go back to them and reiterate that fact and the fact that I would oppose any opinion that was not significantly reshaped (which would involve fact gathering that we could not complete by Friday).
[Ullyot] mentioned at one point that OLC didn’t feel like it would accede to my request to make the opinion focused on one person because they don’t give retrospective advice. I said I understood that, but that the treatment of that person had been the subject of oral advice, which OLC would simply be confirming in writing, something they do quite often.
At the end, he said that he just wanted me to know that it appeared the second opinion would go [Friday] and that he wanted to make sure I knew that and wanted to confirm that I felt I had been heard.
Presuming that memo really was meant to codify the oral authorization DOJ had given CIA (which might pertain to Hassan Ghul or another detainee tortured in 2004), then further details of the detainee’s torture would be available in the full report. Wouldn’t Comey be interested in those details now?
But then, so would details of Janat Gul’s torture, whose torture was retroactively authorized in an OLC memo Comey himself bought off on. Maybe Comey has good reason not to want to know what else is in the report.
After the Torture Report came out, I argued we ought to take a broader lesson from it about failures of accountability in CIA’s covert programs. Specifically, I noted how the drone program — which operated under the same Memorandum of Notification as torture for years — appeared to suffer from the same problems as the torture program.
On the second day of Barack Obama’s presidency, he prohibited most forms of physical torture. On the third, a CIA drone strike he authorized killed up to 11 civilians.
Other reporting may explain why the report portrays Bush, rightly or wrongly, as so uninvolved in the torture program. Both Woodward and Mayer explain that the Sept. 17, 2001, MON was designed to outsource all the important decision-making to the CIA. “To give the President deniability, and to keep him from getting his hands dirty,” Mayer writes in The Dark Side, “the [MON] called for the President to delegate blanket authority to Tenet to decide on a case-by-case basis whom to kill, whom to kidnap, whom to detain and interrogate, and how.” Whether or not Bush had knowledge of what was going on, the very program itself was set up to insulate him from the dirty work, giving him the ability to claim ignorance of a torture program everyone else knew about. (Later, Bush claimed that he was fully briefed.)
But as we know, this insulation created the conditions for a program that was allowed to spin so horribly out of control that the CIA was able to misplace 29 detainees and not worry all that much.
The implications of this subterfuge, however, do not end with the torture program. Nor with George W. Bush. This is the same MON that authorizes the CIA’s current drone program. Presumably that means the drone program is characterized by the same unaccountable structures.
Indeed, after Obama escalated the CIA’s use of drones when he took office, the program suffered from some of the same problems as the torture program. The CIA appears to have misinformed Congress about the details, given claims by people like House Intelligence Committee ranking member Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.) that the program had “very minor” civilian casualties, despite the fact that evidence shows that more than 1,000 people have been killed while targeting fewer than 50 terrorists. And like the CIA’s detention and torture of the wrong suspects, a number of drone strikes have killed the wrong people — but with even greater frequency.
Top-ranking members of Congress, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have long insisted they have more oversight over the drone program than they did over torture. But the number of significant mistakes — take, for example, the attack on a wedding party earlier this year — suggests that oversight isn’t preventing the same kind of mistakes that happened with torture. Moreover, as with the torture program, the congressional intelligence committees aren’t able to get the information they request from the White House and the CIA. It was only after years of requests that the intelligence committees were allowed to review the administration’s justification for having the CIA kill Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen, with a drone strike. Worse, the reports that the CIA killed Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, are also shrouded in secrecy and full of inconsistencies.
AP’s Ken Dilanian has a long article in similar vein, noting that the drone and Non Official Cover program have never been scrutinized this closely, in spite of complaints of abuse.
Yet the intelligence committees have never taken a similar look at what is now the premier counterterrorism effort, the CIA’s drone-killing program, according to congressional officials who were not authorized to be quoted discussing the matter.
Intelligence committee staff members are allowed to watch videos of CIA drone missile strikes to monitor the agency’s claims that civilian casualties are limited. But these aides do not typically get access to the operational cables, message traffic, interview transcripts and other raw material that forms the basis of a decision to kill a suspected terrorist.
