Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Liars Lining Up

BTD at TalkLeft critiques Richard Cohen today. I wrote a comment there that warrants a separate post here, methinks, especially as the dialogue on torture is currently revisiting misleading past statements from "agents in the field" on the effectiveness of interrogations (see Marcy Wheeler, and the NYT). So if you will indulge:

First of all, it is pretty much a complete untruth that Obama has "waffled over" whether or not to prosecute CIA interrogators. He has said, Panetta has said, and DNI Blair has said they WILL NOT. But for some reason columnists like Cohen and Ignatius like to ignore that and try to enflame the nation. Here Cohen is standing with Mike Huckabee for God's sakes.

FURTHERMORE, it never ceases to amaze me that MSM writers suck up to disenchanted spies. They seem to take any change to intelligence policy quite personally. Mr. Cohen seems to regard himself as an "agent in the field."

His column perfectly displays what actual ex-CIA Mel Goodman wrote about recently in CIA & Washington Post: Joined at the Hip. To quote:

"Surely senior journalists from the mainstream media must understand that reliance on anonymous CIA clandestine sources is neither good reporting nor professional journalism. Many of these 'anonymous sources' almost certainly are former and current CIA officials seeking to protect themselves. George Tenet, John McLaughlin, and John Brennan are individuals who fit that description."

Also, you [BTD] are right, Cohen is pretty dim:

"If the threat of torture works -- if it has worked at least once -- then it
follows that torture itself would work. Some in the intelligence field,
including a former CIA director, say it does, and I assume they say this on the
basis of evidence."

Um. OK. One of nice things about some of the recent revelations is that it has shown up even the "good spies" to be deceivers of the public. So for example, John Kiriakou, who came out to ABC with his waterboarding accounts and how awesome it was and how Zubaydah's torture saved so many lives. Basically none of that was true. All this has been covered recently. But I guess Cohen missed it.

There's simply no reason to believe a demonstrable war criminal is telling you the truth. I mean, c'mon.

That to me is the kicker. When someone is that deep in sh*t as serious as a war crime, do you really think they're going to tell you the truth? Especially if they work for the CIA? Not to say that everyone in the CIA is dishonest, but it is rarely the business of the CIA to openly discuss their operations. That is why we have Congressional Oversight Committees. That is why we should have a Truth Commission.

Now Spencer Ackerman paints a picture over at Firedoglake that is even more muddled than what we have now. He says:

"That makes me wonder about the integrity of 'accounts from the field.' We know
from George Tenet's 'guidelines' from January 28, 2003, that every time an "enhanced technique" is used, there has to be a record of it. But this is 2002. It's possible that a) accounts of Abu Zubaydah's waterboarding are contradictory or b) accounts are incomplete or c) accounts are incorrect. We have reason
to suspect from Ali Soufan
that the CIA is conflicted about torturing Abu
Zubaydah and that his pre-torture interrogation worked. It's at least possible,
then, that someone could have written or otherwise informed Kiriakou that Abu
Zubaydah "broke" after being subjected to the waterboard once."

If the question is, did Kiriakou intend to lie or not, you are faced with a few situations. If he only read the first page of the Zubaydah interrogation report, he would certainly be deceiving us to tell us Zubaydah "broke" after 35 seconds and that "from that day on, he answered every question" and disrupted so many attacks. But as it turned out, according to WaPo, nothing was disrupted from waterboarding Zubaydah. From his language, it does not exactly sound like Kiriakou was reading an incomplete account of the interrogation, but then what is the explanation for the discrepancy?

Spencer suggests three possible explanations, which are contradictory accounts, incomplete accounts, or incorrect accounts from the field. I am not sure if the problem was the "accounts from the field." I have a few explanations for Kiriakou's pretty offkey whistleblowing:

A. Only later did counterterrorism officials realize the waterboarding didn't work (in which case Kiriakou jumped the gun by going on TV and abused his authority in telling us that waterboarding did work - not exactly a liar, but not a great showing).

B. Kiriakou was being lied to by his superiors (as Marcy/Spencer suggest is possible) OR underlings (which is one of the scariest options - how dysfunctional an agency is that? How does torturing protect our national security if it creates situations of deliberate internal misinformation? We have 100 spies on the payroll, but only 2 of them actually know what's going on???)

