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US intelligence analysts decide conflicting prisoner accounts about courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed must mean Ahmed is someone very important in al-Qaeda, and they increase their efforts to find out who he really is. At the time, analysts only know Ahmed by his alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, and they have a good idea that he is a courier between al-Qaeda leaders. The most important question is if Ahmed could lead to someone like Osama bin Laden.
9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) told his US interrogators that Ahmed was not important (see Autumn 2003).
Al-Qaeda operations chief Abu Faraj al-Libbi also told interrogators Ahmed was not important (see Shortly After May 2, 2005).
But al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul said Ahmed was an important courier who was close to bin Laden, and that he was close to both KSM and al-Libbi also (see Shortly After January 23, 2004).
Other important prisoners also gave wildly conflicting accounts on who Ahmed is.
The CIA concludes that KSM and al-Libbi are deliberately trying to deflect attention from Ahmed to keep some important secret, most likely bin Laden’s secret location. A US official aware of the CIA’s analysis will later say: “Think about circles of information—there’s an inner circle they would protect with their lives. The crown jewels of al-Qaeda were the whereabouts of bin Laden and his operational security.” (Isikoff 5/4/2011)
Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden learns that the CIA has videotaped some detainee interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). Hayden will later say he finds this out towards the end of his time as deputy director of national intelligence, a position he leaves in May 2006. Although the tapes were destroyed several months previously (see November 2005), Hayden will later say he is not aware of their destruction at this point: “I did not personally know before they were destroyed, not at all… I was aware of the existence of the tapes but really didn’t become focused on it until the summer of ‘06.” It appears that Hayden does not inform any congressional oversight committees of the destruction until 2007 (see March 14, 2007 and December 7, 2007), even though he becomes CIA director in the summer of 2006 (see May 5, 2006). (Associated Press 12/12/2007; Fox News 12/13/2007)
In November 2005, CIA officer Jose Rodriguez will destroy videotapes of interrogations of at least two high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees (see November 2005), despite numerous court orders and commands from superiors and oversight agencies to keep them. The CIA will later claim that Rodriguez acted on his own without notifying CIA lawyers or his bosses, yet there is no evidence that he was ever punished in any way. The New York Times will later comment, “Some in Congress are curious to know why, if Mr. Rodriguez had really ignored White House advice not to destroy the tapes, he was apparently never reprimanded.” (Mazzetti 12/13/2007)
Following the destruction of videotapes made by the CIA showing the interrogation of al-Qaeda detainees (see Spring-Late 2002 and November 2005), the CIA’s Office of General Counsel conducts a review of the circumstances of destruction, as well as any other investigations and preservation obligations at the time the tapes were destroyed. Although the review’s conclusions are not known, the existence of the review is made public in a Justice Department letter obtained by the Associated Press after news of the tapes’ destruction breaks in 2007 (see December 6, 2007). (Associated Press 12/8/2007) There is no indication that any action is taken against Jose Rodriguez, who will later be said to be the CIA officer responsible for the tapes’ destruction (see After November 2005).
Khalid el-Masri and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) file a lawsuit against former CIA director George Tenet and three corporations. The suit alleges that all of the defendants were complicit in el-Masri’s abduction transfer to to a secret prison, and subsequent mistreatment (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004, January 23 - March 2004, and March-April 2004 ). Tenet is said to have known that the CIA had mistakenly detained an innocent man, but allowed el-Masri to remain in detention for two months. The three corporations are accused of owning and operating airplanes that transported el-Masri to a secret prison in Afghanistan known as the “Salt Pit.” (American Civil Liberties Union 12/6/2005; Beeson, Wizner, and Goodman 12/6/2005 )
The law firm of Jones Day submits the first classified document request to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald on behalf of its client, Lewis Libby. The letter reads in part, “The documents requested include not only documents in the possession, custody, or control of your office, but also (a) documents in the possession, custody, or control of any agency allied with the prosecution, including without limitation the FBI, CIA, and the Office of the Vice President (‘OVP’), and (b) all other documents of which your office has knowledge and to which it has access.” The request is for, among other documents, Libby’s White House notes from May 2003 through March 2004; all documents pertaining to Libby’s morning intelligence briefings from May 2003 through March 2004, and including all Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs); any CIA damage assessment performed in light of the Plame Wilson identity leak; and any documents pertaining to Valerie Plame Wilson’s status as a clandestine CIA official. (Letter to Patrick Fitzgerald from Jones Day re United States v. I. Lewis Libby 12/14/2005, pp. 2-5 ) None of the lawyers for either the prosecution or the defense are aware of an in-house CIA assessment of the “severe” damage caused by the leak (see Before September 16, 2003).
The Bush administration relents in its opposition to the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which would ban torture of prisoners by US personnel (see July 24, 2005 and After and December 30, 2005). President Bush meets with the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, in a press conference to praise the bill. McCain says after the conference that the bill “is a done deal.” The bill still faces some opposition from Congressional Republicans such as House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who says he won’t vote for the bill unless it can be amended to ensure that the nation’s ability to gather intelligence is not diminished. Both the House and Senate have voted by veto-proof margins to accept the bill, which is actually an amendment to a defense appropriations bill. McCain says after the conference with Bush and Warner, “We’ve sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists. We have no grief for them, but what we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are.” Bush says the ban “is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad.” McCain has been the target of months of vilification and opposition from the White House over the bill, which argued that the bill would limit Bush’s authority to protect the US from terrorist attacks, and that the bill is unnecessary because US officials do not torture. (CNN 12/15/2005)
Loopholes - But the bill contains key loopholes that some experts believe significantly waters down the bill’s impact. Author Alfred McCoy, an expert on the CIA, notes that the bill as revised by White House officials does not give any real specifics. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will assert that the only restrictions on prisoner interrogations are the ban on “severe” psychological or physical pain, “the same linguistic legerdemain that had allowed the administration to start torturing back in 2002” (see August 1, 2002). Gonzales also implies that practices such as waterboarding are not prohibited. (McCoy 2/8/2006)
Legal Cover - A provision of the bill inserted after negotiation with White House officials says that CIA and military officials accused of torture can claim legal protection by arguing that they were simply following the orders of their superiors, or they have a reasonable belief that they are carrying out their superiors’ wishes. McCain dropped the original provision that all military personnel must follow the stringent guidelines for interrogation laid out in the Army Field Manual; the bill now follows the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which says that anyone accused of violating interrogation rules can defend themselves if a “reasonable” person could conclude they were following a lawful order. McCain resisted pressure from the White House to include language that would afford interrogators accused of torture protection from civil or criminal lawsuits. (CNN 12/15/2005; Associated Press 12/15/2005)
Controversial Amendment - Perhaps even more troubling is an amendment to the bill that would essentially strip the judiciary’s ability to enforce the ban. The amendment, originally crafted by senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and added to by Carl Levin (D-MI), denies Guantanamo detainees the right to bring legal action against US personnel who torture or abuse them—effectively denying them the fundamental legal right of habeas corpus. It also gives the Defense Department the implicit ability to consider evidence obtained through torture or inhumane treatment in assessing detainees’ status. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that the DTA marks the first time in history that Congress would allow the use of evidence obtained through torture. HRW’s Tom Malinowski says, “With the McCain amendment, Congress has clearly said that anyone who authorizes or engages in cruel techniques like water boarding is violating the law. But the Graham-Levin amendment leaves Guantanamo detainees no legal recourse if they are, in fact, tortured or mistreated. The treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees will be shrouded in secrecy, placing detainees at risk for future abuse.… If the McCain law demonstrates to the world that the United States really opposes torture, the Graham-Levin amendment risks telling the world the opposite.” (Human Rights Watch 12/16/2005) Geoffrey Corn, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Judge Advocate General lawyer, agrees. In January 2006, he will write that the “recent compromise inclusion of an ‘obedience to orders’ defense… has effectively undermined the goal Senator John McCain fought so long to achieve. Instead of sending a clear message to US forces that cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of detainees is never permissible, the compromise has validated President Bush’s belief that the necessities of war provide the ultimate ‘trump card’ to justify ‘whatever it takes’ in the war on terror.” (Corn 1/6/2006)
Suzanne Spaulding, a former counsel for the CIA, the Senate and House intelligence commission, and executive director of the National Terrorism Commission from 1999 through 2000, writes an op-ed criticizing the Bush administration for its domestic surveillance program. She writes that the three main sources of oversight and restraint on Bush’s unfettered efforts to monitor US citizens—Congress, the judiciary, and the American people—have failed to halt what she calls “this extraordinary exercise of presidential power.” Spaulding, who will testify along similar lines before the Senate over a year later (see April 11, 2007), writes, “Ironically, if it is ultimately determined that this domestic surveillance program reflects the exercise of unchecked power in contravention of law, it will wind up weakening the presidency. Once again, we will confront the challenge of restoring Americans’ faith in the rule of law and our system of checks and balances.” The pretense of oversight by the administration, in providing limited and perhaps misleading briefings on the program only to the so-called “Gang of Eight” Congressional leaders, is superficial and ineffective, she writes; the entire process “effectively eliminates the possibility of any careful oversight.” She notes that because of the severe restrictions both in the information doled out to these Congressional leaders, and their strict prohibition on discussing the information with anyone else, even other intelligence panel members, “[i]t is virtually impossible for individual members of Congress, particularly members of the minority party, to take any effective action if they have concerns about what they have heard in one of these briefings. It is not realistic to expect them, working alone, to sort through complex legal issues, conduct the kind of factual investigation required for true oversight and develop an appropriate legislative response.” Congressional oversight is key to retaining the trust of the US citizenry, she writes, and adds that that particular principle was well understood at the CIA while she was there. Oversight “is vital for a secret agency operating in a democracy. True oversight helps clarify the authority under which intelligence professionals operate. And when risky operations are revealed, it is important to have members of Congress reassure the public that they have been overseeing the operation. The briefings reportedly provided on the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program reflect, instead, a ‘check the box’ mentality—allowing administration officials to claim that they had informed Congress without having really achieved the objectives of oversight.” While those few members of Congress are given little real information, the judiciary, particularly the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), is cut out of the process entirely. “Instead of going to a judge on the secret court that was specifically established to authorize foreign intelligence surveillance inside the United States, we are told that an NSA shift supervisor was able to sign off on the warrantless surveillance of Americans,” she writes. “That’s neither a check nor a balance. The primary duty of the NSA shift supervisor, who essentially works for the president, is to collect intelligence. The task of the judge is to ensure that the legal standards set out in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) have been met. Which one has stronger independence to say no, if no needs to be said? The objectives of the surveillance program, as described in news reports, seem laudable. The government should be running to ground the contacts listed in a suspected terrorist’s cell phone, for example. What is troubling is that this domestic spying is being done in apparent contravention of FISA, for reasons that still are not clear.” In her piece she takes issue with the Bush administration’s insistence that its surveillance program is legal and necessary. She makes the following case:
Specious Arguments to Duck FISA Court - The argument that the FISA Court is too slow to respond to immediate needs for domestic surveillance is specious, she says. “FISA anticipates situations in which speed is essential. It allows the government to start eavesdropping without a court order and to keep it going for a maximum of three days. And while the FISA application process is often burdensome in routine cases, it can also move with remarkable speed when necessary, with applications written and approved in just a few hours.” Instead, she says that the Bush administration must have dodged FISC because their wiretaps didn’t meet FISA standards of probable cause. Since FISC is staffed by judges hand-picked by conservative then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, “who presumably felt that they had the right temperament and expertise to understand the national security imperatives as well as the need to protect civil liberties,” and since FISC has granted all but four of the more than 5,645 requests for wiretaps and surveillance made by the administration since 2001, to argue that FISC is unresponsive is simply wrong-headed. And, she notes, if the administration felt that FISA’s standards were too strict, it could have moved to amend the law to allow more leniency in obtaining such warrants. It has not done so since the passage of the 2001 Patriot Act. She writes, “The administration reportedly did not think it could get an amendment without exposing details of the program. But this is not the first time the intelligence community has needed a change in the law to allow it to undertake sensitive intelligence activities that could not be disclosed. In the past, Congress and the administration have worked together to find a way to accomplish what was needed. It was never previously considered an option to simply decide that finding a legislative solution was too hard and that the executive branch could just ignore the law rather than fix it.”
No Justification for Keeping Program Secret - In addition, the administration has consistently failed to make a case for keeping the domestic wiretapping policy secret for four years. US-designated terrorist groups already know that the government listens to their cell phone conversations whenever possible, and they are well aware of the various publicly known programs to search through millions of electronic communications, such as the NSA’s Echelon program (see April 4, 2001). “So what do the terrorists learn from a general public discussion about the legal authority being relied upon to target their conversations?” she asks. “Presumably very little. What does the American public lose by not having the public discussion? We lose the opportunity to hold our elected leaders accountable for what they do on our behalf.”
Assertions that Program Authorized by Congress Fallacious - The argument advanced by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that says the program does not violate the law because Congress’s post-9/11 authorization of force against terrorists gives the administration the right to circumvent FISA is equally specious, she argues. “FISA does provide for criminal penalties if surveillance is conducted under color of law ‘except as authorized by statute.’ This is a reference to either FISA or the criminal wiretap statute. A resolution, such as the Use of Force resolution, does not provide statutory authority. Moreover, FISA specifically provides for warrantless surveillance for up to 15 days after a declaration of war. Why would Congress include that provision if a mere Use of Force resolution could render FISA inapplicable? The law clearly states that the criminal wiretap statute and FISA are ‘the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance…and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.’ If these authorities are exclusive, there is no other legal authority that can authorize warrantless surveillance. Courts generally will not view such a clear statutory statement as having been overruled by a later congressional action unless there is an equally clear indication that Congress intended to do that.” Therefore, by any legal standard, the administration’s program is, apparently, illegal.
No Inherent Presidential Authority - The ultimate argument by Bush officials, that the president has some sort of inherent authority as commander-in-chief to authorize illegal wiretaps, is the same groundless legal argument recently used to justify the use of torture by US intelligence and law enforcement agents (see December 28, 2001). That argument was withdrawn, Spaulding notes, after it became publicly known. While the courts have not specifically ruled on this particular argument, Spaulding notes that the Supreme Court refused to recognize then-President Harry Truman’s attempt to seize control of the nation’s steel mills to avert a possible strike during the Korean War. The Supreme Court ruled “that the president’s inherent authority is at its weakest in areas where Congress has already legislated. It ruled that to find inherent presidential authority when Congress has explicitly withheld that authority—as it has in FISA—‘is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between president and Congress.’” She notes that in 2004, the Supreme Court rejected the argument for unchecked presidential power in the Hamdi case (see June 28, 2004), with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writing for the court, “We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens. …Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with… enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake.” Spaulding concludes, “The rule of law and our system of checks and balances are not a source of weakness or a luxury of peace. As O’Connor reminded us in Hamdi, ‘It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments…that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.’” (Spaulding 12/25/2005)
Without the knowledge of many in Congress, Vice President Cheney and his allies in Congress manage to insert language into the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005) that renders much of the bill nearly worthless. Some of the widest exceptions are inserted without the knowledge of all but a very few Congressmen. One is the exemption for the CIA, which instead of being bound by the interrogation techniques described in the US Army Field Manual, is only forbidden in general to employ “cruel” or “inhuman” methods. Those terms will be defined in light of US constitutional law. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision that cruelty is an act that “shocks the conscience,” Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, has argued that harsh interrogations would be much less shocking if performed on detainees suspected of planning or taking part in mass casualty terrorist attacks. What “shocks the conscience” is to an extent “in the eye of the beholder,” Cheney has already said. (Gellman and Becker 6/25/2007)
According to authors Joe and Susan Trento, writing in 2006, the CIA places employees undercover with both airlines and the Federal Air Marshal Service, as a part of a program to allow known terrorists to keep flying (see May 2006). The undercover employees allow the CIA to control arrangements when it wants a terrorist to fly openly without the airlines’ or Marshal Service’s knowledge. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 194) One example of this is travel in 2006 by Rayed Abdullah, an associate of alleged 9/11 pilot Hani Hanjour. Abdullah is allowed to fly to New Zealand for flight training in the hope he will meet al-Qaeda operatives, who will then be put under surveillance (see February-May 30, 2006).
Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi intelligence agent captured by the US after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 (see June 2004), is quietly released. Al-Ani gained notoriety after 9/11 when Bush administration officials claimed he had a meeting with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague, in the Czech Republic (see April 8, 2001). These allegations were eventually debunked (see September 18, 2001-April 2007). He had been secretly detained by the CIA at an unknown location since his capture. He will make the news again in mid-2007 when Czech officials reveal that he has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the Czech government, charging that unfounded Czech intelligence reports resulted in his imprisonment by the CIA. (Whitlock 10/27/2007)
After 9/11 there was much discussion about how hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were able to participate in an operation like 9/11, even though they were well known to US intelligence (see, for example, January 5-8, 2000, Early 2000-Summer 2001, and 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).
FBI Theory - Based on conversations with FBI agents, author Lawrence Wright speculates on why the CIA withheld information it should have given the FBI: “Some… members of the [FBI’s] I-49 squad would later come to believe that the [CIA] was shielding Almihdhar and Alhazmi because it hoped to recruit them.… [They] must have seemed like attractive opportunities; however, once they entered the United States they were the province of the FBI. The CIA has no legal authority to operate inside the country, although in fact, the bureau often caught the agency running backdoor operations in the United States.… It is also possible, as some FBI investigators suspect, the CIA was running a joint venture with Saudi intelligence in order to get around that restriction. Of course, it is also illegal for foreign intelligence services to operate in the United States, but they do so routinely.” (Wright 2006, pp. 312-313)
Explanation of Acquired Visas - This theory offers a possible explanation, for example, of how Almihdhar and Alhazmi managed to move in and out of Saudi Arabia and obtain US visas there even though they were supposedly on the Saudi watch list (see 1997 and April 3-7, 1999), and why a Saudi agent in the US associated with them (see January 15-February 2000). Wright points out that “these are only theories” but still notes that “[h]alf the guys in the Bureau think CIA was trying to turn them to get inside al-Qaeda.” (Wright 2006, pp. 313; O'Connor 9/5/2006)
Participant Does Not Know - Doug Miller, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA who was part of a plot to withhold the information from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), will indicate he does not know why he was ordered to withhold the information, but that his superiors may have had a good reason for keeping it from the FBI. Another intelligence source will claim that the CIA withheld the information to keep the FBI away from a sensitive operation to penetrate al-Qaeda. (Stein 10/1/2008)
CIA Wanted to Keep FBI Off Case - Another unnamed FBI agent loaned to Alec Station before 9/11 will say: “They didn’t want the bureau meddling in their business—that’s why they didn’t tell the FBI. Alec Station… purposely hid from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau that they were following a man in Malaysia who had a visa to come to America. The thing was, they didn’t want… the FBI running over their case.” (Bamford 2008, pp. 20)
Similar Explanation - Wright is not the first to have made the suggestion that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were protected for recruitment purposes. Investigative journalist Joe Trento reported in 2003 that a former US intelligence official had told him that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were already Saudi Arabian intelligence agents when they entered the US (see August 6, 2003).
The CIA misses a chance to kill al-Qaeda leader Khalid Habib. In 2006, the CIA hears from the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, that Habib is staying at a compound in Miram Shah, North Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region. An involved CIA officer will later tell the Los Angeles Times that he spends weeks at a nearby military outpost, monitoring live images from a Predator drone. He says, “We had a Predator up there for hours at a stretch, just watching, watching.” The CIA closely studies the layout of the compound in preparation for a drone strike. “They took a shot at the compound a week after I left. We got some bodyguards, but he was not there.” Under US policy at this time, the CIA needs permission from the Pakistani government before any drone strike, and getting the approval can take a day or more. Apparently, such delays contribute to the failure to successfully kill Habib. Habib will finally be killed in a Predator strike in 2008. (Miller 3/22/2009) There are no contemporary media accounts of any Predator strike at Miram Shah in 2006, so the date of the strike remains unknown.
US intelligence is able to learn the last name of Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier. The courier’s real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, but so far, US analysts have only known him by his alias “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” In late 2005, intelligence analysts concluded Ahmed was very likely working for bin Laden or some other high ranking al-Qaeda leader (see Late 2005). (Isikoff 5/4/2011; Gannon 6/1/2011) Also in late 2005, dozens of new CIA operatives were sent to Pakistan as part of a new push to get bin Laden, called Operation Cannonball (see Late 2005). Although most of the new operatives are inexperienced, the effort does appear to have an impact. The New York Times will later report, “With more agents in the field, the CIA finally got the courier’s family name”—Ahmed. (Mazzetti, Cooper, and Baker 5/2/2011) Exactly how it gets the family name is unclear. But in 2007, US analysts will learn Ahmed’s first name as well (see 2007).