Nor have they been able to examine cables, emails and raw reporting to investigate recent perceived intelligence lapses, such as why the CIA failed to predict the swift fall of Arab governments, Russia’s move into Ukraine or the rapid military advance of the Islamic State group.
And there have been no public oversight reports on the weak performance of the CIA’s multibillion-dollar “nonofficial cover” program to set up case officers posing as businessmen, which has met with some criticism.
In addition to the nice review of how Dianne Feinstein’s staffers’ managed to do this work (which you should click through to read), Dilanian also got a fairly scathing interview with Feinstein herself (though she insists drones get enough oversight). In it, she professes to have lost her faith that CIA is telling the truth in briefings.
The torture investigation, she said in an interview with The Associated Press, has “changed how I view management in the CIA. It’s changed how I view the brotherhood of the CIA. I believe you do not lie to your oversight committee. And I think the way the program was managed was sloppy.”
The lesson for traditional intelligence oversight, she said, was that “you can sit and listen to a report ??? you don’t know whether it’s all the truth, you don’t know what gets left out. And part of (CIA) tradecraft is deception.”
She said she believes the CIA continues to lie about the effectiveness of torture.
And she dishes on White House collaboration with the CIA to overclassified the report.
But while Obama publicly supported releasing the report’s findings and conclusions, the administration privately pushed to keep significant parts of the summary secret, Feinstein said.
“The president said that he agreed the report should be made public, that he doesn’t condone (the harsh interrogations), but it sort of ends there,” Feinstein said.
She said she perceived “an incredible closeness” between Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, and Brennan, “and the president and John Brennan.” In negotiations with Feinstein about what parts of the summary should be censored, McDonough spoke for the White House, but there was no daylight between him and the CIA, she said.
Feinstein said both wanted to black out large chunks of the executive summary in the name of protecting sensitive information.
It also provides more details on the attempt to fearmonger DiFi into suppressing the report at the last minute, including that Democrats found James Clapper’s report on the dangers of releasing it to be all that convincing.
This is, I think, one of the necessary conclusions to draw from the Torture Report: oversight isn’t working, because — as DiFi notes — CIA’s tradecraft is all about deception.
Let’s hope she really has learned a bit from this process, even if it’s too late to do anything about it as Chair.
There is an exception to every rule, standard operating procedure, and policy; it is up to leaders to determine when exceptions should be made and to explain why they made them.
– David Petraeus’ Rules for Living, as presented by Paula Broadwell as they were being caught in an FBI investigation
Predictably, Trey Gowdy has subpoenaed more information about Hillary Clinton’s email personal email revealed this week.
But it seems he also ought to call David Petraeus in for another chat about Benghazi in light of details in the former CIA Director’s plea deal.
That’s because the Plea Documents show that the investigation into Petraeus and Paula Broadwell intersects with the Benghazi investigation in ways that are even more interesting than was already clear. Consider what those two timelines look like when you add in the fact that Petraeus lied to the FBI about leaking information to his mistress on October 26, 2012, which has been updated from this post (note that contemporaneous reporting dated Petraeus’ FBI interview to October 29).
From the sex and leaking standpoint, the revised timeline is interesting because it shows Petraeus and Broadwell together at — of all places! — the annual celebration for old-style subterfuge, the OSS dinner, between the time Petraeus lied to the FBI and the time Broadwell was interviewed a second time.
But from a Benghazi perspective, it shows that on the same day Petraeus lied to the FBI, Paula Broadwell made the accusation that the attack was really about freeing militia members held at the CIA annex. The next day Petraeus and Broadwell hobnobbed together among the old style spooks. and then days later — even as an FBI whistleblower was forcing the investigation into the public, without which it might have been dropped — Petraeus went on a “fact-finding” mission to Cairo, in part to consult with some of the people involved in the Benghazi response.
Petraeus did a report on that trip, but Dianne Feinstein was complaining that her committee had not received a copy of it on November 12 (Petraeus was resisting, in part, because he no longer worked at CIA).
