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Colleen McMahon’s Cheshire Cat: CIA’s Stephen Preston

As you no doubt remember from Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat keeps disappearing. Indeed, the cat’s habit of disappearing at will presents an insurmountable challenge to the Queen’s normally simple rules on executions.

When [Alice] got back to the Cheshire Cat, she was surprised to find quite a large crowd collected round it: there was a dispute going on between the executioner, the King, and the Queen, who were all talking at once, while all the rest were quite silent, and looked very uncomfortable.

The moment Alice appeared, she was appealed to by all three to settle the question, and they repeated their arguments to her, though, as they all spoke at once, she found it very hard indeed to make out exactly what they said.

The executioner’s argument was, that you couldn’t cut off a head unless there was a body to cut it off from: that he had never had to do such a thing before, and he wasn’t going to begin at HIS time of life.

The King’s argument was, that anything that had a head could be beheaded, and that you weren’t to talk nonsense.

The Queen’s argument was, that if something wasn’t done about it in less than no time she’d have everybody executed, all round. (It was this last remark that had made the whole party look so grave and anxious.)

Alice could think of nothing else to say but ‘It belongs to the Duchess: you’d better ask HER about it.’

‘She’s in prison,’ the Queen said to the executioner: ‘fetch her here.’

And the executioner went off like an arrow. The Cat’s head began fading away the moment he was gone, and, by the time he had come back with the Duchess, it had entirely disappeared; so the King and the executioner ran wildly up and down looking for it, while the rest of the party went back to the game.

While Judge Colleen McMahon’s reference to Alice was probably just an offhand reference, I submit that she’s got a Cheshire Cat right in the middle of her ruling: CIA General Counsel Stephen Preston and the Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification.

As you read her ruling, it’s helpful to remember that she has seen some materials that plaintiffs ACLU and NYT have not. Moreover, this ruling was not sufficient to her argument. She has also written a classified Appendix.

This opinion will deal only with matters than have been disclosed on the public record. The Government has submitted material to the Court ex parte and for in camera review. Certain issues requiring discussion in order to make this opinion complete relate to this classified material. That discussion is the subject of a separate, classified Appendix to this opinion, which is being filed under seal and is not available to Plaintiff’s counsel.

As a threshold matter, then, it is perhaps judicious to assume that any big holes in McMahon’s ruling are dealt with, by necessity, in that Appendix.

There is one obvious, glaring hole (though I am biased, given that I was the first to point to it in the government’s filings): her analysis of whether the government’s searches for documents was adequate. After laying out the relevant standard (page 35), she simply lists the Government’s explanation of its searches–one of which is a classified CIA declaration–and concludes,

This court has reviewed these explanations and concludes that the searches by the responding agencies comported with their statutory obligations.

Again, I’m biased, having pointed out all sorts of reasons why the searches were inadequate, but for McMahon to conclude they were, there must be more compelling evidence in that classified declaration, and she should have to explain how those facially inadequate searches were adequate.

But consider her treatment of a different document I’ve found missing in the past: Preston’s very public speech obliquely covering targeted killing. McMahon acknowledges (page 20) that the plaintiffs have included that in their list of public statements Obama officials have made about targeted killing, but she doesn’t give it the detailed treatment she gives several other speeches by John Brennan, Harold Koh, President Obama, Jeh Johnson, and Eric Holder.

I find that significant given that Preston laid out different logic for the legality of targeted killing than the others did, situating it in Article II rather than in the AUMF.

Preston checks off the first box–authorization under US law before the op–by looking to Article II, not the AUMF Congress passed.

First, we would confirm that the contemplated activity is authorized by the President in the exercise of his powers under Article II of the U.S. Constitution, for example, the President’s responsibility as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief to protect the country from an imminent threat of violent attack. This would not be just a one-time check for legal authority at the outset. Our hypothetical program would be engineered so as to ensure that, through careful review and senior-level decision-making, each individual action is linked to the imminent threat justification.

A specific congressional authorization might also provide an independent basis for the use of force under U.S. law. [my emphasis]

That’s interesting for several reasons. First, it situates the authority to use lethal force not in the stated basis OLC is using–the one SCOTUS has affirmed (sort of), but in Article II. Just where John Yoo would look to situate it.

