Archive for the ‘Bush Administration’ Category
John Walcott reports in Politico:
On September 9, 2002, as the George W. Bush administration was launching its campaign to invade Iraq, a classified report landed on the desk of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It came from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and it carried an ominous note.
“Please take a look at this material as to what we don’t know about WMD,” Rumsfeld wrote to Air Force General Richard Myers. “It is big.”
The report was an inventory of what U.S. intelligence knew—or more importantly didn’t know—about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Its assessment was blunt: “We’ve struggled to estimate the unknowns. … We range from 0% to about 75% knowledge on various aspects of their program.”
Myers already knew about the report. The Joint Staff’s director for intelligence had prepared it, but Rumsfeld’s urgent tone said a great deal about how seriously the head of the Defense Department viewed the report’s potential to undermine the Bush administration’s case for war. But he never shared the eight-page report with key members of the administration such as then-Secretary of State Colin Powell or top officials at the CIA, according to multiple sources at the State Department, White House and CIA who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. Instead, the report disappeared, and with it a potentially powerful counter-narrative to the administration’s argument that Saddam Hussein’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons posed a grave threat to the U.S. and its allies, which was beginning to gain traction in major news outlets, led by the New York Times.
While the threat posed by a nuclear-armed Iraq was at the heart of the administration’s case for war, the JCS report conceded: “Our knowledge of the Iraqi (nuclear) weapons program is based largely—perhaps 90%—on analysis of imprecise intelligence.”
The rationale for the invasion has long since been discredited, but the JCS report, now declassified, which a former Bush administration official forwarded in December, nevertheless has implications for both sides in the 2016 presidential race, in particular the GOP candidates who are relying for foreign policy advice on some of the architects of the war, and the Democratic front-runner, who once again is coming under fire from her primary opponent for supporting the invasion.
Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, whose military assistant was on the short list of people copied on the JCS report, is one of Jeb Bush’s foreign policy experts. Other supporters of the war, though they do not appear to have been aware of the JCS report, are involved in the various advisory roles in the 2016 campaign. John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is advising Ted Cruz; and Elliott Abrams and William Kristol are supporting Marco Rubio, whom Reuters reported is also briefed regularly by former Cheney adviser Eric Edelman.
The rise of ISIL and recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have given Democrat Bernie Sanders the ability to draw a straight line from the current Middle East chaos straight back to Clinton’s vote in favor of what he calls “one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of the United States,” a conflict that has claimed the lives of 4,500 Americans and some 165,000 Iraqis.
Rumsfeld was not under any legal or administrative obligation to circulate an internal DoD report, but not doing so raises questions about whether the administration withheld key information that could have undermined its case for war. Time and again, in the fall of 2002 and into early 2003, members of the administration spoke forcefully and without qualification about the threats they said Saddam Hussein posed. The JCS report undercut their assertions, and if it had been shared more widely within the administration, the debate would have been very different.
The report originated with a question from the man whose obsession with “known unknowns” became a rhetorical trademark. On August 16, 2002, Rumsfeld asked Air Force Maj. Gen. Glen Shaffer, head of the Joint Staff’s intelligence directorate, “what we don’t know (in a percentage) about the Iraqi WMD program,” according to a Sept. 5 memo from Shaffer to Myers and three other senior military officials.
On September 5, Shaffer sent Myers his findings, titled “Iraq: Status of WMD Programs.” In a note to his boss, he revealed: “We don’t know with any precision how much we don’t know.”
And while the report said intelligence officials “assess Iraq is making significant progress in WMD programs,” it conceded that “large parts” of Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs were concealed. As a result, “Our assessments rely heavily on analytic assumptions and judgment rather than hard evidence. The evidentiary base is particularly sparse for Iraqi nuclear programs.”
What Myers said when he received the report is not known, but by September 9, it had made its way across Rumsfeld’s desk, where it elicited his terse, typed summation: “This is big.”