After a long and difficult struggle with herself, senior CIA case officer and outed covert agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003) resigns from the agency. In 2007, she will reflect that for 20 years, “I had loved what I was doing, but I could no longer continue to do the undercover work for which I had been trained. My career had been done in by stupidity and political payback, and that made me angry. I would… resign—sadly, but on my terms.” Plame Wilson’s boss “literally beg[s]” her “to reconsider her decision, and despite my respect for her and my belief in the mission, I was not tempted for a moment. Leaving was the right choice for me and my family. I was ready to close this chapter in my life.” Plame Wilson will recall: “The young officers whom I had supervised were particularly outraged at what had happened and at the increasing politicization of intelligence that my case exemplified. Like me, they had entered the agency filled with energy, hope, and patriotism, only to emerge a few years later with a realization of their own vulnerabilities, the danger of politicians meddling in intelligence matters, and a clearer sense of the moral ambiguity that characterizes even the most honorable institutions.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 239-240, 389)
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald responds to a classified document request submitted by the Lewis Libby defense team (see December 14, 2005). Fitzgerald disputes lawyer John Cline’s characterization of the Office of Special Counsel as “allied with… the FBI, CIA, and the Office of the Vice President,” and notes that “we are not aligned with the various delineated government agencies other than the” FBI. Fitzgerald writes that his office will provide whatever requested documents it can, but many of the classified documents requested are not in its possession, and he doubts his office will ever be provided with many of them, particularly the extremely sensitive Presidential Daily Briefs. Others of the documents, such as some of Libby’s notes from his time in the Office of the Vice President, have not yet been provided; Fitzgerald says that once his office receives the documents, he will provide them to Libby’s lawyers. (Office of Special Counsel 1/9/2006 )
A secret witness in the court-martial of a US soldier charged with murdering an Iraqi prisoner (see November 26, 2003 and October 5, 2004) says that the soldier, Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, disregarded interrogation rules so casually that he wrote a memo warning his CIA superiors. The witness testifies in open court, but is shielded behind a curtain to protect his identity. (Defense lawyers accidentally exposed the witness’s ties to the CIA during previous questioning.) The testimony is conducted in public after much legal wrangling, with lawyers from the Colorado Springs Gazette and other media outlets insisting that the witness’s testimony be conducted in open court. The witness says Welshofer, accused of smothering the prisoner, did not seem to care. “He said he was pretty sure they were breaking those rules every day.” Earlier witnesses have testified that the techniques used by Welshofer—which included covering the prisoner’s head with a bag, wrapping electrical cord around the bag, sitting on the man’s chest, and covering his mouth—were forbidden by order of CENTCOM commander Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. Another witness, Chief Warrant Officer Todd Sonnek, a Green Beret assigned to interrogations at the makeshift prison near the Syrian border, says that two days before Mowhoush’s death, he witnessed Welshofer bringing CIA and Iraqi paramilitary fighters in to witness his interrogation of the prisoner, which Welshofer called an implementation of the accepted method called “fear-up,” in which an interrogator attempts to terrify a prisoner into divulging information. Welshofer, along with the CIA officials and Iraqi fighters, questioned Mowhoush, and interrupted the questions with insults and slaps. Instead of cowering in fear, Mowhoush became enraged and broke free from his plastic handcuffs. Sonnek says he wrestled Mowhoush to the ground, and everyone in the room joined in beating and kicking Mowhoush. Sonnek testifies that Mowhoush was able to walk unaided back to his cell; other witnesses have said that it took five soldiers to carry him back to it. (Foster 1/17/2006; Roeder 1/19/2006; Foster 1/24/2006) Welshofer will be convicted, but will not serve jail time or even be discharged from the Army (see January 24, 2006).
The Lewis Libby defense team files a request to use classified government material as part of Libby’s defense. Legal observers say the Libby request could “bog down” the case for months. The Associated Press reports that the request “puts the Libby case on a dual track: one public, the other secret that often can delay criminal cases from going to trial.” The contents of the filing remain secret, but Libby’s lawyers have implied that they want to reveal the nature of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s work as a CIA operative (see Fall 1985, Fall 1989, Fall 1992 - 1996, and April 2001 and After). Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald opposes the idea that some of the classified documents would be provided (see January 23, 2006). Fitzgerald has already turned over 850 pages of classified information to Libby’s defense lawyers, and is working to declassify more information. (Locy 1/23/2006)
Author and columnist David Corn, who was the first member of the media to speculate that Valerie Plame Wilson’s exposure as a CIA official may have been a crime (see July 16, 2003), now speculates that the Lewis Libby defense team may resort to “graymail” to derail Libby’s criminal prosecution (see After October 28, 2005 and January 31, 2006). Corn writes: “[Y]ears ago defense attorneys representing clients connected to the national security establishment—say, a former CIA employee gone bad—figured out a way to squeeze the government in order to win the case: Claim you need access to loads of classified information in order to mount a defense—more than might truly be necessary. Of course, the government is going to put up a fight. It may release some information—but not everything a thorough defense attorney will say is needed. The goal is to get the government to say no to the informant. Then the defense attorney can attempt to convince the judge that without access to this material he or she cannot put up an adequate defense. If the lawyer succeeds, it’s case dismissed. In such situations, the defendant is essentially saying, ‘Prosecute me and I’ll blow whatever government secrets I can.’” Corn notes the defense’s requests for 10 months of highly classified Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs), a request that may yet be granted (see February 24, 2006) and as such, will set up a battle with the Bush White House, which is almost certain to refuse to release any PDBs. Corn also notes defense requests for information surrounding Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status (see Fall 1992 - 1996 and April 2001 and After), another request that, if granted, will likely be refused by the CIA. Both scenarios are openings for the defense to ask for the dismissal of all charges against their client. And Libby’s team may ask for further classified information, from the State Department, the National Security Council, and the Office of the President. (Corn 2/6/2006)
Robert Grenier, the CIA’s chief counterterrorism officer, is relieved of his position after months of turmoil within the agency’s clandestine service. Grenier has headed the Counterterrorist Center for about a year; he will be offered another position within the agency. The CIA’s semi-official position is that some in the agency, particularly Grenier’s superior officer in the clandestine service, do not consider Grenier to be forceful enough in his approach to handling threats from al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro says that the official story is not entirely true: Grenier was sacked not because of his lack of aggression towards terrorist organizations, but because he opposed the agency’s rendition program and the torture of suspected terrorists. Cannistraro says: “It is not that Grenier wasn’t aggressive enough, it is that he wasn’t ‘with the program.’ He expressed misgivings about the secret prisons in Europe and the rendition of terrorists.” Cannistraro says Grenier also opposed “excessive” interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. Other sources say that CIA Director Porter Goss believes Grenier may either be the source of some of the leaks that have appeared in recent months in the press, or allowed the leaks to occur. Grenier was the CIA’s station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan, during the 9/11 attacks, and helped the agency plan its covert campaign that preceded the US military’s offensive against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. From there, he went on to head the newly created Iraq Issues Group within the agency, and was heavily involved in the administration’s Iraq invasion efforts. “The word on Bob was that he was a good officer, but not the one for the job and not quite as aggressive as he might have been,” one official says. Another official says, “The director of NCS [the national clandestine service] decided there was somebody better, perhaps to better match his management vision, so [Grenier] is moving on.” Rumors had Grenier resigning in September 2005 along with the CIA’s second-highest official in the clandestine service, Robert Richer (see September 2, 2005), but those rumors proved to be false. (Gellman and Linzer 2/7/2006; Miller 2/7/2006; Baxter and Smith 2/12/2006)
Two former CIA officials directly involved in producing intelligence estimates on Iran’s nuclear program (see August 2, 2005) say that the Bush administration’s policy of threatening to use military force against Iran is a driving force behind that nation’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran is fearful of such an attack, the two officials say, and therefore wants nuclear weapons as a way to divert such a threat. Paul Pillar, who managed the writing of all NIEs on Iran from 2000 through 2005 as the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia, says, “Iranian perceptions of threat, especially from the United States and Israel, were not the only factor, but were in our judgment part of what drove whatever effort they were making to build nuclear weapons.” Had the US tried to reassure Iran on its security fears, Pillar says, that would have had a significant effect on Iranian policies. Iran has made several diplomatic overtures to the US since 2003 (see May 4, 2003), Pillar says, that have not been reciprocated by the Bush administration. While Iran wishes to be the “dominant regional superpower” in the Middle East, the NIEs state, it is not pursuing that aspiration by means that would jeopardize the possibility of thawed relations with the US. According to Ellen Laipson, who managed several NIEs on Iran as national intelligence officer for the Near East from 1990 through 1993, and closely followed others as vice-chair of the National Intelligence Council from 1997 to 2002, says the Iranian fear of a US attack has long been “a standard element” in NIEs on Iran. Laipson is “virtually certain the estimates linked Iran’s threat perceptions to its nuclear program.” The 1991 Gulf War heightened fears of US attacks on Iran, Laipson says, and the recent belligerence of the Bush administration have again agitated Iran’s rulers. Iran’s 2002 listing as one of seven countries that might be targeted by US nuclear weapons, and President Bush’s 2002 naming of Iran as a member of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002), further heightened Iranian fears of a US strike. In return, Iran has tried to counterbalance that threat with the threat of its own nuclear weapons as well as attempts to shore up relations with the US. Non-proliferation expert Joseph Cirincione says that US attempts to ease Iran’s fears would go a long way to convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program. “No nation has ever been coerced into giving up a nuclear program,” Cirincione says, “but many have been convinced to do so by the disappearance of the threat.” He cites the examples of three former Soviet republics, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Libya as nations who gave up their nuclear ambitions after fundamental international or internal changes eliminated the security threats that were driving their nuclear weapons programs. (Porter 2/10/2006)
The online news site Raw Story publishes an article claiming that the exposure of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14, 2003) caused more damage to US national security than has previously been admitted, particularly in the area of containing foreign nuclear proliferation. Editor and reporter Larisa Alexandrovna sources the story from a number of anonymous current and former intelligence officials. Plame Wilson, the officials say, was an integral part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran. Alexandrovna writes, “Their [the officials’] accounts suggest that Plame [Wilson]‘s outing was more serious than has previously been reported and carries grave implications for US national security and its ability to monitor Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program.” The officials say that while previous reports indicate Plame Wilson may have been involved in monitoring nuclear “black market” activities, particularly those involving Abdul Qadeer Khan (see Late February 1999), her real focus was Iran, though her team would have come into contact with Khan’s black market network during the course of its work on Iran’s nuclear program. Khan’s network is believed to have been the primary source of Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts. The officials refuse to identify the specifics of Plame Wilson’s work, but do say that her exposure resulted in “severe” damage to her team and significantly hampered the CIA’s ability to monitor nuclear proliferation. (Alexandrovna 2/13/2006) The officials also say that the CIA conducted an “aggressive” in-house assessment of the damage caused by Plame Wilson’s exposure shortly after the White House leaked her identity to the press, and found the damage done by the leak “severe” (see Before September 16, 2003).
The progressive Internet news site Washington Note writes a follow-up to the day’s revelation that the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a covert CIA agent caused heavy damage to the CIA’s ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear weapons program (see February 13, 2006). The Note reports that, according to its source, Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, included information about Iran’s nuclear program in the report from his 2002 trip to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and March 4-5, 2002). Note reporter Steve Clemons says he cannot be sure of the accuracy of the claim, “so please take the following with a grain of salt until further sourced.” Clemons describes his source as “[s]omeone with knowledge of the classified report that Joe Wilson ‘orally’ filed after his now famed investigative trip to Niger.” Wilson allegedly included two notes in his debriefing that related to Iran and its possible activities in Niger. Clemons writes that “various intelligence sources” speculate that if Iran was indeed attempting to acquire Nigerien uranium, it would be to avoid “the international intelligence monitoring of Iran’s domestic mining operations.” Wilson, according to the source, may have reported that Iran, not Iraq, tried to acquire 400 to 500 tons of Nigerien uranium (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001). Clemons writes that the notes from Wilson’s Niger debriefing have been destroyed, making it much harder to verify the claims. (Clemons 2/13/2006)
Rayed Abdullah, an associate of hijacker pilot Hani Hanjour (see October 1996-December 1997 and October 1996-Late April 1999), enters New Zealand despite being on the watch list there and takes further pilot training. The New Zealand government claims it only ascertains his real identity after he has been in the country several months. Abdullah is then arrested and deported to Saudi Arabia, even though he was traveling on a Yemeni passport. (Associated Press 6/9/2006; Cumming 6/10/2006) However, FBI agents and CIA officers later say that the US released Abdullah after 9/11 in an attempt to use him to spy on al-Qaeda for Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency. The CIA ensures he is allowed into New Zealand as a part of a joint operation. However, the New Zealanders get cold feet when Abdullah starts flight training again. A CIA official will say: “[W]e know if Rayed was part of the [9/11] plot, someone in al-Qaeda will reach out for him, and we have a chance of making that connection.” An FBI official will comment: “The amazing thing is the CIA convinced itself that by getting [Abdullah] tossed out of New Zealand, he would then be trusted and acceptable to Saudi intelligence and useful in al-Qaeda operations. For this tiny chance of success they put passengers at risk to enter into a partnership with Saudi intelligence.” (Trento and Trento 10/9/2006)
The CIA refuses to release a raft of classified agency documents requested by the Lewis Libby defense team (see January 31, 2006 and February 27, 2006). Meeting the Libby team’s request, CIA spokeswoman Marilyn Dorn says in a court filing, would “impose an enormous burden” and divert CIA analysts from more important tasks. To compile and provide those documents, Dorn says, would take around nine months. Libby’s lawyers say the CIA is exaggerating the difficulty of finding and releasing the documents, calling the argument “astonishing,” but also scale back their requests in hopes that Judge Reggie Walton will compel the agency to comply with the document demands. Some of the information originally requested includes CIA copies of the Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs) from an 11-month period in 2003 and 2004. Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has accused the Libby team of engaging in “graymail” (see (February 16, 2006)), demanding unobtainable classified government documents in order to shut down the prosecution. Libby’s team has called that accusation “not only false but insulting” (see February 6, 2006). Libby’s lawyers now say they will be satisfied with the PDBs provided to Vice President Dick Cheney. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/2/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/7/2006 ; Smith 3/8/2006)
Judge Reggie Walton orders the CIA to turn over some of the highly classified intelligence briefings to the Lewis Libby defense team that it has requested (see March 2-7, 2006). Walton rejects CIA arguments that disclosure of the Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs) would be detrimental to national security. He says the agency can either delete highly classified material from the briefings, or provide “topic overviews” of the matters covered in them. “It is unlikely that this court would permit anything other than the general topic areas of these documents to be introduced at trial,” he writes. “The defendant does not need the explicit details of the intelligence documents he desires to obtain. The general topics of the documents would provide the defendant exactly the information he seeks, listings of the pressing matters presented to him during the times relevant to the case.” Walton only grants 46 days’ worth of the PDBs, instead of the nine months’ worth the defense had originally asked for (see December 14, 2005). He also orders the CIA to give Libby an index of the topics covered in follow-up questions that the former White House aide asked intelligence officers who conducted the briefings. (Locy 3/10/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/10/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/10/2006 ; Lewis 3/11/2006) Criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt writes: “These documents most likely will never be seen by us or the jury. They are to assist Libby with refreshing his memory.” (Jeralyn Merritt 3/10/2006)
The Chicago Tribune uses commercial, Internet-based data search facilities to discover the names and whereabouts of 2,653 CIA officials, many of them covert. It also discovers some 50 internal agency telephone numbers, and the locations of two dozen secret CIA facilities around the US. The CIA is still grappling with the problem of Internet data search facilities risking the covert status of its employees; Director Porter Goss is said to be “horrified” at the prospect of hundreds of his agency’s officials being exposed via the Internet. “Cover is a complex issue that is more complex in the Internet age,” says CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Dyck. “There are things that worked previously that no longer work. Director Goss is committed to modernizing the way the agency does cover in order to protect our officers who are doing dangerous work.” Dyck refuses to give details of the remedies, “since we don’t want the bad guys to know what we’re fixing.” The Tribune declines to publish any personal information on the CIA employees it has unearthed, and is uncertain which of the 2,653 officials it located are actually covert agents. Most of the secret facilities the Tribune found are in northern Virginia, but some are in Chicago, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, and Washington State. A senior official says of the data searches, “I don’t know whether al-Qaeda could do this, but the Chinese could.” The Tribune’s data search began with Camp Peary, the Virginia training facility known as “The Farm,” and only recently acknowledged by the agency. (Crewdson 3/12/2006)
A court filing by Lewis Libby’s defense team lists the witnesses the lawyers say they intend to put on the stand in their client’s defense. The list includes:
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see June 13, 2003, After October 28, 2005, and November 14, 2005);
Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see July 7, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, and 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003);
Former Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman (see June 10, 2003);
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell (see July 16, 2004);
White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003);
Former CIA Director George Tenet (see June 11 or 12, 2003, July 11, 2003 and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003);
Former US ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003);
Former CIA covert operative Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003);
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (see July 21, 2003 and November 14, 2005);
CIA briefers Craig Schmall (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003), Peter Clement, and/or Matt Barrett;
Former CIA officials Robert Grenier (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, and 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003) and/or John McLaughlin (see June 11 or 12, 2003);
Former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and Before July 14, 2003);
Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington (see July 8, 2003);
Former Cheney press secretary Cathie Martin (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003); and
Cheney himself (see July 12, 2003 and Late September or Early October, 2003).
