Zelikow’s Destroyed Memos

Last night, as I was beginning my catalog of the interrogation reports used in the 9/11 Report, the former Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission was on Rachel Maddow, elaborating on his Foreign Policy article where he revealed how the Bush Administration destroyed his objections to the May 2005 Bradbury Memos.

Anonymous Liberal had a very good take on Zelikow’s story (which basically matches what bmaz said to me via email). The destruction of Zelikow’s memos is clear evidence of criminality.

That’s an incredibly damning allegation. The only reason to collect and destroy all copies of this memo would be in order to preserve, for as many Bush administration officials as possible, a potential defense against later prosecution. If the extent of these activities ever became public and investigations were commenced, the White House wanted to be able to argue that everyone involved relied in good faith on the advice of counsel. That defense would be severely undermined if it could be shown that these officials were warned, by a lawyer of Zelikow’s caliber and rank within the administration, that the legal arguments they were relying on were poorly reasoned and unlikely to be sustained by a court.

This was pure CYA. And it was being done for reasons beyond the potential for political fallout. It was done in order to preserve the illusion of good faith reliance on OLC advice in the event of future criminal prosecutions. This is yet another reason why a special prosecutor needs to be appointed. While I agree with the decision by Eric Holder not to pursue prosecutions against CIA officials who relied in good faith on OLC advice (and did not exceed the scope of that advice), it is becoming increasingly clear that there were people (likely high ranking intelligence officials and people in the White House) who were explicitly warned (likely repeatedly) of the shoddy and highly dubious nature of the OLC’s advice. These folks should not be entitled to any presumption of good faith reliance. They need to be investigated. The attempt to scrub Zelikow’s memo from the record looks to me like an act of criminal conspiracy intended to preserve plausible deniability about the illegal nature of various government activities.

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Abu Zubaydah: Waterboarded 83 Times for 10 Pieces of Intelligence

The torture apologists are out in force, insisting that torture produces useful information. Cheney’s even promising to release information from CIA cataloging all the useful information that came from torture.

But we don’t have to wait for Cheney to make good on his promise. We already have a way to assess how much intelligence we got directly from torturing Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: the 9/11 Report. After all, the 9/11 Report integrates a huge amount of information from interrogation reports, and cites them all meticulously. As early as June 6, 2003, the 9/11 Commission asked for, "“all TDs and other reports of intelligence information obtained from interrogations” of forty named individuals, including Abu Zubaydah and (apparently) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and they used what they got in return to write their report. So if there was useful information in those reports, they presumably got it.

Here was a bipartisan group–including many staffers and members with extensive national security backgrounds–attempting to learn everything it could about al Qaeda, poring through interrogation reports produced as a result of torture, tracking inconsistencies in the intelligence, corroborating that intelligence where possible with documents and other testimony, and ultimately selecting what it felt was useful in telling the story of al Qaeda. While certainly not a perfect assessment of what was useful (I’ll explain why below), it provides one of the best unbiased ways to measure how useful this intelligence was.

And in the case of Abu Zubaydah, such an assessment is horrifying. 

In the entire 9/11 Report, just ten pieces of information are sourced to Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation reports.


And there are several other damning details that come from this analysis. One of the ten pieces of intelligence that appears in the 9/11 Report–regarding Abu Zubaydah’s role running terrorist training camps–came from July 10, 2002, before the CIA first received oral authorization to use torture. Thus, it either came from persuasive, rather than coercive, techniques. Or it came from treatment that had not been legally approved.

In addition, the 9/11 Report doesn’t cite interrogation reports addressing [the lack of] ties between Iraq and al Qaeda directly; it cites a 2003 memo from Doug Feith that in turn cites 2003 interrogations of AZ and KSM. It’s unclear whether AZ’s and KSM’s earlier denials of links between al Qaeda and Iraq simply don’t show up in the earlier interrogation reports, or whether such information was deemed not credible in earlier reports. But the absence of such references, when we know interrogators were pushed to ask about them, raises questions about the integrity of the interrogation reports.

Of the ten pieces of information that appear in the Report, just one comes from the month when AZ was under most intensive interrogation. As it pertains to Rahim al-Nashiri, who had not yet been captured, it might be said to have an influence on his capture. Though appears to be background on who he was rather than details about how to find him. 

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Another Possibility with Mukasey’s 9/11 Story

While we’re talking about Mukasey’s claim that Bush could have prevent 9/11 and didn’t, I want to raise one more possibility. Mukasey’s story, remember, is that the US had noted a phone call from an Afghan safe house to somewhere in the US–but the US couldn’t track the call because didn’t know where the phone call went.

And before 9/11, that’s the call that we didn’t know about. We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn’t know precisely where it went."

Glenn Greenwald (who has been flogging this issue heroically), reviews the 9/11 Commission report and concludes that such an intercept didn’t happen.

Critically, the 9/11 Commission Report — intended to be a comprehensive account of all relevant pre-9/11 activities — makes no mention whatsoever of the episode Mukasey described. What has been long publicly reported in great detail are multiple calls that were made between a global communications hub in Yemen and the U.S. — calls which the NSA did intercept without warrants (because, contrary to Mukasey’s lie, FISA does not and never did require a warrant for eavesdropping on foreign targets) but which, for some unknown reason, the NSA failed to share with the FBI and other agencies. But the critical pre-9/11 episode Mukasey described last week is nowhere to be found in the 9/11 Report or anywhere else. It just does not exist. [emphasis Glenn’s]

And Glenn is not alone. Chairman Conyers says he doesn’t know anything about it.

