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Posted by on Apr 25, 2009 in Politics | 37 comments

Porter Goss’s Dishonest Attack on Congress

It’s infuriating, but it’s entertaining, to watch the same people who spent the better part of the last eight years using lies, secrecy, deception, political maneuvering, and outright intimidation to run a global torture regime on foreign alleged terrorists, alongside a domestic illegal surveillance program on U.S. citizens, pen op-eds in major media outlets attacking Congress for not doing enough to stop them, now that their lawlessness has been publicly revealed.

Exhibit A: former CIA Director Porter Goss’s overwrought piece in today’s Washington Post:

Since leaving my post as CIA director almost three years ago, I have remained largely silent on the public stage. I am speaking out now because I feel our government has crossed the red line between properly protecting our national security and trying to gain partisan political advantage. We can’t have a secret intelligence service if we keep giving away all the secrets. Americans have to decide now.

A disturbing epidemic of amnesia seems to be plaguing my former colleagues on Capitol Hill. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, members of the committees charged with overseeing our nation’s intelligence services had no higher priority than stopping al-Qaeda. In the fall of 2002, while I was chairman of the House intelligence committee, senior members of Congress were briefed on the CIA’s “High Value Terrorist Program,” including the development of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and what those techniques were. This was not a one-time briefing but an ongoing subject with lots of back and forth between those members and the briefers.

Today, I am slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed; or that specific techniques such as “waterboarding” were never mentioned. It must be hard for most Americans of common sense to imagine how a member of Congress can forget being told about the interrogations of Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed. In that case, though, perhaps it is not amnesia but political expedience.

Let me be clear. It is my recollection that:

– The chairs and the ranking minority members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, known as the Gang of Four, were briefed that the CIA was holding and interrogating high-value terrorists.

– We understood what the CIA was doing.

– We gave the CIA our bipartisan support.

– We gave the CIA funding to carry out its activities.

– On a bipartisan basis, we asked if the CIA needed more support from Congress to carry out its mission against al-Qaeda.

I do not recall a single objection from my colleagues. They did not vote to stop authorizing CIA funding. And for those who now reveal filed “memorandums for the record” suggesting concern, real concern should have been expressed immediately — to the committee chairs, the briefers, the House speaker or minority leader, the CIA director or the president’s national security adviser — and not quietly filed away in case the day came when the political winds shifted. And shifted they have.

Marcy Wheeler deals with the creative linguistics (emphasis in original):

… look carefully at Goss’ language describing what they were briefed on.

In the fall of 2002, while I was chairman of the House intelligence committee, senior members of Congress were briefed on the CIA’s “High Value Terrorist Program,” including the development of “enhanced interrogation techniques” and what those techniques were.

[snip]

Today, I am slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed; or that specific techniques such as “waterboarding” were never mentioned.

Goss explains that the Gang of Four was briefed on “the development” of the torture program and “what those techniques were.” He implies strongly–but does not say it directly–that “waterboarding” was mentioned specifically. And he complains that the attendees should have understood that “the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed.”

Note what Pelosi has said:

“In that or any other briefing…we were not, and I repeat, were not told that waterboarding or any of these other enhanced interrogation techniques were used,” said Pelosi. “What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel…opinions that they could be used, but not that they would.”

[snip]

“Further to the point was that if and when they would be used, they would brief Congress at that time,” said Pelosi. “I know that there’s some different interpretations coming out of that meeting. My colleague, the chairman of the [intelligence] committee, has said, well if they say that it’s legal you have to know they’re going to use it. Well, his experience is that he was a member of the CIA and later went on to head the CIA. Maybe his experience is that they’ll tell you one thing but may mean something else.”

Pelosi is referring to then-GOP Rep. Porter Goss. “My experience was they did not tell us they were using that, flat out. And any, any contention to the contrary is simply not true,” she said.

Porter Goss says Pelosi should have known “the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed.” But he doesn’t say she should have known “the techniques on which they were briefed had already been employed.” Which is a critical part of her complaint–that CIA did not tell Congress that waterboarding and other techniques “were used” … that “they were using that.” This briefing is always described as occuring in “fall 2002.” Even interpreting “fall” broadly to include all of September, that means the briefing took place after they had already waterboarded Abu Zubaydah 83 times in a month.

So whether or not Pelosi is arguing “waterboarding” was mentioned or not, even Goss appears to confirm one of Pelosi’s main points. The CIA did not reveal this was already taking place. Even in Goss’ understanding, they revealed only that waterboarding “was to be employed”–in the future.

And about that “memorandums for the record” remark: Which, or whose, memorandums is he referring to?

Jane Hamsher thinks it might be this one written by Jane Harman, in which she urges Scott Muller, then General Counsel at the CIA, not to destroy videotapes of Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation. Here is the last paragraph of that letter:

You discussed the fact that there is videotape of Abu Zubaydah following his capture that will be destroyed after the Inspector General finishes his inquiry.  I would urge the Agency to reconsider that plan.  Even if the videotape does not constitute an official record that must be preserved under the law, the videotape would be the best proof that the written record is accurate, if such record is called into question in the future.  The fact of destruction would reflect badly on the Agency.