This also means that CIA maintains it has this authority–presuming a Presidential Finding–outside the context of a declared war.

The memo described by Charlie Savage, like all the other speeches, relies on the AUMF.

Mr. Awlaki, who was born in New Mexico, was also accused of playing a role in a failed plot to bomb two cargo planes last year, part of a pattern of activities that counterterrorism officials have said showed that he had evolved from merely being a propagandist — in sermons justifying violence by Muslims against the United States — to playing an operational role in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s continuing efforts to carry out terrorist attacks.

Other assertions about Mr. Awlaki included that he was a leader of the group, which had become a “cobelligerent” with Al Qaeda, and he was pushing it to focus on trying to attack the United States again. The lawyers were also told that capturing him alive among hostile armed allies might not be feasible if and when he were located.

Based on those premises, the Justice Department concluded that Mr. Awlaki was covered by the authorization to use military force against Al Qaeda that Congress enacted shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — meaning that he was a lawful target in the armed conflict unless some other legal prohibition trumped that authority.

Preston’s speech suggests that if OLC were writing a memo authorizing the CIA to kill Awlaki–as distinct from a memo authorizing DOD to kill him–it wouldn’t necessarily situate the authority in the AUMF. And from that we can surmise that DOJ might have an entirely different memo for CIA than for DOD, with the one described by Savage being the DOD one.

I’ve suspected that’s the case for quite some time (I’ll try to rewrite the 2 very long unpublished posts laying this out).

But I suspect it even more so now.

About 30 pages of McMahon’s opinion addresses why DOD can withhold OLC opinions it has acknowledged. As part of that discussion, she asserts the NYT only wants the DOD opinion.

The Times sole apparent goal at this point is to get a hold of the OLC-DoD Memo, which, it assumes, contains the final legal analysis and justification it seeks.

The ruling doesn’t note this, but I think NYT is doing more than assume here. Savage suggested, after all, that the memo he described was the memo that governed the killing of Awlaki.

But the document that laid out the administration’s justification — a roughly 50-page memorandum by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, completed around June 2010 — was described on the condition of anonymity by people who have read it.

So I assume he was told that the memo described to him was the memo that governed the killing a full 15 months later, at a time when CIA had taken over the lead in drone killings in Yemen from DOD.

But McMahon leaves a lot of suggestions that this is not the case, particularly in this long passage explaining why deliberative privilege governs the DOD memo the government has acknowledged. (Thoughout this section, bold emphasis mine, italics McMahon’s, and citations omitted.)

But there is no suggestion, in any of those speeches or interviews, that the legal reasoning being discussed is the reasoning set out in the OLC-DoD Memo, a document which the Government acknowledges exists. This document, unlike the OLC opinions on local enforcement of immigration laws, has never been mentioned in any public statement. For that matter, OLC has never been mentioned in any public statement; none of the speeches attribute any legal principles announced to OLC or to any opinion it has issued.

Indeed, she even quotes from a colleague’s opinion raising the possibility of other memos addressing the same topic.

My colleague Judge Scheindlin noted [in National Day Laborer Organization v ICE], “[U]nless the defendants have unlawfully withheld other legal memoranda from plaintiffs and this Court, it was the only document comprehensively laying out the legal authority for making Secure Communities mandatory. Thus, the analysis in the Memorandum seems to be the only rationale that the agency could have relied upon and adopted as the legal basis for the policy.”

In this case, however, there is no evidence that the Government “continually relied upon and repeated in public the arguments made” specifically in the OLC-DoD Memo. Read more

Lost Among the Findings in Syria

The Neocons have been pressuring Obama to do something in Syria. So it’s thoroughly unsurprising that we’re officially learning what we’ve known for months: the CIA has been involved in Syria. According to Mark Hosenball the Finding Obama signed authorizing such actions permits us to collaborate at a “secret” command center on or close to our air base at Incirlik.

A U.S. government source acknowledged that under provisions of the presidential finding, the United States was collaborating with a secret command center operated by Turkey and its allies.

[snip]

This “nerve center” is in Adana, a city in southern Turkey about 60 miles from the Syrian border, which is also home to Incirlik, a U.S. air base where U.S. military and intelligence agencies maintain a substantial presence.

The Finding doesn’t authorize arming the rebels (though Hosenball’s sources seem unsure about the general scope of the Finding), but NBC has reported that the Saudis and Qataris have already armed them with shoulder-launched missiles.