C. Kiriakou was simply lying.

Well...Kiriakou may still be lying. Laura Rozen writes the following:

"Following the release this month of U.S. government memos showing Zubaydah had been waterboarded 83 times in one month, and not one time as Kiriakou had said,
ABC News posted an update to its 2007 interview with Kiriakou in which
he responded: 'When I spoke to ABC News in December 2007 I was aware of Abu
Zubaydah being water boarded on one occasion. It was after this one occasion
that he revealed information related to a planned terrorist attack. As I said in
the original interview, my information was second-hand. I never participated in
the use of enhanced techniques on Abu Zubaydah or on any other prisoner, nor did
I witness the use of such techniques.'"

Again - the Washington Post suggests that Zubaydah disrupted exactly zero terrorist attacks. Note that Kiriakou doesn't say in this statement that the "information related to a planned terrorist attack" was relevant, important, or even accurate.

As I said - There's simply no reason to believe a demonstrable war criminal is telling you the truth. I mean, c'mon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

If By Work You Mean Fail

Now that the memos are out, people are speaking out and pushing back against Cheney's torture works B.S. This editorial is one of the most powerful anti-torture pieces I've read recently. Via Attaturk:

"FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.
It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence.

We discovered, for example, that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the
mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Abu Zubaydah also told us about Jose Padilla,
the so-called dirty bomber. This experience fit what I had found throughout my
counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in
identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.

There was no actionable intelligence gained from using enhanced interrogation techniques on Abu Zubaydah that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions — all of which are still classified. The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process."

Wow, note the emphasis on DUE PROCESS. More from Ali Soufan (the interrogator/writer of the editorial):

"One of the worst consequences of the use of these harsh techniques was that it reintroduced the so-called Chinese wall between the C.I.A. and F.B.I., similar to the communications obstacles that prevented us from working together to stop the 9/11 attacks. Because the bureau would not employ these problematic techniques, our agents who knew the most about the terrorists could have no part in the investigation. An F.B.I. colleague of mine who knew more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed than anyone in the government was not allowed to speak to him. [emphasis supplied]"

When you discover this level of incompetency, it becomes a little hard to argue that Bush kept us safe.

The writer makes a final point - that contractors, as opposed to CIA officers, requested that "alternative techniques" be used. It's still on the hands of the CIA brass that these techniques were used, but if true, it poses some interesting questions. Who was in charge of overseeing and regulating these contractors? Why were the contractors given so much authority? Prosecuting contractors would be easier than prosecuting government officials - right now, a torture suit against CACI is going forward - though CACI tried to have it dismissed, twice.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Hard Is This?

David Ignatius is having a hard time:

"Put yourself in the shoes of the people who were asked to interrogate
al-Qaeda prisoners in 2002. One former officer told me he declined the job, not
because he thought the program was wrong but because he knew it would blow up.
'We all knew the political wind would change eventually,' he recalled. Other
officers who didn't make that cynical but correct calculation are now 'broken
and bewildered,' says the former operative.

For a taste of what's ahead, recall the chilling effects of past CIA
scandals. In 1995, then-Director John Deutch ordered a 'scrub' of the agency's
assets after revelations of past links to Guatemalan death squads. Officers were
told they shouldn't jettison sources who had provided truly valuable
intelligence. But the practical message, recalls one former division chief, was:
'Don't deal with assets who could pose political risks.' A similar signal is
being sent now, he warns."

How hard is this? What does a scrub of the CIA's Guatemalan contacts have to do with this one simple message: DO NOT TORTURE. That's all. That's the only messsage. DO NOT TORTURE AND DO NOT SEND PEOPLE TO BE TORTURED.

And I wonder why these officers involved with torture interrogations are broken and bewildered. Is it perhaps because they...tortured?

But David Ignatius has a point. No, not a good point, just that he structured his entire editorial to get to his point - that conservative elements in the CIA must be constantly fellated and that a commission that reviews Bushco policy should be done "behind closed doors" and prepare a tidy little report to us. Because nothing will discourage us from going through this entire mess again like a secret commission.

There was not one single source in his editorial that approved of Obama's recent activies - that is, unless you count the masses quoted in David Ignatius' piece as "hooting and hollering" during Obama's speech. But apparently they don't count.

