As a supine Congress sitting inside a scaffolded dome applauded Benjamin Netanyahu calling to reject a peace deal with Iran, DOJ quietly announced it had reached a plea deal with former CIA Director David Petraeus for leaking Top Secret/Secure Compartmented Information materials to his mistress, Paula Broadwell.
Among the materials in the eight “Black Books” Petraeus shared with Broadwell were:
…classified information regarding the identities of covert officers, war strategy, intelligence capabilities and mechanisms, diplomatic discussions, quotes and deliberative discussions from high-level National Security Council meetings, and defendant DAVID HOWELL PETRAEUS’s discussions with the President of the United States of America.
The Black Books contained national defense information, including Top Secret/SCI and code word information.
Petraeus kept those Black Books full of code word information including covert identities and conversations with the President “in a rucksack up there somewhere.”
Petreaus retained those Black Books after he signed his debriefing agreement upon leaving DOD, in which he attested “I give my assurance that there is no classified material in my possession, custody, or control at this time.” He kept those Black Books in an unlocked desk drawer.
For mishandling some of the most important secrets the nation has, Petraeus will plead guilty to a misdemeanor. Petraeus, now an employee of a top private equity firm, will be fined $40,000 and serve two years of probation.
He will not, however, be asked to plead guilty at all for lying to FBI investigators. In an interview on October 26, 2012, he told the FBI,
(a) he had never provided any classified information to his biographer, and (b) he had never facilitated the provision of classified information to his biographer.
For lying to the FBI — a crime that others go to prison for for months and years — Petraeus will just get a two point enhancement on his sentencing guidelines. The Department of Justice basically completely wiped away the crime of covering up his crime of leaking some of the country’s most sensitive secrets to his mistress.
When John Kiriakou pled guilty on October 23, 2012 to crimes having to do with sharing a single covert officer’s identity just days before Petraeus would lie to the FBI about sharing, among other things, numerous covert officers’ identities with his mistress, Petraeus sent out a memo to the CIA stating,
Oaths do matter, and there are indeed consequences for those who believe they are above the laws that protect our fellow officers and enable American intelligence agencies to operate with the requisite degree of secrecy.
David Petraeus is now proof of what a lie that statement was.
The second-to-last witness in the government’s case against Jeffrey Sterling, FBI Special Agent Ashley Hunt, introduced a number of things she had collected over the course of her 7.5 year investigation into James Risen’s chapter on Operation Merlin. That included a few things — most notably two lines from Risen’s credit card records from 2004 — that in no conceivable way incriminated Sterling.
On November 17, 2004, Risen charged €158.00 at the Hotel Inter-Continental in Vienna, Austria on his credit card (the provider of which DOJ included in its exhibit). On November 21, 2004, Risen put another €215.30 in Inter-Continental charges on his credit card.
What Agent Hunt had proven by highlighting these two details was that James Risen traveled to Vienna as background for a book chapter set in Vienna, and even went to the hotel where Merlin had stayed. None of that did a thing to prove that Sterling leaked Merlin’s travel information — or anything else — to Risen. But the government decided to gratuitously enter into evidence that they had seized years of Risen’s credit card records, and in doing so obtained details of where Risen had traveled (and also, on what days his daughter sent something via FedEx). It wasn’t enough that we knew that already from court filings. DOJ still saw the need to introduce gratuitous notice that they had all of Risen’s credit card statements into the court record.
“We own you,” seemed to be the message to Risen from this flaunting of his credit card records.
But don’t worry, Eric Holder generously decided not to call Risen to testify against Sterling after having hounded him — in this and the warrantless wiretap investigation — for 6 years already, both Jack Goldsmith and Ben Wittes insist.
Both men seem to vastly underestimate how DOJ’s actions in the last decade impact journalism. And both men seem to misunderstand what just happened in the Jeffrey Sterling trial, where DOJ succeeded in exposing a man to 40 years in prison, based largely on metadata, without even having the key pieces of evidence at issue in the case (almost certainly because of CIA’s doing, not Sterling’s).
Uncharacteristically, Wittes’ post is less annoying that Goldsmith’s. Sure, as he did with Laura Poitras, Wittes appointed himself the arbiter of what the NYT should and shouldn’t tolerate from journalists it pays. I will remember that Wittes believes an employee’s intemperate rants on Twitter should get close scrutiny by their employers the next time Wittes makes factually flawed defenses of his torturer buddies on Twitter or complains when Chris Soghoian tweets about Keith Alexander’s operational security sloppiness when he rides on Amtrak.
But Goldsmith writes two paragraphs about leak prosecutions that — while they may bolster Goldsmith’s questionable claims about how journalism functions to rein in the Executive — entirely miss the point. I’ll take them in detail here:
Third, Holder could have called Risen to testify in the Sterling case – the law was clearly on his side, and DOJ attorneys wanted him to do it. But Holder directed his lawyers to let Risen off the hook. It is simply wrong to say (as Risen did) that Holder was doing the “bidding of the intelligence community” or sending “a message to dictators around the world that it is okay to crack down on the press and jail journalists.” Quite the contrary.
