“Intelligence professionals have a saying: There are no friendly intelligence services,” the WSJ describes former House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers saying, on the record. While there’s no way of telling — particularly not with WSJ’s described “more than two dozen current and former U.S. intelligence and administration officials” sources behind it’s blockbuster story on US spying on Bibi Netanyahu and other Israelis, Rogers is a likely candidate for some of the other statements attributed to “former US officials,” a moniker that can include agency officials, consultants, and members of Congress.
Which is awfully funny, given that two of the people squealing most loudly in response to the story are Rogers’ immediate predecessor, Crazy Pete Hoekstra, who called it a “Maybe unprecedented abuse of power,” and successor, Devin Nunes, who has already started an investigation into the allegations in the story.
It is the height of hypocrisy for these men, who have been privy to and by their silence have assented to this and, in Crazy Pete’s case, far worse patently illegal spying, to wail about a story that shows the Administration abiding by NSA minimization procedures they’ve both celebrated as more than adequate to protect US person privacy. If NSA’s minimization procedures are inadequate to protect US persons, the first thing Nunes should do is repeal FISA Amendments Act, which can expose far more people than the tailored, presumably EO 12333 tap placed on Bibi, not to mention OmniCISA, which can be targeted at Americans and will have even fewer protections for US persons.
The immediate attempt by a bunch of surveillance maximalists to turn compliant spying into a big scandal raises the question of why this story is coming out now, not incidentally just after Iran turned over its uranium stockpile over to Russia and in the process achieved another big step of the Iran deal.
I’m not in any way meaning to slight the WSJ reporting. Indeed, the story seems to show a breadth of sources that reflect a broad range of interests, and as such is not — as would otherwise be possible — Mike Rogers attempting to leak something to the WSJ so his fellow Republicans can make a stink about things.
This story includes “current and former U.S. officials” providing a list of leaders they claim were detasked from spying in 2014 — François Hollande, Angela Merkel, and other NATO leaders — and those they claim were not — along with Bibi Netanyahu, Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Of course, like James Clapper’s claim that Edward Snowden’s leaks forced the NSA to shut down its full take spying on Afghanistan, this “confirmation” may instead have been an effort to cover for collection that has since been restarted, especially given the story’s even more revealing explanation that, “Instead of removing the [surveillance] implants, Mr. Obama decided to shut off the NSA’s monitoring of phone numbers and email addresses of certain allied leaders—a move that could be reversed by the president or his successor.” Obama did not eliminate the infrastructure that allows him to request surveillance (in actually, monitoring of surveillance going on in any case) to be turned on like a switch, and this WSJ article just conveyed that detail to Hollande and Merkel.
So the story could serve as disinformation to cover up restarted surveillance, and it could serve as a cue for the bogus, unbelievably hypocritical political scandal that Crazy Pete and Nunes appear to want to make it.
But I’m just as interested in the dick-waving in the story.
Some of the most interesting details in the story — once you get beyond the wailing of people like Crazy Pete and Devin Nunes probably swept up in intercepts described in the story — pertain to what NSA did and did not learn about Bibi’s efforts, largely executed through Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, to thwart the Iran deal. A key detail here is that while (it is implied) NSA destroyed most or all of the intercepts involving members of Congress directly with Bibi, they passed on (with US person identities masked) the reports back through foreign ministry channels of discussions with or on behalf of Bibi.
The NSA has leeway to collect and disseminate intercepted communications involving U.S. lawmakers if, for example, foreign ambassadors send messages to their foreign ministries that recount their private meetings or phone calls with members of Congress, current and former officials said.
“Either way, we got the same information,” a former official said, citing detailed reports prepared by the Israelis after exchanges with lawmakers.
In other words, NSA might not pass on the intercepts of calls members of Congress had with Bibi directly, but they would pass on the reports that Dermer or Bibi’s aides would summarize of such discussions. And according to “a former official” (curiously not described as high ranking) by passing on the reports of such conversations, “we got the same information.”
Usually, but not always, according to the story.
It describes that “Obama administration officials” (which may but probably doesn’t include intelligence officials) didn’t learn about John Boehner’s invitation to Bibi to address Congress ahead of time, even though Boehner extended that invite through Dermer.
On Jan. 8, John Boehner, then the Republican House Speaker, and incoming Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed on a plan. They would invite Mr. Netanyahu to deliver a speech to a joint session of Congress. A day later, Mr. Boehner called Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador, to get Mr. Netanyahu’s agreement.
Despite NSA surveillance, Obama administration officials said they were caught off guard when Mr. Boehner announced the invitation on Jan. 21.
According to the description of the article, this call should have been fair game to be shared with the White House as a report through the foreign ministry, but either wasn’t reported through normal channels on the Israeli side or NSA didn’t pass it along.
But, according to the story, the White House did get many of the details about Dermer’s attempt to scotch the Iran deal.
The NSA reports allowed administration officials to peer inside Israeli efforts to turn Congress against the deal. Mr. Dermer was described as coaching unnamed U.S. organizations—which officials could tell from the context were Jewish-American groups—on lines of argument to use with lawmakers, and Israeli officials were reported pressing lawmakers to oppose the deal.
A U.S. intelligence official familiar with the intercepts said Israel’s pitch to undecided lawmakers often included such questions as: “How can we get your vote? What’s it going to take?”
Let me interject and note that, if the people squealing about these intercepts weren’t such raging hypocrites, I might be very concerned about this.