There’s no evidence that the House Intelligence Committee consulted Petraeus’ trip report when they did their report on the attack. (Indeed, the report shows remarkable lack of interest in Petraeus’ role altogether, in spite of the fact that he watched the later parts of the attack develop via the drone surveillance camera feed piped to the SCIF at his home.)
Did either of the Intelligence Committees ever get the report on the trip Petraeus did after he knew he was in trouble with the FBI, at a time when his ex-girlfriend was claiming the reason behind the attack was entirely different from what we’ve been told?
As I’ve noted, more than anyone else, current HPSCI Chair Devin Nunes showed significant interest in that claim about detainees, as reflected in the backup to a report that Mike Rogers made sure to get done before he left Nunes in charge. In response to his question (as well as some questions about arms-running) Nunes got non-denials denials.
In a related detail, in the earlier session Nunes also elicited a non-denial denial about detainees (and accusation first leveled by David Petraeus’ mistress Paula Broadwell), the other alleged reason for the attack on US entities in Benghazi.
Mr. Nunes: Okay. To the detainees, were there ever any detainees at either of these locations in the last year of any kind?
Mr. Morell: Not with regard to the CIA facility, sir.
Mr. Kennedy: And the State Department does not engage in detentions overseas.
Rather than just answering no, between them Morell and Kennedy carved out a space where it might be possible the CIA (or someone else, possibly JSOC) were holding detainees at the TMF or elsewhere in Benghazi.
Maybe Petraeus’ last minute trip to do a personal investigation of the aftermath of Benghazi — the results of which Petraeus resisted sharing with the Committees investigating the attack — is just a coinkydink.
But given the timing — and Petraeus’ sweetheart plea deal — it’d be nice if the Benghazi Committee asked a few more questions about that coinkydink. Continue reading
Like many others, I commented on and wrote about the Torture Report when it was initially released in December, but the demands of the 24-hour news cycle meant that I – and I’m certain, everyone else who commented in that first week – did so without having had time to read the report and its responses in full. The SSCI Report’s executive summary is 525 pages, and the responses by the CIA and the Republican minority members of the SSCI total 303 pages. No one could possibly have read it all in those first few days. And of course, by the time one could read it all, the news cycle had moved on.
David Cole (he now admits 2 months later) blathered without first reading what he was blathering about, and so he insists everyone else must have too, thereby discrediting the views of those of us who actually had done their homework.
This, in spite of the fact that some of us torture critics (not to mention plenty of torture apologists) were making the very same critiques he has finally come around to in the days after the report was released: significantly, the Torture Report did not include the early renditions and Abu Zubaydah’s earliest torture. And so, Cole argues, because it’s never easy to definitively show where a particular piece of intelligence comes from, we shouldn’t make an argument about what a disaster CIA’s torture program was and instead should just repeat that it’s illegal.
Let’s look at the steps Cole takes to get there, before we turn to the conclusions he ignores.
First, Cole throws up his hands helplessly in trying to adjudicate the dispute between CIA and SSCI over their intelligence.
Without the underlying documents, it’s not possible to resolve the competing claims, but many of the C.I.A.’s responses appear plausible on their face. At a minimum it is possible that the C.I.A.’s tactics did help it capture some very dangerous people planning future attacks.
In some cases, I’ll grant that you can’t determine where CIA (which is not always the same as US government, which is another problem with the scope of this report) learned a detail, though in others, CIA’s rebuttal is fairly transparently weak. But along the way we learn enough new about how helpless the CIA was in the face of even the claims that get shared in the unclassified summary — the most telling of which, for me, is that after being waterboarded, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed got the CIA to believe for 3 months that he had sent Dhiren Barot to Montana to recruit black Muslims in Montana (yes, really!) to start forest fires — to point to the problems of using torture as a means to address CIA’s intelligence gaps on al Qaeda. What an unbelievable waste of effort, all arising because torture was presented as something magic that might make KSM tell the truth.