And Philip Zelikow says he doesn’t know what Mukasey is talking about.

Not sure of course what the AG had in mind, although the most important signals intelligence leads related to our report — that related to the Hazmi-Mihdhar issues of January 2000 or to al Qaeda activities or transits connected to Iran — was not of this character. If, as he says, the USG didn’t know where the call went in the US, neither did we. So unless we had some reason to link this information to the 9/11 story ….

In general, as with several covert action issues for instance, the Commission sought (and succeeded) in publishing details about sensitive intelligence matters where the details were material to the investigative mandate in our law.

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Don’t Worry, Isikoff Says, DC Is Not Corrupt and Dishonest

When the Village needs to plant a story to counter a growing narrative, they know who to call: Michael Isikoff. And true to form, Isikoff writes a review of Philip Shenon’s book on the 9/11 Commission that–while it presents abundant evidence that agrees with Max Holland’s post on the book–still tries to refute Holland’s post.

Holland makes two main points in his post. First (as covered in this post), that Zelikow and Rove carried on back-channel communication after the Commission heads told him to stop. And, more generally, Holland argues that Zelikow used his position to,

… exploit[] his central position to negate or neutralize criticism of the Bush administration so that the White House would not bear, in November 2004, the political burden of failing to prevent the attacks.

To which, Isikoff scolds,

In any case, the suggestion by conspiracy theorists—who have seized on the evidence in Shenon’s book—that Zelikow was serving as a secret White House "mole" is hard to sustain.

Nosiree, Zelikow wasn’t the secret White House mole! While Isikoff includes a quote from Lee Hamilton, a Democrat with a long history of excusing Republican shortcomings, in which Hamilton vouches for Zelikow’s interest in exposing all the facts, Isikoff also presents the following evidence that supports and expands on Holland’s post:

  • After Commission investigator Warren Bass found emails from Richard Clarke warning of "hundreds of Americans [lying] dead in several countries," Zelikow, "disparaged Clarke as an egomaniac and braggart who was unjustly slandering his friend Rice."
  • Isikoff numbers "at least four" calls between Rove and Zelikow; Isikoff repeats Zelikow’s excuse that these were related to Zelikow’s academic job, but he doesn’t include the allegation that Zelikow tried to have his Executive Secretary stop logging his calls.
  • He repeats Shenon’s claim that Rove specifically said that a report that blamed Bush for 9/11 could most easily sink his re-election bid.

So to make his argument that Zelikow wasn’t a White House mole trying to prevent a critical report from hurting Bush’s re-election chances, Isikoff provides the quote of someone not known for candid speech, lauding the report itself. But Isikoff doesn’t refute the claim that Rove and Zelikow were communicating, he doesn’t refute the claim that Rove thought a favorable report was important, and he even adds another witness describing Zelikow as "bullying" the Commision to protect the reputation of his gal Condi! Read more

Yet More Communications Dirty Business: Karl Rove and Philip Zelikow

By this point, it should surprise no one that Karl Rove does a lot of dirty business using his phone and blackberry. Apparently, that extends to softening the reports of the 9/11 Commission: a Philip Shenon book coming out in February will reveal that Rove carried on back-channel discussions with Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s Executive Director (h/t Steven Aftergood), for some time after the Commission told him to stop speaking with Senior Administration Officials.

In a revelation bound to cast a pall over the 9/11 Commission, Philip Shenon will report in a forthcoming book that the panel’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, engaged in “surreptitious” communications with presidential adviser Karl Rove and other Bush administration officials during the commission’s 20-month investigation into the 9/11 attacks.


Karen Heitkotter, the commission’s executive secretary, was taken aback on June 23, 2003 when she answered the telephone for Zelikow at 4:40 PM and heard a voice intone, “This is Karl Rove. I’m looking for Philip.” Heitkotter knew that Zelikow had promised the commissioners he would cut off all contact with senior officials in the Bush administration. Nonetheless, she gave Zelikow’s cell phone number to Rove. The next day there was another call from Rove at 11:35 AM.


In late 2003, around the time his involuntary recusal was imposed, Zelikow called executive secretary Karen Heitkotter into his office and ordered her to stop creating records of his incoming telephone calls. Concerned that the order was improper, a nervous Heitkotter soon told general counsel Marcus. He advised her to ignore Zelikow’s order and continue to keep a log of his telephone calls, insofar as she knew about them.

Although Shenon could not obtain from the GAO an unredacted record of Zelikow’s cell phone use—and Zelikow used his cell phone for most of his outgoing calls—the Times reporter was able to establish that Zelikow made numerous calls to “456” numbers in the 202 area code, which is the exclusive prefix of the White House. [my empahsis]

Click through for a description of how Zelikow was able to prevent the Commission from describing Condi as incompetent (I know–we all know it to be true, but it’d have been nice to get it in writing).

I’m particularly interested in the timing of this. Read more