Consider the Jane Harman case. In 2009 it got reported that NSA and FBI collected conversations Jane Harman had (probably on an individual FISA wiretap) with AIPAC suspects in which Harman allegedly agreed to help squelch the criminal investigation into the organization in exchange for help getting the Chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee. The position, not incidentally, that all the people (save Mike Rogers, who seems to have had no problem with them) squealing about these intercepts have held or currently hold. At least according to 2009 reports on this, lawyers in then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ DOJ considered criminal charges against Harman, but chose not to pursue them, because Gonzales — who had criminally, personally authorized the Stellar Wind program in March 2004 — needed Harman’s support in advance of NYT breaking the Stellar Wind story at the end of 2005. That suggests (if these stories are to be believed) Gonzales used Harman’s purported criminal exposure to get protection against his own.
Now, Crazy Pete was out of power well before these particular intercepts were described (though may have his own reason to be concerned about what such intercepts revealed), but in the same period, Devin Nunes got himself appointed HPSCI Chair, just like AIPAC was allegedly brokering with Harman. He got himself appointed HPSCI Chair by the guy, Boehner, who invited Bibi to address Congress.
And what were AIPAC and other groups — who allegedly were offering congressional leadership posts back in 2005 — offering lawmakers last year to oppose the Iran deal? “What’s it going to take?” the intercepts apparently recorded.
What were they offering?
This is the reason permitting lawmakers’ communications to be incidentally collected is such a risk — because it collects the sausage-making behind legislative stances — but also defensible — because it might disclose untoward quid pro quo by foreign governments of members of Congress. It is a real concern that the Executive is collecting details of Congress’ doings. More protections, both for Members of Congress and for regular schlubs, are needed. But wiretapping the incidentally collected communications with foreign leaders is not only solidly within the parameters of Congressionally-approved NSA spying, but may sometimes be important to protect the US.
That’s the kind of the thing the White House may have seen outlines of in the reports it got on Darmer’s attempts — though the report indicates that Democratic lawmakers and Israelis who supported the Iranian deal (probably including former Mossad head Efraim Halevy, who was criticizing Bibi and Darmer’s efforts in real time) were sharing details of Darmer’s efforts directly with the White House.
In the final months of the campaign, NSA intercepts yielded few surprises. Officials said the information reaffirmed what they heard directly from lawmakers and Israeli officials opposed to Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign—that the prime minister was focused on building opposition among Democratic lawmakers.
Which brings me to the dick-waving part. Here’s the last line of the WSJ story.
The NSA intercepts, however, revealed one surprise. Mr. Netanyahu and some of his allies voiced confidence they could win enough votes.
Some of this story is likely to be disinformation for our allies, much of this story seems to be warning (both friendly and unfriendly) to those likely implicated by the intercepts. But this just seems like dick-waving, the spook-and-politician equivalent of spiking the football and doing a lewd dance in the end zone. The Israelis surely knew all the monitoring was going on (even if members of Congress may have been stupid about them), especially given the way John Kerry, as laid out in the story, raised concerns about Israeli spying during negotiations. But this line, the final reveal in the story, mocks the Israelis and their American interlocutors for assuming they had enough to offer — “What’s it going to take to get your vote?”– to kill the Iran deal.
This may, in part, be an effort to get those implicated in the intercepts to exercise some more caution. But it also seems to be a victory dance, just as Russia ships away Iran’s uranium stockpiles.
Over at Al Jazeera, I have a piece about ASSET Y, a CIA source whose fabricated claimed served as one excuse to restart both the torture and the Internet dragnet (ASSET Y’s intelligence was the excuse to restart torture).
Buried amid details of “rectal rehydration” and waterboarding that dominated the headlines over last week’s Senate Intelligence Committee findings was an alarming detail: Both the committee’s summary report and its rebuttal by the CIA admit that a source whose claims were central to the July 2004 resumption of the torture program — and, almost certainly, to authorizing the Internet dragnet collecting massive amounts of Americans’ email metadata — fabricated claims about an election year plot.
The CIA in March 2004 received reporting from a source the torture report calls “Asset Y,” who said a known Al-Qaeda associate in Pakistan, Janat Gul — whom CIA at the time believed was a key facilitator — had set up a meeting between Asset Y and Al-Qaeda’s finance chief, and was helping plan attacks inside the United States timed to coincide with the November 2004 elections. According to the report, CIA officers immediately expressed doubts about the veracity of the information they’d been given by Asset Y. A senior CIA officer called the report “vague” and “worthless in terms of actionable intelligence.” He noted that Al Qaeda had already issued a statement “emphasizing a lack of desire to strike before the U.S. election” and suggested that since Al-Qaeda was aware that “threat reporting causes panic in Washington” and inevitably results in leaks, planting a false claim of an election season attack would be a good way for the network to test whether Asset Y was working for its enemies. Another officer, assigned to the group hunting Osama bin Laden, also expressed doubts.
Soon after the reauthorization of the torture and the Internet dragnet, the CIA realized ASSET Y’s story wasn’t true. By September, an officer involved in Janat Gul’s interrogation observed, “we lack credible information that ties him to pre-election threat information or direct operational planning against the United States, at home or abroad.” In October, CIA reassessed ASSET Y, and found him to be deceptive. When pressured, ASSET Y admitted had had made up the story of a meeting set up by Gul. ASSET Y blamed his CIA handler for pressuring him for intelligence, leading him to lie about the meeting.