But it wasn’t big enough to share with Powell, who in five months would be asked to make the U.S. case for war to the United Nations. Nor was it shared with other members of the National Security Council, according to former NSC staff. An intelligence official who was close to CIA Director George Tenet said he has no recollection of the report and said he would have remembered something that important.
Did President Bush see it? Or Vice President Dick Cheney? If they did, it didn’t temper what they said in public. Cheney had already kicked off the administration’s campaign in Nashville on August 27, saying, “The Iraqi regime has in fact been very busy enhancing its capabilities in the field of chemical and biological agents. And they continue to pursue the nuclear program they began so many years ago.”
“Many of us,” he added, “are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon.”
This was the beginning of what White House chief of staff Andrew Card later called a campaign to “educate the public” about the threat from Iraq.
Rather than heed the JCS’s early warning — as well as similar doubts expressed by some CIA, State Department and Defense Intelligence Agency officers — and seek more reliable intelligence, Rumsfeld and Cheney turned to a parallel intelligence apparatus they created that relied largely on information from Iraqi defectors and a network of exiles led by the late Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress.
On Sunday, September 8, 2002 — three days after Shaffer reported that evidence on Iraq’s nuclear program was sparse — the Times’ Judith Miller and Michael Gordon led the newspaper with a report with the headline, “US Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts.” . . .
We were betrayed and tens if not hundreds of thousands died as a result—plus we now have ISIS to contend with, along with various nations falling apart in the Middle East (Iraq among them).
Glenn Greenwald has a good article on the boneheaded PR programs from the State Department:
Few things produce darker and more warped comedy than when the U.S. Government launches new propaganda campaigns to “win the hearts and minds of Muslims.” Remember when George W. Bush dispatched his long-time political aide, Texas’ Karen Hughes, to the Middle East as a State Department official to change Muslim perceptions of the U.S. and that promptly (and predictably) resulted, as Slate put it, in a “jaw-dropping display of ignorance and malapropism that made her the laughing stock of the region”?
In fairness to Hughes and the State Department, she was vested with an impossible task. How do you convince the people of that region to like you when you’ve spent decades bombing, invading and droning them, arming and propping up the tyrants who suppress them, lavishing Israel with the weapons, money and UN cover used to occupy and brutalize Palestinians, and just generally treating their countries like your own private plaything for war and profit?
As a 2004 Rumsfeld-commissioned study about the causes of Terrorism put it: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies;” in particular, “American direct intervention in the Muslim world,” our “one sided support in favor of Israel”; support for Islamic tyrannies in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia; and “the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.” As a result, trying to change Muslim perceptions of the U.S. without changing U.S. policies of imperialism and militarism is the ultimate act of futility.
Destined though they are to fail, the propaganda efforts don’t have to be quite so comically bad: the government could, for instance, put people in charge of these campaigns who actually know something about the part of the world they’re trying to propagandize. Yet these efforts seem only to get worse. One of the most embarrassing tactics is when the U.S. government (and its media allies) select people whom they hold out to the Muslim world as the people they ought to follow; invariably, the U.S.’s selected “leaders” spout views and engage in conduct more anathema to the overwhelming majority of Muslims than the U.S. government itself is.
Last year, the State Department announced with great fanfare a new social media campaign to counter ISIS’ online messaging. They called it “Think Again, Turn Away,” and created Twitter and Facebook accounts in that name. Its self-described purpose on Facebook: “Our mission is to expose the facts about terrorists and their propaganda. Don’t be misled by those who break up families and destroy their true heritage.”
It was a massive comedic failure from the start. And that failure continues. Yesterday, Think Again, Turn Away’s Twitter account promoted and hailedsomeone they think will serve as an inspiring thought leader for Muslims around the world:
— Think AgainTurn Away (@ThinkAgain_DOS) December 14, 2015
Is Ayaan Hirsi Ali likely to be the effective messenger to the Muslim world which the State Department envisions her to be? Last year, she revealed her choice for who should win the Nobel Peace Prize: Benjamin Netanyahu; “he does what is best for the people of Israel, he does his duty,” she said. “I really think he should get the Nobel Peace Prize. In a fair world he would get it.”