IMO, the best way to raise the CIA's morale is to ensure we never put them in a position where they commit war crimes again. Hopefully that is what we are on the way to doing. I am sure there are people in the CIA that understand that.

Update: From Jeff Stein, the crushing low morale:

"Fans began lining up four hours before Obama's con --, er, speech, Meek reported
late Tuesday afternoon in the D.C. bureau's always entertaining "Mouth of the Potomac" blog.

'Agency workers began lining up at noon for a chance to see the rock
star of public life. And when Obama entered the room, a cheer exploded that was
as shrill and ear-piercing as it was long: about 80 seconds. Think the Beatles,
Michael Jackson, Mick and the boys. Definitely not George W. Bush.'"

You Don't Get to Plead Ignorance

Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti have an astonishing story today at NYT. Apparently these bozos really didn't know what they were doing:

"WASHINGTON — The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations
without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans
during military training. How could that be torture?

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New
York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A.
officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George
W. Bush
, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees —
investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with
little debate."

Here's a specific example:

"Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been
prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was
a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish
Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia."

Now, I really don't buy this "oh my god, we had no idea simulated drowning was torture!" idea. And isn't there someone in the CIA whose job it is to like...know stuff? There was no one in Operations who had some understanding of what constitutes torture? I find that really hard to believe. And finally, the course of barraging Zubaydah with whatever they could imagine is in itself suggestive of torture - this is your body, and we do what we want with it.

Reading Jane Mayer's book The Dark Side, you know that post 9/11 the atmosphere was one of brutality - Cofer Black's "we're going to put their heads on sticks" and all of Dick Cheney's dark side rhetoric.

Claiming ignorance is not going to fly here, guys and girls. Especially since it means your argument is falling apart - how do you argue "we didn't know it produced false confessions!" while saying "it worked! it worked!"?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Another good reason for a Truth Commission

alongside prosecutions of course:

"'The next day, he told his interrogators that Allah had visited him in his
cell during the night and told him to cooperate,' said Kiriakou in an

'From that day on, he answered every question,' Kiriakou said. 'The
threat information he provided disrupted a number of attacks, maybe dozens of

(from the Christian Science Monitor)

Basically, everything we think we know about torture could be a crock of crap. Because Kiriakou was clearly lying out his butt when describing the entire Zubaydah interrogation - even though he was there. Once upon a time, Kiriakou's information was a touchstone. Perhaps he should be brought in for another interview.

Good news: Obama is open to a truth commission and it is up to Holder to determine whether prosecutions will happen.

Monday, April 20, 2009


Marcy Wheeler tells us that the CIA used waterboarding at least 83 times against Abu Zubaydah in August of 2002 and 183 times against KSM in March 2003. As she notes,

"Note, the information comes from the CIA IG report which, in the case of Abu Zubaydah, is based on having viewed the torture tapes as well as other materials. So this is presumably a number that was once backed up by video evidence."

This brings us back again into the pressing need to pursue the CIA for the destruction of these tapes. The torture mess is colossal. The tape destruction at least is digestible.

I went back again and read the WSJ article on the tapes in light of the revelation that Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times.

"Just a fraction of the tapes showed the two men being questioned, the person
added. 'Most of the tapes were of Abu Zubaydah. A few were of Nashiri,' the
official said. 'Only about a dozen showed actual interrogations. The rest were
basically just them sitting around.'"

The ACLU's Amrit Singh makes a good point in the article - "the number of tapes destroyed indicate[s] a coverup."

Considering how utterly untrustworthy the CIA has been on every factual aspect of waterboarding, it is hard to doubt her logic. How many of those tapes really were just them "sitting around?" We now know enough to be sure that was on the interrogation tapes was chilling. While the appointment of a special prosecutor is still an open question, we do at least have a special prosecutor, John Durham, on this aspect. Dahlia Lithwick profiles him here. I hope he does not share Rahmbo's fear of pressing charges.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What Happens When Your Lawyer Is A War Criminal?

"In this phase, you would like to employ ten techniques that you believe will dislocate his expectations regarding the treatment he believes he will receive and encourage him to disclose the crucial information mentioned above." Bybee Memo August 1 2002.

I think Valtin's/Mary's point here is important. And it is sobering to think of the past and present failures of our Congressional Intelligence Committees. The present failures include keeping an official investigation of the CIA secret and supporting Stephen Kappes for the D/CIA position.