Like the Iraq War before then, then, the torture and the dragnet were in part justified by a fabricator, one who, when caught in his lie, complained his handler had pressured him into telling this story. CIA obtained this intelligence in March 2004, after it became clear the counterterrorism programs were in trouble.
The CIA used the claim Janat Gul was involved in an election year plot to get the Principals Committee to reauthorize torture after Jack Goldsmith and George Tenet had halted it.
But there’s also this detail not included in the AJAM piece, which may explain quite a bit about why Senate Democrats have been so aggressive on oversight here where they usually aren’t.
On July 15, 2004, based on the reporting of ASSET Y, the CIA represented to the chairman and vice chairman of the Committee that Janat Gul was associated with a pre-election plot to conduct an attack in the United States.
According to handwritten notes of the briefing, CIA briefers described Janat Gul as “senior AQ” and a “key facilitator” with “proximity” to a suspected pre-election plot. Committee records indicate that CIA briefers told the chairman and vice chairman [Jay Rockefeller] that, given the pre-election threat, it was “incumbent” on the CIA to “review [the] need for EITs,” following the suspension of”EITs.” (See Handwritten notes ofAndrew Johnson (DTS #2009-2077) CIA notes (DTS #2009-2024 pp. 92-95); CIA notes (DTS #2009-2024, pp. 110-121).) [redacted] CTC Legal [redacted] later wrote that the “only reason” for the chairman and vice chairman briefing on Janat Gul was the “potential gain for us” as “the vehicle for briefing the committees on our need for renewed legal and policy support for the CT detention and interrogation program.” See email from:mmil;to: [REDACTED]; subject: Re: Priority: congressional notification on Janat Gul; date: July 29, 2004. (Senate Report, 345)
That is, not only did CIA use this fabricated single source story to get the Principals Committee to reauthorize torture (as well as a series of OLC memos and, ultimately 2 of the May 2005 memos), but they used it as an opportunity to get at least two members of Congress, SSCI Chair Pat Roberts and SSCI Vice Chair Jay Rockefeller, to reauthorize it as well (it’s unclear whether Porter Goss and Jane Harman got an equivalent briefing; in what appears unredacted from the released record of their briefing, they did not, but the CTC lawyer talks about briefing the “committees,” plural, so I assume they did).
This July 2004 briefing would have been the only known briefing for the Gang of Four about the use of torture on a particular detainee before that detainee was tortured (while 3 of 4 Gang of Four members had been briefed that CIA was using torture in February 2003, I know of no briefing where they signed off on torturing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or those rounded up around that time). And the briefing happened even as Pat Roberts was releasing a whitewash on the Iraq War intelligence and the fabricators who went into that.
In his own narratives about torture, Jello Jay never explained what went on in this briefing — that CIA told a story based on a fabrication and based on that, he gave at least tacit approval, after which the CIA tortured someone so badly the detainee asked to be killed. But I can imagine how that might lead him to have a particular interest in exposing all the lies that CIA told Congress about torture.
For its part, CIA is fairly circumspect about how they resumed torture based on a fabrication. Unlike the GOP response, they admit fairly readily this was a fabrication. Yet one of the key claims the SSCI Report challenges is that the torture of Gul, Sharif al-Masri, and Ahmed Ghailani, all of whom were tortured based on this claim, served to “validate” one of their sources — that it, the three together served to debunk Asset Y. Given how central Janat Gul’s torture was, both in 2004 and in Steven Bradbury’s retroactive authorizations in May 2005, I can see why they’d have to invent some purpose for this torture (and Gul did have associations with al Qaeda — just not very involved ones). But ultimately, this torture fell so far below the standards they had set for themselves, it may well explain a great deal about the tensions between CIA and those in Congress who reauthorized torture based on a fabrication.
At the request of some on Twitter, I’m bringing together a Twitter rant of some facts on torture here.
1) Contrary to popular belief, torture was not authorized primarily by the OLC memos John Yoo wrote. It was first authorized by the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification (that is, a Presidential Finding) crafted by Cofer Black. See details on the structure and intent of that Finding here. While the Intelligence Committees were briefed on that Finding, even Gang of Four members were not told that the Finding authorized torture or that the torture had been authorized by that Finding until 2004.
2) That means torture was authorized by the same Finding that authorized drone killing, heavily subsidizing the intelligence services of countries like Jordan and Egypt, cooperating with Syria and Libya, and the training of Afghan special forces (the last detail is part of why David Passaro wanted the Finding for his defense against abuse charges — because he had been directly authorized to kill terror suspects by the President as part of his role in training Afghan special forces).
3) Torture started by proxy (though with Americans present) at least as early as February 2002 and first-hand by April 2002, months before the August 2002 memos. During this period, the torturers were operating with close White House involvement.
4) Something happened — probably Ali Soufan’s concerns about seeing a coffin to be used with Abu Zubaydah — that led CIA to ask for more formal legal protection, which is why they got the OLC memos. CIA asked for, but never got approved, the mock burial that may have elicited their concern.
5) According to the OPR report, when CIA wrote up its own internal guidance, it did not rely on the August 1, 2002 techniques memo, but rather a July 13, 2002 fax that John Yoo had written that was more vague, which also happened to be written on the day Michael Chertoff refused to give advance declination on torture prosecutions.
