Here are a couple of questions I’d like answered …
What did President Barack Obama know about the CIA’s obstruction, interference, and intimidation of Senate Intelligence Committee staffers investigating the agency’s activities?
What role did the President have in what Sen. Dianne Feinstein terms ‘eliminating or obscuring key facts that support the report’s findings and conclusions?’
I’m asking, at what point do we conclude that there’s enough evidence that the Obama White House is obstructing the Senate investigation’s report? Do we wait for the Senate committee members to say so? (They’ve come very close to that conclusion.)
I’m all for waiting to see what the White House ultimately decides to leave in and leave out of it’s ‘executive summary’ of the investigation’s findings, but there’s already enough interference, obstruction, intimidation, and ‘redacting’ on the record for me to conclude that something major is being perpetrated — even if someone in or out of the WH can rationalize us away from calling it a ‘cover-up.’
Let’s talk a little more about why the CIA was spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee …
I think CIA Director John Brennan’s admission that his agents broke into the computers of the Senate committee investigating his agency (after strenuous and repeated denials) is one of the most potentially explosive revelations since the Nixon White House was discovered spying on Democrats. In that scandal Nixon used the nation’s intelligence agencies to spy on Kennedy and Muskie to try and find something to use against them to advantage his political contest. As important as those abuses of power were, and the fact that the president was directly involved, they pale in comparison to Director Brennan’s admissions in July.
This scandal involves an attempt by the Obama/Brennan CIA to intimidate and chill an active investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee into past practices and criminal abuses by the agency which were committed by Bush administration officials.
The Bush CIA had already withheld and destroyed information about its Detention and Interrogation Program in 2005 when it deliberately destroyed tapes and information about its rendition and torture program. A civil lawsuit ACLU revealed in 2009 that 92 videotapes had been deliberately destroyed.
“The large number of videotapes destroyed confirms that the agency engaged in a systematic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations and to evade the court’s order,” ACLU attorney Amrit Singh said in a statement.
The defense for accused Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui had demanded the tapes which they believed would depict the waterboarding and other interrogation methods they were alleging occurred. Interrogations of al-Qaida lieutenant Abu Zubaydah and another top al-Qaida leader were also said to be depicted in the videotapes.
At first the prosecution outright denied the tapes existed at all. Only after the trial did they finally admit their existence. Their excuse for destroying the evidence was that they were protecting the identities of the government interrogators.
On December 6, 2007, the New York Times advised the Bush administration that they had acquired, and planned to publish, information about the destruction of tapes made of Zubaydah’s interrogation, believed to show instances of waterboarding and other forms of possible torture.
Michael Hayden, the Director of Central Intelligence, sent a letter to CIA staff the next day, briefing them on the destruction of the tapes. Hayden asserted that key members of Congress had been briefed on the existence of the tapes, and the plans for their destruction. Senator Jay Rockefeller, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, disputed Hayden’s assertion, saying that he only learned of the tapes in November 2006, a year after their destruction.
Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and one of just four senior members of Congress who was briefed on the existence of the tapes, acknowledged being briefed. Harman responded to Hayden’s assertions by saying she had objected, in writing, to the tapes’ destruction. “I told the CIA that destroying videotapes of interrogations was a bad idea and urged them in writing not to do it,” Harman stated.
Hayden claimed that the continued existence of the tapes represented a threat to the CIA personnel involved, saying that if the tapes were leaked they might result in CIA personnel being identified and targeted for retaliation. Hayden stated that the tapes were destroyed “only after it was determined they were no longer of intelligence value and not relevant to any internal, legislative, or judicial inquiries.”
Fast forward to Feinstein’s floor speech in March:
After we read about the tapes’ destruction in the newspapers, Director Hayden briefed the Senate Intelligence Committee. He assured us that this was not destruction of evidence, as detailed records of the interrogations existed on paper in the form of CIA operational cables describing the detention conditions and the day-to-day CIA interrogations.
The CIA director stated that these cables were “a more than adequate representation” of what would have been on the destroyed tapes. Director Hayden offered at that time, during Senator Jay Rockefeller’s chairmanship of the committee, to allow Members or staff to review these sensitive CIA operational cables given that the videotapes had been destroyed.
Chairman Rockefeller sent two of his committee staffers out to the CIA on nights and weekends to review thousands of these cables, which took many months. By the time the two staffers completed their review into the CIA’s early interrogations in early 2009, I had become chairman of the committee and President Obama had been sworn into office.
The resulting staff report was chilling. The interrogations and the conditions of confinement at the CIA detention sites were far different and far more harsh than the way the CIA had described them to us. As result of the staff’s initial report, I proposed, and then-Vice Chairman Bond agreed, and the committee overwhelmingly approved, that the committee conduct an expansive and full review of CIA’s detention and interrogation program.
On March 5, 2009, the committee voted 14-1 to initiate a comprehensive review of the CIA Detention and Interrogation Program. Immediately, we sent a request for documents to all relevant executive branch agencies, chiefly among them the CIA.
The committee’s preference was for the CIA to turn over all responsive documents to the committee’s office, as had been done in previous committee investigations.
Director Panetta proposed an alternative arrangement: to provide literally millions of pages of operational cables, internal emails, memos, and other documents pursuant to the committee’s document requests at a secure location in Northern Virginia. We agreed, but insisted on several conditions and protections to ensure the integrity of this congressional investigation.
