BloggerÂ Marcy WheelerÂ discusses evidence that the CIA is spying on its overseers in the Senate Intelligence Committee; why CIA torturers are allowed anonymity and freedom from prosecution; the direct connection between the torture program and the NSA’s phone records dragnet; and Obama’s coverup of the torture program’s presidential authorization.
Scott Horton (SH):Â Welcome back to the show Marcy, how are you doing?
Marcy Wheeler(MW):_ Hey good to be back
SH:Â Sorry to keep you on hold there, but man, I felt like saying it, anyway.
There’s so much news to cover on your beat we better get to it and quick.
First of all can you give us the basic synopsis of this McClatchy story coming out in pieces here now about the Dianne Feinstein Senate Intelligence Committee, and their attempted oversight of the CIA on their torture program and the committee staff and the CIA both breaking the law spying on each other, what is going on here?
MW: Emphasis on attempted oversight. In December of 2012 the Committee voted out by narrow margins the report. John McCain voted with the Democrats to release the report. The CIA was supposed to give their response within three months, however they took six months.
They said ‘Oh my gosh you’ve made all these mistakes,’ and either subsequent to that or before that, the committee staffers who had been working in a facility provided by the CIA – they weren’t allowed to work in their own offices, had learned that everything the CIA said in its response to the report was refuted by an internal report -they’re calling it the Panetta report.
The CIA claims it’s not really a report — but that it’s just a synopsis of what the CIA itself said, but one way or another people within the CIA in 2009 had said precisely the same thing that the Senate Intelligence Committee had said – which is that the CIA was lying and that the torture program wasn’t effective- in other words when the CIA last year came back to the Intelligence Committee and said, ‘You’re wrong, you’re wrong, you’re wrong’, the Intelligence community tried to say, ‘But you guys agree with us – in 2009 you agreed with us’, so this is where the accusations start.
As I said, the CIA provided this facility and they, and a contractor spent a bunch of time and money vetting everything that the committee staffers could touch. They’re now claiming that somehow the committee staffers got outside of the documents they were allowed to touch, I’m not sure if that’s true. One way or another in December, some of the Senators started saying, ‘Hey what about this Panetta report from 2009, which shows that you guys actually agree with us?’, and after that the CIA came back to the committee and said, ‘You guys accessed documents you were not supposed to access’, and the committee did the math and said, ‘Wait a second, you guys are spying on us’.
So, the claim of the committee is that the CIA is spying on their overseers, which appears to be true, they had access to, they basically audited the access logs for the network.
SH:Â I’m a little confused, so straighten me out here. The CIA, they basically, they accidentally tipped their hand by saying, ‘Hey you guys have some documents you’re not supposed to have’, or it was the Senate staff who tipped their hand by revealing that they knew things from documents the CIA knew they were not supposed to have? Or does it matter?
MW:Â In one hearing a couple of the Senators said to, I think it was to John Brennan, ‘Hey how come this report from 2009 says what we believe and not what you guys said in your report trying to prevent the publishing of this document’.
SH:Â They said ‘Hey wait a minute you weren’t supposed to have this report at all’, that’s the CIA’s position – that the committee had no right to the Panetta report?
MW:Â Right and they’re saying things like ‘It post dated the end date of the study’, which was supposed to be 2006,even though torture continued after that. I don’t know what they’re claiming as to how the Intelligence Committee accessed the report because these documents were so heavily vetted, to great expense to you and me I might add.
As a delaying tactic it’s remarkable that they’re even claiming that the Intelligence Committee got the documents, but they are. And so everything has been referred to the DOJ- to the FBI for investigation.
SH:Â Oh well, then Eric Holder is going to take good care of it then right?