6) Even after CIA got the August 1, 2002 memo, they did not adhere to it. When they got into trouble — such as when they froze Gul Rahman to death after hosing him down — they went to John Yoo and had him freelance another document, the Legal Principles, which pretend-authorized these techniques. Jack Goldsmith would later deem those Principles not an OLC product.
7) During both the August 1, 2002 and May 2005 OLC memo writing processes, CIA lied to DOJ (or provided false documentation) about what they had done and when they had done it. This was done, in part, to authorize the things Yoo had pretend-authorized in the Legal Principles.
8) In late 2002, then SSCI Chair Bob Graham made initial efforts to conduct oversight over torture (asking, for example, to send a staffer to observe interrogations). CIA got Pat Roberts, who became Chair in 2003, to quash these efforts, though even he claims CIA lied about how he did so.
9) CIA also lied, for years, to Congress. Here are some details of the lies told before 2004. Even after CIA briefed Congress in 2006, they kept lying. Here is Michael Hayden lying to Congress in 2007
10) We do know that some people in the White House were not fully briefed (and probably provided misleading information, particularly as to what CIA got from torture). But we also know that CIA withheld and/or stole back documents implicating the White House. So while it is true that CIA lied to the White House, it is also true that SSCI will not present the full extent of White House (read, David Addington’s) personal, sometimes daily, involvement in the torture.
11) The torturers are absolutely right to be pissed that these documents were withheld, basically hanging them out to dry while protecting Bush, Cheney, and Addington (and people like Tim Flanigan).
12) Obama’s role in covering up the Bush White House’s role in torture has received far too little attention. But Obama’s White House actually successfully intervened to reverse Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s attempt to release to ACLU a short phrase making it clear torture was done pursuant to a Presidential Finding. So while Obama was happy to have CIA’s role in torture exposed, he went to great lengths, both with that FOIA, with criminal discovery, and with the Torture Report, to hide how deeply implicated the Office of the President was in torture.
Bonus 13) John Brennan has admitted to using information from the torture program in declarations he wrote for the FISA Court. This means that information derived from torture was used to scare Colleen Kollar-Kotelly into approving the Internet dragnet in 2004.
But much of this has been clear for even longer, having been exposed in some form in 2009-10.
Yet much of that got lost in CIA’s aggressive attack on Congress — one that anticipated what we’ve seen and will surely continue to see with the release of the Torture Report. At the time, CIA attempted to claim Congress had been fully briefed on torture, and therefore shouldn’t criticize the agency. Yet it gradually became clear how laughable CIA’s claims were. Along the way details of the lies CIA told in briefings came out.
The lies CIA told Congress in its first several years of the torture program include that it,
There are a number of claims CIA made that are almost certainly also false — most notably with regards to what intelligence came from torture — but most of that didn’t get recorded in the CIA’s records. I fully expect we’ll find details of those in the Senate Intelligence Committee report.
September 17, 2001: Bush signs “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification that authorizes capture and detention of top al Qaeda leaders, but leaves CIA to decide the details of that detention
Before I focus on the briefings, some background is in order.
Torture started as a covert operation authorized by the September 17, 2001 Memorandum of Notification. Under the National Security Act, the Intelligence Committees had to be briefed on that Finding and they were. However, the Finding was structured such that it laid out general ideas — in this case, the capture and detention of senior al Qaeda figures — and left the implementation up to CIA. As a result, key members of Congress (notably, Jane Harman, who was Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee for much of the period during which the program operated) apparently had no idea that the Finding they had been briefed on in timely fashion actually served as the Presidential authorization for torture until years later. Also, since that September 17, 2001 Finding authorized both torture and the outsourcing of nasty jobs to foreign intelligence partners, the earliest torture, such as that of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi in Egyptian custody starting in February 2002 and Binyam Mohamed in Pakistani custody starting in April 2002, should be considered part of the same covert op.
April to July 2002: CIA tortures Abu Zubaydah based solely on Presidential authorization
By now there is no dispute: the CIA started torturing Abu Zubaydah well before the August 1, 2002 memo that purportedly prospectively authorized that treatment. CIA even exceeded early verbal guidance on things like sleep deprivation, after which CIA unilaterally authorized what CIA had done retrospectively. The CIA appears to have gotten in real trouble when they moved to conduct mock burial with Abu Zubaydah, to which Ali Soufan objected; his objections appear to be the reason why mock burial (and by extension, mock execution) was the only technique John Yoo ultimately rejected. On July 13, after Michael Chertoff refused to give advance declination of prosecution to CIA for things they were ostensibly talking about prospectively but which had in fact already occurred, Yoo wrote a short memo, almost certainly coached by David Addington but not overseen by Yoo’s boss Jay Bybee, that actually served as the authorization CIA’s CTC would rely on for Abu Zubaydah’s torture, not the August 1 memos everyone talks about. As a result, CIA could point to a document that did not include limits on specific techniques and the precise implementation of those techniques as their authorization to torture.
CIA had, in internal documents, once claimed to have briefed the Gang of Four (then Porter Goss, Nancy Pelosi, Richard Shelby, and Bob Graham) in April 2002. But after being challenged, they agreed they did not conduct those briefings. This, then, created a problem, as CIA had not really briefed Congress — not even the Gang of Four — about this “covert op.”