The defense also:
Wants notes from a September 2003 White House briefing where Powell reportedly claimed that many people knew of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity before it became public knowledge;
Implies that Grossman may not be an unbiased witness;
Suspects Fleischer may have already cooperated with the investigation (see June 10, 2004);
Intends to argue that Libby had no motive to lie to either the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) or the grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004); and
Intends to argue that columnist Robert Novak’s primary source for his column exposing Plame Wilson as a CIA official was not Libby, but “a source outside the White House” (see July 8, 2003). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/17/2006 ; Jeralyn Merritt 3/18/2006)
Criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt believes Libby’s team may be preparing to lay blame for the Plame Wilson leak on Grossman. She writes that, in her view, “Libby’s lawyers are publicly laying out how they intend to impeach him: by claiming he is not to be believed because (either or both) his true loyalty is to Richard Armitage rather than to the truth, or he is a self-aggrandizing government employee who thinks of himself a true patriot whose duty it is to save the integrity of the State Department.” (Jeralyn Merritt 4/4/2006) Libby’s lawyers indicate that they will challenge Plame Wilson’s significance as a covert CIA official (see Fall 1992 - 1996, April 2001 and After, Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006). “The prosecution has an interest in continuing to overstate the significance of Ms. Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA,” the court filing states. They also intend to attempt to blame Armitage, Grossman, Grenier, McLaughlin, Schmall, and/or other officials outside the White House proper as the real sources for the Plame Wilson identity leak. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/17/2006 ; Leopold 3/18/2006)
Defense lawyers for former White House official Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005) file papers asserting that Libby had not intentionally deceived FBI agents (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) because Plame Wilson’s role was was only “peripheral” to potentially more serious questions regarding the Bush administration’s use of intelligence in the prewar debate. The papers reiterate earlier defense requests for classified CIA and White House documents for Libby’s defense. Referring to Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson’s criticism of the White House’s manipulation of intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq invasion and the White House’s strategy to counter such criticism (see June 2003 and October 1, 2003), the attorneys tell the court, “The media conflagration ignited by the failure to find [weapons of mass destruction] in Iraq and in part by Mr. Wilson’s criticism of the administration, led officials within the White House, the State Department, and the CIA to blame each other, publicly and in private, for faulty prewar intelligence about Iraq’s WMD capabilities.” Plame Wilson’s identity was disclosed during “a period of increasing bureaucratic infighting, when certain officials at the CIA, the White House, and the State Department each sought to avoid or assign blame for intelligence failures relating to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capability,” the attorneys write. “The White House and the CIA were widely regarded to be at war.” The defense lawyers also assert that Libby “believed his actions were authorized” and that he had “testified before the grand jury that this disclosure was authorized,” a reference to the classified intelligence he leaked to New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see February 2, 2006). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/17/2006 ; Waas 3/30/2006) According to criminal defense attorney Jeralyn Merritt, Libby is asking for the documents to bolster his “memory defense” strategy (see January 31, 2006). She writes: “Shorter Libby: My memory is bad because I was so embroiled in internal fighting and finger pointing at the White House about why we didn’t find any WMD’s that the Plame/Wilson matter was a trifling detail in comparison.” (Jeralyn Merritt 3/18/2006)
Four statements based on the CIA inspector general’s report on some aspects of the agency’s performance before 9/11 are introduced as evidence at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui by the defense. The report was completed in 2004 (see June-November 2004), but rewritten and is still secret (see January 7, 2005). The four passages say:
“Numerous” CIA officers accessed cables reporting that Khalid Almihdhar’s passport contained a US visa and Nawaf Alhazmi had flown from Thailand to Los Angeles (see Mid-January-March 2000); (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District 3/28/2006 )
FBI Director Louis Freeh was briefed about Almihdhar in January 2000, but not told that Almihdhar had a US visa (see January 6-9, 2000); (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/28/2006 )
Nobody at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, notified CIA personnel authorized to collect foreign intelligence in the US together with the FBI about Almihdhar’s US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000); (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/28/2006 )
The CIA was unaware of the Phoenix memo until after 9/11 (note: this may not actually be true—see (July 27, 2001)). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/28/2005 )
Two sections of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report are also introduced as evidence as substitutes for the CIA inspector general’s report. They cover the use of aircraft as weapons and US knowledge of bin Laden’s intentions to strike inside the US in the summer of 2001. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/28/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/28/2006 )
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, indicted on charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see October 28, 2005), testified two years ago that President Bush authorized him to selectively disclose information from the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate in order to defend the administration’s decision to go to war with Iraq, according to papers filed with the court by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Libby’s testimony, to Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), has remained secret until now. According to the testimony, Libby received “approval from the president through the vice president” to divulge portions of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002) regarding Saddam Hussein’s purported efforts to develop nuclear weapons to certain reporters. Libby testified that Vice President Dick Cheney authorized him to divulge the key judgments from the NIE to New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) because, in Cheney’s opinion, it was “very important” to do so. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 4/5/2006 ; Waas 4/6/2006; Smith 4/13/2006) (A week later, Fitzgerald will modify his filing to read, “some of the key judgments.” The New York Times will report, “The distinction between the two versions is that the second accurately stated that the finding about Iraq’s efforts to obtain uranium was in the report, but was not among its ‘key judgments,’ a term used in intelligence reporting to indicate that a stated conclusion represents the consensus of intelligence agencies.”) (Linzer 4/12/2006; Johnston 4/13/2006) According to the filing: “Defendant testified that the vice president later advised him [Libby] that the president had authorized defendant to disclose the relevant portions of the NIE. Defendant testified that he also spoke to David Addington, then counsel to the vice president, whom defendant considered to be an expert in national security law, and Mr. Addington opined that presidential authorization to publicly disclose a document amounted to a declassification of the document” (see July 8, 2003). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 4/5/2006 ; Shakir 4/6/2006)
Bush Declassified Information for Purposes of Leaking - According to the court papers, Libby “further testified that he at first advised the vice president that he could not have this conversation with reporter Miller because of the classified nature of the NIE. [Libby] testified that the vice president had advised [Libby] that the president had authorized [Libby] to disclose relevant portions of the NIE.” Libby testified that such presidential authorization to reveal classified information was “unique in his recollection.” He testified that Cheney specifically had him “speak to the press in place of Cathie Martin [the then-communications director for Cheney] regarding the NIE and Wilson.” Libby added that “at the time of his conversations with Miller and Cooper, he understood that only three people—the president, the vice president, and [Libby]—knew that the key judgments of the NIE had been declassified.” Libby said that Cheney’s senior lawyer, Addington, told him that Bush had, by authorizing the disclosure, effectively declassified the information, a point that legal experts continue to dispute. Since then, Libby has told reporters that Cheney also authorized him to leak classified information to several reporters in the weeks and months before the Iraqi invasion. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 4/5/2006 ; Waas 4/6/2006)
Providing Classified Information to Woodward - Libby also testified that Bush authorized him to provide classified information to author and reporter Bob Woodward. Woodward was working on his book about the administration’s run-up to war with Iraq, Plan of Attack. According to other former senior government officials, Bush directed several White House officials to assist Woodward in preparing the book. One government official says, “There were people on the seventh floor [of the CIA] who were told by [then-CIA Director George] Tenet to cooperate because the president wanted it done. There were calls to people to by [White House communication director] Dan Bartlett that the president wanted it done, if you were not co-operating. And sometimes the president himself told people that they should co-operate.” According to some former officials, the White House provided Woodward with selected information in order to shape the course of his writing. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 4/5/2006 ; Waas 4/6/2006)
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tells reporter Robert Scheer that neither he nor any of the State Department’s top experts believed that Iraq ever posed an imminent nuclear threat, contrary to the statements of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other top White House officials. Powell says that Bush followed the advice of Cheney and the CIA (see October 1, 2002) in making the claim (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) and taking the country to war in Iraq. Scheer asks Powell why, in light of the State Department’s own intelligence bureau correctly concluding that the claims that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger were false (see March 1, 2002, March 4, 2002, Mid-October 2002, and January 12, 2003), Bush ignored that information in making his case for war? Powell responds: “The CIA was pushing the aluminum tube argument heavily (see March 7, 2003) and Cheney went with that instead of what our guys wrote. That was a big mistake. It should never have been in the speech. I didn’t need [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson to tell me that there wasn’t a Niger connection. He didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know. I never believed it” (see January 26, 2003). Powell adds that the responsibility for pressing the argument that Iraq was a nuclear threat was not Bush’s; rather, “That was all Cheney.” In his article, Scheer asks, “Why was this doubt, on the part of the secretary of state and others, about the salient facts justifying the invasion of Iraq kept from the public until we heard the truth from whistle-blower Wilson, whose credibility the president then sought to destroy?” (Scheer 4/11/2006)
The Italian government says it will not ask for the extradition of 22 CIA officers sought by Italian prosecutors in connection with the kidnapping of radical imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar, see Noon February 17, 2003 and June 23, 2005 and After). Approving such a request is “usually a formality” according to the Washington Post, but the decision is delayed for months and then finally made by Italian Justice Minister Roberto Castelli immediately after the government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi loses elections, but before it is replaced by a new government. The New York Times comments, “As minister of justice under Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi—one of the Bush administration’s most loyal supporters in Europe—Mr. Castelli’s refusal to move forward with the extradition comes as no surprise.” Prosecutor Armando Spataro says that the request will be resubmitted to the new Italian government, and the CIA officers may be tried in absentia. (Whitlock 12/6/2005; Kiefer 4/12/2006) The request is resubmitted, but by the time the CIA officers are committed for trial in 2007, the new government will not have passed it on to the US (see February 11, 2007). (CNN 2/16/2007)
Dick Cheney’s Office of the Vice President (OVP) is so cloaked in secrecy, journalist Robert Dreyfuss reports, that it routinely refuses to provide a directory of staff members or even the numbers of staff and employees. Dreyfus writes, “Like disciplined Bolsheviks slicing through a fractious opposition, Cheney’s team operates with a single-minded, ideological focus on the exercise of American military power, a belief in the untrammeled power of the presidency, and a fierce penchant for secrecy.” The list of current and former staffers includes, as of April 2006: former chief of staff Lewis Libby; his replacement, David Addington; top national security advisers Eric Edelman and Victoria Nuland; neoconservative and hardline Middle East specialists such as John Hannah, William Luti, and David Wurmser; anti-Chinese Asia specialists such as Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich; a varying number of technocratic neoconservatives in other posts; and an array of communications specialists, including “Cheney’s Angels”: Mary Matalin, Juleanna Glover Weiss, Jennifer Millerwise, Jennifer Mayfield, Catherine Martin, and Lea Anne McBride. It is known that Cheney’s national security staff was assembled by Libby from various far-right think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Hudson Institute, and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), as well as carefully screened Cheney supporters from a variety of Washington law firms. (Dreyfuss 4/16/2006) Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, will recall in early 2007: “A friend of mine counted noses [at the office] and came away with 88. That doesn’t count others seconded from other agencies.” (Rozen 1/7/2007)
'Cabal' of Zealots - Wilkerson calls Cheney’s inner group a “cabal” of arrogant, intensely zealous, highly focused loyalists. Recalling Cheney’s staff interacting in a variety of interagency meetings and committees, “The staff that the vice president sent out made sure that those [committees] didn’t key anything up that wasn’t what the vice president wanted,” says Wilkerson. “Their style was simply to sit and listen, and take notes. And if things looked like they were going to go speedily to a decision that they knew that the vice president wasn’t going to like, generally they would, at the end of the meeting, in great bureaucratic style, they’d say: ‘We totally disagree. Meeting’s over.’” The committee agendas were generally scuttled. And if something did get written up as a “decision memo” bound for the Oval Office, Cheney himself would ensure that it died before ever reaching fruition.”
Sidestepping the NSC - The National Security Council (NSC) is designated as the ultimate arbiter for foreign policy options and recommendations for the president. But, according to Wilkerson, Cheney’s office and the NSC were often at loggerheads, and Cheney’s “shadow NSC” had the upper bureaucratic hand. Cheney “set up a staff that knew what the statutory NSC was doing, but the NSC statutory staff didn’t know what his staff was doing,” says Wilkerson.
China Threat - Cheney’s Asia advisers, Yates and Ravich, were most often encountered by Wilkerson. They helped drive Cheney’s agenda for China, which was obsessive to the point of paranoia. China was a grave, if long-term, threat to the US, they believed. The US must begin strongly cultivating Taiwan as a counterbalance to China, whom they asserted was preparing for military action against the US. Former US ambassador to China Charles Freeman compares Yates to the Defense Department’s Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith; all three believed, Freeman says, that China was “the solution to ‘enemy deprivation syndrome.’”
Iraq Policy - Cheney’s current and former staffers played an even larger role in shaping the administration’s Iraq policy than is generally known, and Cheney “seeded” staffers in other departments to promote his war agenda. Luti left the OVP in 2001 to join the Department of Defense, where he organized the Office of Special Plans (OSP). Wurmser, an AEI neoconservative, joined the Pentagon and created the forerunner of the OSP, the Counterterrorism Evaluation Group, which helped manufacture the evidence of connections between Hussein and al-Qaeda. Wurmser worked closely with Hannah, Libby, Luti, and another Pentagon official, Harold Rhode. Ravich worked with neoconservative Middle East analyst Zalmay Khalilzad to build up Ahmad Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, their designated supplanter of Hussein.
US or Israel Interests? - Many of Cheney’s most influential staffers are pro-Israeli to the point where many observers wonder where their ultimate loyalties lie. David Wurmser is a standout of this group. Wurmser worked at WINEP with Hannah, then joined the AEI, where he directed that group’s Middle East affairs, then joined Feith’s OSP before moving on to Bolton’s inner circle at the State Department, all before joining Cheney in the OVP. Most outsiders consider Wurmser’s ideas wildly unrealistic. A former ambassador says of Wurmser, “I’ve known him for years, and I consider him to be a naive simpleton.” (Dreyfuss 4/16/2006)
A news article by the New York Sun claims that a June 2003 memo from then-Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman never indicated that Valerie Plame Wilson was a covert CIA official, or that her status was classified in any way (see June 10, 2003 and July 20, 2005). (Contrary to the Sun’s reporting, Plame Wilson was a NOC—a “non-official cover” agent—the most covert of CIA officials; see Fall 1992 - 1996, July 22, 2003, and September 30, 2003). The Sun bases its report on a declassified version of a memo provided to it through the Freedom of Information Act. The memo was drafted by the State Department’s head of its intelligence bureau, Carl Ford Jr., in response to inquiries by Grossman. Grossman sent the memo to various White House officials, including the then-chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, Lewis Libby. Previous news reports have indicated that the memo was notated to indicate that the information it contained was classified and should not be made public, but according to the Sun, the paragraph identifying Plame Wilson as a CIA official was not designated as secret, while the other paragraphs were. Robert Luskin, the lawyer for White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, says the memo proves that neither Libby, Rove, nor any other White House official broke any laws in revealing Plame Wilson’s CIA status. The Sun also asserts that the memo proves Plame Wilson was responsible for sending her husband, Joseph Wilson, to Niger to find the truth behind claims that Iraq was trying to clandestinely purchase Nigerien uranium, an assertion Wilson calls “absolutely inaccurate” (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). (Gerstein 4/17/2006) The CIA requested that Plame Wilson’s identity not be divulged (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003), and the agency as well as former officials have acknowledged that the damage done by the disclosure of Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status was “severe” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006).
Harper’s reporter Ken Silverstein reports on a quiet but widespread swell of resistance among CIA personnel to the Bush administration’s detention and torture policies. A former senior agency official tells Silverstein that there is a “big swing” in sentiments away from supporting the administration at Langley. “I’ve been stunned by what I’m hearing,” he says. “There are people who fear that indictments and subpoenas could be coming down, and they don’t want to get caught up in it.” The former official says there “seems to be a quiet conspiracy by rational people” at the CIA to avoid involvement in the worst of the administration’s policies, particularly the “rendition” of prisoners to foreign countries for interrogation and torture. The former official says, “There’s an SS group within the agency that’s willing to do anything and there’s a Wehrmacht group that is saying, ‘I’m not gonna touch this stuff.’” Lawyer and human rights activist Scott Horton confirms Silverstein’s reporting, saying that he too is hearing stories of growing dissent at the CIA. Horton says: “When the sh_t hits the fan, the administration scapegoats lower-level people. It doesn’t do a lot in terms of inspiring confidence.” (Silverstein 4/19/2006)
Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praises the CIA’s firing of official Mary McCarthy for allegedly leaking classified information to the press (see April 21, 2006), saying that “unauthorized disclosures of classified information can significantly harm our ability to protect the American people.” Roberts, who has consistently supported the Bush administration’s efforts to control and limit the flow of sensitive information to the press, says: “Those who leak classified information not only risk the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods, but also expose the brave men and women of the intelligence community to greater danger. Clearly, those guilty of improperly disclosing classified information should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” He adds that he is “pleased that the Central Intelligence Agency has identified the source of certain unauthorized disclosures, and I hope that the agency, and the [intelligence] community as a whole, will continue to vigorously investigate other outstanding leak cases.” However, Roberts may be guilty of a far more serious intelligence leak than anything McCarthy is accused of doing. Three years before, on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq, he disclosed classified intelligence information that impaired the US military’s attempts to capture Saddam Hussein (see March 20, 2003). Four former intelligence officials contrast Roberts’s disclosure of classified information with McCarthy’s, and note that her firing is an example of how “rank and file” intelligence professionals have much to fear from legitimate and even inadvertent contacts with journalists, while senior executive branch officials and members of Congress are almost never held accountable when they seriously breach national security through leaks of information. One former intelligence official who was involved in numerous leak investigations says: “On a scale of one to 10, if Mary McCarthy did what she is accused of doing, it would be at best a six or seven. What Pat Roberts did, from a legal and national security point of view, was an 11.” Another former intelligence official says that in her authorized interviews with reporters: “Mary might have said something or disclosed something inadvertently, which is exactly Roberts’ defense. The only difference between them is that Pat Roberts is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Mary is somebody that they are using to set an example.” A third foreign intelligence official says that the Bush administration vigorously pursues “leaks and leakers they don’t like, while turning a blind eye to those they do like, or [leaks] they do themselves.” If this continues, the official warns, it will set a “dangerous precedent in that any president will be able to control the flow of information regarding any policy dispute.… When historians examine this, they will see that is how we got into war with Iraq.” (Waas 4/25/2006)
The CIA announces that it has fired one of its officers, Mary McCarthy, who, it claims, “knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence” with a newspaper reporter. McCarthy is alleged to have leaked information about the CIA’s network of secret overseas prisons to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest. The Post recently published a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories on the secret prison network; Priest was one of the main reporters for that series. McCarthy worked at the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General, which was investigating allegations that the CIA was torturing detainees at Iraqi prisons. The CIA claims McCarthy has admitted to the leaks, though it will not acknowledge that she was one of Priest’s sources for the prison stories. But McCarthy’s attorney, Ty Cobb, says that his client “emphatically denies she leaked any classified information and the facts would demonstrate that she would not even have access to any of the information attributed to her leaking to anyone.” She is “devastated,” Cobb says, that her long career will “forever be linked with misinformation about the reasons for her termination,” and that her firing was “certainly not for the reasons attributed to the agency.” Cobb notes that McCarthy is only 10 days short of retirement, and says, “Her hope had been to leave with her dignity and reputation intact, which obviously did not happen.” McCarthy has planned for some time to leave the agency and become a public interest lawyer. Her retirement process began well before the CIA began investigating the Post leaks. (Bazinet 4/22/2006; Waas 4/25/2006; Smith and Linzer 4/25/2006)
Aggressive Internal Probe - The CIA has conducted an aggressive internal investigation, administering polygraph tests to McCarthy and numerous other officials. “This was a very aggressive internal investigation,” says a former CIA officer. “[CIA Director Porter] Goss was determined to find the source of the secret jails story.” (Johnston and Shane 4/21/2006) The agency has not asked the Justice Department to open a formal probe into the allegations against McCarthy, and resultingly, few expect that criminal charges will be filed against her or any others who may be accused of leaking information. (Smith and Linzer 4/25/2006) The Justice Department has already opened a probe of the leaks surrounding the Post stories, but no word of the results of that probe has been revealed. No reporters have been interviewed about the leaks: Post spokesman Eric Grant says, “No Post reporter has been subpoenaed or talked to investigators in connection with this matter.” Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. says that he cannot comment on the firing, but “[a]s a general principle, obviously I am opposed to criminalizing the dissemination of government information to the press.” (Johnston and Shane 4/21/2006)
McCarthy Often Spoke to Reporters - A former CIA official tells a reporter that part of McCarthy’s job was to talk to the press in authorized interviews. “It is not uncommon for an officer, when they are designated to talk to the press, to let something slip, or not report every contact.” Former Deputy CIA Director Richard Kerr says of McCarthy: “She was a very qualified analyst in a variety of jobs. She had strong views sometimes, but I don’t know anyone who would describe her as a zealot or ideologue.”
CIA Officials Often 'Ignored' When Attempting to Bring Up Issues - Kerr adds that if McCarthy did leak classified information to the press, she behaved wrongly and should be held accountable. “If she believed there was something morally wrong or illegal going on, there were mechanisms within the system to go up the line, or complain,” he says. “The other possibility for her or anyone else is to quit and speak once you are outside.” Former CIA analyst and State Department counterterrorism official Larry Johnson disagrees, saying: “During this administration, there have been any number of CIA officers who have brought up issues through channels internally. There have been intelligence officers who have brought up things within their own agencies, and even spoken to Congressional intelligence committees or presidential commissions. But they have found themselves completely ignored.” (Waas 4/25/2006) A former intelligence official who knows McCarthy says: “Firing someone who was days away from retirement is the least serious action they could have taken. That’s certainly enough to frighten those who remain in the agency.” (Smith and Linzer 4/25/2006)
Senator Praises Firing - Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, praises the CIA’s action. However, he is allegedly guilty of a far worse intelligence leak (see April 21, 2006).
Critics Claim Partisan Basis for Leaked Information - Some supporters of the Bush administration will claim that McCarthy’s leaks were politically motivated, and will point to the fact that in 2004, McCarthy contributed $2,000 to the presidential campaign of Democrat John Kerry (D-MA). (Smith and Linzer 4/25/2006) Columnist Melanie Morgan will accuse McCarthy of having “leftist ties,” and calls her a “revolting… liberal Democrat [sic] activist” who colluded with Priest, another “leftist,” to publish information that would “undermine America’s fight against terrorism.” She will also accuse McCarthy and Priest of working to help defeat Senator Curt Weldon (R-PA) in his 2006 re-election bid, and of having “suspicious” ties to Sandy Berger, the Clinton administration’s national security adviser, and former counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke. She concludes: “The Clintonites are so desperate to regain power that they are willing to sell out our national security to do it. And the reporters who serve as agents for this effort are rewarded for executing their role in the effort.… And the people who are hurting America are being rewarded.” (Morgan 4/28/2006)
Neoconservative Reuel Marc Gerecht of the American Enterprise Institute says that “though George W. Bush, the State Department, the CIA, and the Pentagon really would prefer to do anything else,” it seems all but certain that the US will attack Iran to prevent that country from developing nuclear weapons. The Iranian mullahs are driven more by ideology than anything else, Gerecht reasons, and even US attempts to bribe them into shelving Iran’s nuclear program—much less diplomatic and economic sanctions—will not be effective. Gerecht writes that what is most wrong with Iran and other Middle Eastern Muslim nations is their fascination with what he calls “toxic ideas… Marxism, socialism, communism, fascism, and now increasingly Islamism, but never Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, or even the illiberal state-driven capitalisms of East Asia.” He predicts, “The Iranians won’t play ball.” But an American attack on Iran wouldn’t cause further problems in that increasingly chaotic region, Gerecht predicts, but will “actually accelerate internal debate” in a way that would be “painful for [Iran’s] ruling clergy.” As for imperiling the US mission in Iraq, Gerecht says dismissively that Iran “can’t really hurt us there.” (Gerecht 4/24/2006; Unger 3/2007) This is the latest of several calls by Gerecht to invade Iran (see February 18, 2002 and January 2005).
In an interview on PBS, two former CIA officials agree that fired CIA official Mary McCarthy should have been relieved of her duties by the agency (see April 21, 2006 and April 24, 2006), but have very different opinions on the context of the firing. News anchor Jim Lehrer interviews Richard Kerr, a former deputy director of the CIA under President George H. W. Bush, and veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who is an outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s intelligence policies.