Earlier this year, she told a gathering hosted by Israeli Consul General that she previously tried to convert to Judaism and hoped one day to try again. She has spouted some of the most virulent anti-Muslim bigotry, the worst of which may have been her 2007 interview with Reason, where she said she rejects the notion that “we” are at war only with radical Islam but instead are at war with Islam generally. Behold the State Department’s chosen Ambassador to the Muslim world: . .
The US in general and the Obama administration—including the so-called Department of Justice—really does not want to confront the systematic program of torture the US instituted and ran. There seems to be a strong feeling that it’s better simply to ignore what happened. Murtaza Hussain reports in The Intercept:
One year ago today, the Senate Intelligence Committee published a highly redacted executive summary of its investigation into the CIA’s torture and rendition program. The 525-page summary was shocking in many of its details, revealing the torture and rape of detainees held in CIA custody and encompassing treatment far in excess of even the torture techniques formally authorized by the Bush administration.
Despite the passage of 12 months, the actual report, comprising 6,700 pages, still has not been made publicly available. In fact, reading it appears to be prohibited among officials in the executive branch. Nearly a month and a half after the report’s initial release, it had not even been taken out of the package in which it was delivered to the Department of Justice and Department of State, according to government lawyers. Even the organization that was the subject of the report, the CIA, tightly controlled internal access and made “very limited use” of it, as had the Department of Defense, the lawyers said in a court filing.
That shunning of the torture report appears to be ongoing and very much by design: It turns out the Department of Justice has “refuse[d] to allow executive branch officials to review the full and final study,” Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Patrick Leahy wrote in a letter last month to the attorney general and FBI director, urging that they or their “appropriately cleared” underlings read the full report.
“The legacy of this historic report cannot be buried in the back of a handful of executive branch safes, never to be reviewed by those who most need to learn from it,” they added.
Elizabeth Beavers, a policy coordinator focusing on torture at Amnesty International, believes that no one in the Obama administration, including at the Department of Justice, has read the full report. “They appear to be taking a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ [stance] with regards to the proof of criminal acts it may contain,” she said. But “for the administration not even to read the whole report, and to look the other way while it is possibly buried or even destroyed, sets a dangerous precedent by excusing major crimes like torture and forced disappearance.”
In January, the new Republican head of the Senate committee that produced the study, Richard Burr, demanded that all extant copies be returned, reportedly over concerns they could be obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The Obama administration declined to do so, at least barring a court ruling. But the report is certainly being sought under FOIA, including in an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the government.
Feinstein, for her part, anticipated that the full report would eventually be available to the public, writing last year that it would be “held for declassification at a later time.” (As chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Feinstein shepherded the study, often in the face of staunch CIA opposition.)
Of particular interest in the full report is Volume III, which Feinstein has said contains “excruciating” details of the treatment of detainees during interrogation by the CIA, including further details on the torture of prisoners like Janat Gul, who, according to the report’s executive summary, was tortured to the point that he begged his captors to let him “die or just be killed.” The agency later concluded that Gul had been implicated by a fabricated report from a source.
The release of the executive summary last year was widely hailed by civil rights groups as a landmark moment of accountability for post-9/11 human rights abuses. Although the administration has to date refused to press charges against those responsible for torturing CIA detainees, the release of the summary helped galvanize efforts at legal redress. A report last week by Human Rights Watch, drawing heavily from the executive summary of the Senate report, offered a detailed pathway for obtaining criminal prosecutions against those who both authorized and carried out acts of torture. The release of the full report would likely provide further ammunition with which to fight for accountability. . .
Glenn Greenwald reports in The Intercept:
As vice president, Dick Cheney was a prime architect of the worldwide torture regime implemented by the U.S. government (which extended far beyond waterboarding), as well as the invasion and destruction of Iraq, which caused the deaths of at least 500,000 people andmore likely over a million. As such, he is one of the planet’s most notorious war criminals.