Even more importantly, there’s the way that torturing Janat Gul delayed the discovery that the intelligence implicating him in election year plots was a fabrication, but not before Gul and the underlying fabrication served as the justification to resume torture and, in part, to roll out a dragnet treating all Americans as relevant to torture investigations. Both while he was being tortured and the following year, Gul also served as an excuse for the CIA to offer more lies to DOJ about what it was doing and why. Whether deliberately or not, torture served a very important function here, and it was about legal infrastructure, not intelligence. Exploitation.
Having declared himself helpless in the face of some competing claims but much evidence torture diverted the CIA from hunting down the worst terrorists, Cole then says SSCI has not proven its “other main finding,” which is that CIA lied about efficacy.
That conclusion in turn casts doubt on the committee’s other main finding — namely, that the C.I.A. repeatedly lied about the program’s efficacy.
So why did the committee focus on efficacy and misrepresentation, rather than on the program’s fundamental illegality?
Let me interject. Here, Cole misrepresents the conclusion of the Torture Report, which leads him to a conclusion of limited value. It is not just that CIA lied about whether torture worked. CIA also lied about what they were doing and how brutal it was. It lied to Congress, to DOJ’s lawyers, and to (this is where I have another scope problem with the report, because it is demonstrably just some in) the White House and other cabinet members. That’s all definitely well documented in the Torture Report — but then, it was well-documented by documents released in 2009 and 2010, at least for those who were doing their homework.
Bracket that misrepresentation from Cole, for the moment, and see where he takes it.
Possibly because that meant it could cast the C.I.A. as solely responsible, a rogue agency. A focus on legality would have rightly held C.I.A. officials responsible for failing to say no — but it also would have implicated many more officials who were just as guilty, if not more so. Lawyers at the Justice Department wrote a series of highly implausible legal memos from 2002 to 2007, opining that waterboarding, sleep deprivation, confinement in coffinlike boxes, painful stress positions and slamming people into walls were not torture; were not cruel, inhuman or degrading; and did not violate the Geneva Conventions.
The same can be said for President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and all the cabinet-level officials responsible for national security, each of whom signed off on a program that was patently illegal. The reality is, no one in a position of authority said no.
This may well explain the committee’s focus on the C.I.A. and its alleged misrepresentations. The inquiry began as a bipartisan effort, and there is no way that the Republican members would have agreed to an investigation that might have found fault with the entire leadership of the Bush administration.
But while the committee’s framing may be understandable as a political matter, it was a mistake as a matter of historical accuracy and of moral principle. The report is, to date, the closest thing to official accountability that we have. But by focusing on whether the program worked and whether the C.I.A. lied, the report was critically misleading. Responsibility for the program lies not with the C.I.A. alone, but also with everyone else, up to the highest levels of the White House, who said yes when law and morality plainly required them to say no.
Now, I’m very sympathetic with the argument that there are others, in addition to CIA, who need to be held responsible for torture — as I’ve noted repeatedly, apparently without even reading the entire set of reports, according to Cole. I think Cole brushes with too broad a brush; we have plenty of detail about individuals who are more culpable than others, both within DOJ and the White House, and we shouldn’t just throw up our hands on this issue, as Cole did with efficacy arguments, and claim to be unable to distinguish.
But Cole keeps coming back to the issue of legality, as if the people who went out of their way to put CIA back in the business of torturing give a flying fuck that torture is illegal.
And this is why it’s important to emphasize that the Torture Report shows CIA lied both about efficacy and about what they were doing and when: because until we understand how everyone from Dick Cheney on down affirmatively and purposely implemented a torture program in spite of an oversight structure and won impunity for it, it will happen again, perhaps with torture, perhaps with some other Executive abuse.
Let me point to one of the key new revelations from the Torture Report that goes precisely to Cole’s concern to explain why.
As I pointed out four and a half years ago, CIA decided to destroy the torture tapes right after giving their first torture briefing to Congress, to Porter Goss and Nancy Pelosi. Along with deciding to destroy the torture tapes, they also altered their own record of that briefing. In ACLU’s FOIA that had liberated that information, CIA managed to hide what it was they took out of the contemporaneous record of that briefing.
The Torture Report revealed what it was.