Moral and Legal Responsibility to Disclose War Crimes - McGovern says that McCarthy “was cognizant of war crimes [committed by the Bush adminsitration]. She needed to do something about that, from a moral and a legal perspective. And she chose this way to do it, because the other ways were blocked for her.” Kerr disagrees, saying “[i]t’s not at all clear to me that his description of the activity is fitting.” Either way, Kerr says, as a junior officer, McCarthy had no right to take her concerns public in any manner. “There’s all kinds of ways to go through the organization to make your feelings known, to give your views of it,” Kerr says, “[a]nd I think going out independently, with that kind of discipline, no intelligence organization can work that way.” McGovern agrees in principle, but says that McCarthy’s case is “exceptional.” McCarthy knew that the CIA was torturing prisoners in secret prisons around the globe (see November 2-18, 2005), and had no other means to alert the public to the war crimes being committed by the agency at the behest of the White House. McGovern says that her boss, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson, is “a creature of the director,” Porter Goss, who joined with Vice President Dick Cheney to push for authorization of torture, so she had no recourse by going through internal channels. Going to Congress would be pointless, McGovern says, because “the oversight committees—I hate to say this, but it’s a joke. She can’t get any redress from [Senator] Pat Roberts [(R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee]. I call him Patsy Roberts, because he’s a patsy for the administration.” She would fare no better in the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI). She had no other option, McGovern believes. “I knew Mary pretty well,” he says. “She’s got a lot of integrity. And, you know, you can argue that she has a moral responsibility and a legal responsibility.… [I]f she’s in the chain of command and she sees these kinds of crimes being perpetrated, under Nuremberg and other international law, she is required… to do something.” Kerr’s rejoinder: the nation is locked in “a different kind of war than we’ve been in before. We are going to take actions and be proactive in a way we’ve never done before. One of the real questions is: Do we operate within the values, the traditional values of the American culture, or do we stretch those and become very proactive? I don’t think it’s at all certain that we can operate the way we have in the past.”
Going through Channels and/or Resigning - Kerr disagrees with McGovern’s characterization of the situation and of Helgerson, saying, “[I]t may not be as easy to do that today as it was in the past, but I never found a time in 32 years where I couldn’t march up the organization and talk to people about concerns I had.” Kerr believes McCarthy should have resigned and then “argued against the policy” without revealing classified information. McGovern agrees, but continues to argue that the secret CIA prisons violate the War Crimes Act and therefore, “[t]his is not American. This is not the country that we serve. And when we see this happening, somebody has to speak out.” Resigning would not have made any difference, McGovern says, because McCarthy would still be bound by her secrecy agreement and therefore could not have spoken out in any meaningful sense. Kerr’s “is a specious argument,” McGovern says.
Making an Example - McGovern says McCarthy was fired for one simple reason: to make an example of her to deter other potential CIA leakers. “It’s sort of a deterrent sort of intimidation technique,” he says. “They’re running polygraph exams for everyone now. In our day, we got one every five years. Now they’re polygraphing everyone, so it’s part of this intimidation technique. But she took that risk. And I admire her for that.” Kerr says that while he sympathizes with McCarthy’s position, the agency must maintain internal discipline above all other concerns: “And one way to do that is to begin working leaks.” (Lehrer 4/24/2006)
Ty Cobb, the lawyer for fired CIA agent Mary McCarthy (see April 21, 2006), denies that his client leaked classified information to any reporter, and denies that his client gave any information about secret CIA prisons to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest (see November 2-18, 2005). A CIA source confirms Cobb’s statement, saying that the agency no longer asserts that McCarthy was one of Priest’s key sources. Instead, the agency now says it fired McCarthy because she had “undisclosed contacts” with Priest and other journalists. Such contacts violated her security agreement, agency officials say.
No Leaks of Classified Information - The original allegations that McCarthy revealed classified information to journalists are, apparently, no longer operational. Cobb says that McCarthy, who worked in the CIA inspector general’s office, “did not have access to the information she is accused of leaking,” namely the classified information about any secret detention centers in Europe. Cobb says that his client, who is 61, was just 10 days from retirement when she was fired, and had held senior positions at both the White House and the National Intelligence Council, is “devastated” over her firing. She believes her career will “forever be linked with misinformation about the reasons for her termination,” and, her lawyer says, her firing was “certainly not for the reasons attributed to the agency.” McCarthy had begun her retirement process in December 2005, and was planning on pursuing a legal career after leaving the agency. She will be allowed to retain her pension. A former intelligence official says, “Firing someone who was days away from retirement is the least serious action they could have taken.”
Firing Designed to Intimidate Others? - He adds, “That’s certainly enough to frighten those who remain in the agency.” The official is not the only one to believe that McCarthy was fired to intimidate other potential leakers and whistleblowers who may feel impelled to reveal questionable activities such as the CIA’s secret prison programs. Thomas Blanton, the director of George Washington University’s National Security Archive, says the Post articles about the secret prisons contained nothing that would warrant prosecution. “It’s the fact of the thing that they’re trying to keep secret, not to protect sources and methods, but to hide something controversial,” he says. “That seems like a hard prosecution to me.” Kate Martin, executive director of the Center for National Security Studies, says, “[E]ven if the espionage statutes were read to apply to leaks of information, we would say the First Amendment prohibits criminalizing leaks of information which reveal wrongful or illegal activities by the government.” (Smith and Linzer 4/25/2006) In 2007, former senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson will write, “By firing Mary, who was only 10 days away from retirement, the CIA management under [Director] Porter Goss was sending a clear signal that no one was to step out of line and if they did, the results would be harsh.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 245-246)
According to an ABC News report in September 2007, CIA Director Michael Hayden bans the use of waterboarding some time in 2006, with the approval of the White House. It is not known when exactly the technique is banned that year, but presumably it takes place after Hayden becomes CIA director (see May 5, 2006) and in response to the Supreme Court decision mandating that terror suspects must be given treatment consistent with the Geneva Conventions (see July 12, 2006). Waterboarding is a harsh interrogation technique that simulates drowning and is usually referred to as torture. Allegedly, the CIA last used waterboarding in 2003 on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and “It is believed that waterboarding was used on fewer than five ‘high-value’ terrorist subjects” (see May 2002-2003). John Sifton of Human Rights Watch later says the ban “a good thing, but the fact remains that the entire [CIA interrogation] program is illegal.” (Ross, Esposito, and Raddatz 9/14/2007) Over a year before Hayden’s decision, Justice Department official Daniel Levin had himself subjected to simulated waterboarding to help him determine if waterboarding was indeed torture (see Late 2004-Early 2005). Levin intended to issue a memo condemning the practice as beyond the bounds of the law, but was forced out of the Justice Department before he could make that ruling.
In May 2006, investigative reporters Joe and Susan Trento find that the CIA is continuing a pre-9/11 policy (see July 1990 and January 8, 2000) and deliberately keeping some suspected terrorists off the US international no-fly list, which is aimed at preventing terrorists from traveling to the US and other countries. In addition, it has an agreement with some airlines to allow suspected terrorists who are on the no-fly list to fly anyway. For example, it allows Rayed Abdullah, an associate of alleged 9/11 pilot Hani Hanjour, to fly to New Zealand, where he takes flying lessons (see February-May 30, 2006). The CIA, as well as the Defense Intelligence Agency, keeps some terrorists’ names off the no-fly list because they are already intelligence assets, others are allowed to fly because the CIA hopes to recruit them, and more are allowed to travel just because the CIA wants to see where they are going and who they will meet. In addition, others are kept off the no-fly list at the request of US allies like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. A former CIA officer says: “I cannot describe to you how reluctant our operational people were to turn over names. Many terrorists act as assets for our case officers. We do deal with bad guys, and, like cops protect snitches, we protect ours, too, and none of those guys is going to show up on the no-fly list anytime soon. So we made a deal. The CIA effectively has the ability to allow people to fly who are on the no-fly list if we deem it in the national interest—just not on domestic airlines.” There are other problems with the no-fly list (see March 2006 and March 2006) and the CIA also penetrates the Federal Air Marshal Service to ensure that terrorists can fly openly without the marshals’ knowledge (see Before 2006). (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. xiii, 187, 192-3)
Former NSA Director Michael Hayden, testifying as part of his nomination hearings to head the CIA, denies that the NSA has engaged in illegal surveillance operations against US citizens, after allegations by former Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio that he met with NSA officials well before the 9/11 attacks and discussed such a surveillance program. Nacchio refused to cooperate with the NSA, and he says that his telecommunications firm suffered retaliation as a result of his refusal (see February 27, 2001). Other telecom firms such as BellSouth, AT&T, and Verizon did cooperate (see February 2001 and Beyond). Court documents show that Nacchio balked at cooperating with the NSA after learning that the agency wanted Qwest’s phone records of the firm’s customers, but had no warrants or approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees all US intelligence agencies’ surveillance operations.
Denial - Hayden denies that the NSA has broken the law, and that it has complied with its oversight responsibilities. “Everything that the agency has done has been lawful,” he says. “It’s been briefed to the appropriate members of Congress. The only purpose of the agency’s activities is to preserve the security and the liberty of the American people. And I think we’ve done that.” Nacchio says the NSA continued to make similar requests of Qwest until he left the firm in June 2002. The court documents are part of Nacchio’s trial on numerous counts of insider trading.
Political Reaction - The White House and Senate Republicans are generally supportive of Hayden while Senate Democrats have mixed feelings. One who questions Hayden’s credibility is Ron Wyden (D-OR) of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who says, “The American people have got to know that when the person who heads the CIA makes a statement that they are getting the full picture.” In contrast, Kit Bond (R-MO), a member of the select panel allowed access to classified information on the warrantless surveillance program, says, “The president’s program uses information collected from phone companies,” but only the telephone number called and the caller’s number. Conversations, says Bond, are not recorded. President Bush says that the NSA wiretapping program is not “mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.”
Scope of Program - A senior government official given permission to speak anonymously about the program says that while the NSA has access to records of almost all domestic phone calls, the records are used solely to trace regular contacts of “known bad guys.” The NSA needs access to the entirety of citizens’ phone communications, the official says, but it isn’t “interested in the vast majority of them.” (Associated Press 5/12/2006; O'Neil and Lichtblau 5/12/2006; CBS News 5/12/2006)
Lewis Libby’s lawyers file a supplemental brief extending and reiterating their arguments in favor of compelling the CIA, the White House, and other government agencies to submit a vast array of classified documents for Libby’s defense (see December 14, 2005, January 9, 2006, January 23, 2006, January 31, 2006, (February 16, 2006), February 21, 2006, February 24, 2006, February 27, 2006, March 1, 2006, March 2-7, 2006, March 10, 2006, March 17, 2006, and April 5, 2006). The defense indicates it intends to call as witnesses the following government officials: former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, and former CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. To fairly prepare for their testimonies, the defense argues, it must be supplied with all pertinent documents, classified or not, relating to their involvement in the leak of Plame Wilson’s identity, Plame Wilson’s covert status, the White House’s efforts to bolster its arguments for the Iraq invasion, and the White House’s attempts to discredit Wilson as a believable critic of its policies. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/12/2006 )
The lawsuit brought forth by Khalid el-Masri and the ACLU (see December 6, 2005) is dismissed by US District Judge T.S. Ellis III in Alexandria, who rules that the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953) was properly invoked by the US Justice Department. The judge argues that Masri’s “private interests must give way to the national interest in preserving state secrets.” (Markon 5/19/2006)
Harper’s journalist Ken Silverstein names a former CIA Baghdad station chief in an online post at the magazine’s website. The chief, whose name is Gerry Meyer according to Silverstein, wrote alarming reports about the beginning of the Iraqi insurgency (see August 30, 2003 and November 10, 2003) and was later forced out of his position in circumstances that are unclear (see (Late December 2003)). (Silverstein 5/18/2006)
Court papers affirm that two CIA officials will testify that accused perjurer Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005) lied about how he learned the identity of former covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. Former senior CIA official Robert Grenier (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003) and CIA briefer Craig Schmall (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003) will testify for the prosecution, and say they informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA status a month before Libby claims he learned of her CIA identity from a reporter (see July 10 or 11, 2003). (Gordon 5/23/2006)
Around the summer of 2006, the CIA sends up to 50 additional case officers to Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of a renewed effort to find al-Qaeda’s top leaders. This is said to be a dramatic increase in the number of CIA case officers permanently stationed in those countries. All of the newly arrived personnel are given the primary task of finding Osama bin Laden and his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Some former CIA officials will say this new push comes after the White House pushed the CIA to step up the effort to find bin Laden. Mid-term US Congressional elections are being held in November 2006. However, the CIA will deny any pressure from the White House and say it was “driven solely by operational considerations.” But the renewed effort results in no significant leads on the whereabouts of bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. US intelligence officials will largely blame this on the peace treaty signed between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in North Waziristan in early September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). As part of the treaty, the Pakistani army withdraws ten of thousands of troops from Waziristan and other tribal border regions where the hunt for al-Qaeda leaders has been focused. A senior US intelligence official will later comment: “Everything was undermined by the so-called peace agreement in North Waziristan. Of all the things that work against us in the global war on terror, that’s the most damaging development. The one thing al-Qaeda needs to plan an attack is a relatively safe place to operate.” The Los Angeles Times will comment, “The pullback took significant pressure off al-Qaeda leaders and the tribal groups protecting them.” (Miller 5/20/2007)
Almost two years after resigning from the CIA (see Early November, 2004), Stephen Kappes agrees to return as deputy director for the new agency head, General Michael Hayden. Kappes is leaving his position as the chief operating officer for ArmorGroup International, a British security firm, to take the position. He is a former Marine with 25 years of service in the CIA. He is fluent in Russian and Farsi, and took part in agency operations against Iran while serving in the Frankfurt, Germany, station. After the 1991 Gulf War, Kappes reopened the CIA’s Kuwait station. He also was a key participant in the agency’s attempts to find information on nuclear black marketeer A. Q. Khan. He was deputy director for operations under former CIA chief George Tenet before coming into conflict with Tenet’s replacement, Porter Goss (see September 24, 2004). Kappes was one of the first of many CIA officials to leave the agency under Goss’s tenure, either by resignation or by firing as Goss attempted to purge the agency of all but Bush administration loyalists (see November-December 2004). (Mazzetti 5/30/2006; Burger 6/1/2006) In May, CNN reported that Kappes was being offered the job in part to assuage concerns among members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who doubt Hayden’s ability to lead the agency and question whether he will run it in a nonpartisan fashion. Many observers see Kappes’s return both as a repudiation of Goss, who abruptly resigned over allegations of involvement with prostitutes and bribery schemes (see May 5, 2006), and as a potential brake on any possible instances of Hayden putting his loyalty to the Bush administration over his loyalties to the CIA and the nation. John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, said when Kappes’s nomination for the position was announced: “I believe that Mike’s appointment, and I think together if the appointment of Steve Kappes goes through, I think that’s going to be a boost for the morale out there. And I think they’re going to welcome this new leadership.” Hayden himself has said that Kappes’s return is a signal that “amateur hour” is over. Former clandestine CIA agent Milt Bearden says, “The simple fact is that he is a very solid choice to come to the agency at a time when it is extremely wobbly.” And a former top CIA official says: “The really good people are happy he’s coming back. The ones who are scared of him should be scared of him.” (CNN 5/9/2006; Mazzetti 5/30/2006)
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who became the target of a White House smear campaign after he publicly criticized the government’s push for war with Iraq (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006), receives a standing ovation from the audience at his appearance at the Yearly Kos convention in Las Vegas. The convention is a group of bloggers and citizen journalists, mostly liberals and progressives, organized by the Daily Kos Web site. About a thousand convention goers gather to hear Wilson speak during one of the day’s panel discussions. Wilson says he will not be intimidated by what he calls a White House campaign to obscure lies told during the run-up to the war in Iraq. “We must and we can stand up to the schoolyard bullies and insure that these decisions on war and peace and other major issues are undertaken with the consent of the governed,” he says. Wilson goes on to say that the indictment of former White House official Lewis Libby (see October 28, 2005) and the disclosures about the case that have come in subsequent court filings have vindicated him against critics who claim he lied or misrepresented the facts surrounding his 2002 mission to Africa (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003). “As facts emerge, of course, the dwindling number of those who still believe the thesis of ‘Wilson is a liar, or has been discredited,’ are either victims of the ongoing disinformation campaign or the willful perpetrators of it,” he says. Wilson affirms that neither he nor his wife, exposed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, intend to run for elective office. “I can assure you that neither she [nor] I intend to do anything other than return to our private lives,” he says.
Former CIA Agent Reaffirms Damage Done by Plame Wilson's Exposure - One of Wilson’s panel colleagues, former CIA agent and State Department official Larry Johnson (see September 30, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003), says partisan Republicans have lost sight of the gravity of what he believes was a deliberate campaign to expose Plame Wilson’s status for political reasons. “How it is that conservative Republicans can excuse what is nothing short of treason is beyond me,” he says. Johnson describes himself as “a lifelong conservative.” He reiterates his earlier statements that Plame Wilson was not publicly known as a CIA official before being “outed” by columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003). “Valerie Plame, Valerie Wilson was an undercover CIA officer until the day her name appeared in Robert Novak’s column,” Johnson says. Libby’s lawyers have said they have witnesses who will testify that Plame Wilson’s CIA affiliation was known outside the government, but they have not identified those witnesses. Plame Wilson’s exposure did “damage… to the intelligence operations of the Central Intelligence Agency and ultimately to the security of this nation,” Johnson tells the audience. White House political strategist Karl Rove, whom Wilson once said should be “frog marched” out of the White House in handcuffs (see August 21, 2003), should have his security clearance revoked and be fired, Johnson says, regardless of whether he is indicted.
Journalists: Media Did Not Do Its Job in Covering Story - Another panel member, the Washington Post’s Dan Froomkin, says journalists have become so preoccupied by the jailing of fellow reporter Judith Miller (see October 7, 2004) that they have lost sight of the broader story. “The really sad moment for journalism here is, faced with this incredibly important story, reporters didn’t go out and develop sources for this story,” he says. “This is a hell of a story.” Froomkin calls Miller “a humiliated and discredited shill,” presumably for the Bush administration. Fellow panel member Murray Waas of the National Journal says most major news outlets have not adequately covered the story. “There’s no reporter for any major news organization covering it even one or two days a week,” he says. “I don’t know why.” Waas says that perhaps some editors have ignored the story because it involves leaks to reporters at those same news outlets. “Their own role is so comprised that they hope it just goes away,” he says. (Gerstein 6/10/2006)
A man said to be Osama bin Laden releases an audio message following the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was said to be head of al-Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq (see June 8, 2006). The voice says that al-Zarqawi, who died following a US air strike, is “one of our greatest knights and one of our best emirs… We were very happy to find in him a symbol and role model for our future generations.” The voice, which the CIA says is bin Laden’s, also asks that al-Zarqawi’s body be returned to Jordan, where he was born. The speaker also says: “We will continue, God willing, to fight you and your allies everywhere, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan, until we drain your money and kill your men and send you home defeated, God willing, as we defeated you before, thanks to God, in Somalia.” The message lasts almost 20 minutes and is posted on a website associated with al-Qaeda. (CNN 6/30/2006) Al-Zarqawi pledged loyalty to bin Laden in 2004 (see October 17, 2004).
Former Justice Department official Marty Lederman, now a Georgetown law professor, writes of the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case (see June 30, 2006): “Focusing just on the [military] commissions aspect of this misses the forest for the trees. This ruling means that what the CIA and the Pentagon have been doing [detaining prisoners without due process] is, as of now, a war crime, which means that it should stop immediately.” (Savage 2007, pp. 276)
Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman tells authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein that the damage done to the agency by the Bush administration is long-lasting and may well be permanent. “The CIA is a brittle bureaucracy, fragile as any other,” he says. “It’s now broken.” Part of the reason for the damage is the pressure brought to bear on the agency by senior White House officials (see 2002-Early 2003, Fall 2002, and Fall 2002). A former deputy director of the CIA tells the authors: “In the history of the agency, I’ve never heard of a vice president making specific demands of analysts. It’s never occurred. It’s without precedent.” It will change the way the CIA functions, he says. “The mere fact that [Vice President Cheney and his then-chief of staff Lewis Libby] were out there will generate in the bureaucracy—and the CIA is a bureaucracy—a sort of thinking that says, ‘Gee, can we make them happy, can we continue to satisfy them?’ That’s not the sort of thinking you want in an intelligence agency.” (Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 222)
Al-Qaeda leader Hassan Ghul is secretly transferred from US custody to Pakistani custody. The Pakistani government will later release him and he will apparently rejoin al-Qaeda. In early 2004, Ghul was captured in Iraq and put in the CIA’s secret prison system (see January 23, 2004). He became a “ghost detainee” because the US refused to admit they even held him. In 2006, the Bush administration decides to close most of the CIA’s secret prisons and transfer most of the important al-Qaeda prisoners to the Guantanamo prison. But Ghul is given to the Pakistani government instead, apparently as a goodwill gesture. According to a 2011 article by the Associated Press, “[T]he move frustrated and angered former CIA officers, who at the time believed Ghul should have been moved to Guantanamo along with 14 other high-value detainees” (See September 2-3, 2006). The ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, promises that it will make sure Ghul is never released. But after only about a year, Pakistan will secretly let Ghul go and he apparently will return to working with al-Qaeda (see (Mid-2007)). (Associated Press 6/15/2011) Ghul is given to Pakistan even though he is linked to a Pakistani militant group supported by the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and the ISI had a history of protecting him from arrest (see (2002-January 23, 2004)). Also, Ghul is released even though he told US interrogators key information about Osama bin Laden’s courier that will eventually prove key to the discovery of bin Laden’s location (see Shortly After January 23, 2004 and Late 2005).