The notion that the trial Holder’s DOJ just staged in Eastern District of Virginia was not about “doing the bidding of the intelligence community” makes me tear up I’m laughing so hard. A very key part of the trial was putting Bob S on the stand so he could make claims about Operation Merlin — which turned out not to be backed up by the documentary evidence or his asset’s memory — so as to be able to claim, “We have demonstrated we did this very carefully.” This was a clusterfuck of an operation, but nevertheless DOJ gave Bob S a day and a half to try to claim it wasn’t. DOJ offered CIA this favor while playing their classification games (this was, after all, EDVA, an improper venue for almost all of the charges, but a very good place to get favorable treatment for security theater) so as to avoid explaining — except when it became handy for Condi to blurt something out — why this operation went from being a clandestine information collection operation to something far more sensitive, which is probably the real reason someone other than Sterling leaked the information as the government was trumping up war against Iraq, the next country that got the Merlin treatment.
It’s EDVA, Goldsmith!!! The same place Holder went to have John Durham pretend to investigate CIA’s obstruction of justice until the statute of limitations expired! The same place Holder went to keep investigating and investigating until DOJ could deliver a head, any head, to punish Gitmo defense attorneys’ crazy notion that they might have good reason to want to learn how and who anally raped their clients in the name of rehydration such that they’re still bleeding, 12 years later.
EDVA has become, under Holder, where DOJ goes to obtain arbitrary judgments that ensure CIA and other agencies will never be held accountable for crimes, but some low-level leaker will be delivered up anytime CIA’s crimes or incompetence get exposed.
Fourth, Risen’s complaints about Holder rest in part on the fact that Holder has presided over many more leak prosecutions than any prior Attorney General. I suspect that any Attorney General would have ramped up the leak prosecutions in light of the unprecedented cascade of deep secrets from the government in the last decade.
Here Goldsmith makes the same nonsensical claim that Steven Aftergood made for The Intercept’s profile of Stephen Kim. The investigation into James Risen’s stories has been going on for twelve years. The investigation into Risen’s reporting on Operation Merlin started over four years before Chelsea Manning even joined the Army, much less started the torrent of leaks Goldsmith claims justifies all these investigations.
And the ratio of leak prosecutions to leaks remains tiny.
This line comes right out of Holder’s defense of his leak prosecutions the other day. And it’s true. But it’s a big part of the problem. Thus far, after all, James Cartwright has not been indicted for allegedly leaking a far more sensitive counter-proliferation program targeting Iran than Sterling purportedly leaked. No one is even considering prosecuting Leon Panetta for leaking details of the Osama bin Laden raid (or classified details in his memoir). I doubt David Petraeus will be indicted either for letting his mistress have access to all his most intimate secrets.
The people who get prosecuted — Jeffrey Sterling, John Kiriakou, Donald Sachtleben, Stephen Kim — they’re not the problem behind this system of leaking and in several cases it’s very clear they’re not even the key leakers: instead, they’re the human detritus the government can dispose of so others will see just how arbitrary the secrecy system really is, by design.
But in any event, it must be true that these prosecutions have had a chilling effect on leakers (i.e. sources) and in that sense made journalists’ jobs harder. Of course chilling criminal leaks is the whole point of the prosecutions. They do not “wreck” the First Amendment if they are consistent with the First Amendment, which they are, especially since the prosecutions have not had any noticeable macro effect on the steady flow of secrets out of the government.
I suspect Risen would say this is not the case. I suspect a number of the other journalists targeted by DOJ would say the same. That is, the point is not about stopping leaks (though I think the Insider Threat system will make it easier to pick and choose which human detritus will be the next sacrificed to feed this arbitrary system of control), but often as not burning certain journalists or others who don’t play the game.
We own you, investigative journalist, and know what you did in Vienna back in 2004.
Note also that Risen and other journalists tend not to talk about the countervailing norms that have moved dramatically in journalists’ favor in the last decade. (I have written about this extensively, here and here and here and here.) Not only has the government significantly raised the bar for going after journalists’ sources, but it has also made clear what was not clear a decade ago: it will not prosecute journalists for publishing classified information in clear violation of 18 USC 798.
I think here Goldsmith misses the novel theory the government used to convict Sterling, the one Holder has deemed the model to go after others.
Under this theory, journalists will be treated as empty vehicles, and the “cause to leak” language in the Espionage Act will be blown up, so that even completely unclassified conversations may be deemed the cause of an investigative journalist with sources throughout the CIA publishing a story. And the jurisdiction, too, will be blown up, so that so long as a single hairdresser buys a book in EDVA — or maybe MD, who cares, really?!?! — then DOJ can stage their witch hunt in EDVA with all its trappings of security theater.
There are some interesting theories behind the successful prosecution of Sterling for a bunch of metadata. And Goldsmith might at least familiarize himself with where Holder’s DOJ is taking the Espionage Act, because it deserves more scrutiny before the Sterling prosecution is deemed to have done no damage to the journalistic process.