President Obama made the decision in early 2009 to block the Justice Department from criminally investigating and prosecuting Cheney and his fellow torturers, as well as to protect them from foreign investigations and even civil liability sought by torture victims. Obama did that notwithstanding a campaign decree that even top Bush officials are subject to the rule of law and, more importantly, notwithstanding a treaty signed in 1984 by Ronald Reagan requiring that all signatory states criminally prosecute their own torturers. Obama’s immunizing Bush-era torturers converted torture from a global taboo and decades-old crime into a reasonable, debatable policy question, which is why so many GOP candidates are nowopenly suggesting its use.
But now, the Obama administration has moved from legally protecting Bush-era war criminals to honoring and gushing over them in public. Yesterday, the House of Representatives unveiled a marble bust of former Vice President Cheney, which — until a person of conscience vandalizes or destroys it — will reside in Emancipation Hall of the U.S. Capitol.
At the unveiling ceremony, Cheney was, in the playful words of NPR, “lightly roasted” — as though he’s some sort of grumpy though beloved avuncular stand-up comic. Along with George W. Bush, one of the speakers in attendance was Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke movingly of Cheney’s kind and generous soul: . . .
The column concludes:
It is a long-standing trope among self-flattering Westerners and their allies that a key difference between “us” and “them” (Muslim radicals) is that “they” honor and memorialize their terrorists and celebrate them as “martyrs” while we scorn and prosecute our own.
Yesterday, the U.S. government unambiguously signaled to the world that not only does it regard itself as entirely exempt from the laws of wars, the principal Nuremberg prohibition against aggressive invasions, and global prohibitions on torture (something that has been self-evident for many years), but believes that the official perpetrators should be honored and memorialized provided they engage in these crimes on behalf of the U.S. government. That’s a message that most of the U.S. media and thus large parts of the American population will not hear, but much of the world will hear it quite loudly and clearly. How could they not?
In other news, U.S. officials this week conceded that a man kept in a cage for 13 years at Guantánamo, the now 37-year-old Mustafa al-Aziz al-Shamiri, was there due to “mistaken identity.” As Joe Biden said yesterday, “I actually like Dick Cheney.”
I have to say that this gives me the creeps. It will be a stain on Obama’s legacy.
Having a systematic program of torture always seems not to pan out in the long term. The Nazis, of course; Soviet Russia; Argentina; Brazil; and so on. And the U.S., as we now know: we know more or less what was done (despite the CIA’s diligence in destroying evidence: every single recording, video or audio, was destroyed—and the reason given, quite explicitly, was to protect the torturers. Certainly it was a help in facing legal punishment, but the blowback goes on: this is a long-term deal.
Murtaza Hussain reports in The Intercept:
Nearly a year after the release of the summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture, a major human rights group is calling for the immediate prosecution of U.S. government officials responsible for authorizing and carrying out the abuses.
In a detailed report titled “No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture,” Human Rights Watch identifies a legal basis for prosecution of government officials and calls on the U.S. Attorney General’s office to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct criminal investigations into those responsible for post-9/11 torture. The report also calls for the release of the full text of the Senate report, which remains classified.
Among those the report calls on to be criminally investigated for their roles in authorizing torture are some of the leading figures of the George W. Bush administration, including former CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice — and Bush himself.
“Nobody should be above the law, and there needs to be credible criminal investigations against both those who authorized and carried out abuses against detainees that amounted to a conspiracy to commit torture,” Laura Pitter, senior national security counsel at Human Rights watch and co-author of the report, told The Intercept on Tuesday. Although the names of many of those who actually tortured detainees remain unknown to the public, they are not unknown to the CIA and Department of Justice, Pitter added. “There’s no reason for the public to be kept in the dark about the worst of these abuses and who committed them. We need to see prosecutions at all levels of the torture program, including those who actually carried out torture.”