In early September 2002, the CIA briefed the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) leadership about the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques. Two days after, the CIA’s [redacted]CTC Legal [redacted], excised from a draft memorandum memorializing the briefing indications that the HPSCI leadership questioned the legality of the program by deleting the sentence: “HPSCI attendees also questioned the legality of these techniques if other countries would use them.”2454 After [redacted] blind-copied Jose Rodriguez on the email in which he transmitted the changes to the memorandum, Rodriguez responded to email with: “short and sweet.”
According to the CIA’s own records, in the very first briefing to Congress — which was already 5 months late and only told Congress about using torture prospectively — someone raised questions about the legality of the techniques (at least if done by other countries).
More than 12 years ago, someone — precisely the people our intelligence oversight system entrusts to do this — was raising questions about legality. And CIA’s response to that was to alter records, destroy evidence (remember, the torture tapes were altered sometime in 2002 before they were destroyed in 2005), and lie about precisely what they were doing for the next 7 years.
Finally, Cole remains silent about a very important confirmation from the Torture Report — one which President Obama had previously gone to some lengths to suppress — one which gets at why the CIA managed to get away with breaking the law. While SSCI may not have pursued all the documents implicating presidential equities aggressively enough, it did make it very clear that torture was authorized not primarily by a series of OLC memos, but by the September 17, 2001 Presidential Finding, and that neither CIA nor the White House told Congress that’s what had happened until 2004.
Torture was authorized in the gray legal zone that permits the President to authorize illegal actions. The rest follows from there. The remaining question, the question you need to answer if you want to stop the Executive when it claims the authority to break the law — and this is elucidated in part by the Torture Report — is how, bureaucratically, the rest of government serves to insulate or fails to stop such illegal activity. Of course, these bureaucratic questions can get awfully inconvenient awfully quickly, even for people like David Cole.
Did the CIA get a bum rap in the Torture Report? In part, sure, they were just doing what they were ordered, and the CIA routinely gets ordered to do illegal things. But if you want to prevent torture — and other Executive abuses — you need to understand the bureaucratic means by which intended oversight fails, sometimes by design, and sometimes by the deceit of the Executive. Some of that — not enough, but some key new details — appear in the Torture Report.
Today’s SSCI public hearing was remarkably useful, in spite of Chairman Burr’s interrupting a chain of serious questions to ask a clown question of National Counterterrorism Center head Nick Rasmussen. Roy Blunt, Marco Rubio, and Angus King all asked questions about Authorizations to Use Military Force that will be useful in the upcoming debate.
The highlight, however, came when Dianne Feinstein asked Rasmussen whether the claims of great harm — provided to her just before she released the Torture Report in December — had proven to be correct.
Feinstein: And I have one other question to ask the Director. Um, Mr. Director, days before the public release of our report on CIA detention and interrogation, we received an intelligence assessment predicting violence throughout the world and significant damage to United States relationships. NCTC participated in that assessment. Do you believe that assessment proved correct?
Rasmussen: I can speak particularly to the threat portion of that rather than the partnership aspect of that because I would say that’s the part NCTC would have the most direct purchase on, and I can’t say that I can disaggregate the level of terrorism and violence we’ve seen in the period since the report was issued, disaggregate that level from what we might have seen otherwise because, as you know, the turmoil roiling in those parts of the world, not that part of the world, those parts of the world, the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, there’s a number of factors that go on creating the difficult threat environment we face.
So the assessment we made at the time as a community was that we would increase or add to the threat picture in those places. I don’t know that looking backwards now, I can say it did by X% or it didn’t by X%. We were also, I think, clear in saying that there’s parts of the impact that we will not know until we have the benefit of time to see how it would play out in different locations around the world.
Feinstein: Oh boy do I disagree with you. But that’s what makes this arena I guess. The fact in my mind was that the threat assessment was not correct.
Note, Ron Wyden used his one question to get Rasumussen to admit that he had only read the Torture Report summary in enough detail to conduct the threat assessment. Wyden informed Rasmussen there were other parts in the still-classified sections that he should be aware of as NCTC head.