It’s just like old times! The US partnering with Saudis to get shoulder-launched missiles into the hands of rebels with dubious loyalties. Whatever could go wrong with that?

There are two details about this that deserve notice.

What happened to the leak hawks in Congress?

First, this story is based on the leak of a covert Finding–precisely the kind of leak that Congress has gone on the warpath against. Hosenball attributes his reporting to US sources–an attribution that can (though doesn’t necessarily) refer to Congressional sources.

U.S. sources familiar with the matter said.

[snip]

A U.S. government source acknowledged

And while he notes–and names–the Senators who have been pressuring Obama to do precisely what he has been doing for months, Hosenball doesn’t name the members of Congress who are opposed to such an action.

Some U.S. lawmakers, such as Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have criticized Obama for moving too slowly to assist the rebels and have suggested the U.S. government should become directly involved in arming Assad’s opponents.

Other lawmakers have suggested caution, saying too little is known about the many rebel groups.

In short, chances are not insignificant that a Congressional source leaked the contents of a Finding authorizing covert operations.

And yet … crickets!

Those same Senate Intelligence Committee leak hawks who have authorized a range of stupid actions to prevent leaks seem unperturbed by a leak revealing information that is as sensitive as the leaks they’re demanding be investigated.

How does anti-Assad Finding relate to the Assad-cooperation authorized under the Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification?

Then there’s this. In his description of all the things included in the Gloves Come Off Memorandum of Notification authorizing the war on terror, Bob Woodward said cooperation with Syria (and Libya) were included.

[George Tenet] called for initiating intelligence contact with some rogue states such as Libya and Syria that he said might be helpful in trying to destroy al Qaeda. For the CIA to obtain helpful information against the terrorists, they might have to get their hands dirty. (Bush at War 77)

We know the MON included such cooperation with Libya because liberated documents have reflected cooperation on renditions. And Maher Arar, who was rendered to Syria and tortured, can tell you all about what our cooperation with Syria entailed.

The thing is, the MON authorizing cooperation with Syria remains in effect. We know that to be true because Judge Richard Wesley, in enabling the government to keep all mention of this MON secret a few months ago, stated it pertained to “active intelligence activity.” Rather than writing a new MON–one that doesn’t give CIA carte blanche in deciding the limits of things like targeted killings–Obama is still relying on this MON for things like killing American citizens.

So does that mean the CIA is at once authorized to share intelligence with Bashar al-Assad (under the Gloves Come Off MON) and help rebels overthrow and probably kill him (under this new Finding)?

Probably, there is a very simple explanation for this (and for the fact that we helped to kill Moammar Qaddafi, as well). Probably, the new FInding (and whatever Finding authorized the activities our spooks engaged in in Libya) simply includes language canceling the prior language authorizing cooperation with Assad. So no big deal, really.

Still, doesn’t that give lie to the Administration’s seeming treatment of that 11 year old MON as inviolate? That is, if this Finding renders (heh) part of that MON meaningless, then maybe it wouldn’t be so hard for Obama to write a new MON, one that involved actual oversight.

“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

Judge Hellerstein: Yes, the Redacted Torture Authorization Pertains to the September 17, 2001 Torture Authorization

I’m still working my way through the ACLU FOIA docket in light of my ongoing series (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4) on the Obama Administration’s efforts to keep the authorization for the torture program–that is, probably the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification–secret.

Now that I’ve laid all that out, this order from Judge Alvin Hellerstein is hysterical.

By order dated October 8, 2010, I directed that the parties submit a briefing schedule with respect to the September 17, 2001 presidential directive. On October 21, 2010, I received an ex parte, classified submission from the Government requesting that I reconsider that order in light of the parties’ upcoming appeals of the October 1,2010 Order of Final Judgment on Fourth and Fifth Motions for Partial Summary Judgment. Upon reviewing the Government’s classified submission in camera, I have determined that litigation of the presidential directive is intertwined with the issues presented by the parties’ appeals of the October 1, 2010 Order, and that resolution of the appeals may be dispositive.

Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED that litigation of the September 17, 2001 presidential directive is stayed pending resolution of the parties’ appeals of the October 1, 2010 Order.