The 153-page report recounts in oft-excruciating detail the types of abuses that detainees suffered while in CIA custody, including detainees with broken feet being “forced to stand and walk on their injured legs for days while being subjected to standing sleep deprivation,” sexual abuse including “rectal feeding,” and the frequent use of “water-dousing,” a form of torture described as “virtually indistinguishable” from waterboarding.
Such abuses, which the Senate report investigated, represented those that went beyond the forms of torture that had been “authorized” by Bush administration officials. But Pitter said the torture tactics that were expressly validated by Bush administration lawyers need to be criminally investigated as well.
“The Bush administration concocted spurious legal rationales for its torture policies, such as the claim that high-ranking officials could be excused from legal liability because of the ‘necessity’ of torture,” Pitter said. “These were later removed because they had no basis in the law, but not before they were used to justify acts that were clearly criminal despite being nominally ‘authorized.’”
Like the Senate report, No More Excuses limits itself to abuses related to the CIA detention program. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wide-ranging human rights abuses are alsodocumented to have been carried out by members of the military alongside civilian contractors, including unauthorized practices such as rape and murder. Despite this bracketing of focus, a decision Pitter said was taken for the sake of practicality, the report nonetheless shows how abuses first authorized for the CIA program ended up influencing detention practices in military facilities abroad, particularly through the efforts of former Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who served as a commander at Guantánamo and later went on to propose interrogation guidelines for use by forces in Iraq.
Citing political obstacles and a maxim of “looking forward, not backwards,” the Obama administration has not criminally prosecuted those responsible for torture and other human rights abuses during the Bush era. Despite this refusal, . . .
Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo report in the NY Times:
A Senate security officer stepped out of the December chill last year and delivered envelopes marked “Top Secret” to the Pentagon, the C.I.A., the State Department and the Justice Department. Inside each packet was a disc containing a 6,700-page classified report on the C.I.A.’s secret prison program and a letter from Senator Dianne Feinstein, urging officials to read the report to ensure that the lessons were not lost to time.
Today, those discs sit untouched in vaults across Washington, still in their original envelopes. The F.B.I. has not retrieved a copy held for it in the Justice Department’s safe. State Department officials, who locked up their copy and marked it “Congressional Record — Do Not Open, Do Not Access” as soon as it arrived, have not read it either.
Nearly a year after the Senate released a declassified 500-page summary of the report, the fate of the entire document remains in limbo, the subject of battles in the courts and in Congress. Until those disputes are resolved, the Justice Department has prohibited officials from the government agencies that possess it from even opening the report, effectively keeping the people in charge of America’s counterterrorism future from reading about its past. There is also the possibility that the documents could remain locked in a Senate vault for good.
In a letter to Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch last week, Ms. Feinstein, a California Democrat, said the Justice Department was preventing the government from “learning from the mistakes of the past to ensure that they are not repeated.”
Although Ms. Feinstein is eager to see the document circulated, the Senate is now under Republican control. Her successor as head of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, has demanded that the Obama administration return every copy of the report. Mr. Burr has declared the report to be nothing more than “a footnote in history.”
It was always clear that the full report would remain shielded from public view for years, if not decades. But Mr. Burr’s demand, which means that even officials with top security clearances might never read it, has reminded some officials of the final scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” when the Ark of the Covenant is put into a wooden crate alongside thousands of others in a government warehouse of secrets.
The report tells the story of how, in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the C.I.A. began capturing people and interrogating them in secret prisons beyond the reach of the American judicial and military legal systems. The report’s central conclusion is that the spy agency’s interrogation methods — including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other kinds of torture — were far more brutal and far less effective than the C.I.A. acknowledged to policy makers, Congress and the public.
For now, it is the most comprehensive chronicle of one of the most controversial counterterrorism programs after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The American Civil Liberties Union has sued the C.I.A. for access to the document, and at this point the case hinges on who owns it. Senate documents are exempt from public records laws, but executive branch records are not. In May, a federal judge ruled that even though Ms. Feinstein distributed the report to the executive branch, the document still belongs to Congress. That decision is under appeal, with court papers due this month.