At almost precisely the moment the FBI started investigating who was pestering Tampa Bay socialite Jill Kelley, an investigation that would lead to the resignation and investigation of David Petraeus, John McCain called for an investigation into top Obama officials leaking details of covert ops to make themselves look good.
Outraged by two recent articles published by the New York Times, which exposed the extent of U.S. involvement in cyberattacks made against Iran and the White House’s secret ‘Kill List,’ John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) took to the Senate floor to admonish the administration, and accuse it of widespread disregard for national security.
“The fact that this administration would aggressively pursue leaks by a 22-year-old Army private in the Wikileaks matter and former CIA employees in other leaks cases, but apparently sanction leaks made by senior administration officials for political purposes is simply unacceptable,” McCain said.
Now, McCain is outraged! that former top Obama official David Petraeus is getting the callous treatment given to those being investigated for leaks.
U.S. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) today released the following statement on the handling of the investigation into former CIA Director David Petraeus:
“While the facts of the case involving General David Petraeus remain unknown and are not suitable for comment, it is clear that this investigation has been grievously mishandled.
“It is outrageous that the highly confidential and law enforcement-sensitive recommendation of prosecutors to bring charges against General Petraeus was leaked to the New York Times. It is a shameful continuation of a pattern in which leaks by unnamed sources have marred this investigation in contravention to fundamental fairness.
“No American deserves such callous treatment, let alone one of America’s finest military leaders whose selfless service and sacrifice have inspired young Americans in uniform and likely saved many of their lives.”
And of course, McCain had no problem when the first story about poor Petraeus’ treatment appeared in December, quoting lots of McCain’s buddies calling for justice! for Petraeus.
McCain (and his sidekick Lindsey) are not the only ones rending their garments over the injustice of a top Obama official being investigated for leaking classified details to make himself look good. Jason Chaffetz keeps complaining about it. And Dianne Feinstein took to the Sunday shows to declare that Petraeus has suffered enough. Richard Burr apparently made false claims about how the Espionage Act has been wielded, of late, even against those whose leaks caused no harm.
Golly, you’d think all these legislators might figure out they have the authority, as legislators, to fix the overly broad application of the Espionage Act.
Meanwhile, Eli Lake — who launched the campaign to Let Our General Go last month — has an odd story complaining about Petraeus’ treatment. To Lake’s credit, he mentions — though does not quote — how Petraeus celebrated John Kiriakou’s guilty plea. Here’s what Petraeus said then about the importance of respecting your vows to secrecy:
It marks an important victory for our agency, for our intelligence community, and for our country. Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.
Lake also suggests Paula Broadwell’s job — writing fawning biographies of the man she was fucking — was the same as Bob Woodward’s.
What’s more, Broadwell herself was writing a second book on Petraeus. When Broadwell — a graduate of West Point — was writing her first biography of him, she was given access to top secret information covering the period in which Petraeus commanded allied forces in Afghanistan. This arrangement is common in Washington for established authors. Sources for Bob Woodward, whose books often disclose classified information that is provided to him through semi-official leaks, are not investigated for betraying state secrets.
Maybe it is, maybe Woodward is nothing more than a power-fucker. But it obscures the key difference (which should not be true but is) that when the White House sanctions a book, they get to sanction self-serving leaks for it.
Finally, Lake misstates something about selective treatment.
Senior officials such as Petraeus, who serve at the highest levels of the national security state, are almost never punished as harshly as low- and mid- level analysts who are charged with leaking. When former CIA director John Deutch was found to have classified documents on his unsecure home computer, he was stripped of his security clearance and charged with a misdemeanor.
An even better example — one not mentioned at all — is when Alberto Gonzales was found to have kept a CYA file, full of draft OLC memos and notes from a briefing on the illegal wiretap program, in a briefcase in his house. He resigned at the beginning of that investigation (and it has never been clear how much that played a role in his resignation; there are many interesting questions about Gonzales’ resignation that remain unanswered). But he suffered no consequences from keeping unbelievably sensitive documents at his house, aside from being denied the sinecure all other Bush officials got.