Given this change in norms and the structural factors pushing secrets out (size of bureaucracy, digitalization of secrets, and the like), it is very hard to conclude that the advantage on secrecy versus transparency has shifted to the government under Holder.
Again, the underlying problem is the asymmetry involved. The government keeps hiding more and more stuff — the top officials behind its trust-building CVE program, even! — behind a veil of secrecy. That amid increasingly absurd claims of secrecy — and increasingly persistent evidence the secrecy often serves to hide law-breaking or incompetence, as it did with the Merlin caper — more secrets get out should be no great celebration. It’s the structure of it all — the paranoia, the arbitrariness, and the incompetence behind it all — that really sours any claim to democratic governance. Goldsmith may take solace we’re getting more secrets out, but until we reverse the slide into arbitrariness it heralds, I’m not so sanguine.
During the hearing just after the defense closed in the Sterling trial, there was a fascinating discussion, largely about how DOJ planned to blow up the “cause” language in the Espionage Act to further criminalize just talking to journalists, to criminalize publishing a book and deigning to distribute it in EDVA. The conversation kept coming back to how DOJ had gone from treating Risen as a criminal weeks earlier to treating him as an innocent naif who channeled Sterling’s spying to the unwitting citizens of EDVA. Judge Leonie Brinkema at one point said, “If Risen were not protected by the newsman’s privilege, I suspect he would have been named as a co-conspirator.” “There is no newsman’s privilege,” defense attorney Edward MacMahon pointed out, laughing at the absurdity of claiming there was after the 3 year battle over just that topic. But the exchange hung there, pregnantly, because ultimately branding Risen a criminal — or, barring that, branding having even unclassified conversations with Risen as criminal — was a big part of the point of this trial.
What this prosecution did — what, I believe, it was designed to do — was two-fold. First, burn Risen, burn Risen over 12 long years of investigation during which the counterpart investigation even reportedly seized his phone records. But also, to herald a new interpretation of the Espionage Act that will criminalize even having phone calls with a journalist who has reported on completely unclassified stories involving you in the past.
Update: Year on Risen’s credit card records corrected per Rich.
NYT has a story based off a CREW FOIA for details of FBI’s investigations into John Ensign’s efforts to buy off his mistress’ husband. While the details show Ensign was even more sleazy than we knew, I’m at least as interested in this passage:
The Justice Department’s decision not to charge Mr. Ensign was widely seen as a sign of its skittishness about prosecuting and potentially losing public corruption cases in the wake of stinging courtroom defeats against former Senators Ted Stevens of Alaska and John Edwards of North Carolina. The documents confirm that speculation: In an internal email in 2011 assessing the chances of prosecuting Mr. Ensign, a top prosecutor wrote that “the legal theory is possible with the right facts” but that the “mere response” of helping a former Senate employee to find work “is not enough.” Another prosecutor wrote that “this is a really tough case to win.”
The documents show that the investigation was also complicated by a legal conflict; Lanny A. Breuer, head of the Justice Department’s criminal division at the time, had worked with a defense lawyer in the Ensign camp at Mr. Breuer’s prior law firm, Covington & Burling. Mr. Breuer was temporarily recused from the Ensign investigation as a result of the conflict, the records show, but later got a waiver that allowed him to oversee it with certain restrictions, officials said.
In 2012, Mr. Breuer and the Justice Department decided not to bring criminal charges against Mr. Ensign.
Even the Senate (!) was willing to discipline Ensign. But DOJ chose not to. And at the center of that decision was Lanny Breuer, whose once and future firm, Covington & Burling, represented Ensign. And yet Breuer found a way to un-recuse himself from the case.
It is not at all a surprise that Breuer didn’t manage his conflicts well. I argued that he didn’t back in 2009, when he made the decision to bury Dick Cheney’s CIA leak investigation interview (and make no mention of his quasi-grand jury appearance), even though he had represented John Kiriakou in the CIA leak case (and in helping him avoid grand jury testimony, hide that Cheney and Libby knew Plame was CIA earlier than they said they did).
Ironically, that was also for a CREW FOIA.
Maybe CREW should just skip the interim step and FOIA all the times Breuer ignored the conflicts he had on issues he presided over?
Neocon scribes Eli Lake and Josh Rogin published a piece asserting that the man whose COIN theories failed in 3 different war theaters is making a comeback undermined only by his extramarital affair.
By all outward appearances, David Petraeus appears to be mounting a comeback. The former general landed a job at powerhouse private-equity firm KKR, has academic perches at Harvard and the University of Southern California and, according to White House sources, was even asked by the President Barack Obama’s administration for advice on the fight against Islamic State. Yet it turns out that the extramarital affair that forced him to resign as director of the Central Intelligence Agency is still hanging over him.
Yet that’s not actually what their article describes. Instead, it explores why it is that the FBI investigation into David Petraeus for leaking information to his mistress, not fucking her, is ongoing.
