Problem Ridden Intelligence

By Robert Chapman
Friday, October 10th, 2014 @ 3:03AM

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The damage caused by Edward Snowden’s theft and publication of the NSA data has rendered a major blow to the United States’ once legendary intelligence capabilities. However, this is not the only reason for the substantial decline in U.S. intelligence capabilities.
The former director of the National Counter-Terrorism Center,  Matthew Olsen, on  Charlie Rose on October 8, noted that lack of HUMINT (human intelligence) sources  limits our ability to collect information. Similar statements have been made by other former U.S. intelligence officials.

As if our diminished intelligence gathering on the growing jihadist terrorist movement through electronic listening devices were not enough, we now seem tempted to rely on intelligence from our “allies” who share the jihad ideology. These so-called ‘allies’ – the Saudis, Qataris, Turks and Iranians  help fund, train, arm and shelter these groups.

Former CIA officer Robert Chapman reviews former CIA attorney John Rizzo’s take on the problem-riddled agency in Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA,” (Scribner, New York, 2014):

“In his book, John Rizzo writes of his thirty years as a lawyer at the CIA, and in many ways it is an incredible book.  As one reviewer stated on the book’s jacket, “one wonders why the CIA’s prepublication censors signed off on some of it.” Mr. Rizzo brings to light facts never before known, but as one should expect, he puts his best foot forward.

The thrust of the book is Mr. Rizzo’s, and the Agency’s, embroilment in the now infamous Enhanced Interrogation Techniques (EITs). These are the so-called techniques, beyond ordinary, acceptable interrogation, which Agency interrogators were permitted to use to extract information from prisoners. As the former Agency’s counsel, Mr. Rizzo rigorously defends his EITs involvement from the start to their inglorious end. In doing so, he often goes overboard as Congress and the press ganged-up on him.

We start with Dewey Clarridge. He was a flamboyant Agency officer, who, without having knowledge of the area or the language, was appointed Chief of the Latin American Division. It is assumed, he was a “can do” guy. In his new position as chief, he directed the insurgent, anti-Communist Contra forces battling the Nicaraguan government. All might have gone well for Clarridge except he dreamed-up the incredulous plan to mine Nicaraguan harbors which he did without seeking higher authorization. The plan was his idea, and when it backfired, all hell broke loose. Mining a nation’s harbors is war. In 1986 the Nicaraguan government brought the United States before the World Court for the invasion of their country and interference with international trade. The court ruled in favor of Nicaragua and awarded monetary damages, which the United States refused to pay.

As reckless and as costly as Clarridge’s mining operation was, he was not reprimanded, demoted or ousted but promoted to form the now huge, ever-growing Counterterrorist Center (CTC). Eventually, though not his doing, it is from the CTC that all CIA troubles grew.

From the very start, by using ordinary interrogation techniques, CTC interrogators found they could not break their prisoners. This was to be expected, as the prisoners were not ordinary. The Taliban and al-Qaeda were different. As the Taliban leader, Mohammad Omar, had admonished a Pakistani general, “You want to please the Americans and I want to please God.”[1] Insurgents, who are willing to die for their god by blowing themselves up, do not easily succumb to interrogation. CTC interrogators concluded more vigor was needed to make their interrogations effective.

Lawyers attached to the CTC[2], accompanied by several CTC officers, came to Mr. Rizzo’s office, and for his preliminary approval, presented the EITs they had drawn up. They were:

1. Attention grasp. The interrogator grabs the prisoner by the collar and pulls him closer.

2. Walling. The interrogator shoves the prisoner into a flexible wall.

3. Facial hold. The interrogator holds the prisoner’s head immobile with a palm on each side of the face.

4. Insult slap. The interrogator slaps the prisoner in the face.

5. Cramped confinement. The prisoner is put into a big or small box. If it is a small box the interrogator has the option of putting a harmless insect inside.

6. Wall standing. The prisoner is placed four feet from a wall, arms extended, his finders touch the wall to support his weight. He is held indefinitely in this position, which induces discomfort or fatigue.

7. Stress position. The prisoner sits on the floor with his arms over his head. Alternatively, the prisoner kneels on the floor while leaning back at a 45- degree angle. Again, the intent is to cause discomfort or fatigue.