So Judge Hellerstein orders the government to release the language describing the authorization for the torture program–which I believe is the September 17, 2001 MON–on October 1, 2010. And then the government, all secret-like, in a classified ex parte submission, asks him to hold off on the next issue in the litigation, discussions about the September 17, 2001 “Directive” noted in the Dorn declaration.

So he turns around and writes an order saying, “Hey, you know that language about who or how the torture program was authorized, that I believe the government is improperly hiding as an intelligence method? Well, the government just came to me and secretly told me it’s, um, ‘intertwined’ with questions about whether the government should have to release that September 17, 2001 Presidential directive that, as Dorn explained, ‘pertains to the CIA’s authorization to detain terrorists.'”

Next up, Hellerstein will be writing an order reading: “the resident-Pay thorized-oay the orture-tay rogram-pay.”

CIA’s NSC’s President’s Torture Program'>The CIA’s NSC’s President’s Torture Program

One more diversionary post before I delve into why the Administration is so worried about releasing a short phrase that, I suspect, acknowledges that George Bush’s September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification authorized the torture program.

National Security Advisor Jim Jones submitted a declaration supporting Administration efforts to keep the authorization behind the torture program secret

I want to reflect on what it means that then-National Security Advisor Jim Jones submitted a declaration–sometime in Fall 2009–to keep this short phrase hidden. The government revealed that, though without hinting at what Jones had to say, in the October 29, 2009 closed hearing with Judge Alvin Hellerstein.

MR, LANE . We think the first Issue before we get to documents is your Honor had asked us to specifically identify the second declarant. There is a second declaration in this case. And we wanted to put that on the record that that declaration is from James L. Jones, Assistant to the President for National Security and National Security Advisor,

AUSA Sean Lane then goes on to make clear that Jones’ declaration argues why Hellerstein should withhold the few word acknowledgment that the Memorandum of Notification authorized the torture program.

THE COURT: Both [Jones’ declaration and a second sealed one from CIA Associate Information Review Office Wendy Hilton] support the argument for maintenance of the redactions.
MR. LANE: Correct, your Honor. They both address what the government ties been calling “the Intelligence method” withheld from the two OLC memos, and the Court has been referring to as “The source of the CIA’s authority.”

So it’s not just that–as I inaccurately suggested the other day–that the CIA is trying to keep this short phrase noting that the President authorized the torture program secret. The National Security Advisor–for all intents and purposes, the President himself–is going to some lengths to keep that phrase secret as well.

Read more

George Tenet’s Bureaucratic CYA

Let me divert from my obsession on the CIA’s efforts to hide references to what I believe is the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification authorizing torture and a whole lot else to talk about what a neat bureaucratic trick George Tenet pulled. As I’ve confirmed, what the CIA is going to some length to hide is the second half of the title of the document George Tenet drew up to try to impose some kind of controls on the CIA’s torture program in January 2003. The title reads, “Guidelines on Interrogations Conducted Pursuant to the” with the authorities that authorize such interrogations redacted.

But let’s take a step back and put that document–with its now highly sensitive invocation of the authorities on which the torture program rested–in context.

As far as I’m aware, unlike Michael Hayden and John Rizzo, Tenet has not publicly confirmed a Presidential Memorandum of Notification authorized the torture program. In his memoir, he describes a briefing he conducted on September 15, 2001, two days before Bush signed the MON. He describes asking for authority to detain al Qaeda figures.

We raised the importance of being able to detain unilaterally al-Qa’ida operatives around the world.

He also pitched using drones to kill al Qaeda operatives.

We suggested using armed Predator UAVs to kill Bin Laden’s key lieutenants, and using our contacts around the world to pursue al-Qa’ida’s sources of funding, through identifying non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals who funded terrorist operations.

And he describes a whole bunch of other asks, like partnering with the Uzbekistan and–as part of another ask–with Syria and Libya. In short, Tenet describes asking for authorization to do the things we know are included in that MON.

Then, he describes watching Bush kick off the war on September 20, reflecting,

By then, as I remember, the president had already granted us the broad operational authority I had asked for.