Curiously, these two journalists exhibit no shred of curiosity about why the GOP Congress continues to investigate the Benghazi attack, an investigation that started exactly contemporaneously with the Petraeus leak investigation — or, for that matter, why all the investigations have avoided questions about Petraeus’ training failures in Libya.
Instead, they see in this particular 2 year counterintelligence investigation a conspiracy to silence the fine General.
[Retired General Jack] Keane questions whether the Petraeus FBI probe lasting this long may be driven by something other than a desire to investigate a potential crime. “It makes you wonder if there is another motivation to drag an investigation out this long,” he said.
Petraeus allies both inside and outside the U.S. intelligence community and the military express a concern that goes beyond a criminal probe: that the investigation has caused Petraeus to trim his sails — that one of the most informed and experienced voices on combating terrorism and Islamic extremism is afraid to say what he really thinks, a sharp juxtaposition to Bob Gates and Leon Panetta, two former defense secretaries who have not been shy about criticizing Obama’s national security team.
But what does seem surprising, to many who know and have worked with him, is that the views he has been expressing are so at odds with what he has said and implied in the past.
For example, when Petraeus was inside Obama’s administration in his first term, he advocated for more troops inside Afghanistan and made the case for arming Syrian moderate forces. But when asked this summer about that effort, Petraeus demurred and focused on Obama’s new $500 million initiative in 2014 to train Syrian rebels. “I strongly support what’s being done now,” he said. “Half a billion dollars is a substantial amount of resourcing to train and equip.”
Petraeus’s rhetoric on Iraq and Syria differs sharply not only from his past positions, but from that of many retired generals of his generation and of his biggest supporters.
To support their conspiracy theory, they not only cite noted leaker Pete Hoekstra, but Lake and Rogin ignore a whole load of other details, such as how long leak investigations normally take. Even the investigation into and punishment of Sandy Berger — which they cite — took 18 months from leak to guilty plea, plus another two years until he relinquished his license. The investigation into Donald Sachtleben — or rather, the UndieBomb 2.0 leak that Sachtleben was singularly held responsible for — took 15 months, even with his computer in custody and Sachtleben on bond most of that time. John Kiriakou was charged almost 4 years after his leaks, and two after Pat Fitzgerald was appointed to find a head for the CIA. Thomas Drake was indicted over 4 years after the investigation into Stellar Wind leaks started and almost 3 years after the FBI raided the homes of those associated with Drake’s whistleblowing. Jeffrey Sterling was indicted 7 years after FBI first started looking into leaks to James Risen.
Leak investigations can take a long time. That’s not a good thing, as they leave the targets of those investigations in limbo through that entire time. Petraeus is, comparatively, doing better off than most of the others I named above. Indeed, in paragraph 7, Lake and Rogin reveal that Petraeus, in fact, has gotten preferential treatment, in that his security clearance hasn’t been stripped.
To wit: Petraeus is ostensibly being investigated for mishandling classified material and yet he retains his security clearance.
Even Hoss Cartwright had his security clearance stripped for allegedly leaking details of StuxNet to the press. Heck, based on this detail, one has just as much evidence to support a counter-conspiracy theory that Petraeus is getting lax treatment because he’s got damning information on Obama (not one I’m adopting, mind you, but it does illustrate what one can do with an absence of evidence).
If warmongers like Jack Keane want to make drawn out leak investigations a cause, they would do well to make it a principle, not a singular conspiracy theory used to explain why David Petraeus isn’t being more critical of Obama’s efforts not to escalate into another failed counterinsurgency.
Is it possible, after all, that Petraeus is silent because he realizes what a hash he has made of the Middle East?
The talking points are particularly pathetic for the way they try to turn the torture report — and our treatment of torture more generally — as proof of functional democracy.
The TPs claim the report is evidence of the government’s transparency…
The fundamental facts about this program have been known for some time. The U.S. government is committed to transparency and has released much of this information to the public before. This report adds additional details which confirm the wisdom of our national decision not to use such interrogation methods again.
… of our vibrant democracy…
America’s democratic system worked just as it was designed to work in bringing an end to actions inconsistent with our democratic values.
America can champion democracy and human rights around the world not because we are perfect, but because we can say that our democratic system enables us to confront and resolve our problems through open and honest debate. Our Congress issued this report, and the Obama administration strongly supported its declassification, in that spirit.
… and the separation of powers …
These interrogation methods were debated in our free media, challenged in our independent courts, and, just two years after their introduction, restricted by an act of our Congress sponsored by Senator John McCain and overwhelmingly backed by members of both of our political parties.
The last talking point is particularly neat given that 1) it gets the timing of the Detainee Treatment Act (passed in late 2005, and therefore over 3.5 years after torture started, not 2) wrong — not to mention its efficacy at ending torture, and 2) the Executive, including this President, has prevented any court challenge to torture by claiming state secrets and immunity, and as recently as this month claimed the victims of our torture cannot describe their own torture before the Gitmo Kangaroo Court. John Kiriakou, in particular, will likely find this talking point curious.