8. Sleep deprivation. “Self- explanatory.” (pg. 185)

9. Waterboarding. The prisoner is strapped to bench, feet slightly elevated. A cloth is placed over his forehead and eyes and water is applied in a controlled manner for twenty to forty seconds from a height of twelve to twenty-four inches. It continues until the prisoner reaches the state of what is called “learned helplessness.” (pg. 193)[3]

Hearing of the prolonged waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, Mr. Rizzo wrote, “I knew no matter how you cut it, this guy was withstanding simulated drowning longer than I would ever have imagined.” (pg. 195)  A CIA report by the Inspector General put the number of times he was waterboarded at 183.  (pg. 195)  Mohammad now awaits trial by a military tribunal for the multiple crimes he confessed to.

In Number 8, Mr. Rizzo states “Self-Explanatory” but later in the book he took two EITs architects to brief the Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice. In the course of the briefing, “I turned back just in time to see my guy demonstrate the sleep-deprivation technique, which, unfortunately, didn’t involve him pretending to sleep. Instead, he attempted to show how the detainee would be kept awake, which entailed keeping the detainee standing by elevating his arms in chains anchored to the ceiling.” (pg. 270) This is a far different than one envisions by “Self- Explanatory.”

With the exception of waterboarding and the new description of sleep-depravation, the EITs – if these are really the EITs that so concerned Congress and the country – they are laughable. For example, suppose a prisoner doesn’t extend his arms with his fingers against the wall. Then what? Or if he doesn’t kneel and bend back?

When first presented with the EITs, Mr. Rizzo wisely decided a higher authority must approve them before Agency officers could implement them.   He arranged a meeting with Mr. John Yoo of the Office of Legal Council (OLC), Department of Justice (DOJ).  However, the FBI would have nothing do with the EITs and walked out of the meeting. The same was true with Donald Rumsfeld, The Secretary of Defense, who shied away from any contact with the EITs. In what was an unfathomable rigamarole, Yoo approved the EITs and wrote one memo to the Agency so stating while he wrote another to the White House, which hedged the point.

Unsuspecting what was happening, the Agency continued using the EITs in its secret prisons. By 2005, the CIA prisons, known as black sites, had been up and running for nearly three years, and Mr. Rizzo decided to visit two of the sites. In both countries he would first pay a requisite call on the chief of the host country’s intelligence service. During this social protocol, tea was usually served and social chatter would begin. One topic that was off-limits was the fact the host country had agreed to let CIA build and maintain the prison. When Rizzo left for the prison, the hosts stayed behind because no one from outside the CIA—not even the local government—was allowed entry into the sites.

I had previously thought host governments maintained and staffed the secret prisons—existing older prisons—while the CIA supplied prisoners and interrogation guides. I was wrong. Everyone Mr. Rizzo describes at the newly constructed CIA prisons from the chief to the guards and interrogators were CIA officers and contract employees. I had to think about this, and it took time for the unpleasant ramifications to sink in.

A closely aligned procedure appearing on the front page of the world’s press is renditions. It is the process by which CIA employees and contractors kidnap suspect terrorists in a sovereign country and transport them to a prison in their home country for interrogation or imprisonment or whatever it wishes to do with them.  Mr. Rizzo states sometimes the prisoner is rendered to a third country. However, I do not know if being taken to a third country is a true rendition or just plain kidnapping.[4]

Congressman Carl Levin questioned Mr. Rizzo whether prisoners are rendered by the CIA to countries that use torture. Mr. Rizzo answered that the only way he could give a proper answer would be in a classified session. Later in the book, Mr. Rizzo, elaborating on this incident, writes when a prisoner is rendered into the hands of a foreign government, the local CIA chief makes it clear to his counterpart that there is no abuse of the man. The assurances our chief receives must be credible. If prudence requires, our local chief will insist on personal monitoring and visits.

“The fundamental point here is that the people rendered by the CIA into a foreign government’s custody tend to be treated with kid gloves, relatively speaking, not the iron fist the government may normally employ with its own prisoners.” (pg. 263)

If this benevolent treatment of prisoners is true, why didn’t Mr. Rizzo answer Congressman Levin’s question? Why wait seven years?