Septmber 4, 2002: CIA provides initial trial balloon briefing to Pelosi and Goss, then starts destroying evidence
On September 4, 2002, 7 months after Egypt started torturing Ibn Sheikh al-Libi at America’s behest, almost 5 months after CIA started torturing Abu Zubaydah, and over a month after the OLC memo that purportedly started a month of torture for Abu Zubaydah, Jose Rodriguez, a CTC lawyer, and Office of Congressional Affairs head Stan Moskowitz first briefed Congress on torture techniques.
The record supports a claim that CIA provided some kind of description of torture to Nancy Pelosi and Porter Goss. It supports a claim that neither objected to the techniques briefed. Both Pelosi and Goss refer to this briefing, however, as a prospective briefing. Goss referred to the torture techniques as “techniques [that] were to actually be employed,” not that had already been employed, and when asked he did not claim they had been briefed on techniques that had been used. Pelosi claimed,
I was informed then that Department of Justice opinions had concluded that the use of enhanced interrogation techniques was legal. The only mention of waterboarding at that briefing was that it was not being employed.
Those conducting the briefing promised to inform the appropriate Members of Congress if that technique were to be used in the future.
Thus, at least as far as Goss and Pelosi are concerned, over a month after they first waterboarded Abu Zubaydah (and many more after Egypt had waterboarded al-Libi for us), CIA implied they had not yet done so with any detainee.
As striking as the evidence that CIA only briefed prospectively on torture that had been used for as many as 7 months, however, is what happened next. CIA moved to destroy evidence.
The day after that initial briefing in which CIA told Congress it might torture in the future, it “determined that the best alternative to eliminate those security and additional risks is to destroy these tapes.” Then, the following day, CTC altered its own notes on the substance of the briefing, taking out a sentence (it’s not clear what that sentence said). CIA’s Office of Congressional Affairs never finalized a description for this, and at one time even listed Jane Harman as the attendee rather than Pelosi. In fact, in a list of the briefings on torture compiled in July 2004, it did not treat this briefing as one covering torture at all.
In addition, for some reason a briefing for Bob Graham and Richard Shelby initially scheduled for September 9 got rescheduled for the end of the month, September 27. According to available records, Jose Rodriguez did not attend. According to Bob Graham’s notoriously meticulous notes, the briefing was not conducted in a SCIF, but instead in Hart Office Building, meaning highly classified information could not have been discussed. Graham says it chiefly described the intelligence the CIA claimed to have gotten from their interrogation program. Graham insists waterboarding did not come up, but Shelby, working off memory, disputes that claim.
February 4 and 5, 2002: CIA gets Republican approval to destroy the torture tapes, kills SSCI’s nascent investigation, and refuses to explain torture’s Presidential authorization
By November 2002, Bob Graham had started to hear vague rumors about the torture program. He did not, he says, receive notice that CIA froze Gul Rahman to death after dousing him with water or even hear about it specifically. But because of those rumors, Graham moved to exercise more oversight over the torture program, asking to have another staffer read into the program, and asking that a staffer see a Black Site and observe interrogation. That effort was thwarted in the first full briefing CIA gave Congress on torture on February 4, 2002, when CIA told Pat Roberts (who had assumed Senate Intelligence Chair; newly Ranking Member Jay Rockefeller was not present at this briefing, though a staffer was) they would not meet Graham’s requests. CIA claims — but Roberts disputes — that he said he could think of “ten reasons right off why it is a terrible idea” to exercise such oversight.
In addition to getting Roberts to quash that nascent assessment, CIA gave Roberts the following false information:
The Memorandum of Understanding of this briefing appears to be one of only two that got finalized (it actually included a reference that Goss and Harman had been briefed on the torture tape, but not that Harman warned against destroying it).
The February 5, 2003 briefing involving Porter Goss and Jane Harman is just as interesting, though CIA has refused to release their notes from it.
Five days after the briefing, Harman wrote a letter questioning whether torture had been reviewed from a policy perspective and advising against destroying Abu Zubaydah’s torture tape. In addition, she asked if the President had signed off, revealing that she didn’t know that the Finding she had been briefed on included torture. The CIA and the White House met to decide how to respond. In the end, CIA General Counsel Scott Muller’s response didn’t really answer any of Harman’s questions, nor note her warning against destroying the torture tape.
Also note: in the month before these briefings, the CIA prepared what appears to be a tear-line document on Abu Zubaydah. While it’s not certain the document was prepared to brief the Gang of Four, it matches what we know to have been said to Roberts, especially as regards to the torture tapes. But it also reveals real discrepancies between the tear-line (Secret) claims and the Top Secret claims it was based on, notably inflating the value of Abu Zubaydah’s intelligence below the tear-line.
September 4, 2003: An innocuous briefing left off some of the tracking
We don’t really know what happened in the September 4, 2003 briefings of both Goss and Harman and Roberts and Rockfeller, which is a shame because it would have covered Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s treatment (and that of Ammar al-Baluchi, whom we now know may have been treated even worse than his uncle). In fact, it was left off lists of “sensitive” briefings at different times.
July 2004: CIA has to tell Congress even CIA(‘s IG) thinks they lied
On May 7, 2004, CIA’s IG John Helgerson completed his report finding that the torture had exceeded guidelines and questioning the value of the intelligence obtained using it. On June 23, the Roberts and Rockefeller got copies (it’s not clear whether Goss and Harman got advance copies). On July 13, 2004, CIA briefed Goss and Harman again.