I’m just as interested in how aggressively State prepares to answer questions posed on CIA’s behalf in these questions:
4. Is the White House in a position to say that no useful information was obtained?
5. Isn’t the CIA in a better position to assess this?
6. Does the CIA believe useful information was obtained?
13. Does the CIA still stand by its response to the SSCI, or did the SSCI address the CIA’s
concerns when it revised its report?
Perhaps that’s just State doing its best to prep the questions that CIA will cue compliant journalists to ask. And admittedly, State is going to have to do some of the damage control with countries like UK and Poland, which will be embarrassed by the report.
Still, I can’t help but remember that Maria Harf was CIA spokesperson before she moved over to State — indeed, actually started on the analytical side of the house.
In any case, it’s nice to know that State thinks impunity for torture is a sign of a vibrant democracy.
In a piece at MoJo, David Corn argues the Senate Intelligence Committee – CIA fight has grown into a Constitutional crisis.
What Feinstein didn’t say—but it’s surely implied—is that without effective monitoring, secret government cannot be justified in a democracy. This is indeed a defining moment. It’s a big deal for President Barack Obama, who, as is often noted in these situations, once upon a time taught constitutional law. Feinstein has ripped open a scab to reveal a deep wound that has been festering for decades. The president needs to respond in a way that demonstrates he is serious about making the system work and restoring faith in the oversight of the intelligence establishment. This is more than a spies-versus-pols DC turf battle. It is a constitutional crisis.
I absolutely agree those are the stakes. But I’m not sure the crisis stems from Feinstein “going nuclear” on the floor of the Senate today. Rather, I think whether Feinstein recognized it or not, we had already reached that crisis point, and John Brennan simply figured he had prepared adequately to face and win that crisis.
Which is why I disagree with the assessment of Feinstein’s available options as laid out by Shane Harris and John Hudson in FP.
If she chooses to play hardball, Feinstein can make the tenure of CIA Director John Brennan a living nightmare. From her perch on the intelligence committee, she could drag top spies before the panel for months on end. She could place holds on White House nominees to key agency positions. She could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress and she could hit the agency where it really hurts: its pocketbook. One of the senator’s other committee assignments is the Senate Appropriations Committee, which allocates funds to Langley.
Take these suggestions one by one: Feinstein can only “drag top spies” before Congress if she is able to wield subpoena power. Not only won’t her counterpart, Saxby Chambliss (who generally sides with the CIA in this dispute) go along with that, but recent legal battles have largely gutted Congress’ subpoena power.
Feinstein can place a hold on CIA-related nominees. There’s even one before the Senate right now, CIA General Counsel nominee Caroline Krass, though Feinstein’s own committee just voted Krass out of Committee, where Feinstein could have wielded her power as Chair to bottle Krass up. In the Senate, given the new filibuster rules, Feinstein would have to get a lot of cooperation from her Democratic colleagues to impose any hold if ever she lost Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s support (though she seems to have that so far).
But with Krass, what’s the point? So long as Krass remains unconfirmed, Robert Eatinger — the guy who ratcheted up this fight in the first place by referring Feinstein’s staffers for criminal investigation — will remain Acting General Counsel. So in fact, Feinstein has real reason to rush the one active CIA nomination through, if only to diminish Eatinger’s relative power.
Feinstein could launch a broader investigation into the CIA’s relations with Congress. But that would again require either subpoenas (and the willingness of DOJ to enforce them, which is not at all clear she’d have) or cooperation.
Or Feinstein could cut CIA’s funding. But on Appropriations, she’ll need Barb Mikulski’s cooperation, and Mikulski has been one of the more lukewarm Democrats on this issue. (And all that’s assuming you’re only targeting CIA; as soon as you target Mikulski’s constituent agency, NSA, Maryland’s Senator would likely ditch Feinstein in a second.)
Then FP turns to DOJ’s potential role in this dispute.
The Justice Department is reportedly looking into whether the CIA inappropriately monitored congressional staff, as well as whether those staff inappropriately accessed documents that lay behind a firewall that segregated classified information that the CIA hadn’t yet cleared for release. And according to reports, the FBI has opened an investigation into committee staff who removed classified documents from the CIA facility and brought them back to the committee’s offices on Capitol Hill.
Even ignoring all the petty cover-ups DOJ engages in for intelligence agencies on a routine basis (DEA at least as much as CIA), DOJ has twice done CIA’s bidding on major scale on the torture issue in recent years. First when John Durham declined to prosecute both the torturers and Jose Rodriguez for destroying evidence of torture. And then when Pat Fitzgerald delivered John Kiriakou’s head on a platter for CIA because Kiriakou and the Gitmo detainee lawyers attempted to learn the identities of those who tortured.
There’s no reason to believe this DOJ will depart from its recent solicitous ways in covering up torture. Jim Comey admittedly might conduct an honest investigation, but he’s no longer a US Attorney and he needs someone at DOJ to actually prosecute anyone, especially if that person is a public official.