I'm not sure there's an honest player in this whole thing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tomorrow We May Have New Reading

via Talkleft, tomorrow comes the Obama Administration deadline for releasing three particularly controversial CIA torture memos. And guess what? The CIA is going bonkers about it.

But this is what I don't understand -

"Top CIA officials have spoken out strongly against a full release, saying it
would undermine the agency's credibility with foreign intelligence services and
hurt the agency's work force, people involved in the discussions said. However,
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair favors releasing the information,
current and former senior administration officials said."

What is the point of having a DNI if he doesn't have some control, or sway, over a key intelligence agency beneath him? Why is the CIA allowed to make such a ruckus, and where is DNI Blair's voice if he is so in favor?

And why must we keep up the farce that these memos made any sense, ever?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Penetrating the Secrecy

Stephen Soldz has a new post up promoting a John Sifton article. It's very good and on one of my favorite subjects: the retention of Bush-era torture enablers and their total lack of accountability. From Sifton/Soldz:

"Take Stephen Kappes. At the time of the worst torture sessions outlined in the
ICRC report, Kappes served as a senior official in the Directorate of
Operations—the operational part of the CIA that oversees paramilitary operations
as well as the high-value detention program. (The directorate of operations is
now known as the National Clandestine Service.) Panetta has kept Kappes as
deputy director of the CIA—the number two official in the agency. One of Kappes’
deputies from 2002-2004, Michael Sulick, is now director of the National
Clandestine Service—the de facto number three in the agency. Panetta’s refusal
to investigate may be intended to protect his deputies. Since the basic facts
about their involvement in the CIA interrogation program are now known,
Panetta’s actions are increasingly looking like a cover-up."


"Nonetheless, footnote 9 reveals that the ICRC was informed by the then-director
of the CIA, Michael Hayden, that interrogation plans for detainees were
submitted to the 'CIA headquarters' for approval and as of 2007 were approved by “the Director or Deputy Director of the CIA.”
It is likely that this approval process existed at earlier points in 2002-2006.
This is more than an interesting detail. In fact, it could implicate several high-level CIA officials in torture, including previous CIA directors George Tenet (resigned 2004) and Porter Goss (resigned 2006), as well as deputy directors John McLaughlin (resigned 2004) and Albert Calland (resigned 2006). These CIA officials are no longer serving. Kappes, Sulick and others are still there." [emphasis supplied]

This is a point I made during the D/CIA nomination process - don't be naive - if you're in power in the CIA, you knew. You must've known. That was the basis of my "Broader CIA Critique" and Stephen Kappes diaries (1, 2). That's why articles like this one (entitled "Do We Really Have to Call Steve Kappes a Torturer?") by Spencer Ackerman get under my skin:

"The most serious charge against Kappes, as best I can tell, comes from his
role in the abduction and rendition of Abu Omar, the Egyptian
cleric taken by the CIA off the streets of Milan
and tortured in Egypt. A 2007
article from The Chicago Tribune
about the rendition reports briefly that
Kappes was 'one of those who signed off on the Abu Omar abduction.' (h/t TalkLeft.) No doubt that’s troubling. Extraordinary rendition is legally and morally
problematic. Italy is prosecuting in absentia the CIA agents involved in the Abu
Omar rendition.

But we really don’t know from what’s publicly available the context of
Kappes’ decision. Was this something that his bosses demanded? Did he have
decision-making authority on the rendition? (The Chicago Tribune piece is
extremely complex, as much of this is murky.) What were the alternatives to
handling Abu Omar? What did or didn’t Kappes know? I’m not saying this is
exculpatory, necessarily. I’m saying that we should investigate before we reach
a conclusion.
This is partially why I keep calling for an independent congressionally-mandated investigation. There’s just too much that’s unknown to label individual CIA people torturers as a general proposition, so take it easy on that front. Reality-based community and all that."

"Take it easy?" So Kappes signs off on a rendition to Egypt - a country known to torture prisoners - and that makes him...what? A good person? His bosses made him do it? What boss - he was no.2 in the Directorate of Operations at the time. Nobody holds a gun to your head to make you torture. And as a matter of fact, Stephen Kappes eventually did resign from the CIA - but not because of torture, rather because of office politics!