That said, that’s true of a lot of people in sensitive positions. Of the 40 witnesses who might be called against Jeffrey Sterling, for example, 6 have been found to have mistreated classified information (as has Sterling himself); that includes his direct supervisor while at CIA as well as 3 others cleared into the Merlin op (and I’m certain that doesn’t include Condi Rice, whose testimony the AIPAC defendants would have used to show how common leaking to the press was, nor does it include one other witness I strongly suspect has been involved in another big leak case). CIA withheld that detail from DOJ until right before the trial was due to start in 2011. But it does offer at least one metric of how common mistreating classified information is.
The prosecution of it, of course, is very selective. And that’s the problem, and David Petraeus’ problem, and Congress’ problem.
Yet that won’t ensure that Congress does anything to fix that problem with the means at their disposal, legislating a fix to stop the misuse of the Espionage Act. That’s because they like the overly broad use of it to cudgel leakers they don’t like. Just not the ones they’re particularly fond of.
On Friday, officials from James Clapper’s office confirmed in a number of different ways that the government obtains “vast troves” of Americans’ communication overseas. And rather than enforce Dianne Feinstein and Mark Udall’s suggestion that the intelligence community treat it under FISA — as the spirit of FISA Amendment Acts, which extended protection to Americans abroad, would support — Congress instead passed Section 309, a measure to impose limited protections on vast unregulated spying on Americans.
This all happened at CATO’s conference on surveillance, an awesome conference set up by Julian Sanchez.
My panel (moderated very superbly by Charlie Savage) revisited at length the debate between former State Department whistleblower John Napier Tye and Director of National Intelligence Civil Liberties Officer Alex Joel (into which I stuck my nose). As he did in his Politico post responding to Tye’s alarms about the risk of EO 123333 collection against Americans to democracy, Joel pointed to the topical limits on bulk collection Obama imposed in his Presidential Policy Directive 28, which read,
The United States must consequently collect signals intelligence in bulk in certain circumstances in order to identify these threats. Routine communications and communications of national security interest increasingly transit the same networks, however, and the collection of signals intelligence in bulk may consequently result in the collection of information about persons whose activities are not of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence value. The United States will therefore impose new limits on its use of signals intelligence collected in bulk. These limits are intended to protect the privacy and civil liberties of all persons, whatever their nationality and regardless of where they might reside.
In particular, when the United States collects nonpublicly available signals intelligence in bulk, it shall use that data only for the purposes of detecting and countering: (1) espionage and other threats and activities directed by foreign powers or their intelligence services against the United States and its interests; (2) threats to the United States and its interests from terrorism; (3) threats to the United States and its interests from the development, possession, proliferation, or use of weapons of mass destruction; (4) cybersecurity threats; (5) threats to U.S. or allied Armed Forces or other U.S or allied personnel; and (6) transnational criminal threats, including illicit finance and sanctions evasion related to the other purposes named in this section.
I noted — as I did in my Salon piece on the topic — that bulk collection for even just one topic means the collection of everything, as counterterrorism serves as the excuse to get all phone records in the US in the phone dragnet. Joel did not dispute that, explaining that PPD-28 only limits the use of data that has been bulk collected to these six purposes. PPD-28 does nothing to limit bulk collection itself. Though the fact that these limitations have forced a change in how the NSA operates is testament that they were using data collected in bulk for even more reasons before January.
The NSA is, then, aspiring to collect it all, around the world.
Which was a point confirmed in an exchange between Joel and Tye. Joel claimed we weren’t collecting nearly all of the Internet traffic out there, saying it was just a small fraction. Tye said that was disingenuous, because 80% of Internet traffic is actually things like Netflix. Tye stated that the NSA does collect a significant percentage of the remainder (he implied most, but I’d want to see the video before I characterize how strongly he said that).
Again, collect it all.
Our panel didn’t get around to talking about Section 309 of the Intelligence Authorization, which I examined here. The Section imposes a 5 year retention limit on US person data except for a number of familiar purposes — foreign intelligence, evidence of a crime, encryption, all foreign participants, tech assurance or compliance, or an Agency head says he needs to retain it longer (which requires notice to Congress). Justin Amash had argued, in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the provision, that the measure provides affirmative basis for sharing US person content collected under EO 12333.