MW: Well I made the point, this is very reminiscent of several years ago- the people defending the actually dangerous detainees at Guantanamo – the ones who had been tortured, had done what is called the John Adams project, and they had gone via their own means and found the identity of the people who had tortured their clients. And that’s legitimate, in a death penalty trial you’re allowed to say, ‘Hey, these people were tortured’, or even to say, ‘This evidence came via X, Y, and Z torture administered by … Deuce Martinez’.
Deuce Martinez wasn’t a torturer, he was an interrogator, but he was present at the time. In a very similar move to what they’re doing now, the DOJ said, we don’t think this needs to be investigated. They went to John Brennan who was then in The White House – and said ‘It has to be investigated, oh my gosh, the identities of our torturers is sacrosanct’. The people who were tortured especially are not allowed to know the identity of the people who tortured them. Patrick Fitzgerald did an investigation and now John Kiriakou is sitting in jail.
He is in jail for, by the way, sharing identities that never got published. I mean sharing identities; the most dangerous thing that he is in jail for is sharing the identity of one of the torturers that only got published in a classified top-secret court filing done by lawyers with top-secret clearance. It was never made public. So you or I, don’t know this torturers name, it’s not public. But it was allowed to be in a court document and as a result, John Kiriakou is in jail right now.
SH:Â For people who aren’t up to their eyebrows in this, John Kiriakou is the only CIA officer of any description who has been held to account for the torture program at all. You’re saying it’s because he told the name of a torturer, not that he tortured someone. He told the name of a torturer to a lawyer who put it in classified court document?
MW: There is one other person”¦.
MW:Â It never became public. He is in jail. The torturers are not in jail. The lawyers can’t even discuss the torturers at their client hearings, at their client’s trials. The point being that it was effective that time, by investigating the people who are trying to investigate the torturers and now the CIA got their effect, which is that their torturers won’t be discussed at these trials.
It feels to me, that all of a sudden we’re no longer asking why the CIA is preventing the release of a report which we know says:
A – that the torture was not effective
B – the CIA lied to just about everyone. They lied to Congress, they lied to DOJ, they lied to The White House, about their torture program.
We’re no longer having that discussion. We’re no longer saying that this torture report needs to be released now because we have created this side-show of the Intelligence Committee and the CIA investigating each other and syping on each other and so on …
In point of fact, this is the oversight committee. The CIA is arguing that they have a legal basis to hide the fact that the CIA agreed, internally agreed at least to some degree, that their torture is not effective and that, they may have even agreed that they lied to Congress. I can show that they lied to Congress. The evidence in the public record makes that very clear.
SH: But legally speaking that is ridiculous right? They don’t have any right to keep secrets from Dianne Feinstein when she is issuing subpoenas on documents or information from them. That’s exactly her role, and it is their role to say ‘Yes ma’am’. What am I missing?
MW: You’re missing that when these conversations happen they say, ‘Let’s make an agreement’, and then they say that this violated the terms of that agreement. If nothing else it demonstrates how ridiculous our oversight system is.
Because here you have the people who are supposed to be overseeing, who can make this case to avoid being overseen, and it is being treated as credible which, you know, you or I are not treating it that way.
The fact is they’re trying to stall this torture report that shows that the torture didn’t work and that they lied about it not working.
And they lied about a bunch more too.
SH: Even then though, we have to be careful how we define ‘work’ though, because ‘work’ means in the way that the public would imagine it is meant to work – to prevent imminent terrorist attacks, but it does work perfectly when you’re trying to torture someone in to pretending that Saddaam Hussein taught him and his Al Qaeda buddies how to make chemical weapons.
MW: It works like a charm if you’re trying to get detainees to say what you want them to. That I think is the big secret, and I think that is the reason why ultimately Obama is offering a fair amount of protection to the CIA because the executive branch and the CIA like having this make-up-lies cover, and they protect each other that way. So I think, they want to protect that system. That, unfortunately is why this is going to work at least to some degree.
SH: Right, well it reminds me of what Julian Assange said over the weekend about how the NSA wears the pants in the Obama administration, which I thought was funny. Same goes for the CIA. Same goes for the fourth branch of Government in every administration, as Jacob Hornberger was talking about in his recent piece at FFF.