Well, sucks to be Tenet, because as it happens, Bush authorized those activities broadly, but never put in writing that the authorization to detain al Qaeda figures included the authorization to torture

A few days after the attacks, President Bush signed a top-secret directive to CIA authorizing an unprecedented array of covert actions against Al Qaeda and its leadership. Read more

The CIA Continues to Cover Up Bush’s Authorization of Torture

Reading the unredacted sections of this ex parte hearing on the ACLU’s torture FOIA leads me to suspect the CIA is trying to keep hidden all mention of Bush’s September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification authorizing a range of counterterrorism activities.

Take a look, first of all, at the discussion about Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s problems treating something that is redacted in the “second and fourth” OLC memos as an Exemption 3 sources and methods withholding. He objected, apparently, because the redacted information was not a method, but instead the source of authority.

Judge Carney: Judge Hellerstein rejected the characterization of that as a method, and said instead this is a source of authority.

[snip]

JUDGE CARNEY: I have a follow up, if I may.

So if I understand the government’s position, your position Is the material redacted from the second and fourth OLC memos was properly exempt under Exemption 1, and that Judge Hellerstein’s ruling then was somewhat incomplete in that he rejected and demanded that you use an alternative characterization under–he rejected it under Exemption 3. He was saying this was, a source of authority, not a method.

[snip]

MS. LA MORTE: I don’t recall an expressed ruling in the transcript about Exemption 1. I think what Judge Hellerstein’s thought process was, was that this was a source of authority, and that’s it, not an activity, not a method.

Now, we know what the source of authority for the torture program was thanks to reporting on it–it was purportedly authorized by Bush’s September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification. Here’s how the NYT described it as early as 2006.

According to accounts by three former intelligence officials, the C.I.A. understood that the legal foundation for its role had been spelled out in a sweeping classified directive signed by Mr. Bush on Sept. 17, 2001. The directive, known as a memorandum of notification, authorized the C.I.A. for the first time to capture, detain and interrogate terrorism suspects, providing the foundation for what became its secret prison system.

LaMorte’s descriptions introducing these particular OLC redactions make it fairly clear that the authorization in question is the one that authorized the capture and detention of top Al Qaeda figures–that is, the September 17 MON.

Ms. La Morte: [In response to a question about sources and methods redactions] That’s absolutely correct. So, for example, in the OLC memos, [1.5 lines redacted] So that program was a program where the CIA was authorized to capture international terrorists abroad, detain them in foreign countries, and interrogate them using not only standard methods but enhanced interrogation techniques.

But that detention, that CIA detention and interrogation program, was a program that [3 paragraphs redacted]

I love how she makes a point of calling this a “CIA detention and interrogation” program; we know that the finding that authorized the program actually didn’t lay out the interrogation program. She seems awfully concerned about insisting that the MON authorized not just capture and detention, but also interrogation; I’ll explain a likely source of her concern in a follow-up post.

She goes on to suggest that if these passages in the OLC memos were revealed, it would amount to the first time this content–presumably the Presidential MON–were revealed.

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.

I’ll rip this claim to shreds in a subsequent post. But for the moment I’d like to point to what I think are the redactions in question.

As noted above, Judge Carney said these redactions are in the second and fourth OLC memos. As part of the same exchange, Judge Richard Wesley makes it clear they are in one of the March 10 and the March 30 memos.

Page 29 of the March 10, 2005 Techniques memo includes this passage:

Interrogators (and other personnel deployed as part of this program) are required to review and acknowledge the applicable interrogation guidelines. See Confinement Guidelines at 2; Interrogation Guidelines at 2 (“The Director, DCI Counterterrorist Center shall ensure that all personnel directly engaged in the interrogation of persons detained pursuant to the authorities set forth in [half line redacted]

And in addition to the large redactions on page 4 and 5 of the March 30, 2005 CAT memo–which appear to provide general background on the torture program and therefore might address authorization–page 7 includes a reference to the same Tenet Guidelines.

Any interrogation plan that involves the use of enhanced techniques must be reviewed and approved by “the Director, DCI Counterterrorist Center, with the concurrence of the Chief, CTC Legal Group.” George J. Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence, Guidelines on Interrogations Conducted Purusant to the [half line redacted].

Here’s the Guidelines on Interrogation in question. You will be thoroughly unsurprised the authorities referenced in the title, as well as most of the paragraph that lays out those authorities, are redacted.