Implicitly, Feinstein and her colleagues could channel Mike Gravel and read the 6,000 page report into the Senate record. But one of CIA’s goals is to ensure that if the Report ever does come out, it has no claim to objectivity. Especially if the Democrats release the Report without the consent of Susan Collins, it will be child’s play for Brennan to spin the Report as one more version of what happened, no more valid than Jose Rodriguez’ version.
And all this assumes Democrats retain control of the Senate. That’s an uphill battle in any case. But CIA has many ways to influence events. Even assuming CIA would never encourage false flags attacks or leak compromising information about Democrats, the Agency can ratchet up the fear mongering and call Democrats weak on security. That always works and it ought to be worth a Senate seat or three.
If Democrats lose the Senate, you can be sure that newly ascendant Senate Intelligence Chair Richard Burr would be all too happy to bury the Torture Report, just for starters. Earlier today, after all, he scolded Feinstein for airing this fight.
“I personally don’t believe that anything that goes on in the intelligence committee should ever be discussed publicly,”
Burr’s a guy who has joked about waterboarding in the past. Burying the Torture Report would be just the start of things, I fear.
And then, finally, there’s the President, whose spokesperson affirmed the President’s support for his CIA Director and who doesn’t need any Democrats help to win another election. As Brennan said earlier today, Obama “is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.” And I suspect Brennan has confidence that Obama won’t do that.
Which brings me to my comment above, on AJE, that Brennan knows where the literal bodies are buried.
I meant that very, very literally.
Not only does Brennan know firsthand that JSOC attempted to kill Anwar al-Awlaki on December 24, 2009, solely on the President’s authority, before the FBI considered him to be operational. But he also knows that the evidence against Awlaki was far dodgier than it should have been before the President authorized the unilateral execution of an American citizen.
Worse still, Feinstein not only okayed that killing, either before or just as it happened. But even the SSCI dissidents Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, and Martin Heinrich declared the Awlaki killing “a legitimate use of the authority granted the President” in November.
I do think there are ways the (Legislative) Democrats might win this fight. But they’re not well situated in the least, even assuming they’re willing and able to match Brennan’s bureaucratic maneuvering.
Again, I don’t blame Feinstein for precipitating this fight. We were all already in it, and she has only now come around to it.
I just hope she and her colleagues realize how well prepared Brennan is to fight it in time to wage an adequate battle.
On several occasions, I have pointed to the arbitrary system our classification system constructs. It asks government employees to spy on their colleagues. It permits agencies to conduct fishing expeditions into personal information as part of the polygraph process. It permits Agencies to selectively approve propaganda under the guise of pre-publication review (most notably in the case of Jose Rodriguez and John Rizzo). By stripping sensitive unclassified jobs of their Merit Board protection, even lower level staffers who don’t receive a clearance-related income boost are now subject to this arbitrary system. And Congress even tried to use pensions as another leverage point against cleared personnel.
The arbitrary nature of this system is perhaps most clear, however, when it comes to prosecutions.
Which is a point John Kiriakou made in an op-ed yesterday. In it, he suggests Leon Panetta and James Cartwright could be sitting next to him in Loretto Prison.
The [Espionage Act] states: “Whoever, lawfully having possession of, access to, control over, or being entrusted with any … information relating to the national defense which information the possessor has reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation, willfully communicates … the same to any person not entitled to receive it … shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.”
A transcript obtained by the organization Judicial Watch shows that, at a CIA awards ceremony attended by Boal, Panetta did exactly that. The CIA seems to acknowledge that Panetta accidentally revealed the name of the special forces ground commander who led the operation to kill Osama bin Laden, not knowing that the Hollywood screenwriter was part of an audience cleared to hear him speak. But intent is not relevant to Espionage Act enforcement.
U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema ruled in my case that evidence of the accidental release of national defense information was inadmissible, and she added that the government did not have to prove that a leak of classified information actually caused any harm to the United States. In other words, the act of disclosing the kind of broad information covered by the Espionage Act is prosecutable regardless of outcome or motive.
The sensitivity of what Panetta revealed is not in question. The spokesman for the former CIA director said Panetta assumed that everyone present at the time of the speech had proper clearance for such a discussion. When the transcript of the speech was released, more than 90 lines had been redacted, implying that Panetta had disclosed a great deal more classified information than the name of an operative.
If an intent to undermine U.S. national security or if identifiable harm to U.S. interests are indeed not relevant to Espionage Act enforcement, then the White House and the Justice Department should be in full froth. Panetta should be having his private life dug in to, sifted and seized as evidence, as happened to me and six others under the Obama administration.
If Panetta and Cartwright aren’t accountable while Drake, Kim and I have been crucified for harming U.S. national security — all of us accused of or investigated for the same thing: disclosing classified information to parties not authorized to know it — then what does that say about justice in America or White House hypocrisy?
Kiriakou goes on to call for changes in the Espionage Act to focus on issues of intent and harm.
Kiriakou is, of course, correct that he got punished for things that Panetta and Cartwright have (so far, at least) escaped such levels of punishment for. (I’d also add the unnamed real sources for the UndieBomb 2.0 leak, who are being protected by the scapegoating of Donald Sachtleben.)