SH:Â We’re talking about this fight going on between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA over the various torture reports and the joke of what’s left of anything like an oversight process in Congress – if we ever really had such a thing since the rise of the National Security State.
Let’s get right back to the real point – this 6000 page torture report, what reason do you have to believe, other than just the quantity of pages there which I like that number, it’s a big number and it sounds like a long study.
What reason if any do you have to believe that this has what we really need to know about the CIA’s torture program – other than just the fact that the CIA is freaking about it?
MW: They have tried really hard not just to prevent this truth from coming out. They’ve done things like approve Jose Rodriguez’s book, and John Rizzo’s book. Rizzo’s book is full of lies, at word 61 in his book he finishes his first demonstrable lie, but the CIA cleared these books. So the guy who’s in charge of the torture program, the guy who approved the torture program, full of all their lies. They didn’t approve other things, like John Kiriakou’s book, they pushed back against John Kiriakou’s book.
In other words what the CIA has managed to do, is release a lot of propaganda. The same thing with Zero Dark Thirty, right? Leon Panetta had a role in that. We know he was involved in basically leaking classified information in that role. The CIA has prevented the release of actual truth.
At the very least this report would counter that, provide all of the evidence. Â A lot of it is in the public record, we know that torture didn’t work, we know that Heath said a bunch of things that weren’t true, we know, and you raised this earlier, even Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was tortured at our behest by the Egyptians, lied about there being a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda – and that is what the Bush administration used to get us into Iraq.
So, perfect example of a lie, he later recanted on his lie, it was proven to be a lie, we know that. As you said, that is what the entire point of the torture program was. There are more, for example Hassan Ghul, the guy who led us to Osama bin Laden – he told us about the courier that led us to Osama bin Laden and then subsequently we started torturing him.
We don’t know what lies he told but it was a very interesting time to start telling lies because it was 2004 and the lead up to the election. If you recall they kept going ‘election, election, election’ which of course, there has to be a terrorist attack to raise the threat levels so that George Bush can be re-elected, even though at that point I’m not sure a lot of people wanted him to be.
SH: I’m sorry to interrupt, but it is kind of interesting to note that Jonathan Landay, who is the lead author of this latest series at McClatchy about this fight between the Intelligence Committee and the CIA – he actually did a study, and I’m sure you have plenty of your own atÂ www.emptywheel.netÂ along these lines too.
But he did a great study in McClatchy newspapers about how the vast majority of the torture took place right before the invasion of Iraq and then right after it. It was certainly, as far as you could put together from the outside, without directed missions from Dick Cheney or something like that. If he didn’t prove it he showed that the purpose clearly was to get lies about Saddaam’s Iraq.
MW: And not only that, just as an example, every single one of the illegal wire tap programÂ re-authorizations includes language saying ‘oohhh scary threat’, and that is the entire logic they use to justify this illegal program. They said that the threat is so bad that we need to wire tap, we need to start collecting in the United States.
John Brennan has testified, probably not under oath, but he has testified to Congress that some of the information that he used in those reports, he was the author of those reports which I think really adds a cherry to this whole sundae of torture and lies.
SH: You’re talking about the endless lists of orange alerts throughout 2002 – 2004?
MW: Right, but those orange alerts were written up into legal documents and given, either internally to people at the OLC who approved it or ultimately, this phone dragnet we keep talk about. See I’m segueing into the NSA very subtly, but this phone dragnet-Â they had a meeting in 2004 before the Judge approved the internet dragnet, approved this bizarrely overblown definition of quote unquote ‘relevance’ and said, ‘Scary threat, scary threat, scary threat’.
John Brennan was involved in that too. So the Judge only approved that program only after she had been told about all these scary threats and John Brennan has testified to Congress that he knows he used, he didn’t say torture, but that he knows he used evidence gained through the RDI (Rendition, Detention, Interrogation) program and probably through torture.