The briefing did include some details from CIA IG John Helgerson’s report on the program — that it violated the Convention Against Torture and did not comply with the OLC memos. He also explained that both Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s waterboarding was problematic, the first in execution and the second in number.
As part of that briefing (or by reading the IG Report), Harman learned that the Finding authorized this torture; in the briefing she pointed out the Finding had only authorized detention and capture, not interrogation.
But CIA persisted in a narrow dodge and two false claims:
There are few details on the briefing CIA gave Roberts and Rockefeller on July 15.
These are just the details of the lies CIA itself has documented and released CIA telling Congress. There are other allegations of CIA lies in briefings, though those records were not released under FOIA. And things started getting really funky in 2005, as Dick Cheney started participating in CIA briefings to try to defeat the Detainee Treatment Act. In addition, CIA briefed Pete Hoekstra (who had become the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee) on the morning they destroyed the torture tapes; the content of that briefing has never been revealed.
None of this excuses Congress, of course: the knew enough to know this was problematic.
But it is clear that CIA lied to them both to boost the value of the torture they were doing and to diminish the problems and abuses.
I’ve long been tracking the implications of the Air Force’s policy to keep US person data incidentally collected using domestic drones. Effectively, it would allow the government to collect data on select locations (such as a likely drug trafficking route), so long as it didn’t target any particular American, and then refer back to or data mine that information in the future.
The policy is (not surprisingly, since both are DOD) very nearly parallel to what we think is happening with the NSA’s collections. So long as they weren’t originally targeting a US person, the government seems to be saying, nothing prevents them from going back to use the data in the future.
Which is why I’m not all that impressed by the House Intelligence Committee’s push, in this year’s appropriations bill, to require other services and DOD agencies to lay out what they’re doing with domestic collections.
Congress has directed the Secretary of Defense to report on the handling of surveillance data collected by military unmanned aerial systems operating in domestic airspace. A provision in the 2013 continuing appropriations conference bill approved by the House yesterday explained:
“The conferees are aware of concerns that have been raised regarding the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and their sensors in domestic airspace. The conferees understand that the Air Force has policies and procedures in place governing the disposition of UAV collections that may inadvertently capture matters of concern to law enforcement agencies. These policies and procedures are designed to ensure constitutional protections and proper separation between the military and law enforcement. However, it is unclear if other Services and Defense agencies have similar policies and procedures in place, or if these policies and procedures need to be revised or standardized. Therefore, the conferees direct the Secretary of Defense to report to the congressional defense committees on the policies and procedures in place across the Services and Defense agencies governing the use of such collections and to identify any additional steps that need to be taken to ensure that such policies and procedures are adequate and consistent across the Department of Defense. This report shall be submitted not later than 90 days after the enactment of this Act.” [my emphasis]
Given the liberal policies the Air Force uses on “incidentally” collected information, it doesn’t seem to offer much protection under the Fourth Amendment (not least because the Clapper decision means we would never be able to challenge such collection). Rather, this effort seems designed to placate concerns about violations of Posse Comitatus and potentially stave off real privacy efforts.
When the Michael Chertoff threatened to use satellites to conduct this kind of surveillance 5 years ago, Democrats (led by Bennie Thompson and Jane Harman) balked, and forced Chertoff to back down. Since then, however, drones that can and do conduct the same kind of surveillance (in the guise of training, mind you!) have been rolled out without, until just recently, any focus on the same issues.
Yet another example of what a Democratic President can get away with that a Republican cannot.
Jane Harman’s advocacy for a drone court suffers from the same problem I touched on here (and will lay out at more length in the next day or so): before you can have a Drone and/or Targeted Killing Court, you need some law the court will apply. Harman seems to envision just applying the standards the Executive — not Congress — came up with, which isn’t how Schoolhouse Rock taught me the government is supposed to work.
Congress, in her model, would just be fully apprised of what goes on in the Drone and/or Targeted Killing Court, not write law to limit what can be approved.
But I’m more interested — alarmed, really — by the way Harman seamlessly adds cybertargeting to her advocacy.
The FISA court, renamed the CT Court, could also oversee drones and cyber. A FISA court application must show that specific individuals are connected to a foreign power – which is defined, in part, as a group engaged in international terrorism. Drone and cyber applications could (1) list the individual/cyber target against whom the lethal operation is directed and (2) submit a finding of probable cause that the individual/cyber target is connected to a foreign power, is in a senior operational capacity and poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.
Approved applications for drone strikes and cyberattacks would need to be renewed after a certain period, and discontinued if evidence is presented that the targets no longer meet the criteria. [my emphasis]
Granted, it would have been nice if the government had had to go to a court to explain why a publisher like WikiLeaks should be targeted with a persistent DNS attack, assuming that’s what happened. But given that both our FISA targeting and our targeting killing targeting probably allow for far too much abuse of the First Amendment, I’m not convinced the FISA Court would have noted the problem with that incident of prior restraint.
More generally, though, isn’t Harman’s neat inclusion of cyber targeting here a hint that our cyberattacks have gone beyond just Iran and WikiLeaks?
I need to finish my series (post 1, post 2, post 3, post 4, post 5, post 6) on the Obama Administration’s efforts to hide what I’ve dubbed the “Gloves Come Off” Memorandum of Notification. As I described, the MON purportedly gave CIA authority to do a whole slew of things, but left it up to the CIA to decide how to implement the programs Bush authorized. And rather than giving the Intelligence Committees written notification of the details of the programs, CIA instead gave just the Gang of Four deceptive briefings on the programs, which not only gave a misleading sense of the programs, but also prevented Congress from being able to limit the programs by refusing to fund the activities.