From wiki:

"It had been widely reported in the press that Kappes quit the Agency rather
than carry out a request by Goss to reassign Michael Sulick, his then
deputy[1]. It is also reported that this incident occurred because the chief of staff
admonished the then assistant deputy director for counterintelligence, Mary Margaret Graham (who now works for the DNI John Negroponte) about leaking personnel information[1]. According to some news reports, Sulick had just engaged in a shouting match with Goss’s chief of staff."

Wow, what a principled guy.

Yes, torture is a serious crime. Serious enough that you do not want to besmirch someone's name with it. But it's also serious enough that if you knew what was good for you, you should've run the other direction. Instead, Stephen Kappes was sitting pretty at the top of the CIA before office politics drove him out - and then back in again.

One final point is that it's especially difficult to get at some of these CIA people because they are lovingly protected by Congress. As wiki notes in Stephen Kappes' entry, Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller and Dianne Feinstein prefered he be selected for the CIA Director post. I mean...it is completely mind-boggling to think that the incoming Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, in charge of oversight, would want to place someone so closely tied with deceiving that same committee and carrying out torture policies at the top of the CIA...but there you go. The CIA is deeply and seriously protected by our politicians. And the only way we can change that is by ensuring those politicians are fired...next time we see their name on a ballot.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Institutional Power

The antics being laid at the feet of John Brennan are quite interesting. Stephen Soldz sums up both major articles on the release/not to release question swirling around the OLC memos here.

Basically, the John Brennan example is instructive because it mirrors in many ways the complaints being put up now about Obama's economic team. They are serving the interests of their friends - or, if you must be charitable, somehow it always happens that by coincidence their friends make out from decisions that simply have to be made. If you want to know the policy, look to the circle of friends. And that's simple - in Brennan's case, it was Tenet and even Cofer Black.

But the problem goes beyond Brennan - it has been noted that Brennan was able to flip Panetta on the issue. When I say flip, I say so because I assume that Panetta would have favored the release of these memos, due to his past statements on torture and the like. It's possible Panetta decided to completely sell out out of some entitlement of his new role, but I think it's more likely that institutional factors influenced him to do so - least of all the RETENTION OF STEPHEN KAPPES as the Deputy Director of the CIA. If anyone would like to hide the evidence, it is Stephen Kappes, whose link to the rendition of Abu Omar was reported in the Chicago Tribune. And furthermore, as in all these things, that link (to Abu Omar) is obvious simply by virtue of his preeminent position in the CIA. It was his job to know, and what he knew was reprehensible.

And what of that? What of a defiant CIA whose colorful alumni willfully threaten the country's security in the media? Even the Senate Intelligence Committee, screwed over (supposedly) by the CIA's reluctance to let the Senate conduct its mandated oversight, does not know if it will make its investigatory findings public. Senator Feinstein, do not hurt yourself while slapping your own wrist. Although I'm sure you won't.

This is especially crappy because the CIA has the information. This is the agency where it all began. The problem is not John Brennan (though he deserves the ire) - the problem is much larger. It's our reluctance to take the CIA in hand - because the organization is full of people who apologize for and defend torture. That attitude needs some exposure to the sunlight. We must expose the horror of what actually happened - war crimes - and expose the assumption that this actually works. The CIA analyzed the torture results...and reports are suggesting now that there weren't really any results at all. Why defend this stuff? And why not at least ask why the CIA feels its ineffective and inhumane methods should be spared any investigatory violence whatsoever? How many privileges does the CIA have and are they completely morally irresponsible in their role as servants of the President for what they actually do?

It's simple, especially in a country that at times leans as right as ours - if we're not careful, our laziness in terms of accountability will lead us into torture again, soon.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I Knew...

that when John Brennan was in the news again it would be for some annoying conservative bullsh*t (hence the title). And here it is:

"But some former and current Central Intelligence Agency officials say a rush to
release classified material could expose intelligence methods and needlessly
offend dedicated counterterrorism officers. Some administration and
Congressional officials said John O. Brennan, a C.I.A. veteran who now serves as
President Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, has urged caution in disclosing
interrogation documents."

IOW, don't release the torture memos, because they describe what I oversaw as no.4 figure in the CIA.

And seriously, don't release them because it would hurt torturers' feelings?

It's unbelievable, this crap. Thank God for the courts - people (from the Executive Branch) want to bury this, and we can't let them.