Per an exchange of letters in 2009, then-Vice Chairman Bond, then-Director Panetta, and I agreed in an exchange of letters that the CIA was to provide a “stand-alone computer system” with a “network drive” “segregated from CIA networks” for the committee that would only be accessed by information technology personnel at the CIA—who would “not be permitted to” “share information from the system with other personnel, except as otherwise authorized by the committee.”
It was this computer network that, notwithstanding our agreement with Director Panetta, was searched by the CIA
Feinstein’s committee worked out an arrangement with the Panetta CIA to obtain those documents which resulted in a unhelpful ‘document dump’ of hundreds of thousands of un-indexed pages. Nonetheless, these were the documents that the staffers obtained and used in their investigation, following the procedures the CIA had insisted on.
In addition to demanding that the documents produced for the committee be reviewed at a CIA facility, the CIA also insisted on conducting a multi-layered review of every responsive document before providing the document to the committee. This was to ensure the CIA did not mistakenly provide documents unrelated to the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program or provide documents that the president could potentially claim to be covered by executive privilege.
While we viewed this as unnecessary and raised concerns that it would delay our investigation, the CIA hired a team of outside contractors—who otherwise would not have had access to these sensitive documents—to read, multiple times, each of the 6.2 million pages of documents produced, before providing them to fully-cleared committee staff conducting the committee’s oversight work. This proved to be a slow and very expensive process.
The CIA started making documents available electronically to the committee staff at the CIA leased facility in mid-2009. The number of pages ran quickly to the thousands, tens of thousands, the hundreds of thousands, and then into the millions. The documents that were provided came without any index, without organizational structure. It was a true “document dump” that our committee staff had to go through and make sense of.
The committee staffers took whatever documents they thought were relevant and copied them into their own computers. At some point, they noticed that their documents were disappearing …
In May of 2010, the committee staff noticed that certain documents that had been provided for the committee’s review were no longer accessible. Staff approached the CIA personnel at the offsite location, who initially denied that documents had been removed. CIA personnel then blamed information technology personnel, who were almost all contractors, for removing the documents themselves without direction or authority. And then the CIA stated that the removal of the documents was ordered by the White House. When the committee approached the White House, the White House denied giving the CIA any such order.
After a series of meetings, I learned that on two occasions, CIA personnel electronically removed committee access to CIA documents after providing them to the committee. This included roughly 870 documents or pages of documents that were removed in February 2010, and secondly roughly another 50 were removed in mid-May 2010.
This was done without the knowledge or approval of committee members or staff, and in violation of our written agreements. Further, this type of behavior would not have been possible had the CIA allowed the committee to conduct the review of documents here in the Senate. In short, this was the exact sort of CIA interference in our investigation that we sought to avoid at the outset.
I went up to the White House to raise this issue with the then-White House Counsel, in May 2010. He recognized the severity of the situation, and the grave implications of Executive Branch personnel interfering with an official congressional investigation. The matter was resolved with a renewed commitment from the White House Counsel, and the CIA, that there would be no further unauthorized access to the committee’s network or removal of access to CIA documents already provided to the committee.
On May 17, 2010, the CIA’s then-director of congressional affairs apologized on behalf of the CIA for removing the documents. And that, as far as I was concerned, put the incident aside.
After that incident, staffers were able to uncover documents related to Panetta’s internal review which appeared to provide proof of significant wrongdoing by the agency.
At some point in 2010, committee staff searching the documents that had been made available found draft versions of what is now called the “Internal Panetta Review.”
We believe these documents were written by CIA personnel to summarize and analyze the materials that had been provided to the committee for its review. The Panetta review documents were no more highly classified than other information we had received for our investigation—in fact, the documents appeared to be based on the same information already provided to the committee.
What was unique and interesting about the internal documents was not their classification level, but rather their analysis and acknowledgement of significant CIA wrongdoing.
To be clear, the committee staff did not “hack” into CIA computers to obtain these documents as has been suggested in the press. The documents were identified using the search tool provided by the CIA to search the documents provided to the committee.
We have no way to determine who made the Internal Panetta Review documents available to the committee. Further, we don’t know whether the documents were provided intentionally by the CIA, unintentionally by the CIA, or intentionally by a whistle-blower.
In fact, we know that over the years—on multiple occasions—the staff have asked the CIA about documents made available for our investigation. At times, the CIA has simply been unaware that these specific documents were provided to the committee. And while this is alarming, it is also important to note that more than 6.2 million pages of documents have been provided. This is simply a massive amount of records
The staff did not rely on these Internal Panetta Review documents when drafting the final 6,300-page committee study. But it was significant that the Internal Panetta Review had documented at least some of the very same troubling matters already uncovered by the committee staff – which is not surprising, in that they were looking at the same information.
So, in effect, the Internal Panetta Review actually corroborated the committee’s own findings, rather than representing the only info available. In 2012, the Intelligence Committee approved a 6,300-page study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program and sent the report to the executive branch.
The Brennan CIA responded that they agreed with some of the report but disagreed with other parts of it. Most importantly, the parts they disagreed with were actually confirmed by the Panetta review.
As CIA Director Brennan has stated, the CIA officially agrees with some of our study. But, as has been reported, the CIA disagrees and disputes important parts of it. And this is important: Some of these important parts that the CIA now disputes in our committee study are clearly acknowledged in the CIA’s own Internal Panetta Review.
To say the least, this is puzzling. How can the CIA’s official response to our study stand factually in conflict with its own Internal Review?
The intelligence committee took draft copies of the documents and locked them away in their own senate facilities – in their own computer system. This was understandable, given the revelations in 2009 that key evidence had been deliberately destroyed by the agency.
The documents disappeared from their computers.
In Part 2: more analysis of the Feinstein speech.
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