But I’d go even further. Given reports that FBI is investigating whether Senate Intelligence Committee staffers violated the law for obtaining proof the Agency they oversee was hiding evidence from it, it’s crucial to remember how Kiriakou’s prosecution came about, which I laid out in this post.
It started when CIA officers claimed that when Gitmo defense attorneys provided photos of their clients torturers to them–having independently discovered their identity–the torturers were put at risk. DOJ didn’t believe it was a security risk; CIA disagreed and went to John Brennan. And after Patrick Fitzgerald was brought in to mediate between DOJ and CIA, the prosecution of John Kiriakou resulted.
As a reminder of where this all started, it’s worth reading this March 15, 2010 Bill Gertz article which was, AFAIK, the first public report of the investigation into the John Adams Project. It describes a March 9, 2010 meeting between Fitzgerald and the CIA.
The dispute prompted a meeting Tuesday at CIA headquarters between U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald and senior CIA counterintelligence officials. It is the latest battle between the agency and the department over detainees and interrogations of terrorists.
According to U.S. officials familiar with the issue, the current dispute involves Justice Department officials who support an effort led by the American Civil Liberties Union to provide legal aid to military lawyers for the Guantanamo inmates. CIA counterintelligence officials oppose the effort and say giving terrorists photographs of interrogators has exposed CIA personnel and their families to possible terrorist attacks.
According to the officials, the dispute centered on discussions for a interagency memorandum that was to be used in briefing President Obama and senior administration officials on the photographs found in Cuba. Justice officials did not share the CIA’s security concerns about the risks posed to CIA interrogators and opposed language on the matter that was contained in the draft memorandum. The memo was being prepared for White House National Security Council aide John Brennan, who was to use it to brief the president.
The CIA insisted on keeping its language describing the case and wanted the memorandum sent forward in that form.
That meeting, of course, would have taken place the day after Fitzgerald was appointed. So immediately after Fitzgerald got put in charge of this investigation, he presumably moderated a fight between DOJ, which didn’t think detainee lawyers pursuing their clients’ torturers via independent means threatened to expose the torturers’ identity directly, and CIA, which apparently claimed to be worried.
What happened with Kiriakou’s sentencing today is many things. But it started as–and is still fundamentally a result of–an effort on the part of CIA to ensure that none of its torturers ever be held accountable for their acts, to ensure that the subjects of their torture never gain any legal foothold to hold them accountable.
McClatchy has now posted an update to the tale of the CIA-SSCI spat.
It appears the following happened: Sometime around August, SSCI staffers working on a database at CIA discovered the internal CIA report, started under Leon Panetta, that corroborated the SSCI report. It also contradicted CIA’s official response to the SSCI Report.
Several months after the CIA submitted its official response to the committee report, aides discovered in the database of top-secret documents at CIA headquarters a draft of an internal review ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta of the materials released to the panel, said the knowledgeable person.
So having discovered even the CIA disagreed with the CIA’s response, the SSCI staffers took a copy with them.
They determined that it showed that the CIA leadership disputed report findings which they knew were corroborated by the so-called Panetta review, said the knowledgeable person.
The aides printed the material, walked out of CIA headquarters with it and took it to Capitol Hill, said the knowledgeable person.
Mark Udall raised the report in a December hearing. In January, CIA accused SSCI of absconding with the document.
After the CIA confronted the panel in January about the removal of the material last fall, panel staff concluded that the agency had monitored computers that they’d been given to use in a high-security research room at the CIA campus in Langley, Va., a McClatchy investigation found.
In response, the CIA asked DOJ to start an investigation.
Then there’s this weird question about the document. I’m not sure whether the issue is how the document first got included in the database at CIA, or whether it’s how it migrated to SSCI.
White House officials have held at least one closed-door meeting with committee members about the monitoring and the removal of the documents, said the first knowledgeable person.
The White House officials were trying to determine how the materials that were taken from CIA headquarters found their way into a data base into which millions of pages of top-secret reports, emails and other documents were made available to panel staff after being vetted by CIA officials and contractors, said the knowledgeable person.
My favorite part of this passage, though, is that contractors are helping choose with documents CIA’s overseers are allowed to see.
Because contractors should surely have more visibility into what the CIA does than CIA’s overseers, right?
All of which is to say the SSCI busted the CIA for lying in their official response to the Committee. And as a result, CIA decided to start accusing the Committee of breaking the law. And now everyone is being called into the Principal’s office for spankings.
This reminds me of what happened when Gitmo defense lawyers tried to independently identify the identities of their clients torturers. The lawyers got too close to the torturers, which set off a process that ultimately led to John Kiriakou, as the sacrificial lamb, going to jail.
But it seems that this is part of a larger CIA effort to stall. As McClatchy notes, CIA took 3 extra months to provide their initial response to SSCI. Then this erupted 2 months later. It has now been almost 3 months since Udall first revealed the existence of the Panetta report. Which brings us just 8 months away from an election in which the Democrats stand a good chance of losing the Senate, and with it, the majority on the Committee that might vote to declassify the report in defiance of CIA’s wishes. Which may be why Saxby Chambliss is fanning the CiA’s flames for them.