As I noted, I will have a follow-up post or two on this one. But it appears that amid the big argument whether waterboarding is an intelligence method or not is one the CIA is fighting just as aggressively: whether or not it has to reveal the already widely-reported fact that George Bush unilaterally authorized all this torture on September 17, 2001.

Read more

If the Legal Case for Killing Awlaki Is So Sound, Then Why Maintain Presidential Plausible Deniability?

Glenn Greenwald has another worthwhile post on Democrats’ silence about the Anwar al-Awlaki assassination. But i wanted to push back against one thing he said. After quoting from this Mark Hosenball story on the kill list approval process, Glenn said,

So a panel operating out of the White House — that meets in total secrecy, with no law or rules governing what it can do or how it operates — is empowered to place American citizens on a list to be killed, which (by some process nobody knows) eventually makes its way to the President, who is the final Decider.

But that’s not actually what Hosenball wrote. On the contrary, Hosenball emphasized that Obama’s role in the kill list approval process remains unclear.

The role of the president in ordering or ratifying a decision to target a citizen is fuzzy. White House spokesman Tommy Vietor declined to discuss anything about the process.

[snip]

Other officials said the role of the president in the process was murkier than what Ruppersberger described.

They said targeting recommendations are drawn up by a committee of mid-level National Security Council and agency officials. Their recommendations are then sent to the panel of NSC “principals,” meaning Cabinet secretaries and intelligence unit chiefs, for approval. The panel of principals could have different memberships when considering different operational issues, they said.

[snip]

Several officials said that when Awlaki became the first American put on the target list, Obama was not required personally to approve the targeting of a person. But one official said Obama would be notified of the principals’ decision. If he objected, the decision would be nullified, the official said.

A former official said one of the reasons for making senior officials principally responsible for nominating Americans for the target list was to “protect” the president.

And the Administration has tried to keep Obama’s role murky. In addition to the Vietor refusal to discuss the issue Hosenball notes, Obama very pointedly refused to answer whether he had ordered Awlaki’s killing when asked by Michael Smerconish.

Michael Smerconish: Now comes the news that we’ve taken out Anwar al-Awlaki. Did you give that order?

Obama: I can’t talk about the operational details, Michael. [my emphasis]

This is, sadly, another way that the Awlaki assassination is like Bush’s torture program. There, too, the Administration built in plausible deniability for the President. The initial authorization for the torture–Bush’s September 17, 2001 Finding authorizing the capture and detention of al Qaeda figures–didn’t mention torture at all. The Administration twice refused to tell Jane Harman whether the President had authorized the program. The White House only gave more formal Presidential torture authorization in 2003 and again in 2004 (though even there, it attempted to avoid doing so).

Sure, Bush ultimately boasted that he had approved torture. But for years, the Administration sustained the President’s plausible deniability for the illegal program.

The Obama White House efforts to do the same with Awalaki’s death are all the more striking given that it has not been so coy about Obama’s involvement in ordering hits in the past, most notably when we killed Osama bin Laden. Indeed, they worked hard to foster the narrative of Obama making the difficult decision to order the SEAL operation. And here’s what a Senior Administration Official who may be named John Brennan said the day after the Osama bin Laden killing regarding Obama’s role.

In the middle of March, the President began a series of National Security Council meetings that he chaired to pursue again the intelligence basis and to develop courses of action to bring justice to Osama bin Laden.  Indeed, by my count, the President chaired no fewer than five National Security Council meetings on the topic from the middle of March — March 14th, March 29th, April 12th, April 19th, and April 28th.  And the President gave the final order to pursue the operation that he announced to the nation tonight on the morning — Friday morning of April 29th. [my emphasis]

With OBL, the Administration proudly highlighted Obama’s role in the decision-making process; here, they’re working hard to obscure it.

As with the torture program, that suggests the Administration may believe it important for the President to have plausible deniability about this killing.

Dick Cheney Made No Mention of Millenium Plot in His Book

I’m still slogging through Dick Cheney’s awful book–I will write some more comprehensive things when I finish.

But I found this passage particularly curious given recent claims by Ali Soufan and Richard Clarke that we might have been able to prevent 9/11:

They had struck us before, blowing a crater five stories deep in the World Trade Center in New York in 1993. Al Qaeda had attacked our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, killing hundreds, including twelve Americans. Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda’s leader, had personally chosen the operatives who bombed the U.S.S. Cole in a Yemeni harbor in 2000. Seventeen crew members had died. During the nineties, the United States had treated terrorist attacks primarily as law enforcement matters, indicting terrorists when we could, trying them, and sending some of them to prison. But that approach hadn’t stopped the attacks. Al Qaeda had just delivered the most devastating blow to our homeland in its history.