Yet, as MadDog and I were discussing in the comments to this post, these aspects of the MON set up did not entirely elude the attention of Congressional overseers. In fact, the very first Democrat to be briefed that torture had been used (remember, Pelosi got briefed it might be used prospectively) asked questions that went to the heart of the problem with the structure of the MON.
The CIA won’t tell Jane Harman whether the President approved torture from a policy standpoint
Jane Harman was first briefed on the torture program, with Porter Goss, on February 5, 2003. We don’t actually know what transpired in that briefing because CIA never finalized a formal record of the briefing. But five days after the briefing, Harman wrote a letter to CIA General Counsel Scott Muller. In addition to using a word for the torture program CIA has redacted and objecting to the destruction of the torture tapes, Harman asked questions that should have elicited a response revealing the Gloves Come Off MON was what authorized the torture program.
It is also the case, however, that what was described raises profound policy questions and I am concerned about whether these have been as rigorously examined as the legal questions. I would like to know what kind of policy review took place and what questions were examined. In particular, I would like to know whether the most senior levels of the White House have determined that these practices are consistent with the principles and policies of the United States. Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the President?
The whole point of a MON, after all, was to get the President on the record asserting that the programs authorized by it are “necessary to support identifiable foreign policy objectives of the United States and [are] important to the national security of the United States.” Here, Harman was asking whether the President was part of a policy review on torture.
Just over a week after Harman sent this letter, the CIA met with the White House to decide how to respond to Harman’s letter.
Now, granted, Harman’s question did not explicitly ask about a MON. But the CIA did not even answer the question she did ask. Muller basically told her policy had “been addressed within the Executive Branch” without saying anything about Bush’s role in it.
While I do not think it appropriate for me to comment on issues that are a matter of policy, much less the nature and extent of Executive Branch policy deliberations, I think it would be fair to assume that policy as well as legal matters have been addressed within the Executive Branch.
Kudos to Harman for actually asking questions. But at this point, she should have known that there was something funky about the legally required MON for the torture program.
Two years later, she was still trying to get answers about the MON. In her third briefing on torture (PDF 29-31; see also this post)–on July 13, 2004, which was almost 3 weeks after Harman should have received the Inspector General Report–Muller first claimed that the legal foundation for the torture program were the Bybee Memos (he provided this explanation in the context of explaining considerations of whether the program complied with Article 16 of the Convention against Torture).
The General Counsel said that the effort was working effectively under the DOJ 1 August 2002 memo which was the legal foundation for the debriefings and interrogations.
But later in the briefing, Harman appears to have noted that the MON didn’t authorize torture, it only authorized capture and detention.
Rep. Harman noted that the [redaction] did not specify interrogations and only authorized capture and detention. Continue reading
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.
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.
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.
I’m going to deal with John Rizzo’s purported “mea culpa” in three posts, one each for each of his regrets.
Rizzo’s first regret is that the CIA did not push the White House to allow it to brief the entire intelligence committees so they could, as Rizzo said, “allow the committees—compel them, really—to take a stand on the merits to either endorse the program or stop it in its tracks.”
It’s an argument I totally agree with. But to make his argument, Rizzo mobilizes some of the same lies about the CIA’s briefing of the torture program, notably about Nancy Pelosi. He does so, however, with a really spooky move.
Shortly thereafter, almost seven years after CIA first informed her about its employment of waterboarding and the other EITs, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, stood before the cameras and claimed that all CIA ever told her was that waterboarding was being “considered” as an interrogation tactic, not that it would be ever employed. Confronted with evidence to the contrary, the Speaker subsequently conceded that she had been informed about EITs from the outset but insisted she was always opposed to them but powerless to do anything to stop them. None of which was true, but in hindsight the Speaker’s moonwalk was hardly unforeseeable.
It’s the same old story turning the question of whether Pelosi was briefed prospectively or historically into a claim that “she had been informed about EITs from the outset” without mentioning that even Porter Goss’ version of the briefing is consistent with Pelosi’s claim that CIA didn’t tell them in September 2002 that they had already started using torture. Rizzo’s use of this tired tactic is all the worse considering that 1) it appears that he was not at the briefing in question, and 2) the CIA changed its record of the briefing after the fact.
In other words, Rizzo’s attack on Pelosi is total bullshit. Furthermore, the attack falsely suggests that CIA briefed Congress before torture started.
But his use of Pelosi to make this point is rather intriguing. Rizzo makes no mention of Bob Graham’s attempt to exercise oversight over the torture program, which was discouraged by the CIA and thwarted by Pat Roberts.
More significantly, Rizzo makes no mention of Jane Harman, who did object to the program but proved unable to “stop it in its tracks.”
Rizzo’s silence about CIA’s briefing to Harman–and her objection to the torture program–is more significant given something else he asserts in this piece.
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. Like almost every such authorization issued by presidents over the previous quarter-century, this one was provided to the intelligence committees of the House and Senate as well as the defense subcommittees of the House and Senate appropriations committees. However, the White House directed that details about the most ambitious, sensitive and potentially explosive new program authorized by the President—the capture, incommunicado detention and aggressive interrogation of senior Al Qaeda operatives—could only be shared with the leaders of the House and Senate, plus the chair and ranking member of the two intelligence committees.