Libertarian Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), contemplating a run for the 2008 presidential nomination, discusses the many federal programs, agencies, and bureaus he would eliminate if he had the power. He would do away with the CIA, the Federal Reserve, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the IRS, and the Department of Education, among others. He would eliminate Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. He would abolish the federal income tax (see April 28, 1999). He would zero out federal funding for public education, leaving that to local governments. Paul recently refused to vote for federal funds to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina, explaining that to do so would “rob” other Americans “in order to support the people on the coast.” He routinely votes against federal subsidies for farmers. He supports absolute gun rights, and absolutely opposes abortion, though he thinks regulations supporting or denying abortion should be left up to the states. He wants to repeal federal laws regulating drugs and allow prohibited drugs such as heroin to be sold legally. Paul says the US should withdraw from the United Nations and NATO, and wants the country to stop giving foreign aid to any country for any reason, calling such assistance “foreign welfare.” He even says President Lincoln should never have taken the nation to war to abolish slavery. Referring to the years before the income tax, Paul says: “We had a good run from 1776 to 1913. We didn’t have it; we did pretty well.” As for Social Security, “we didn’t have it until 1935,” Paul says. “I mean, do you read stories about how many people were laying in the streets and dying and didn’t have medical treatment?… Prices were low and the country was productive and families took care of themselves and churches built hospitals and there was no starvation.” Historian Michael Katz describes himself as aghast at Paul’s characterization of American life before Social Security. “Where to begin with this one?” he asks. “The stories just break your heart, the kind of suffering that people endured.… Stories of families that had literally no cash and had to kind of beg to get the most minimal forms of food, who lived in tiny, little rooms that were ill-heated and ill-ventilated, who were sick all the time, who had meager clothing.” Charles Kuffner of the Texas progressive blog Off the Kuff writes, “I can only presume that the Great Depression never occurred in whatever universe Paul inhabits.” (Copeland 7/9/2006; Charles Kuffner 7/10/2006)
MSNBC talk show host Tucker Carlson tells his viewers that “[t]here’s never been a shred of evidence” that the disclosure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity (see Fall 1992 - 1996) “compromised our national security.” Carlson is misrepresenting the issue. CIA official Bill Harlow twice warned columnist Robert Novak not to divulge Plame Wilson’s name or CIA identity to the public (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003). Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald found that Plame Wilson’s identity had been protected by the CIA “not just for the officer, but for the nation’s security” (see October 28, 2005). And a number of former and current CIA officers and agents have said that the disclosure of her identity and her front company, Brewster Jennings, likely endangered others, both CIA agents and foreign sources (see October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). Carlson is commenting on Novak’s July 12 column, where he discusses his testimony in Fitzgerald’s investigation and discloses that White House political strategist Karl Rove was one of his sources for his Plame Wilson column (see July 12, 2006). (Media Matters 7/13/2006)
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson was exposed as a CIA agent by columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003), writes an e-mail to Christy Hardin Smith, a former prosecutor who writes for the progressive blog FireDogLake. Referring to Novak’s recent column (see July 12, 2006) and its falsehoods and misrepresentations (see July 12, 2006), Wilson writes: “Robert Novak, some other commentators, and the administration continue to try to completely distort the role that Valerie Wilson played with respect to Ambassador Wilson’s trip to Niger. The facts are beyond dispute. The Office of the Vice President requested that the CIA investigate reports of alleged uranium purchases by Iraq from Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). The CIA set up a meeting to respond to the vice president’s inquiry (see Shortly after February 13, 2002). Another CIA official, not Valerie Wilson, suggested to Valerie Wilson’s supervisor that the ambassador attend that meeting (see February 19, 2002). That other CIA official made the recommendation because that official was familiar with the ambassador’s vast experience in Niger and knew of a previous trip to Africa concerning uranium matters that had been undertaken by the ambassador on behalf of the CIA in 1999 (see Fall 1999). Valerie Wilson’s supervisor subsequently asked her to relay a request from him to the ambassador that he would like the ambassador to attend the meeting at the CIA. Valerie Wilson did not participate in the meeting” (see February 13, 2002). (Christy Hardin Smith 7/13/2006)
The day after Joseph Wilson and his wife, outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, file a lawsuit against White House officials over the conspiracy to smear Wilson’s character and expose Plame Wilson as a covert intelligence agent (see July 13, 2006), Plame Wilson speaks about the affair to reporters for the first time. She will later describe herself as suffering from a “dry mouth and shaking knees” as she speaks. She tells reporters in part: “I am proud to have served my country by working at the Central Intelligence Agency. I and my former CIA colleagues trusted our government to protect us as we did our jobs. That a few reckless individuals within the current administration betrayed that trust has been a grave disappointment to every patriotic American; Joe and I have filed this action with a heavy heart but with renewed purpose. I feel strongly that those who acted so recklessly, and who acted in such a harmful way, need to answer for their shameful conduct and to explain their actions in a court of law.” Wilson also releases a statement to the press, which says in part: “[T]his remains a nation of laws. No administration official however powerful is above the law and I have confidence in the American system of justice. This suit is about the pursuit of justice.” (Buzzflash (.com) 7/14/2006; Wilson 2007, pp. 254-255)
Jose Rodriguez, head of the National Clandestine Service at the CIA, travels to Pakistan to order local authorities there to arrest a militant named Rashid Rauf. Rauf is currently in Pakistan, but is a key figure in a British-based conspiracy to blow up several airliners with liquid bombs (see August 10, 2006). The British had briefed US officials on the surveillance of the plotters, but the US had pushed for immediate arrests, whereas Britain wanted to monitor the men for longer to gather evidence for a later prosecution (see Before August 10, 2006). After the Pakistani authorities follow Rodriguez’s instruction to arrest Rauf—without the British being notified in advance—the British have no choice but to prematurely arrest the other plotters, as they fear they will learn of Rauf’s arrest and begin to destroy evidence and disperse. According to the London Times, Rodriguez is ordered to Pakistan by US Vice President Dick Cheney. Michael Clarke, director of the British Royal United Services Institute, will say that after British Prime Minister Tony Blair briefed President Bush on July 28: “Vice President Cheney despatched a man called Jose Rodriguez to Pakistan in secret.… And after Mr Rodriguez’s arrival in Pakistan, Rashid Rauf was picked up. The British were hopping mad about that, because it meant that on August 10 they had no choice but to move in on this plot before all the evidence was as mature as possible. There is a general belief in British security circles that the despatch of Mr Rodriguez to [Pakistan] came straight from the White House.” Based on Clarke’s assessment and other sources, including Andy Hayman, former assistant commissioner for specialist operations in the Metropolitan Police, the Times will conclude that Cheney “nearly destroyed Britain’s efforts to bring the airline bomb plotters to justice.” (Booth 9/8/2009)
The CIA provides short summaries of Vice President Dick Cheney’s daily security briefings to defense attorneys for Cheney’s indicted former chief of staff, Lewis Libby. The documents are provided as per a March court order (see March 10, 2006). They have been turned over in batches since May 2006; the final documents have just been turned over. The briefing summaries cover the period in the summer of 2003 when Libby was allegedly discussing Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity with journalists. They also cover several weeks in the fall of 2003 when Libby was questioned by the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003), and March 2004 when Libby testified before a federal grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). (Associated Press 8/11/2006)
Judge Reggie Walton issues a court order that withholds certain “extremely sensitive” classified documents from the Lewis Libby defense team. Walton writes that he “carefully reviewed” the requests from special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and from the CIA to withhold the documents. The documents were provided to him ex parte and in camera, and Walton determined that they were irrelevant to the Libby defense efforts. Walton writes that the documents are “extremely sensitive and their disclosure could cause serious if not grave damage to the national security of the United States.” Walton has previously allowed other classified documents to be provided to Libby, and the CIA has provided documents requested by Libby that Walton has released to the defense (see December 14, 2005, January 9, 2006, January 20, 2006, January 23, 2006, January 23, 2006, January 31, 2006, (February 16, 2006), February 21, 2006, February 24, 2006. February 27, 2006, March 1, 2006, March 2-7, 2006, March 10, 2006, March 17, 2006, April 5, 2006, May 3, 2006, May 12, 2006, May 19, 2006, and June 2, 2006). Many of the documents provided to Libby are redacted versions or summaries of the classified documents he viewed during his morning intelligence briefings. (Seidman 8/18/2006) Former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, writes of Walton’s decision: “That there is material so sensitive in this case that Libby is not entitled to it at all… speaks volumes to me in terms of what was endangered by him and Karl Rove opening their yaps in order to exact some political payback and CYA for Dick Cheney and the Bush administration. Putting personal political fortune ahead of the security of the entire United States during a time of armed conflict to cover your bosses’ *sses for lying the nation into war? Now THAT is unpatriotic.” (Christy Hardin Smith 8/19/2006)
The House Intelligence Committee, led by Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), releases a 29-page report entitled “Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States” that blasts the CIA and other US intelligence agencies for lacking “the ability to acquire essential information necessary to make judgments” on Iran’s nuclear program, its intentions, or its ties to terrorism. (House Intelligence Committee 8/23/2006)
Democrats Excluded From Report - The report is generated strictly by the Republicans on the committee; input from Democratic members was quite limited. The author of the report is ex-CIA officer Frederick Fleitz, a former special assistant to Undersecretary of Defense John Bolton and a hardliner on Iran. Not surprisingly, Fleitz’s report fully supports the Bush administration’s position that Iran is moving aggressively to acquire nuclear weapons, and thusly poses an significant threat to the US. It also claims that the US intelligence community has not tried to collect or collate evidence to prove Fleitz’s assertion that Iran, a majority-Shi’ite nation, has close and sinister ties to al-Qaeda, a Sunni organization, as well as some responsibility for the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. Fleitz and his researchers used nothing more than publicly available documents for his report, and did not interview any intelligence officials. Hoesktra, who publicly releases the report before it is approved by the full committee, says his purpose is to avoid the intelligence “mistakes” that led the US to conclude that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. It is widely believed that Hoekstra’s decision to release the report is part of a larger effort by the Bush administration to pressure Iran to suspend its nuclear program, a push supported by few US allies. Democrats on the committee have little confidence that the report is complete and accurate; ranking subcommittee member Rush Holt (D-NJ) says the report is not “prepared and reviewed in a way that we can rely on.” (Linzer 8/24/2006)
Cherrypicking - The report will never be voted on or discussed by the entire committee, in essence short-circuiting Democrats from the review and approval process. Ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA) says the report “took a number of analytical shortcuts that present the Iran threat as more dire—and the Intelligence Community’s assessments as more certain—than they are.” It is not long before the report is thoroughly debunked. Further analysis shows the report to be riddled with errors; additionally, it fails to include key information, mostly from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that disproves the report’s claims about Iran’s nuclear program. When the report is officially presented in September 2006, IAEA officials and others will term the report “outrageous and dishonest,” and provide evidence refuting its major claims (see September 14, 2006). Gary Sick, an Iran expert and a former National Security Council under Jimmy Carter, notes that the report’s claim that Iran has “the largest inventory of ballistic missiles in the Middle East” entirely ignores the far larger arsenals possessed by Israel and Saudi Arabia. “If you are going to take on the entire US intelligence community, it is a very good idea to at least get your basic facts straight,” Sick says. “It is a sloppy attempt to lay the ground for another ‘slam-dunk’ judgement and a potential rush to war. It deserves to be recognized for what it is.” David Albright agrees: “This is like prewar Iraq all over again.” Albright, a former UN weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security, says, “You have an Iranian nuclear threat that is spun up, using bad information that’s cherry-picked and a report that trashes the [IAEA] inspectors.” Weeks after the November 2006 elections, the CIA will report that it can find no evidence supporting Fleitz’s contention that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. (Lobe 8/25/2006; Linzer 9/14/2006; Unger 3/2007)
An Attempt to Undermine Rice and Diplomatic Outreach? - Many committee Democrats believe that the report is an attempt by hardline Republicans to undermine Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has agreed to talk with the Iranians under certain conditions. Bolton, Fleitz, and others oppose any diplomacy or discussion with Iran. Bolton is now the US ambassador to the UN; he and Fleitz worked diligently during President Bush’s first term to undermine the efforts of Rice’s predecessor, Colin Powell, to engage Iran, North Korea, and Syria in diplomatic talks. Many Washington neoconservatives have denounced the Bush administration’s tentative move towards diplomatic talks with Iran as nothing more than “appeasement.” (Perhaps in the same vein, Fleitz is now working on a similar report on North Korea’s weapons program; a draft leaked to the Washington Post contains allegations about the North Korean program that also cannot be substantiated.) (Lobe 8/25/2006; Linzer 9/14/2006)
'Unusually Slick' Hoax - Former CIA official Ray McGovern calls the report an “unusually slick” hoax that is nothing more than an attempt to frighten Congress and the American people into supporting the Bush administration’s more aggressive posture towards Iran. McGovern notes that in recent weeks Hoekstra told a Fox News audience that weapons of mass destruction were indeed found in Iraq—“We were right all the time!”—and observes that the entire report is a calculated public relations effort based on overzealous falsehoods and not on verifiable fact. The cover of the report depicts Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad giving a suspiciously Nazi-like salute, and the first page repeats Ahmadinejad’s assertion that Israel “must be wiped off the face of the map.” He also notes that Fleitz, whom he describes as Bolton’s “chief enforcer” when Bolton was at the State Department, once told State Department intelligence analysts Christian Westermann that it was “a political judgment as to how to interpret” data on Cuba’s biological weapons program (a program that only existed in Bolton’s imagination) and that the intelligence community “should do as we asked” in making its reports. McGovern concludes, “Hoekstra’s release of this paper is another sign pointing in the direction of a US attack on Iran. Tehran is now being blamed not only for inciting Hezbollah but also for sending improvised explosive devices [IEDs] into Iraq to kill or maim US forces. There is yet another, if more subtle, disquieting note about the paper. It bears the earmarks of a rushed job, with very little editorial scrubbing.… It seems to me possible that the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal told Hoekstra to get the paper out sooner rather than later, as an aid to Americans in ‘recognizing Iran as a strategic threat.’” (McGovern 8/26/2007)
Replay of Flawed Iraqi Intelligence - Many observers agree with McGovern that the report is a replay of the dangerously flawed intelligence estimates that pushed Congress to approve military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Gary Sick goes even further back to draw a comparison between Hoekstra’s report and the mid-1970s effort by Ford aides Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s so-called “Team B” to provide an “alternative” intelligence assessment on the threat posed by the then-Soviet Union. The report “is really intended as a sort of Team B report of what at least one [Congressional] staffer believes the intelligence community should be reporting on Iran.” (Lobe 8/25/2006) Author and national security expert John Prados takes an even grimmer view: “The fact that this act has been perpetrated by a congressional committee whose job it is to oversee US intelligence is further evidence that intelligence oversight has become part of the problem, not the solution.” (Prados 8/25/2006)
Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, said to be an adviser to Osama bin Laden, is captured and detained in a secret CIA prison. President Bush announced on September 6, 2006 that the secret CIA prisons have just been emptied, at least temporarily (see September 2-3, 2006 and September 6, 2006). Nonetheless, Al-Hadi is put in the CIA’s secret prison system (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). Very little is known about al-Hadi’s arrest, which will not even be announced until late April 2007, shortly after he is transferred to the Guantanamo prison. It is unknown whether he is captured before Bush’s announcement (in which case he should have been sent to Guantanamo with other high-ranking prisoners), or after. (Benjamin 5/22/2007) Prior to Al-Hadi’s arrest, the US government had posted a $1 million reward for his capture. His reward announcement calls him “one of Osama bin Laden’s top global deputies, personally chosen by bin Laden to monitor al-Qaeda operations in Iraq.… He has been associated with numerous attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has been known to facilitate communication between al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” The announcement notes that al-Hadi once served as a major in the Iraqi army, and he may still be in contact with bin Laden. (Rewards for Justice 1/4/2007) In 2005, Newsweek reported that al-Hadi had been the main liaison between bin Laden and the independent minded Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. (Yousafzai and Moreau 4/4/2005)
In autumn 2006, President Bush declares in a White House news conference that al-Qaeda is “on the run,” but in fact intelligence reports are indicating that al-Qaeda is gaining strength in its safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region. The New York Times will later comment, “with senior Bush administration officials consumed for much of that year with the spiraling violence in Iraq, the al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan was not at the top of the White House agenda.” Frustrated, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top US commander in Afghanistan, orders military officers, CIA, and US special forces to assemble a dossier documenting the Pakistani government’s role in allowing militants to establish their safe haven in the tribal region. According to the Times, “Behind the general’s order was a broader feeling of outrage within the military—at a terrorist war that had been outsourced to an unreliable ally, and at the grim fact that America’s most deadly enemy had become stronger.” When Eikenberry finally presents his dossier to several members of Bush’s cabinet, some inside the State Department and the CIA dismiss his warning as exaggerated and simplistic. (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008) On February 13, 2007, Eikenberry states publicly before a Congressional committee that NATO cannot win in Afghanistan without addressing the safe haven across the border in Pakistan. He does not publicly discuss Pakistan’s support for the militants, but he does say, “A steady, direct attack against the command and control in Pakistan in sanctuary areas is essential for us to achieve success.” He also warns that the US is facing a “reconstituted enemy” and “growing narcotics trafficking” in Afghanistan, which could lead to “the loss of legitimacy” of the government there. Eikenberry is already due to be replaced as commander of US forces in Afghanistan by the time he makes these blunt comments. (Tyson 2/14/2007; Rashid 2008, pp. 383) The White House responds by sending Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes to Islamabad, Pakistan, later in February (see February 26, 2007). But there is little apparent change in Pakistan’s behavior. (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)
A Central Intelligence Agency assessment conducted before Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s visit to Washington in late September 2006 warns that Karzai’s government is increasingly weak and unpopular, and is failing to exert authority and security beyond Kabul. (Rohde and Risen 11/5/2006)
The US temporarily closes a network of secret CIA prisons around the world and transfers the most valuable prisoners to the US prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, for eventual military tribunals. The prison network will be reopened a short time later (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). There were reportedly fewer than 100 suspects in the CIA prisons; most of them are apparently sent back to their home countries while fourteen are sent to Guantanamo. All fourteen have some connection to al-Qaeda. Seven of them reportedly had some connection to the 9/11 attacks. Here are their names, nationalities, and the allegations against them.
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (Pakistani, raised in Kuwait). He is the suspected mastermind of 9/11 attacks and many other al-Qaeda attacks. A CIA biography of KSM calls him “one of history’s most infamous terrorists.”
Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (Saudi). He allegedly helped finance the 9/11 attacks.
Hambali (Indonesian). He attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and is accused of involvement in many other plots, including the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002).
Khallad bin Attash (a.k.a. Tawfiq bin Attash) (Yemeni). He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and had a role in other plots such as the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000).
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (Pakistani, raised in Kuwait). He allegedly helped finance the 9/11 attacks and arranged transportation for some hijackers. His uncle is KSM.
Ramzi bin al-Shibh (Yemeni). A member of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. The CIA calls him the “primary communications intermediary” between the hijackers and KSM. He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (Saudi). He is said to have been one of the masterminds of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). He also attended a key planning meeting for the 9/11 attacks in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
The remaining seven suspects are alleged to have been involved in other al-Qaeda plots:
Abu Zubaida (Palestinian, raised in Saudi Arabia). He is said to be a facilitator who helped make travel arrangements for al-Qaeda operatives. He is also alleged to have organized a series of planned millennium attacks.
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (Tanzanian). He was indicted for a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He is also said to be an expert document forger.
Majid Khan (Pakistani). He lived in the US since 1996 and is said to have worked with KSM on some US bomb plots (see March 5, 2003).
Abu Faraj al-Libbi (a.k.a. Mustafa al-‘Uzayti) (Libyan). He allegedly became al-Qaeda’s top operations officer after KSM was captured.
Mohamad Farik Amin (a.k.a. Zubair) (Malaysian). He is a key Hambali associate and was allegedly tapped for a suicide mission targeting Los Angeles.
Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep (a.k.a. Lillie) (Malaysian). He is a key Hambali associate. He is accused of providing funds for the 2003 bombing of the Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia (see August 5, 2003). He was allegedly tapped for a suicide mission targeting Los Angeles.
Gouled Hassan Dourad (Somali). He allegedly scouted a US military base in Djibouti for a planned terrorist attack.