Justice Department officials defend their stance, saying that handling the document at all could influence the outcome of the lawsuit. They said that a State Department official who opened the report, read it and summarized it could lead a judge to determine that the document was an executive branch record, altering the lawsuit’s outcome. The Justice Department has also promised not to return the records to Mr. Burr until a judge settles the matter.
“It’s quite bizarre, and I cannot think of a precedent,” said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. He said there are any number of classified Senate documents that are shared with intelligence agencies and remain as congressional records, even if they are read by members of the executive branch.
The findings of the report on the secret prisons remain the subject of fierce debate. A group of former senior C.I.A. officers published a book in September challenging its conclusions and methodology, and Senate Republicans have derided the investigation as shoddy and partisan. . .
It’s pretty clear that what happened is something the American public deserves to know, and the intensity of resistance to revealing what happened shows that it must have pretty bad.
“Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” The CIA’s famous Presidential Daily Brief, presented to George W. Bush on August 6, 2001, has always been Exhibit A in the case that his administration shrugged off warnings of an Al Qaeda attack. But months earlier, starting in the spring of 2001, the CIA repeatedly and urgently began to warn the White House that an attack was coming.
By May of 2001, says Cofer Black, then chief of the CIA’s counterterrorism center, “it was very evident that we were going to be struck, we were gonna be struck hard and lots of Americans were going to die.” “There were real plots being manifested,” Cofer’s former boss, George Tenet, told me in his first interview in eight years. “The world felt like it was on the edge of eruption. In this time period of June and July, the threat continues to rise. Terrorists were disappearing [as if in hiding, in preparation for an attack]. Camps were closing. Threat reportings on the rise.” The crisis came to a head on July 10. The critical meeting that took place that day was first reported by Bob Woodward in 2006. Tenet also wrote about it in general terms in his 2007 memoir At the Center of the Storm.
But neither he nor Black has spoken about it publicly in such detail until now—or been so emphatic about how specific and pressing their warnings really were. Over the past eight months, in more than a hundred hours of interviews, my partners Jules and Gedeon Naudet and I talked with Tenet and the 11 other living former CIA directors for The Spymasters, a documentary set to air this month on Showtime.
The drama of failed warnings began when Tenet and Black pitched a plan, in the spring of 2001, called “the Blue Sky paper” to Bush’s new national security team. It called for a covert CIA and military campaign to end the Al Qaeda threat—“getting into the Afghan sanctuary, launching a paramilitary operation, creating a bridge with Uzbekistan.” “And the word back,” says Tenet, “‘was ‘we’re not quite ready to consider this. We don’t want the clock to start ticking.’” (Translation: they did not want a paper trail to show that they’d been warned.) Black, a charismatic ex-operative who had helped the French arrest the terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, says the Bush team just didn’t get the new threat: “I think they were mentally stuck back eight years [before]. They were used to terrorists being Euro-lefties—they drink champagne by night, blow things up during the day, how bad can this be? And it was a very difficult sell to communicate the urgency to this.”
That morning of July 10, the head of the agency’s Al Qaeda unit, Richard Blee, burst into Black’s office. “And he says, ‘Chief, this is it. Roof’s fallen in,’” recounts Black. “The information that we had compiled was absolutely compelling. It was multiple-sourced. And it was sort of the last straw.” Black and his deputy rushed to the director’s office to brief Tenet. All agreed an urgent meeting at the White House was needed. Tenet picked up the white phone to Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “I said, ‘Condi, I have to come see you,’” Tenet remembers. “It was one of the rare times in my seven years as director where I said, ‘I have to come see you. We’re comin’ right now. We have to get there.’”
Tenet vividly recalls the White House meeting with Rice and her team. (George W. Bush was on a trip to Boston.) “Rich [Blee] started by saying, ‘There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States.’” [Condi said:] ‘What do you think we need to do?’ Black responded by slamming his fist on the table, and saying, ‘We need to go on a wartime footing now!’”