Rizzo starts by invoking the September 17, 2001 Presidential Finding that authorized the CIA to capture and detain al Qaeda members. He tells us–this may be news, actually–that that Finding was briefed to the entire intelligence committees and to appropriations committees. But then he says that the torture part of that program “could only be shared” with the Gang of Eight.
The detail is interesting, by itself, for the way it contradicts Rizzo’s later (false) claim that “every other member of Congress” “would be kept in the dark” about the torture program. After all, the Leaders are also members of Congress, but if the CIA’s own error-ridden briefing list is to be believed, the only Leader who ever got briefed in that role was Bill Frist (while Appropriations Subcommittee Republicans Duncan Hunter, Ted Stevens, and Thad Cochran also got briefings, as well as John McCain).
The comment is more interesting for what it says about the Finding itself. The CIA has long suggested (and reporting has repeated) that that Finding authorized the torture program. But Rizzo is making it clear here that that Finding did not include authorization for the torture program. The oral briefings the Gang of Four got were the only way the way the President informed Congress about the torture program.
While it’s significant that Rizzo is here admitting that fact, we already knew it. We knew it because Jane Harman twice asked about a Finding on torture, once implicitly in 2003 when she asked “Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the President?” and once in the briefing CIA gave her on July 13, 2004, when she,”noted that the [redacted–almost certainly the Finding] did not specify interrogations and only authorized capture and detention.”
In other words, Rizzo basically admits that the point Jane Harman appears to have made repeatedly was correct: the torture program had not been formally included in a Finding briefed to Congress.
Rizzo’s lies about briefing Congress don’t appear to be the issue here. Rather, the problem is that the Administration did not issue the legally required Finding to Congress.
The WaPo reports that Bush, in his book, admits to approving waterboarding.
In a memoir due out Tuesday, Bush makes clear that he personally approved the use of that coercive technique against alleged Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an admission the human rights experts say could one day have legal consequences for him.
In his book, titled “Decision Points,” Bush recounts being asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who Bush said was suspected of knowing about still-pending terrorist plots against the United States. Bush writes that his reply was “Damn right” and states that he would make the same decision again to save lives, according to a someone close to Bush who has read the book.
At one level, this is thoroughly unsurprising. We know the Bush Administration very deliberately implemented torture, so it’s unsurprising to hear that it was approved by the President.
But–at least as Jeffrey Smith relays the admission from Bush–it raises as many questions as it does answers.
It appears that Bush admits to approving torture for use with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. That is, he approved torture sometime around March 1, 2003, when KSM was captured.
That date is itself very significant. After all, on February 5, 2003, the first Democrat (Jane Harman) was briefed that the CIA had used waterboarding. Her response was a letter, objecting not just to the destruction of the torture tapes, but also asking specifically whether Bush had signed off on torture.
I would like to know what kind of policy review took place and what questions were examined. In particular, I would like to know whether the most senior levels of the White House have determined that these practices are consistent with the principles and policies of the United States. Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the President?
In response, CIA appears to have met with the White House around February 19, ostensibly to talk about an appropriate response. They also appear to have consulted with the White House on how they should record the results of the Gang of 4 briefings from that month; in the end, they only recorded the outcome of the Senate briefing–which Jay Rockefeller did not attend and at which Pat Roberts is recorded to have signed off not just on torture, but on destroying the torture tapes depicting that torture. In other words, for much of February 2003, CIA was working closely with the White House to create a false appearance of Congressional approval for torture, even while they were specifically refusing to give Congress something akin to a Finding making it clear the President had signed off on that torture.
And now we come to find out that’s precisely the period during which–at least according to Bush–he approved torture.
But note what that leaves out. At least from Smith’s description, it appears that Bush says nothing about approving the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah (nor the reported waterboarding of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi). Mind you, Ron Suskind has reported that Bush was intimately, almost gleefully, involved in ordering torture for Abu Zubaydah.
But Bush doesn’t cop to that in his book.
Now, there may be good reason for that. After all, John Yoo had not yet written the memo claiming that waterboarding did not amount to torture at the time Abu Zubaydah was first tortured.
Moreover, there’s the whole issue of the approval method for the torture that occurred before August 1, 2002.
The source says nearly every day, Mitchell would sit at his computer and write a top-secret cable to the CIA’s counterterrorism center. Each day, Mitchell would request permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. The source says the CIA would then forward the request to the White House, where White House counsel Alberto Gonzales would sign off on the technique. That would provide the administration’s legal blessing for Mitchell to increase the pressure on Zubaydah in the next interrogation.
According to multiple reports, the White House–Alberto Gonzales at least, if not his boss–approved the torture of Abu Zubaydah on a daily basis. And when you read the Bybee Memo and the OPR Report on it, it’s very clear that the memo carved out legal authorization specifically for the torture directly authorized by the President. Indeed, the White House’s prior approval for torture–potentially up to and including waterboarding–may explain the urgency behind the memo in the first place, to provide retroactive legal cover for Bush’s unilateral disregard for US laws prohibiting torture.
In other words, Bush has admitted to approving torture in 2003. But that likely obfuscates his earlier approval for torture at a time when he had no legal cover for doing so.
In other news, the statute of limitations on the torture tape destruction expires in just three or four days. Yet we’ve got silence coming from John Durham.