The fourteen are expected to go on trial in 2007. (Hutcheson and Talev 9/6/2006; Central Intelligence Agency 9/6/2006; Willing 9/7/2006)
In a speech, President Bush acknowledges a network of secret CIA prisons and announces plans to try 14 top al-Qaeda terrorist suspects in military tribunals. (Hutcheson and Talev 9/6/2006)
Admits Existence of Detainees in CIA Custody - Bush tells his listeners: “In addition to the terrorists held at Guantanamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.… Many specifics of this program, including where these detainees have been held and the details of their confinement, cannot be divulged.… We knew that Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking.… As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures… The procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.… These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used—I think you understand why.” Bush then adds that Zubaida “began to provide information on key al-Qaeda operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September 11” (see June 2002). Another high-value detainee, 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), provided “many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans” (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003 and August 6, 2007). (Rose 12/16/2008; Danner 3/15/2009) The 14 prisoners will be put on trial as soon as Congress enacts the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which he is sending to Congress for its approval today. (Savage 2007, pp. 308-309)
Political Reasons to Acknowledge CIA Prisons - The US government has never officially acknowledged the existence of the CIA prisons before, despite numerous media accounts about them. Bush’s speech comes less than two months before midterm Congressional elections and also comes as the White House is preparing new legislation to legalize the CIA’s detention program and shield US officials from prosecution for possible war crimes. Knight Ridder comments that the speech “appeared to be intended to give him more leverage in his negotiations with Congress over how to try suspected terrorists.… In addition to the potential political benefits, Bush had other reasons to make the program public. A Supreme Court ruling in June struck down the administration’s plan to bring terrorist suspects before military tribunals and called into question the legality of secret CIA detentions.” (Hutcheson and Talev 9/6/2006)
Sites Closed Down? - Other administration officials say the CIA prison network has been closed down, at least for the time being. (In fact, it will be reopened a short time later (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007).) Reportedly, “fewer than 100” suspects had ever been in CIA custody. It is not known who they were or what happened to all of them, but most of them reportedly were returned to their home countries for prosecution. Fourteen “high-value” suspects, including accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were transferred from the secret CIA prisons to the prison in Guantanamo, Cuba in the days just prior to Bush’s speech (see September 2-3, 2006).
Torture is 'against [US] Values' - Bush says: “I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world: The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it—and I will not authorize it.” However, he says the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition against “humiliating and degrading treatment” could potentially cause legal problems for CIA interrogators. Other administration officials say harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding were used in the CIA prisons. Such techniques are considered by many to be forms of torture. Bush claims that information gleaned from interrogations in the secret prisons helped thwart attacks on the US and provided valuable information about al-Qaeda operations around the world. (Hutcheson and Talev 9/6/2006; Smith and Fletcher 9/7/2006)
David Corn, a Nation editor and co-author of the book Hubris with Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, reveals the nature of Valerie Plame Wilson’s status and duties as a CIA agent in his column. Isikoff and Corn have revealed similar information in their book; both accounts are based on interviews with confidential CIA sources. To answer the question of whether columnist Robert Novak broke the law when he “outed” Plame Wilson as a covert CIA official (see July 14, 2003) depends on whether Plame Wilson was, indeed, an undercover agent. Novak has called her “an analyst, not in covert operations” (see October 1, 2003). Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg has called her a “desk jockey” whose CIA status was common knowledge within Washington (see September 30, 2003). A Republican congressman called her a “glorified secretary” (see September 29, 2003). White House officials have suggested that her employment was no real secret. But according to the research done by Isikoff and Corn, none of that is true. Corn writes: “Valerie Wilson was no analyst or paper-pusher. She was an operations officer working on a top priority of the Bush administration. [Richard] Armitage, [Karl] Rove, and [Lewis] Libby had revealed information about a CIA officer who had searched for proof of the president’s case. In doing so, they harmed her career and put at risk operations she had worked on and foreign agents and sources she had handled” (see July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003)). The book also demonstrates that Plame Wilson did not send her husband, Joseph Wilson, on the now-famous trip to Niger as many Bush administration supporters have claimed (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002, February 19, 2002, and July 22, 2003). Isikoff and Corn have verified Plame Wilson’s status as a NOC, or “non-official cover” officer, the highest and most clandestine of the CIA’s field agents (see Fall 1992 - 1996). Her job as a NOC was to recruit agents and informants for the CIA in foreign countries. After her return to Washington, she joined the counterproliferation division’s Iraq desk (see 1997), and eventually headed the operations unit of the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (JTFI), the agency’s unit in learning about Iraq’s WMD programs (see 2002 and April 2001 and After)—which, Corn writes, was first launched months before the 9/11 attacks. Plame Wilson not only worked on JTFI duties in Washington, but in the Middle East, including a trip to Jordan to determine whether aluminum tubes purchased by Iraq were for conventional missiles or for nuclear centrifuges. When Novak blew her cover, she was preparing to change her clandestine status from NOC to official cover, with plans to eventually return to secret operations. As Corn observes, Novak and the White House officials who leaked the information of her CIA status to him (see September 28, 2003) destroyed her chances of continuing her career, jeopardized the foreign agents and sources she had worked with (see October 3, 2003), and hindered the nation’s ability to determine the truth behind the claims of Iraqi WMD. (Corn 9/6/2006)
Shortly after 14 high-ranking al-Qaeda prisoners are transferred from secret CIA prisons to the US-controlled Guantanamo prison in Cuba (see September 2-3, 2006), the International Committee of the Red Cross is finally allowed to interview them. The prisoners include 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Hambali, and Abu Zubaida. The Red Cross has a policy of not publicizing or commenting its findings. However, some US officials are shown the report on the interviews with these prisoners and apparently some of these officials leak information to the New Yorker about one year later. The New Yorker will report, “Congressional and other Washington sources familiar with the report said that it harshly criticized the CIA’s practices. One of the sources said that the Red Cross described the agency’s detention and interrogation methods as tantamount to torture, and declared that American officials responsible for the abusive treatment could have committed serious crimes. The source said the report warned that these officials may have committed ‘grave breaches’ of the Geneva Conventions, and may have violated the US Torture Act, which Congress passed in 1994. The conclusions of the Red Cross, which is known for its credibility and caution, could have potentially devastating legal ramifications.” (Mayer 8/6/2007)
The Senate Intelligence Committee, reporting on the pre-invasion intelligence on Iraq, finds that the US intelligence community had no evidence whatsoever of terrorist training facilities or activities at Iraq’s Salman Pak military base. The report says, “Postwar findings support the April 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessment that there was no credible reporting on al-Qaeda training at Salman Pak or anywhere else in Iraq. There have been no credible reports since the war that Iraq trained al-Qaeda operatives at Salman Pak to conduct or support transnational terrorist operations.” The report will note testimony from both CIA and DIA officials that found “no indications that training of al-Qaeda linked individuals took place there.” The DIA told the committee in June 2006 that it has “no credible reports that non-Iraqis were trained to conduct or support transnational terrorist operations at Salman Pak after 1991.” (Senate Intelligence Committee 9/8/2006 ) The base was found to be just what the Iraqis said it was: a training camp for counterterrorism operations, focused on foiling terrorist hijackings of jetliners (see April 6, 2003).
A bipartisan Senate report finds that no credible evidence of any links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government ever existed, despite repeated and insistent claims by the White House and its allies (see Early 1995), March-June 1998, (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 18, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 21, 2001, October 27, 2001, 2002, February 6, 2002, March 22, 2002, July 25, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 15, 2002, September 25, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 2, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 2, 2002, Mid-January 2003, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, January 28, 2003, February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 8, 2003, February 9, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, February 16, 2003, March 9, 2003, March 17, 2003, March 17-18, 2003, Shortly After April 9, 2003, July 9, 2003, September 7, 2003, September 14, 2003-September 17, 2003, September 28, 2003, December 17, 2003, January 8, 2004, January 9, 2004, Early June 2004, June 14, 2004, June 15, 2004, June 15, 2004, October 4, 2004, May 2005, October 2005, (2006), January 31, 2006, March 29, 2006, and September 10, 2006). Panel Democrats say that the White House knew the intelligence surrounding its claims of such links was flawed and unreliable.
Tenet Admitted to Giving in to Pressure - They note that in July former CIA Director George Tenet told the panel that the White House pressured him to support its arguments and that he agreed despite the findings of his own analysts. “Tenet admitted to the Intelligence Committee that the policymakers wanted him to ‘say something about not being inconsistent with what the president had said,’” says Intelligence Committee member Carl Levin (D-MI). Such compliance was, in hindsight, “the wrong thing to do,” Tenet added, according to Levin. “Well, it was much more than that,” Levin says. “It was a shocking abdication of a CIA director’s duty not to act as a shill for any administration or its policy.” Tenet also admitted that he erred in issuing a statement after President Bush’s October 7, 2002 speech saying that Bush’s claims were consistent with CIA findings (see October 7, 2002).
Republicans Say Report Just 'Election-Year Politicking' - Republican committee members insist that there is little new information about prewar intelligence or claims about Iraq’s links to terrorism. Ranking committee member Pat Roberts (R-KS) accuses Levin and other Democrats of trying to “use the committee… insisting that they were deliberately duped into supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.… That is simply not true, and I believe the American people are smart enough to recognize election-year politicking when they see it.” Democrats retort that the report speaks for itself.
Impeachment Not Warranted - However, committee Democrats such as John Rockefeller (D-WV) say that the report does not prove any criminal behavior from Bush or his top officials, and say that impeachment of Bush or anyone else is not warranted.
Hussein Opposed to US Policies - An FBI summary quoted in the report shows Hussein acknowledging that his government had met with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but denying any collusion. Hussein said he opposed only US policies, and added that “if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the US, he would have allied with North Korea or China,” according to the FBI summary.
Other Portions of Report - Other sections of the report find that no evidence existed to support claims that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see February 7, 2001, February 12, 2001, November 14, 2001, May 2002-September 2002, September 9, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 25, 2003, and May 30, 2003), had possessed biological weapons in 2003 (see 2002, 2002-March 2003, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, August 2002, September 2002, September 24, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, January 9, 2003, and March 7, 2003), used the Salman Pak facility to train Islamist terrorists (see September 8, 2006), or that Iraqi officials met with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in the months before the 9/11 attacks (see September 8-10, 2006). The report also finds that the White House relied heavily on false intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see After August 2, 1989, (1994), January 1996, November 6-8, 2001, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Summer 2002, and June 26, 2002). (Senate Intelligence Committee 9/8/2006 ; Associated Press 9/9/2006)
A CIA source tells Harper’s journalist Ken Silverstein that Blackwater owner Erik Prince makes regular visits to CIA headquarters. According to Silverstein, Prince is “very tight” with top agency officials and has a green badge, a security pass for contractors who have access to CIA installations. “He’s over there [at CIA headquarters] regularly, probably once a month or so,” says the source. “He meets with senior people, especially in the [National Clandestine Service, formerly the directorate of operations].” (Silverstein 9/12/2006)
According to Harper’s magazine columnist Ken Silverstein, the private miltiary corporation Blackwater makes an “aggressive” attempt to recruit Jose Rodriguez, director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. Other CIA officers currently at Blackwater at this time include Enrique “Ric” Prado, with whom Rodriguez served in Latin America and who is currently Blackwater’s vice president of special programs, and Cofer Black, the company’s vice chairman, who, like Rodriguez, had been chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. (Silverstein 9/12/2006)
In autumn 2006, Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, said to be an adviser to Osama bin Laden, is captured and then detained in a secret CIA prison (see Autumn 2006). President Bush announced on September 6, 2006 that the secret CIA prisons were emptied, at least temporarily (see September 2-3, 2006 and September 6, 2006), and it is not known if al-Hadi is transferred to CIA custody before or after this announcement. The CIA keeps al-Hadi’s detention secret from not only the public but also from the Red Cross until late April 2007, when it is publicly announced that al-Hadi has been transferred to the US military prison at Guantanamo. Only then is the Red Cross allowed to examine him. President Bush’s September 2006 announcement was in response to a US Supreme Court decision that rules that all detainees, including those like al-Hadi held in secret CIA prisons, are protected by some provisions of the Geneva Conventions. Then in October 2006 Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, which forbids abuse of all detainees in US custody, including those in CIA custody. The CIA claims that it has no legal responsibility to alert the Red Cross about detainees such as al-Hadi, but without notifying watchdog organizations such as the Red Cross, there is no way to really know if detainees being held by the CIA are being illegally abused or not. Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor of international law at Notre Dame Law School, says al-Hadi’s case raises the possibility that President Bush has secretly given the CIA a new mandate to operate outside the constraints of the Military Commissions Act: “This suggests that the president has signed some sort of additional authority for the CIA.” (Benjamin 5/22/2007)
Former CIA official Philip Giraldi will later reveal that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney is holding up the internal release of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran starting at this time, because Cheney’s people are not happy with the dissenting views contained within the document. The NIE contains widely differing views on whether or not Iran is trying to create a nuclear weapon. It also says that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is arming Shi’ite insurgents in Iraq. Cheney’s office wants an NIE that bolsters its view of an aggressive, threatening Iran, and is not willing to accept the publication or the current Iran NIE. Giraldi says that the White House has decided not to release the NIE until after the November 2006 Congressional elections. The NIE will not be released until December 2007 (see December 3, 2007). (Porter 11/10/2007)
In two separate sessions, from October 6-11 and again from December 4-14, officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) interview 14 detainees newly transferred from a variety of CIA secret “black sites” to Guantanamo. The transfers followed President Bush’s acknowledgment that the CIA has maintained a number of these sites and his announced intention to have a number of the detainees sent to the Cuban facility (see September 17, 2001 and September 6, 2006).
ICRC Access - The ICRC is legally bound to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; previously, it had not been allowed to see the detainees, and in some cases were never informed of their detention. The ICRC officials interview each prisoner in private, with the intention of producing “a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period they were held in the CIA detention program.”
Interviews - The 14 have been held for periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.” The ICRC’s report, never intended for public consumption, will be released to the CIA several months later (see February 14, 2007) and revealed in a book in early 2009 (see March 15, 2009). Some of the detainees, concerned about the possible repercussions that may ensue from their discussions, ask the ICRC to withhold their names from some allegations, though most of the report attributes specific narratives and allegations to particular prisoners. Almost every allegation is independently corroborated by other, named detainees.
'Striking Similarity' - In 2009, author Mark Danner will write, quoting the ICRC report: “[I]ndeed, since the detainees were kept ‘in continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention’ throughout their time in ‘the black sites,’ and were kept strictly separated as well when they reached Guantanamo, the striking similarity in their stories, even down to small details, would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely, if not impossible. ‘The ICRC wishes to underscore,’ as the writers tell us in the introduction, ‘that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided below.’”
Topics of Report - The report covers the following areas:
Main elements of the CIA detention program;
Arrest and transfer;
Continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention;
Other methods of ill-treatment;
Suffocation by water (the ICRC term for waterboarding);
Prolonged stress standing;
Beatings by use of a collar;
Beating and kicking;
Confinement in a box;
Sleep deprivation and use of loud music;
Exposure to cold temperature/cold water;
Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles;
Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food;
Further elements of the detention regime.
Conclusion - The report concludes: “The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” Danner will write, “Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms ‘torture’ and ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment’ are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn’t be more significant.” (Danner 3/15/2009)
President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act (MCA) into law. (White House 10/17/2006) The MCA is designed to give the president the authority to order “enemy detainees” tried by military commissions largely outside the scope of US civil and criminal procedures. The bill was requested by the Bush administration after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004) that the US could not hold prisoners indefinitely without access to the US judicial system, and that the administration’s proposal that they be tried by military tribunals was unconstitutional (see June 28, 2004). (Mariner 10/9/2006) It is widely reported that the MCA does not directly apply to US citizens, but to only non-citizens defined as “enemy combatants. (Cohen 10/19/2006) However, six months later, a Bush administration lawyer will confirm that the administration believes the law does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
Sweeping New Executive Powers - The MCA virtually eliminates the possibility that the Supreme Court can ever again act as a check on a president’s power in the war on terrorism. Similarly, the law gives Congressional approval to many of the executive powers previously, and unilaterally, seized by the Bush administration. Former Justice Department official John Yoo celebrates the MCA, writing, “Congress… told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror” (see October 19, 2006). (Savage 2007, pp. 319, 322)
'Abandoning' Core 'Principles' - The bill passed the Senate on a 65-34 vote, and the House by a 250-170 vote. The floor debate was often impassioned and highly partisan; House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) called Democrats who opposed the bill “dangerous,” and Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said this bill showed that the US is losing its “moral compass.” Leahy asked during the debate, “Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do, and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed?” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had said he would vote against it because it is “patently unconstitutional on its face,” but then voted for it, saying he believes the courts will eventually “clean it up.” Specter’s attempt to amend the bill to provide habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants was defeated, as were four Democratic amendments. Republicans have openly used the debate over the MCA as election-year fodder, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) saying after the vote that “House Democrats have voted to protect the rights of terrorists,” and Boehner decrying “the Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies.” Democrats such as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) say they will not fight back at such a level. “There will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be called everything from cut-and-run quitters to Defeatocrats, to people who care more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans,” Obama says. “While I know all of this, I’m still disappointed, and I’m still ashamed, because what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics.” (Babington and Weisman 10/19/2006) After winning the vote, Hastert accused Democrats who opposed the bill of “putting their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.” Hastert said the Democrats “would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans’ lives” and create “new rights for terrorists.” (New York Times 10/19/2006)
Enemy Combatants - The MCA applies only to “enemy combatants.” Specifically, the law defines an “unlawful enemy combatant” as a person “who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents,” and who is not a lawful combatant. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch says the definition far exceeds the traditionally accepted definition of combatant as someone who directly participates in hostilities. But under the MCA, someone who provides “material support” for terrorists—whether that be in the form of financial contributions or sweeping the floors at a terrorist camp—can be so defined. Worse, the label can be applied without recourse by either Bush or the secretary of defense, after a “competent tribunal” makes the determination. The MCA provides no guidelines as to what criteria these tribunals should use. Taken literally, the MCA gives virtually unrestricted power to the tribunals to apply the label as requested by the president or the secretary. Mariner believes the definition is both “blatantly unconstitutional” and a direct contradiction of centuries of Supreme Court decisions that define basic judicial rights. (Mariner 10/9/2006) Under this definition, the president can imprison, without charge or trial, any US citizen accused of donating money to a Middle East charity that the government believes is linked to terrorist activity. Citizens associated with “fringe” groups such as the left-wing Black Panthers or right-wing militias can be incarcerated without trial or charge. Citizens accused of helping domestic terrorists can be so imprisoned. Law professor Bruce Ackerman calls the MCA “a massive Congressional expansion of the class of enemy combatants,” and warns that the law may “haunt all of us on the morning after the next terrorist attack” by enabling a round of mass detentions similar to the roundup of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. (Savage 2007, pp. 322)
Military Commissions - The MCA mandates that enemy combatants are to be tried by military commissions, labeled “regularly constituted courts that afford all the necessary ‘judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples’ for purposes of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” The commissions must have a minimum of five commissioned military officers and a military judge; if death is a possible penalty, the commissions must have at least 12 officers. The defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; convictions require a two-thirds vote. Sentences of beyond 10 years require a three-quarters vote, and death penalties must be unanimously voted for. Defendants may either represent themselves or by military or civilian counsel. The court procedures themselves, although based on standard courts-martial proceedings, are fluid, and can be set or changed as the secretary of defense sees fit. Statements obtained through methods defined as torture are inadmissible, but statements take by coercion and “cruel treatment” can be admitted. The MCA sets the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005) as a benchmark—statements obtained before the December 30, 2005 enactment of that law can be used, even if the defendant was “coerced,” if a judge finds the statement “reasonable and possessing sufficient probative value.” Statements after that date must have been taken during interrogations that fall under the DTA guidelines. Defendants have the right to examine and respond to evidence seen by the commission, a provision originally opposed by the administration. However, if the evidence is classified, an unclassified summary of that material is acceptable, and classified exculpatory evidence can be denied in lieu of what the MCA calls “acceptable substitutes.” Hearsay evidence is admissible, as is evidence obtained without search warrants. Generally, defendants will not be allowed to inquire into the classified “sources, methods, or activities” surrounding evidence against them. Some human rights activists worry that evidence obtained through torture can be admitted, and the fact that it was obtained by torture, if that detail is classified, will not be presented to the court or preclude the evidence from being used. Public access to the commissions will be quite limited. Many experts claim these commissions are illegal both by US constitutional law and international law. (Mariner 10/9/2006)
Secret Courts - The military tribunals can be partially or completely closed to public scrutiny if the presiding judge deems such an action necessary to national security. The government can convey such concerns to the judge without the knowledge of the defense. The judge can exclude the accused from the trial if he deems it necessary for safety or if he decides the defendant is “disruptive.” Evidence can be presented in secret, without the knowledge of the defense and without giving the defense a chance to examine that evidence, if the judge finds that evidence “reliable.” And during the trial, the prosecution can at any time assert a “national security privilege” that would stop “the examination of any witness” if that witness shows signs of discussing sensitive security matters. This provision can easily be used to exclude any potential defense witness who might “breach national security” with their testimony. Author and investigative reporter Robert Parry writes, “In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel ‘star chamber’ system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and elimination of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.” (Parry 10/19/2006)
Appeals - Guilty verdicts are automatically appealed to a Court of Military Commission Review, consisting of three appellate military justices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has extremely limited authority of review of the commissions; even its authority to judge whether a decision is consistent with the Constitution is limited “to the extent [that the Constitution is] applicable.”