“I have no comment. You should talk to those folks that are giving away classified information and get their opinion,” Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said when asked about the alleged intrusions.
Stall, stall, stall. It’s what CIA did with the OPR report, it’s what they did with the torture tape investigation, and now this.
CIA may well suck at doing their job — getting intelligence that is useful to the country. But they sure are experts at outlasting any oversight onto their real activities.
As I noted in this post, today John Brennan will try to convince Dianne Feinstein and Saxby Chambliss that their (well, really McCain and the Democrats’) 6,000 page report documenting that torture didn’t work and CIA lied to Congress (and the White House and DOJ and the public) about it not working.
Here’s the basis on which Brennan will stake his claim that SSCI’s report is wrong.
The CIA report catalogues errors that teams of agency analysts found in the committee’s research. It also questions the panel’s methodology, noting that the committee collected millions of internal CIA cables and other documents on the interrogation program, but it did not interview anyone directly involved.
Never mind that the CIA chose not to make its officials available to the committee. Never mind that John Kiriakou made it clear that the cables describing Abu Zubaydah’s torture, at least, both downplayed the number of times he had been waterboarded and exaggerated how effectively it worked.
The CIA will make the case that if you were to read millions of their cables recording their intelligence programs, you would have a grossly distorted understanding of those programs. CIA will make the case that nothing true they do is written down.
Or something like that.
Now, there’s abundant evidence the conclusions of the SSCI report are actually correct, no matter what torturers would say if asked.
But I do think it ought to raise at least as many concerns to be told that the millions of CIA cables and other documentation SSCI read doesn’t convey the truth about what CIA is doing.
Hell, I think John Brennan just made the case that the lawyers for Gitmo detainees who were held by the CIA need to interview all of the CIA personnel in person.
POGO has a story that adds a new twist to an old story.
The old story is Leon Panetta, leaking classified info, in this case, leaking info on the Osama bin Laden raid to a Zero Dark Thirty executive.
In June 2011, when he was director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Panetta discussed the information at a CIA headquarters event honoring participants in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to an unreleased report drafted by the Inspector General’s office and obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
“During this awards ceremony, Director Panetta specifically recognized the unit that conducted the raid and identified the ground commander by name,” the draft report says. “According to the DoD Office of Security Review, the individual’s name is protected from public release” under federal law, the report says.
“Director Panetta also provided DoD information, identified by relevant Original Classification Authorities as TOP SECRET//SI//REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL, as well as, SECRET/ACCM,” the report says.
This is the investigation Peter King requested in 2011.
The new, but predictable, twist, is that when DOD’s Inspector General tried to investigate this, it apparently got no cooperation from Panetta himself, who had subsequently moved over to head DOD itself. More importantly, the IG stalled the report, apparently until Panetta retired.
The unknown fate of the IG report was the subject of a December 2012 email exchange—obtained by POGO—between a congressional staff member and an employee in the IG’s office. The congressional aide mentions having heard that someone in the IG’s office was “sitting on it until Secretary Panetta retires” and asks the IG employee for any information about it.
The IG employee replies: “That effort . . . has been controlled and manipulated since inception by the IG Front Office.” The employee adds: “There is a version ready to hit the street, been long time ready to hit the street…but we will see if that happens anytime soon. Highly unusual tight controls and tactical involvement from senior leadership on this project.”
The employee says the matter reflects broader problems within the IG’s office.
“I have grave concerns that the message and findings are now controlled and subject to undue influence across the board at DoD IG. I have never experienced or seen so much influence or involvement by outsiders now in developing and issuing oversight reports.”
The IG employee invokes whistleblower status.
“I consider this protected communications on alleged wrong-doings within the Government.”
While it doesn’t say so directly, POGO suggests the Obama Administration may have pulled this off by withholding the nomination for the Acting Inspector General to become its permanent IG.
The Defense Department IG’s job has been vacant since December 2011, and the office has been headed on a temporary basis by Lynne M. Halbrooks, who is now the principal deputy inspector general. She has sought support to be named permanent inspector general, a presidential appointment that traditionally involves the approval of the secretary.
In short, Panetta exposed a classified identity to a movie maker, as well as SIGINT pertaining to the Osama bin Laden raid (perhaps reports on the intercepts the government used to identify the courier?). But rather than being treated like John Kiriakou, for example, Panetta got moved into a position to prevent any release of this information.
The term “sheep dip” has been adopted to refer to the practice of having Special Forces operate under CIA guise, as they did on this OBL raid, to operate under CIA’s covert authorities. It turns out the institutional shell game with the OBL raid served not to keep secrets, nor even to sustain deniability from the Pakistanis (particularly after Panetta identified Shakeel Afridi), but rather to allow the Administration to treat this covert operation just like they do covert operations like drones (Joby Warrick’s book, The Triple Agent, includes a lot on drones that obviously comes from Panetta’s office too), to make them selectively public.