“What happened?” I ask Cofer Black. “Yeah. What did happen?” he replies. “To me it remains incomprehensible still. I mean, how is it that you could warn senior people so many times and nothing actually happened? It’s kind of like The Twilight Zone.” Remarkably, in her memoir, Condi Rice writes of the July 10 warnings: “My recollection of the meeting is not very crisp because we were discussing the threat every day.” Having raised threat levels for U.S. personnel overseas, she adds: “I thought we were doing what needed to be done.” (When I asked whether she had any further response to the comments that Tenet, Black and others made to me, her chief of staff said she stands by the account in her memoir.) Inexplicably, although Tenet brought up this meeting in his closed-door testimony before the 9/11 Commission, it was never mentioned in the committee’s final report.
And there was one more chilling warning to come. At the end of July, Tenet and his deputies gathered in the director’s conference room at CIA headquarters. “We were just thinking about all of this and trying to figure out how this attack might occur,” he recalls. “And I’ll never forget this until the day I die. Rich Blee looked at everybody and said, ‘They’re coming here.’ And the silence that followed was deafening. You could feel the oxygen come out of the room. ‘They’re coming here.’”
Tenet, who is perhaps the agency’s most embattled director ever, can barely contain himself when talking about the unheeded warnings he says he gave the White House. Twirling an unlit cigar and fidgeting in his chair at our studio in downtown Washington, D.C., he says with resignation: “I can only tell you what we did and what we said.” And when asked about his own responsibility for the attacks on 9/11, he is visibly distraught. “There was never a moment in all this time when you blamed yourself?” I ask him. He shifts uncomfortably in his chair. “Well, look, there … I still look at the ceiling at night about a lot of things. And I’ll keep them to myself forever. But we’re all human beings.”
Only 12 men are alive today who have made the life-and-death decisions that come with running the CIA.
Once a year, the present and former CIA directors—ranging from George H.W. Bush, 91, to the current boss, John Brennan, 60—meet in a conference room at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. The ostensible reason: to receive a confidential briefing on the state of the world. (Robert Gates, who hates setting foot inside the Beltway, is a perennial no-show.) “They mostly tell us stuff we already know, and we pretend we’re learning something,” says Tenet, the longest-serving director (lasting seven years, under Presidents Clinton and Bush II). But the real point of their annual pilgrimage is to renew bonds forged in the trenches of the war on terror—and to debate the agency’s purpose in the world.
On the burning questions of the day, the directors are profoundly torn: over the CIA’s mission, its brutal interrogation methods after 9/11, and the shifting “rules of engagement” in the battle against Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. What is fair game in the fight against terrorism: Torture? Indefinite detention? Setting up “black sites” in foreign countries for interrogation? Should the CIA be in the business of killing people with remotely piloted drones? Was the agency really to blame for 9/11? Or did the White House ignore its repeated warnings?
On these and other questions, the directors were surprisingly candid in the interviews they did with me—even straying into classified territory. (They often disagree about what is actually classified; it’s complicated, as Hillary Clinton is learning.) A controversial case in point: drone strikes. “He can’t talk publicly about that,” protests Gen. David Petraeus when I tell him that one of his counterparts has opened up to me about “signature strikes.” (These are lethal attacks on unidentified targets—a kind of profiling by drone—that several directors find deeply troubling.) Gen. Petraeus might have had good reason to be reticent; only a week before he had accepted a plea bargain to avoid prison time—for sharing classified information with his mistress, Paula Broadwell.
Here are some of the other secrets we learned from the surprisingly outspoken men who have run the world’s most powerful intelligence agency. . .
And exactly why have there been no rigorous investigations and holding people accountable? Because in the US powerful people tend not to be held accountable.
As you read this story—and I highly recommend you read the whole thing—one thing to ponder is how the GOP frequently repeats, “George W. Bush kept us safe.” Apparently the 9/11 attacks were part of that safety he bestowed on us.