Types of Crimes - Twenty-eight specific crimes fall under the rubric of the military commissions, including conspiracy (not a traditional war crime), murder of protected persons, murder in violation of the bill of war, hostage-taking, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, rape, sexual abuse or assault, hijacking, terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. (Mariner 10/9/2006)
CIA Abuses - The MCA, responding to the recent Supreme Court decision of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) that found the CIA’s secret detention program and abusive interrogation practices illegal, redefines and amends the law to make all but the most pernicious interrogation practices, even those defined as torture by the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions, legal. The MCA actually rules that the Geneva Conventions are all but unenforceable in US courts. It also provides retroactive protection under the law to all actions as far back as November 1997. Under the MCA, practices such as waterboarding, stress positioning, and sleep deprivation cannot be construed as torture. (Mariner 10/9/2006) The MCA even states that rape as part of interrogations cannot be construed as torture unless the intent of the rapist to torture his victim can be proven, a standard rejected by international law. The MCA provides such a narrow definition of coercion and sexual abuse that most of the crimes perpetrated at Abu Ghraib are now legal. (Goodman 10/4/2006) Although the MCA seems to cover detainee abuse for all US agencies, including the CIA, Bush says during the signing of the bill, “This bill will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives.” International law expert Scott Horton will note, “The administration wanted these prohibitions on the military and not on the CIA, but it did not work out that way.” Apparently Bush intends to construe the law to exempt the CIA from its restrictions, such as they are, on torture and abuse of prisoners. (Benjamin 5/22/2007)
No Habeas Corpus Rights - Under the MCA, enemy combatants no longer have the right to file suit under the habeas corpus provision of US law. This means that they cannot challenge the legality of their detention, or raise claims of torture and mistreatment. Even detainees who have been released can never file suit to seek redress for their treatment while in US captivity. (Mariner 10/25/2006)
Retroactive Immunity - The administration added a provision to the MCA that rewrote the War Crimes Act retroactively to November 26, 1997, making any offenses considered war crimes before the MCA is adopted no longer punishable under US law. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007 that the only reason he can fathom for the change is to protect administration officials—perhaps including President Bush himself—from any future prosecutions as war criminals. Dean will note that if the administration actually believes in the inherent and indisputable powers of the presidency, as it has long averred, then it would not worry about any such criminal liability. (Dean 2007, pp. 239-240)
The Bush administration submits documents to US District Judge Reggie B. Walton arguing that Majid Khan, a Guatanamo detainee who was held in the secret CIA prison system for three years, cannot be allowed access to lawyers because he may reveal what interrogation techniques were used on him. CIA Information Review Officer Marilyn A. Dorn says in an affidavit that since “detained by CIA in this program, he may have come into possession of information, including locations of detention, conditions of detention, and alternative interrogation techniques that is classified at the TOP SECRET//SCI [sensitive compartmented information] level.” (Leonnig and Rich 11/4/2006)
The CIA acknowledges that it has operated under the rubric of two secret Bush administration documents that authorized it to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects overseas. Since 2004, the agency has refused to either confirm or deny the existence of the documents, and has argued in court that to make such an acknowledgement would jeopardize national security. The American Civil Liberties Union, which has fought the CIA in court over the documents, says in a statement by its executive director, Anthony Romero: “The CIA’s sudden reversal on these secret directives is yet more evidence that the Bush administration is misusing claims of national security to avoid public scrutiny. Confusion about whether such a presidential order existed certainly led to the torture and abuse scandal that embarrassed America. With a new Congress and renewed subpoena power, we now need to look up the chain of command.” One of the documents is a secret executive order signed by President Bush authorizing the CIA to set up “black site” detention facilities overseas (see September 17, 2001), and the other is a Justice Department legal analysis specifying interrogation methods that CIA interrogators could use against top al-Qaeda suspects. In legal papers previously filed in court, the CIA claimed that national security would be gravely injured if the CIA were compelled to admit or deny even an “interest” in interrogating detainees. Today, however, the agency acknowledges the existence of the two documents. It continues to withhold the documents themselves; their contents remain unknown to the public. The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “We intend to press for the release of both of these documents. If President Bush and the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture its prisoners, the public has a right to know.” (American Civil Liberties Union 11/14/2006)
The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Michael V. Hayden, appearing before a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee to address the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, states that the Afghan government’s outreach and provision of security to the country is inadequate. Hayden stresses that the key to making progress in Afghanistan is bolstering security, stating, “The capacity of the government needs to be strengthened to deliver basic services to the population—especially security.” He notes that there are not enough properly trained, equipped, or well-paid security forces in Afghanistan. “Even though the Afghan National Army continues to become larger, stronger, and more experienced, progress has been slow and little progress has been made in constructing an effective Afghan National Police force,” reads his prepared statement. (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/15/2006 )
Responding to Iranian claims that it is progressing in its attempts to enrich uranium (see Mid-November, 2006) and the International Atomic Energy Agency’s skepticism of the claims (see Mid-November 2006), analysts and officials have alternative explanations. Whether peaceful or not, Iran’s nuclear program is a source of great national pride, and its popularity bolsters President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rather tenuous grip on power. A former US intelligence official says it is not inconceivable that Ahmadinejad would welcome a limited military strike against Iran by the US, especially if it does not destroy its nuclear program. Such an attack would shore up Iran’s position in the Islamic world. “They learned that in the Iraqi experience, and relearned it in southern Lebanon,” the official says, referring to both the US debacle in Iraq and the resurgent popularity of Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, after Israel’s 2006 strike at the group in Lebanon. Indeed, the former official says, a US attack on Iran could possibly serve as a rallying point to unite the divided Sunni and Shi’ite populations. “An American attack will paper over any differences in the Arab world, and we’ll have Syrians, Iranians, Hamas, and Hezbollah fighting against us—and the Saudis and the Egyptians questioning their ties to the West,” he says. “It’s an analyst’s worst nightmare—for the first time since the caliphate there will be common cause in the Middle East.” A Pentagon consultant says the CIA does not believe that even a large-scale bombing attack will eradicate Iran’s nuclear program, and a limited campaign of subversion and sabotage plays into Iran’s hands, bolstering support for Iran’s theocratic leaders and “deepening anti-American Muslim rage.” (Hersh 11/27/2006)
The US intelligence community begins plumbing the data they have compiled on Iran’s nuclear weapons program in an attempt to shore up the Bush administration’s premature conclusion that Iran is on the verge of producing a nuclear weapon. Instead, their conclusions are that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. In the process, White House aides begin a program of “deep dives,” or special briefings for President Bush to meet with not only his advisers but the actual analysts who study Iranian intelligence data, in an attempt to allow Bush to “get his hands dirty” with real intelligence and not just pre-digested summaries. Bush is dismayed at the lack of solid intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program and asks for more. When the intelligence community does provide more, it finds more and more evidence that Iran had shut down its nuclear weapons program years before. Those conclusions will be released in a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) a year later (see December 3, 2007).
Troubling Conclusions, White House Spin - Bush and his top officials don’t like the findings; if true, the reports disprove the entirety of the administration’s push to define Iran as an imminent threat to the Middle East. White House officials are initially skeptical, believing that the intelligence community might be a victim of Iranian disinformation. The intelligence agencies create a special “red team” of analysts to thoroughly test and, if possible, discredit the information. They are unable to do so. “They tried to figure out what exactly it would take to perpetrate that kind of deception, how many people would be involved, how they would go about doing it, when it would have been set up and so forth,” says one intelligence official. Analysts “scrubbed and rescrubbed” more than 1,000 pieces of evidence but conclude Iran’s program really had been shut down. Faced with that conclusion, the White House decides to focus on the findings that confirm their suspicions—that Iran did have a secret weapons program that could be restarted again. No one in the White House suggests that Bush tone down his rhetoric or change his policies towards Iran. Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell decides to keep the new findings secret, the same position adopted by Vice President Cheney (see October 2006 and November 10, 2007). Only the Israelis are told of the new findings; Congress, the US’s European allies, and the UN’s monitoring agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are told nothing. McConnell will reluctantly change his mind out of a fear of leaks and possible charges of a coverup. That decision may come back to haunt the administration, particularly with the ill-will it will create among the US’s allies. Former State Department nonproliferation official Robert Einhorn says, “The administration is going to pay a price for not allowing allies in on it at an earlier date. The French had carried the administration’s water on this issue and really went out on a limb to get the European Union to adopt tough sanctions. And now the rug has been pulled out from under them.”
New NIE Draft Sparks Controversy - An NIE the year before (see August 2, 2005) had led the US to conclude that Iran was actively working on a nuclear weapons program. Congressional Democrats, not entirely convinced by the NIE’s conclusions and increasingly resistant to Bush’s push for confrontation with Iran, asks for a new NIE. Bush wants the new NIE to confirm his accusations and, in one official’s words, “get more information on Iran so we know what they’re up to.” The 2005 NIE had been based largely on information about Iran’s “Project 1-11,” a program that Iran is apparently pursuing to retrofit a ballistic missile to carry nuclear warheads (see Summer 2004). But no new information on Project 1-11 has been secured in three years, and the administration insists on new confirmations. “They just wouldn’t budge,” one agency official recalls. A new draft is completed in June, provoking heated discussions among agency and administration officials. CIA director Michael Hayden and NSA director Keith Alexander begin directing their agencies to closely monitor Iranians who were involved in their country’s nuclear program. Soon, communications intercepts from key Iranian officials indicate that the program had been mothballed in 2003. Some of the officials discuss their belief that the program may never be restarted.
Evolving NIE - As the draft NIE evolves, McConnell, with the assistance of his deputies Thomas Fingar and Donald Kerr, both national security veterans, lay down ground rules. One official later says that McConnell “quickly got the mantra down: ‘We must make a clear distinction between what we know and don’t know and what we judge to be the case.’” The internal debate over the NIE is sharp and often contentious. McConnell will finally inform Bush of the new conclusions—that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003—in August (see December 5, 2007 and December 3-4, 2007). In September, House and Senate intelligence committee members are informed as well. A September draft radically differs from the June version, based in large part on the communications intercepts and the exhaustive analysis on the data possessed by the CIA and NIE. The chief analysts are grilled by Hayden and his deputy Stephen Kappes, but the analyses stand up. Cheney, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and other key officials will be given a preliminary briefing on the new NIE on November 15; Bush, finalizing a Middle East peace conference in which he will try to rally Middle Eastern countries against Iran, is not officially told of the new NIE until November 28. Bush immediately tells Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (see November 26-28, 2007), and Cheney appraises Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak. Discussions about whether or not to keep the NIE secret lead to McConnell’s decision to make a declassified version public. A top intelligence official says, “We knew it would leak, so honesty required that we get this out ahead, to prevent it from appearing to be cherry picking.” (Baker and Linzer 12/8/2007)
Jeff Castelli, a former CIA Rome station chief involved in the blown rendition of Islamist extremist Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (see Noon February 17, 2003), is disciplined over the affair. Castelli is reprimanded by the CIA’s accountability board and sent to the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. One reason for the domestic posting is that Castelli may have difficulty traveling, as he could be arrested if he entered a European country, as well as some other states. (Stein 2/15/2008)
CIA officer Arthur Keller allegedly hears rumors in 2007 that Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, a Pakistani militant group, is assisting Osama bin Laden with logistics in helping him hide somewhere inside Pakistan. Harkat will later be linked to the courier who lives with bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout until the US raid that kills bin Laden in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The group also has long-standing ties to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Keller had worked for the CIA in Pakistan in 2006. By 2011, he will have retired from the CIA and will tell his account about these rumors to the New York Times. Another US intelligence official will note that members of Harkat may have helped bin Laden without being aware who exactly they were helping or where he was hiding. It is unclear if the CIA investigates possible links between Harkat and bin Laden at this time, or later. (Gall, Shah, and Schmitt 6/23/2011)
A 2008 Justice Department report reveals that in January 2007, the CIA prevents Justice Department investigators from questioning al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, who is being held at the Guantanamo prison. The Justice Department will say the CIA’s obstruction was “unwarranted” and “hampered” an investigation by the department’s Office of Inspector General into the FBI’s knowledge of abuse by CIA and Defense Department interrogators. The CIA’s acting general counsel John Rizzo refused to grant access to Zubaida, claiming that he “could make false allegations against CIA employees.” By contrast, Defense Department officials grant the same investigators access to other Guantanamo detainees also allegedly subjected to torture. After Zubaida was captured in early 2002, the CIA subjected him to harsh torture techniques, including waterboarding (see Mid-May 2002 and After). (Isikoff and Hosenball 5/20/2008)
CIA officer Richard Blee, who headed Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, at the time of the 9/11 attacks (see August 22-September 10, 2001), is considered for the position of chief of station in Baghdad, one of the CIA’s largest stations. (Silverstein 1/28/2007) However, he does not get the position. (Silverstein 2/9/2007) The reasons for him not getting the job are apparently that he is seen as a “bad fit,” and is closely associated with detainee abuse and renditions, in particular that of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In addition, he is said to have a poor relationship with the military, in particular the Special Operations community. An unnamed former official calls Blee a “smart guy,” but says, “He’s the last guy you want running a tense place like the station in Baghdad, because he creates a lot of tension himself.” (Silverstein 1/28/2007) Shortly before mid-May 2003, Blee had been loaned to the FBI, where he had a senior position, but his career history after that is unknown. (Gerth 5/15/2003)
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), a German daily newspaper, accuses the CIA of being the source of sophisticated, almost perfect, counterfeit US bills called “super-notes” or “super-dollars.” FAZ claims that the CIA prints the bills in a secret facility close to Washington, DC. The US government has long accused North Korea of being the source of the “super-notes,” but this claim remains unproven and disputed by some. (Bender 1/7/2007) In early 2008, McClatchy Newspapers will publish a similar article. It will note that the Secret Service has presented no actual evidence that the North Koreans are behind the notes, and witnesses making that claim have been discredited. The State Department has stopped accusing North Korea of making the notes. In May 2007, the Swiss federal police conclude an investigation and decide it is unlikely the North Koreans are behind the notes, though they do not know just who is. Remarkably, the super-notes have gone through at least 19 different versions, each corresponding to a tiny change in US engraving plates. Thomas Ferguson, former director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, says the super-notes appear to have been made by someone with access to some government’s printing equipment. Klaus Bender, the author of a book on the subject, “claims that the super-notes are of such high quality and are updated so frequently that they could be produced only by a US government agency such as the CIA.” The article will note that the CIA counterfeited the Soviet Union’s currency during the Cold War, and “Making limited quantities of sophisticated counterfeit notes also could help intelligence and law enforcement agencies follow payments or illicit activities or track the movement of funds among unsavory regimes, terrorist groups, and others.” (Hall 1/10/2008)
The CIA continues to fight an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit demanding that it turn over three key memos authorizing the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists at secret overseas “black sites” (see November 10, 2006). Court documents filed by the agency cite national security concerns for keeping the documents hidden from public scrutiny. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “The CIA’s declaration uses national security as a pretext for withholding evidence that high-level government officials in all likelihood authorized abusive techniques that amount to torture. This declaration is especially disturbing because it suggests that unlawful interrogation techniques cleared by the Justice Department for use by the CIA still remain in effect. The American public has a right to know how the government is treating its prisoners.” One document is a lengthy presidential order described by the CIA as a “14-page memorandum dated 17 September 2001 from President Bush to the director of the CIA pertaining to the CIA’s authorization to detain terrorists” (see September 17, 2001). Twelve of the 14 pages are “a notification memorandum” from the president to the National Security Council regarding a “clandestine intelligence activity.” ACLU officials say this statement “raises questions regarding the extent to which Condoleezza Rice was involved in establishing the CIA detention program as national security adviser.” The CIA declares in the brief that the presidential document is so “Top Secret” that NSC officials created a “special access program” governing access to it. The brief states that “the name of the special access program is itself classified SECRET,” meaning that the CIA believes that the disclosure of the program’s name “could be expected to result in serious danger to the nation’s security.” The other two documents are, respectively, an August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo “advising the CIA regarding interrogation methods it may use against al-Qaeda members” (see August 1, 2002), and an apparent “draft” version of the August 1 memo prepared for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, the then-head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The draft memo apparently contends that physical abuse only equates to torture under US law if it inflicts pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The memo was later rescinded (see December 2003-June 2004). The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “Through these memos, the president and Office of Legal Counsel created a legal framework that was specifically intended to allow the CIA to violate both US and international law. While national security sometimes requires secrecy, it is increasingly clear that these documents are being kept secret not for national security reasons but for political ones.” (American Civil Liberties Union 1/10/2007)
Former CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson experiences strongly mixed feelings about the information revealed during the trial of former White House official Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007). Later in 2007, she will write that during the trial, she is disturbed by the testimony of “some of the so-called premier journalists in the country” (see January 30-31, 2007 and January 31, 2007). Their testimony “showed how eagerly they accept spoonfed information from official sources. They appeared to make little effort to corroborate information or seek out other sources at the working levels who might have given them a different story. The trial did not show American journalism at its finest hour.” Of the White House officials who either testify or are subjects of testimony, Plame Wilson will write that she is shocked to see “just how recklessly senior government officials who should have known better, who should have been much more diligent in protecting me and every CIA officer, tossed around my name with those who had no need to know (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, Before July 14, 2003, and July 14, 2003). All of these officials were fully aware that I worked at the CIA, and while they might have been unclear as to where exactly I worked there, the fact that it was the CIA should have raised a big red flag. All of the officials involved in the leak of my name signed oaths when they joined the government to protect national security secrets. They knew that the CIA goes to great lengths, and at significant taxpayers’ expense, to devise creative ‘covers’ for its employees.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 286)
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stuns Senate Judiciary Committee questioners when he says that the fundamental right of habeas corpus, the right for an accused person to go to court and challenge his or her imprisonment, is not protected by the Constitution. Gonzales, in response to questions by Arlen Specter (R-PA), says: “The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas.… There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There’s a prohibition against taking it away.” Specter is incredulous, asking how the Constitution could bar the suspension of a right that didn’t exist—a right, he notes, that was first recognized in medieval England as protection against the king’s power to send subjects to royal dungeons. Gonzales does say that habeas corpus is “one of our most cherished rights,” and admits that Congress has protected that right. But Gonzales refuses to acknowledge that the Constitution itself protects the right. If the Constitution does not, then Congress would be able to limit or nullify habeas corpus rights if it so chooses. Congress has not passed such an all-encompassing law yet, but it has passed a law, the Military Commissions Act, that strips the courts of any authority to hear habeas corpus suits filed by “enemy combatants.”