So they torture people and then they go to a Judge and they say, ‘Here is the evidence’, They don’t say that got it under torture, ‘Here is the evidence that the threat is very scary’, and the Judge makes a crazy, crazy decision to approve the collection of huge amounts of internet data.
Ultimately that decision would be used to collect, substantially all of the phone data in the United States. So torture + the Judge making a terrible decision = phone dragnet. Direct connection.
SH: Amazing isn’t it? Now we know that the military tortured tens of thousands of Iraqi’s and Afghans in the completely lawless occupations of those countries at least through, y’know 08 or something.
But now, as far as the CIA, and I don’t know if you really know, but can you give us a ballpark, your best estimate on how many different people were tortured by the CIA?
Was it mostly limited to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh or was it hundreds of people or dozens, do you know? Not that that would make it okay, even to torture that SOB but ….
MW: No, they say 100 people went through the program, and some of those are still disappeared. We have no idea where they are, whether they got killed, who knows.
SH: Shallow graves somewhere
MW: And of course, we know, for example that they killed Gul RahmanÂ who had a tie, not even directlyÂ to Al Qaeda, but they killed him by hosing him down and leaving him in out in freezing temperatures, back in 2002.
SH: Right, in the salt pit, it’s so medieval, it’s just amazing.
MW: It is medieval. 100 people went through the CIA’s high level torture program, but even at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and some of the other people that got killed in Iraq were sort of a joint effort between JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) and the CIA and they fought for a number of years about who actually cast the deathly crucifixion or what have you.
So, the numbers get much bigger once you get outside of the black sites program because there were CIA people involved in other parts of the program.
SH: And we also know that some of this torture, I don’t know if it’s torture all the way to death or not, but at least some of this torture was taking place before they made up the memos to justify itÂ right?
SH: So even the theory of immunity, that you’re protected from the memo wouldn’t apply to at least some of these cases
MW: The memos are frankly, in my opinion the memos are a shiny object to distract us. Michael Hayden has said publicly although when he said it, it promptly got disappeared from whatever TV interview he made – I think it was with MSNBC. He said publicly that the torture program at the beginning was operated solely on a finding. Which means solely on Presidential authorization.
There are a lot of reasons why we know that is true. For example, Obama went to unprecedented lengths to keep that detail secret. In the ACLU’s torture FOIA there is a little phrase in a CIA document that George Tenet basically put there as CYA. He basically said that any torture pursuant to the and the redacted language says something like — ‘Presidential memorandum and notificationÂ from September 17 2001.’
That phrase is classified and when the Judge in the case was about to release it, Obama had his National Security Advisor, Jim Jones, write a letter and had him get involved in this FOIA case to say ‘You can’t release the fact that this torture program was actually done on Presidential authorization’.
He went to great lengths to prevent that from coming out. Of course I know about it, and now your listeners know about it. And that’s why I say the memos are largely a shiny object. Torture started early.
SH: But now, where the rubber meets the road, the Justice Department invoked those memos to say ‘Hey look everybody, shiny object’ and then stopped even the preliminary investigations into even these murders that took place at the hands of the CIA correct?
SH: So this is a very substantial shiny object, it’s a shiny shield that they really used.
MW: Well, no, no, no, let me say one more thing. For example, two details:
One: Gul Rahman who I already mentioned. They didn’t use the memos to excuse themselves; they used an earlier memo written by John Yoo that wasn’t approved all the way up to the top of the chain at the OLC.
SH: Well, I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to ask you all the great Snowden stuff I wanted to ask you, because there are all kinds of new revelations there but…anyway thank you so much for your time. I’m sorry I wasted the beginning of your time ranting about CNN’s pot coverage but it just made me angry…But thank you very much Marcy for coming on the show, I really appreciate it as always
MW: Take care, bye.