We needed a new way forward, one based on the recognition that we were at war.

In this abbreviated passage, Cheney makes his case that we had to combat al Qaeda with a wartime approach, something different that had been used up to that point.

There’s a lot else he misses in the lead up to 9/11. He makes no mention of Richard Clarke and his efforts to do something about al Qaeda. That’s not surprising given Cheney’s churlish approach to mentions of others in this book.

Cheney also lays no blame for the Cole bombing–not on the Navy and not on Clinton. This, in spite of the fact that he attacked similar military errors contributing to the 1983 Marine barracks attack in Beirut and the Blackhawk attack in Somalia, and in spite of his almost gleeful joy at blaming Carter and Clinton for the failed Desert One rescue and Somalia, respectively.

But the failure to mention that law enforcement had discovered and prevented a plot is really telling. Because, of course, alert law enforcement had “stopped the attacks” on one occasion, but it’s that occasion he completely ignores in his recitation of past al Qaeda attacks.

So there it is–the bulk of the justification for Cheney’s One Percent Doctrine, omitting all mention that sound counter-terrorism policy might have prevented the USS Cole or at least the casualties, that our counter-terrorism efforts had successfully interdicted a plot, and that Richard Clarke (and George Tenet) had been issuing shrill warnings in the days leading up to 9/11.

Sure, he needs to omit those details to make his logic work. He needs to present war as the only option.

But it also makes you wonder whether he knows, too, that we could, and should, have prevented 9/11.

One Good Reason the WaPo Should NOT Get Kudos for Its “Top Secret” Series

The WaPo has an article out that’s causing quite a stir. It bemoans the fact that the CIA has lost much of its top managers since 9/11.

More than 90 of the agency’s upper-level managers have left for the private sector in the past 10 years, according to data compiled by The Washington Post. In addition to three directors, the CIA has lost four of its deputy directors for operations, three directors of its counterterrorism center and all five of the division chiefs who were in place the day of the Sept. 11 attacks and responsible for monitoring terrorism and instability across the world.

Let’s name some of the people they’re talking about, shall we?

  • George “Slam Dunk” Tenet
  • Porter Goss
  • Michael Hayden
  • John McLaughlin
  • Stephen Kappes
  • Jose Rodriguez
  • Cofer Black
  • Robert Grenier

Several of these people were instrumental in trumping up propaganda to justify a war of choice. Several others implemented a system of rendition and torture. One of them helped the Vice President set up an illegal domestic wiretap program. The least compromised, legally (Grenier), probably was less than forthcoming under oath in the CIA Leak Case.

Really?!?! We’re bemoaning the fact that this parade of criminally and morally compromised people are no longer in a position of top leadership (though a number of them are still on the federal gravy train as contractors)?

There’s also little consideration of why and where Black went when they left: the urge to have mercenaries as a way to evade legal limits drove some of this exodus as much as money.

Two (digital) pages later, the WaPo finally gets around to the real problem with the exodus of more junior level officers: the loss of functional expertise.

In 2009, after a double-agent blew himself up at a CIA base in Afghanistan, killing seven of the agency’s officers, many former officials suggested that the tragedy might have been prevented had the CIA retained more senior personnel at the outpost.

Some officials questioned why the agency had given one of the top assignments there to an officer who had never served in a war zone. Other former officials raised concerns about how intelligence assets were being handled in the field.

“The tradecraft that was developed over many years is passe,” a recently retired senior intelligence official said at the time. “Now it’s a military tempo, where you don’t have time for validating and vetting sources. . . . All that seems to have gone by the board. It shows there are not a lot of people with a great deal of experience in this field.”

In other words, the problem with contracting is far more complex than the WaPo, in a fairly long article, was able to explain. And in the process, the WaPo never explained a lot of the nuances behind what it sold as its top line story: the departure of the top managers.

I’m not saying the WaPo hasn’t done a lot of work on this story overall. But telling a story–particularly one as complex and important as this one–is more than collecting data points.