Experts Fear Government Encroachment on Civil Liberties - But constitutional experts on both the left and the right say that Gonzales’s position implies a far broader power. Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor who has frequently criticized the Bush administration, says: “This is the key protection that people have if they’re held in violation of the law. If there’s no habeas corpus, and if the government wants to pick you or me off the street and hold us indefinitely, how do we get our release?” Former Reagan Justice Department official Douglas Kmiec agrees. If Gonzales’s view prevails, Kmiec says, “one of the basic protections of human liberty against the powers of the state would be embarrassingly absent from our constitutional system.” A Justice Department spokesman says that Gonzales is only noting the absence of a specific constitutional guarantee for habeas corpus, and acknowledges that the Supreme Court has declared “the Constitution protects [habeas corpus] as it existed at common law” in England. These rights, the spokesman says, do not apply to foreigners held as enemy combatants. (Egelko 1/24/2007)
Habeas Protected in Constitution - The right of habeas corpus is clear in Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the Constitution: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” (Think Progress 1/19/2007)
Expansion of Presidential Powers - Former Reagan Justice Department attorney Bruce Fein says that Gonzales’s stance on habeas corpus is an underpinning of the Bush administration’s attempt to advocate the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. Gonzales’s statements contain a message: “Congress doesn’t have to let [judges] decide national security matters. It’s part of an attempt to create the idea that during conflicts, the three branches of government collapse into one, and it is the president.” (Egelko 1/24/2007)
Former CIA official Robert Grenier testifies in the Lewis Libby perjury trial. He tells the jury that he received a telephone call from Libby on June 11, 2003, asking about the Niger trip made by former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007; CBS News 1/25/2007; Apuzzo 1/25/2007; MSNBC 2/21/2007; BBC 7/3/2007) Grenier was the CIA’s “Iraq Mission Manager,” a new position created by then-Director George Tenet. His job was to coordinate the CIA’s disparate efforts on Iraq. As part of his job, he often attended Deputies Committee meetings, where he met Libby. He worked on a regular basis with Libby as part of his position. (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007)
Contradicts Libby's Claims - Grenier’s testimony directly contradicts Libby’s claim that he first learned of then-CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC bureau chief Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Grenier says he quickly surmised that Libby was attempting to compile information on Wilson in order to discredit him (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003). Grenier testifies that he knew nothing of Wilson’s Niger trip before Libby’s request, and to his surprise at being contacted by Libby to discuss Wilson. “It was pretty clear he wanted answers,” Grenier says. “It was unusual for him to call in the first place.… He was serious.” Grenier testifies that after his first meeting with Libby, Libby pulled him out of a meeting with Tenet to find out more about Wilson. “Someone came to the door and beckoned me out,” Grenier recalls. “I don’t think I’ve ever been pulled out a meeting with the director before.” Grenier testifies that he spoke to someone in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), who informed him of the trip and of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. (At the time, Plame Wilson worked in CPD.) The CPD person did not say Plame Wilson’s name directly, but identified her as “Wilson’s wife.” Grenier told Libby that the CIA had sanctioned Wilson’s trip to Niger, and that Wilson’s wife was involved in the decision; Grenier says that the information seemed to please Libby (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Grenier also testifies that Libby discussed the feasibility of leaking the information about Wilson and his wife to the press, and says that after talking with CIA press liaison Bill Harlow, he told Libby, “We can work something out.” Libby told Grenier that Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, would coordinate the effort with Harlow and the CIA public affairs office (see 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003); Libby had Martin speak with Harlow about the effort, a choice Grenier testifies he found “surprising.” He adds that when he read the newspaper column outing Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), he deduced that the information had come from someone in the White House. (Thomas and Ryan 1/24/2007; Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007; Schulman 1/25/2007; Leonnig and Goldstein 1/25/2007) Grenier testifies that after informing Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity, he “felt guilty very briefly” about revealing personnel information that is usually closely held by the CIA. (Willing 1/24/2007) According to a transcript taken by court observer and progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, Grenier says: “I didn’t know her name, so I didn’t give her name, but by saying Joe Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA, I was revealing the identity of a CIA officer. It wasn’t absolutely necessary, that is information that we guard pretty closely, and if we don’t have to say it, we don’t.” (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007)
Attacking Grenier's Memory - But Grenier’s testimony differs somewhat from his earlier statements to the FBI and to Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury (see December 10, 2003). Grenier said in earlier statements that he wasn’t sure if Plame Wilson’s name had come up in the conversations with Libby. It was only later, he testifies, that he developed what he calls “a growing conviction” that he’d mentioned “Wilson’s wife” to Libby. An attorney for Libby, William Jeffress, sharply questions Grenier on the inconsistencies in his story, forcing the agent to admit at one point that “my recollection of a lot of conversations from that time are pretty vague.” Grenier stays with his current claims, saying that he’d been “conservative” when he first talked to investigators, not wanting to cast “suspicion on Mr. Libby” unnecessarily. (Thomas and Ryan 1/24/2007; Schulman 1/25/2007; Leonnig and Goldstein 1/25/2007) Grenier testifies that when talking to the FBI, he couldn’t be completely sure he had disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity to Libby (see December 10, 2003), but when testifying before the grand jury, he testified that he definitely had given Libby that information. Jeffress says, “You told the FBI that you did not discuss Valerie Wilson with Mr. Libby.” Grenier replies: “I told them I really didn’t recall clearly whether I had said so or not. I think there’s some confusion, frankly, in this report from the FBI.” Grenier continues: “My memory of what I said in that meeting, I believe that that I conveyed in that meeting, and I want to caution, it’s hard for me to parse out what I said in what meeting and what time, but what I believe I reported to the FBI initially was that in my conversation, my second conversation, with Mr. Libby on June 11, I couldn’t recall clearly whether I told him that Mr. Wilson’s wife was working in the unit that dispatched him to Niger. I may have, but I didn’t have a clear recollection.” Jeffress reminds Grenier that five weeks had passed between his FBI appearance and his testimony before the grand jury, and asks, “In those five weeks, you didn’t remember having told Mr. Libby about Mr. Wilson’s wife?” Grenier replies, “I did not remember.” Jeffress presses: “When you testified before the grand jury, did you tell the grand jury that you had no clear recollection of having told Mr. Libby anything about Mr. Wilson’s wife, although it is possible [you] may have done so?” Grenier replies that he had tried to give the most conservative answer. However, when he appeared before the grand jury a second time, in 2005 (see July 29, 2005), he was read his original testimony. He was startled, Grenier says. “I remembered it and thought that I had always remembered it,” he testifies. “I was saying what I believed to be true at the time and subsequently had a different recollection.” Jeffress asks: “Do you find that your memory gets better the farther away you are in time? Does your memory improve with time?” Grenier laughs and answers, “Not in all cases, no.” Grenier now states that he is sure he told Libby about Wilson’s wife being a CIA official, but is not sure he told Libby her name. (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007; York 1/25/2007; Shane 2/4/2007)
Refusing to Pin Blame on CIA - Grenier tells Jeffress that he is not entirely sure the FBI interviewer got his responses correct. According to Wheeler’s transcript, Grenier testifies: “I would like to state, I have the greatest respect for the FBI, but the FBI agent may not have gotten what I said exactly right. What is important is that my belief that the WH [White House] was throwing blame on the CIA—not for Wilson’s trip—but for not having provided proper warning to the WH on this issue of Iraq’s attempt to buy nukes.” Wheeler writes that in her estimation, Jeffress is attempting to blame the CIA for the Bush administration’s faulty and misleading claims about Iraq’s WMDs, an attempt in which Grenier refuses to participate. (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007)
CIA officer Craig Schmall, who regularly briefed both Lewis Libby and his former boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, testifies that Libby had spoken to him about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s Niger trip on June 14, 2003 (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003). (MSNBC 2/21/2007; BBC 7/3/2007)
Libby Quizzed Schmall about Wilson Trip - Schmall is now a manager in the Directorate of Intelligence. In 2003, he was the CIA’s assigned briefer for Libby and later Cheney. He recalls that at the June 14 briefing, Libby was “annoyed” that someone at the CIA had apparently discussed sensitive issues with a reporter, specifically regarding allegations that Cheney was pressuring CIA officials to produce slanted intelligence “proving” Iraq harbored WMDs. He then asked Schmall about Wilson’s Niger trip. Libby wanted to know why someone told Wilson that the Office of the Vice President had pushed for his trip to Niger. (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007)
'Grave Danger' of Leaking CIA Official's Identity - Schmall testifies that when he read Robert Novak’s column outing Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), he expressed his concerns to both Cheney and Libby. “I thought there was a grave danger leaking the name of a CIA officer,” Schmall says he told the two. “Foreign intelligence services where she served now have the opportunity to investigate everyone whom she had come in contact with. They could be arrested, tortured, or killed.” (Waas 2/15/2007)
Jury Cannot Consider Plame Wilson's CIA Status - Before the defense cross-examines Schmall, Judge Reggie Walton instructs the jury that it will not receive evidence of Plame Wilson’s CIA status—i.e. whether or not she was a covert official—and whether her outing posed a real risk to national security. According to a transcript by court observer and progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, Walton says: “Her actual status, or damage, are totally irrelevant to your assessment of defendant’s guilt or innocence. You may not speculate or guess about them. You may consider what Mr. Libby believed about her status.” (Marcy Wheeler 1/24/2007)
Defense Impugns Schmall's Memory - Defense lawyer John Cline reads item after item from the 27 points in a morning briefing prepared for Libby by Schmall; the CIA briefer cannot recall any of the items. “This was very important stuff,” Cline observes. The Associated Press will later write, “Cline wants to make the point that if Schmall cannot remember the details of the briefing—which included more than two dozen potential terrorist threats or intelligence issues—it is plausible Libby forgot about it, too.” Cline also establishes that Schmall is not clear about who from the prosecution was present during his 2004 discussion with FBI interviewers (see April 22, 2004). (Apuzzo 1/25/2007; Marcy Wheeler 1/25/2007; Shane 2/4/2007)
Judge: 'Suicide' if Libby Fails to Testify - The defense’s cross-examination of Schmall spills over into the morning of January 25. Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald performs a brief redirect of Schmall, attempting to establish his reliable memory. The defense successfully objects to Fitzgerald’s line of questionining; Wheeler speculates that Fitzgerald is trying to lead Schmall too strongly. Lawyers for both sides engage in a lengthy sidebar over whether the defense can use Schmall as part of its “memory defense” strategy (see January 31, 2006) without actually putting Libby on the stand; Walton says the defense will commit “suicide” if Libby fails to testify (see January 24, 2007). Walton instructs the jury that Cline’s questions are not evidence, they are only to consider Schmall’s answers. (Marcy Wheeler 1/25/2007)
On the Washington Post’s radio broadcast, Post columnist Richard Cohen falsely claims that former ambassador and war critic Joseph Wilson claimed in a 2003 op-ed (see July 6, 2003) that Vice President Dick Cheney sent him to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson actually wrote that CIA officials sent him to Niger to investigate the possibility that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that country, that “Cheney’s office had questions about” the charges (see (February 13, 2002)), and the CIA wanted to “provide a response to the vice president’s office” (see March 5, 2002). After citing this falsehood, Cohen calls the case against former White House official Lewis Libby, accused of committing perjury in his denials of involvement in the Valerie Plame Wilson CIA identity leak (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), a “silly case.” All the White House was trying to do, Cohen states, was to “get their story out” after Wilson had “misrepresented the genesis of his trip to Africa” (see October 1, 2003). Cohen also repeats the frequently debunked notion that it was Wilson’s wife who sent him to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). Cohen says he “almost feel[s] sorry” for Cheney, who by having Plame Wilson outed was “just [Cheney] trying to get his story out in the conventional Washington way.” Cohen also repeats the falsehood that many people knew Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see September 29, 2003 and September 30, 2003) and her covert status was “not a tightly held secret” (see Before July 14, 2003, July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). (Media Matters 1/31/2007)
Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald enters a copy of New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s July 13, 2003 op-ed, “National House of Waffles,” into evidence in the Lewis Libby trial. The copy is heavily marked with notes from Libby. Fitzgerald blacked out most of the column, not because of security concerns, but to focus the jury’s attention on the section at the bottom. He directs the jury’s attention to the section that reads: “When the president attributed the information about Iraq trying to get Niger yellowcake to British intelligence (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003), it was a Clintonian bit of flim-flam. Americans did not know what top Bush officials knew: that this ‘evidence’ could not be attributed to American intelligence because the CIA had already debunked it. [Condoleezza] Rice did not throw out the line, even though the CIA had warned her office that it was sketchy. Clearly, a higher power wanted it in. And that had to be Dick Cheney’s office. Joseph Wilson, former US ambassador to Gabon, said he was asked to go to Niger to answer some questions from the vice president’s office about that episode and reported back that it was highly doubtful” (see July 6, 2003). Libby’s notes read in part, “not us” and “not to us” in response to Dowd’s suggestions that the CIA had debunked the evidence pointing to an Iraqi attempt to obtain Nigerien uranium. (National Public Radio 3/7/2007; Office of the Special Prosecutor 5/2007 )
Iran’s former Deputy Minister of Defense, General Ali Reza Asgari, defects during a visit to Turkey. (Porter 12/17/2007) According to former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, Asgari is a longtime Western intelligence agent, and is immediately debriefed by Turkish and US intelligence officials. Asgari will be given a new identity; his current whereabouts are unknown to the public. (MacAskill 12/8/2007)
History and Connections - Asgari held the Defense Ministry position from 1997 through 2005, under the regime of reformist Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, and, according to US media reports, was providing the US with intelligence during that time period. (Porter 12/17/2007) He is a former intelligence officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and is believed to have considerable knowledge about several IRGC-ordered terrorist attacks, including the October 1983 bombing of a US Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983) and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996). He has close ties to Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, and presumably can tell US intelligence about Hezbollah’s military command structure, its overseas networks, and perhaps its cells inside the US. (Baer 3/22/2007)
Source for National Intelligence Estimate - Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that Asgari is a “key” source for the intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran’s nuclear program, currently in development (see August 2, 2005). Asgari’s information helps the intelligence community determine that Iran had ceased work on its nuclear program in 2003. According to Giraldi, Asgari had been recruited by Turkish intelligence in 2003, and defected after learning that Iranian intelligence had become suspicious of him. Asgari defects with “bags of documents,” presumably including information about Iran’s nuclear program. Asgari will provide information crucial to the US’s ability to monitor sensitive communications among senior Iranian military officials (see July 2007), which helps corroborate the finding that Iran had indeed ceased research into nuclear weapons development. Former National Security Council official Gary Sick will say that Asgari’s knowledge of the Iranian military is critical in determining what is and is not important among the communications intercepts. “There are zillions of pieces of evidence, and what you look for is defined by what you know,” Sick will say. “What Asgari gave them was a new way of looking at the evidence.” It is highly likely that President Bush will be made aware of Asgari’s information soon after Asgari’s debriefing, though the White House will claim that Bush knew nothing of the new intelligence on Iran until August 2007 (see December 3-4, 2007). (Porter 12/17/2007)
Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar) is released in Egypt. He was kidnapped by the CIA in Milan, Italy, in 2003 and taken to Egypt, where he was imprisoned. This sparked a confrontation between the CIA and Italian anti-terrorist authorities, who had been investigating him before he was kidnapped (see Noon February 17, 2003). Nasr, who filed an action for unlawful detention against Egypt’s Interior Ministry, is released in Alexandria after a State Security Court declares his detention “unfounded.” Nasr will apparently remain in Egypt and not return to Italy, where a warrant for his arrest was issued on terrorism counts (see April 2005). (Nasrawi 2/12/2007)
The International Committee of the Red Cross sends its report on the detention and torture of 14 detainees formerly in CIA custody (see October 6 - December 14, 2006) to the CIA’s acting general counsel, John Rizzo. The report is never intended to be made public, but it is documented in an article and subsequent book by Mark Danner (see March 15, 2009). (Danner 3/15/2009)
An Italian judge rules that there is enough evidence to try thirty-five people in the affair of kidnapped imam Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr (a.k.a. Abu Omar). Nasr was kidnapped by the CIA, with the knowledge of the Italian military intelligence service Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (SISMI), in Milan in 2003 (see Noon February 17, 2003). Nasr, a former CIA asset (see August 27, 1995 and Shortly After), was then taken to Egypt, where he says he was tortured (see April-May 2004). The 26 Americans that are indicted can be tried in absentia in Italy and include Robert Seldon Lady, former chief of the CIA’s substation in Milan, the former CIA station chief in Rome, and an officer from the US air base in Aviano, near Venice. The nine Italians include former SISMI head Nicolo Pollari, but three of them are only charged with complicity in the kidnapping, not the kidnapping itself. However, none of the Americans are in Italy at this time, and Italy has not asked for them to be extradited. (Barry 1/26/2007; CNN 2/16/2007)
Victoria Toensing, a former deputy assistant attorney general in the Reagan administration, writes an op-ed for the Washington Post structured to imitate a legal indictment. Toensing asks if anyone can explain “why Scooter Libby is the only person on trial in the Valerie Plame [Wilson] leak investigation?” (The Washington Post, which publishes the op-ed, does not disclose Toensing’s own ties to Libby’s defense—see March 23, 2005. (Toensing 2/18/2007) Neither does it disclose the longtime personal relationship between Toensing, her husband Joseph DiGenova, and columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson—see July 14, 2003. (Wilson 2007, pp. 292) Neither does it disclose Toensing’s frequent criticisms of the investigation, including her position that the CIA and/or Joseph Wilson is responsible for outing Plame Wilson, and her belief that the entire trial is invalid (see November 2-9, 2005, November 3, 2005, November 7, 2005, and September 15, 2006).) Toensing dismisses the arguments laid out by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, lied to grand jurors (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) in order to keep secret a White House conspiracy to besmirch the reputation of White House critic Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003). Toensing calls the Libby indictment a “he said, she said” case based on conflicting testimony from other people. She proceeds to lay out her own “indictments”:
Patrick Fitzgerald - for “ignoring the fact that there was no basis for a criminal investigation from the day he was appointed,” for “handling some witnesses with kid gloves and banging on others with a mallet,” for “engaging in past contretemps with certain individuals that might have influenced his pursuit of their liberty, and with misleading the public in a news conference because… well, just because.” Toensing argues that Fitzgerald should have known from the outset that Plame Wilson was never a covert agent, and if he didn’t, he could have merely asked the CIA. Toensing writes, “The law prohibiting disclosure of a covert agent’s identity requires that the person have a foreign assignment at the time or have had one within five years of the disclosure, that the government be taking affirmative steps to conceal the government relationship, and for the discloser to have actual knowledge of the covert status.” Toensing is grossly in error about Plame Wilson’s covert status (see Fall 1992 - 1996, Late 1990s-2001 and Possibly After, April 22, 1999, (July 11, 2003), Before July 14, 2003, July 22, 2003, July 30, 2003, September 30, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, January 9, 2006, February 13, 2006, and September 6, 2006). She also insinuates that Fitzgerald has two conflicts of interest: one in prosecuting Libby, as Fitzgerald investigated the Clinton-era pardon of financier Marc Rich, who was represented by Libby, and another in moving to jail reporter Judith Miller for refusing to provide evidence (see July 6, 2005) because Fitzgerald had subpoenaed Miller’s phone records for another, unrelated prosecution. Toensing questions Fitzgerald’s grant of immunity to former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see January 29, 2007), and complains that Fitzgerald allowed NBC News bureau chief Tim Russert to be interviewed with his lawyer present (see August 7, 2004), while columnist Robert Novak “was forced to testify before the grand jury without counsel present.” She concludes by accusing Fitzgerald of “violating prosecutorial ethics by discussing facts outside the indictment during his Oct. 28, 2005, news conference” (see October 28, 2005).
The CIA - “for making a boilerplate criminal referral to cover its derriere.” The Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA), which Toensing helped negotiate in 1982, was never violated, she asserts, because Plame Wilson was never a covert agent. Instead of handling the issue internally, Toensing writes, the CIA passed the responsibility to the Justice Department by sending “a boiler-plate referral regarding a classified leak and not one addressing the elements of a covert officer’s disclosure.”
Joseph Wilson - for “misleading the public about how he was sent to Niger, about the thrust of his March 2003 oral report of that trip, and about his wife’s CIA status, perhaps for the purpose of getting book and movie contracts.” Toensing writes that Wilson appeared on Meet the Press the same day as his op-ed was published in the New York Times, and told host Andrea Mitchell, “The Office of the Vice President, I am absolutely convinced, received a very specific response to the question it asked and that response was based upon my trip there.” Toensing accepts Cheney’s denial of any involvement in Wilson’s trip and his denial that he was ever briefed on Wilson’s findings. Toensing argues that Wilson lied when he told other reporters that he was sent to Niger because of his “specific skill set” and his connections in the region (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and not because his wife sent him (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). Toensing uses portions of the Senate Intelligence Committee report to bolster her claim (see June 11, 2003 and July 9, 2004). She also challenges Wilson’s assertions that his oral report on his trip was not classified (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002), March 8, 2002, and March 5, 2002). And she accuses Wilson of “play[ing] coy” about his wife’s CIA status.
The Media - for “hypocrisy in asserting that criminal law was applicable to this ‘leak’ and with misreporting facts to wage a political attack on an increasingly unpopular White House.” Major newspapers have “highfalutin’, well-paid” lawyers who should have known better than to let their clients call for special investigations into the Plame Wilson leak. The media has consistently “display[ed] their prejudice in this case.”
Ari Fleischer - “because his testimony about conversations differs from reporters’ testimony, just as Libby’s does.” Fleischer testified under oath that he revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to two reporters, Time’s John Dickerson and NBC’s David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). Dickerson denies it and Gregory refuses to comment. Fleischer testified he did not tell the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus about Plame Wilson’s identity, contradicting Pincus’s own testimony that Fleischer did, indeed, ask repeatedly about the Wilsons (see January 29, 2007 and February 12, 2007). Because Fleischer “contradicted Pincus as materially as Libby contradicted Russert or Time’s Matthew Cooper,” he should be indicted as well. Instead, Fitzgerald gave Fleischer immunity in return for his testimony (see February 13, 2004). In that case, Toensing argues, Fitzgerald should indict Pincus insamuch as his testimony differs from Fleischer’s.
Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage - for not publicly revealing that he was perhaps the first to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see June 13, 2003 and July 8, 2003). Armitage also discussed his FBI interview with his then-subordinate, Marc Grossman, the night before Grossman was due to meet with FBI investigators (see June 10, 2003).
The US Justice Department - for “abdicating its legal and professional responsibility by passing the investigation off to a special counsel out of personal pique and reasons of ambition.” Both then-Attorney General John Ashcroft and his deputy, James Comey, could have asked the CIA to confirm Plame Wilson’s covert status, Toensing writes. She also insinuates that Comey acted improperly in giving the investigation to Fitzgerald, “a former colleague and one of his best friends.” (Toensing 2/18/2007)
Refutation - Toensing’s arguments are refuted by former CIA agent Larry Johnson, who accuses Toensing of attempted jury tampering (see February 18, 2007).
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