And Muller’s response, in its entirety:

Thank you for your letter of 10 February following up on the briefing we gave you and Congressman Goss on 5 February concerning the Central Intelligence Agency’s limited use of the handful of specially approved interrogation techniques we described.  As we informed both you and the leadership of the Intelligence Committees last September, a number of Executive Branch lawyers including lawyers from the Department of Justice participated in the determination that, in the appropriate circumstances, use of these techniques is fully consistent with US law.  While I do not think it appropriate for me to comment on issues that are a matter of policy, much less the nature and extent of Executive Branch policy deliberations, I think it would be fair to assume that policy as well as legal matters have been addressed within the Executive Branch.

So there you go. At least one of the members of Congress who was briefed on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” was alarmed that videotaped evidence might be destroyed, put her concerns in writing, and sent that written record to the top lawyer at the CIA. And that lawyer, Scott Muller, blew her off. And as we all know, the videotapes were destroyed.

In addition to blame-shifting via word play, former DCI Goss also regurgitates the messy porridge about the effectiveness of brutal interrogation tactics and the grave harm done to national security by releasing the torture memos (emphasis mine):

Circuses are not new in Washington, and I can see preparations being made for tents from the Capitol straight down Pennsylvania Avenue. The CIA has been pulled into the center ring before. The result this time will be the same: a hollowed-out service of diminished capabilities. After Sept. 11, the general outcry was, “Why don’t we have better overseas capabilities?” I fear that in the years to come this refrain will be heard again: once a threat — or God forbid, another successful attack — captures our attention and sends the pendulum swinging back. There is only one person who can shut down this dangerous show: President Obama.

Unfortunately, much of the damage to our capabilities has already been done. It is certainly not trust that is fostered when intelligence officers are told one day “I have your back” only to learn a day later that a knife is being held to it. After the events of this week, morale at the CIA has been shaken to its foundation.

We must not forget: Our intelligence allies overseas view our inability to maintain secrecy as a reason to question our worthiness as a partner. These allies have been vital in almost every capture of a terrorist.

The suggestion that we are safer now because information about interrogation techniques is in the public domain conjures up images of unicorns and fairy dust. We have given our enemy invaluable information about the rules by which we operate. The terrorists captured by the CIA perfected the act of beheading innocents using dull knives. Khalid Sheik Mohammed boasted of the tactic of placing explosives high enough in a building to ensure that innocents trapped above would die if they tried to escape through windows. There is simply no comparison between our professionalism and their brutality.

Our enemies do not subscribe to the rules of the Marquis of Queensbury. “Name, rank and serial number” does not apply to non-state actors but is, regrettably, the only question this administration wants us to ask. Instead of taking risks, our intelligence officers will soon resort to wordsmithing cables to headquarters while opportunities to neutralize brutal radicals are lost.

The days of fortress America are gone. We are the world’s superpower. We can sit on our hands or we can become engaged to improve global human conditions. The bottom line is that we cannot succeed unless we have good intelligence. Trading security for partisan political popularity will ensure that our secrets are not secret and that our intelligence is destined to fail us.

Improve global human conditions via simulating death by drowning, hanging people from the ceiling in contorted stress positions, beating them, putting them in pitch black confinement boxes with insects crawling over them, not letting them sleep for 11 days at a stretch, and more, much more?

The CIA’s own inspector general concluded in 2004 that there is “no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any ’specific imminent attacks,’ ” as reported yesterday by McClatchy (emphasis mine):

“It is difficult to quantify with confidence and precision the effectiveness of the program,” Steven G. Bradbury, then the Justice Department’s principal deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in a May 30, 2005, memo to CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, one of four released last week by the Obama administration.

“As the IG Report notes, it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks. And because the CIA has used enhanced techniques sparingly, ‘there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness’,” Bradbury wrote, quoting the IG report.

Nevertheless, Bradbury concluded in his May 2005 memos that the program had been effective, although the still secret reports by Inspector General John Helgerson had been disseminated a full year earlier.

Most of the IG report’s contents are still unknown because the CIA will not declassify it — even though two of the torture memos released last week quote from it extensively:

The New York Times first reported Helgerson’s inspector general’s report in November 2005, but details of its contents have remained secret. A version of the report that the CIA turned over to the ACLU in May 2008 in response to a lawsuit consisted primarily of heavy black lines and notations of sections that had been redacted.

A CIA spokesman said Friday that he knew of no plans to release a more complete version.

Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said the declassification of the Helgerson report is the subject of a court case before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We hope that we’ll be able to negotiate a less redacted version of that report,” Jaffer said, adding that the release of the Justice Department memos has increased pressure for more revelations.

“It’s a crucial document,” he said. “It will shed light on what kind of measures the CIA was using before August 2002? and whether they exceeded limits imposed by the Justice Department lawyers.

Two of the memos declassified last week, however, cite the IG report at least 34 times, often quoting it verbatim. Those citations provide the first glimpse of the spy agency’s inspector general’s analysis of the interrogation program.

And what do those citations tell us?

The Bradbury memos that cite the inspector general’s report reveal that officials at CIA headquarters insisted on the repeated waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner to undergo the technique, even after the interrogators on the scene sought to discontinue the technique.

“According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have information,” Bradbury wrote in his May 30, 2005, memo. “On at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques.

“On that occasion,” Bradbury continued, “although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA Headquarters still believed he was withholding information . . . . At the direction of CIA headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah.”

Bradbury wrote that CIA headquarters dispatched officials to observe that waterboarding session. After that session, “these officials reported that enhanced techniques were no longer needed,” Bradbury wrote, citing the IG report.

Cross-posted from Comments at Left Field.