In a later panel at the CATO conference, DNI General Counsel Bob Litt said that the measure doesn’t change anything about what the IC is already doing. Continue reading
In a last minute amendment to the Intelligence Authorization, the House and Senate passed a new section basically imposing minimization procedures for EO 12333 or other intelligence collection not obtained by court order. (See Section 309)
(A) Application.–The procedures required by paragraph (1) shall apply to any intelligence collection activity not otherwise authorized by court order (including an order or certification issued by a court established under subsection (a) or (b) of section 103 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (50 U.S.C. 1803)), subpoena, or similar legal process that is reasonably anticipated to result in the acquisition of a covered communication to or from a United States person and shall permit the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of covered communications subject to the limitation in subparagraph (B).
(B) Limitation on retention.–A covered communication shall not be retained in excess of 5 years, unless–
(i) the communication has been affirmatively determined, in whole or in part, to constitute foreign intelligence or counterintelligence or is necessary to understand or assess foreign intelligence or counterintelligence;
(ii) the communication is reasonably believed to constitute evidence of a crime and is retained by a law enforcement agency;
(iii) the communication is enciphered or reasonably believed to have a secret meaning;
(iv) all parties to the communication are reasonably believed to be non-United States persons;
(v) retention is necessary to protect against an imminent threat to human life, in which case both the nature of the threat and
the information to be retained shall be reported to the congressional intelligence committees not later than 30 days after the
date such retention is extended under this clause;
(vi) retention is necessary for technical assurance or compliance purposes, including a court order or discovery obligation, in which case access to information retained for technical assurance or compliance purposes shall be reported to the congressional
intelligence committees on an annual basis; or
(vii) retention for a period in excess of 5 years is approved by the head of the element of the intelligence community responsible for such retention, based on a determination that retention is necessary to protect the national security of the United States, in which case the head of such element shall provide to the congressional intelligence committees a written certification describing–
(I) the reasons extended retention is necessary to protect the national security of the United States; (II) the duration for which the head of the element is authorizing retention;
(III) the particular information to be retained; and
(IV) the measures the element ofthe intelligence community is taking toprotect the privacy interests of UnitedStates persons or persons locatedinside the United States.
The language seems to be related to — but more comprehensive than — language included in the RuppRoge bill earlier this year. That, in turn, seemed to arise out of concerns raised by PCLOB that some unnamed agencies had not revised their minimization procedures in the entire life of EO 12333.
Whereas that earlier passage had required what I’ll call Reagan deadenders (since they haven’t updated their procedures since him) to come up with procedures, this section effectively imposes minimization procedures similar to, though not identical, to what the NSA uses: 5 year retention except for a number of reporting requirements to Congress.
I suspect these are an improvement over whatever the deadenders have been using But as Justin Amash wrote in an unsuccessful letter trying to get colleagues to oppose the intelligence authorization because of the late addition, the section provides affirmative basis for agencies to share US person communications whereas none had existed.
Sec. 309 authorizes “the acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of nonpublic communications, including those to and from U.S. persons. The section contemplates that those private communications of Americans, obtained without a court order, may be transferred to domestic law enforcement for criminal investigations.
To be clear, Sec. 309 provides the first statutory authority for the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of U.S. persons’ private communications obtained without legal process such as a court order or a subpoena. The administration currently may conduct such surveillance under a claim of executive authority, such as E.O. 12333. However, Congress never has approved of using executive authority in that way to capture and use Americans’ private telephone records, electronic communications, or cloud data.
In exchange for the data retention requirements that the executive already follows, Sec. 309 provides a novel statutory basis for the executive branch’s capture and use of Americans’ private communications. The Senate inserted the provision into the intelligence reauthorization bill late last night.
Which raises the question of what the emergency was to have both houses of Congress push this through at the last minute? Back in March, after all, RuppRoge was happy to let the agencies do this on normal legislative time.
I can think of several possibilities:
Or maybe this is meant to provide the patina of legality to some other dragnet we don’t yet know about.
Still, I find it an interesting little emergency the intelligence committees seem to want to address.