I expected more information from Mr. Rizzo on renditions, but it probably is because President Obama has endorsed their use. His staff couldn’t bring itself to use the word “rendition” because of the stigma acquired during the Bush years. The term selected by the Obama people in its place is “short-term transfers.” (pg. 260]

We must go back to the past, to 2005 to connect what was an unrelated event to the exposure of the CIA and its EITs.  Out of nowhere the Abu Ghraib prisoner flap became known. A small group of U.S. soldiers stationed as guards inside the Abu Ghraib prison took physically and sexually abusive photographs of prisoners. The photographs were shown on national television bringing a public outcry, which in turn caused Congress to investigate the treatment of prisoners. Eventually, CIA renditions and torture became known, and in 2005 Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act, which banned “cruel, inhumane and degrading” treatment of any prisoner in American custody, including CIA black sites. It caused fear in CIA that covert officers, working at CIA prisons, could be prosecuted for torture – – – “the specter of criminal investigations and confessional hearings hung heavily over Langley.” (International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Volume 27, No. 1, page 196.)

Bad news followed bad news; the CTC informed the office of the CIA legal counsel that it, too, had made tapes of a prisoner’s interrogation.  It had taped 100 hours of an EIT interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. Some of the tapes were rough to watch, but they were now safely secured at a CIA site. It was stunning news. Mr. Rizzo does not know or reveal who authorized the taping that so surprised the CIA.

The chief of the CTC was Jose Rodriguez. He was involved previously in the Iran-Contra affair, but being a junior officer at the time, he was not punished or demoted.  It did not hinder his career as he went on to become the chief of the Latin American Division. The CIA inspector general later remanded him for “a remarkable lack of judgment” and was removed from that position but not the Agency. He became the chief of the CTC.  (International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence, Volume 27 Number 1, page 196) As a reward for his performance, soon after taking office, DCI Peter Goss, appointed Rodriguez the deputy director for operations.   Clearly, Rodriguez was enmeshed in CTC operations and continued to be in his new position.

Rodriguez approached Rizzo and said the Zubaydah, tapes must be destroyed. He said the interrogations were filmed because the interrogators did not want to miss a single word Zubaydah said. Secondly, Zubaydah was taped while sleeping in case he might commit suicide, which would then be blamed on the CIA. But, most importantly, the interrogators did not wear masks while interrogating Zubaydah. Rodriguez feared they might be later sought out and killed. All of which did not add up. The recording machines and the interrogator’s note were far better than the film as Zubaydah often spoke in a whisper. There was also no fear Zubaydah was going to escape and track his interrogators in Washington.

Rodriguez was adamant the tapes be destroyed. If somehow they were shown on television, it would be more catastrophic than Abu Ghraib as they contained actual scenes of waterboarding. However, Rizzo did not think there was a realistic chance of destroying the tapes, but he gave it one more chance. He sought the approval of other government officials, including Alberto Gonzales, the White House attorney, but met with blunt refusals. There would be no destruction of the tapes. Period.

Nevertheless, Rodriguez kept coming to Rizzo and would raise the question almost every week. Rizzo tried to put him off, telling him to wait. He even touched base with told DCI Goss, who said “but just so you know, I am not comfortable about the tapes being destroyed on my watch.”

“Me, neither,” Rizzo replied. (pg. 16)

Then, unknown to Rizzo, like a bolt from the blue, Rodriguez sent a command cable to the Bangkok Station, where the tapes were stored, stating their destruction was authorized. The tapes were then shredded.

Undoubtedly, many officials in Washington were pleased. The tapes could never be shown on television, and what exactly they contained would never be known with certainty. Whatever kind of investigation Congress planned was now impaired.

Rizzo found that Rodriguez consulted two lawyers on Rizzo’s staff. He asked them if there were any “legal impediments” to destroying the tapes, and if he had “legal” authority to destroy them. They told Rodriguez he had the legal authority to destroy them. However, when Rodriguez sent his cable, authorizing destruction, he neglected to coordinate the cable with the two lawyers. Had he done so the cable undoubtedly would not have cleared their office for they would have consulted with Rizzo before doing so.

Rizzo wrote, “Both their (the two lawyers’) answers were technically correct as best I could tell. But that was beside the point, and Jose had to have known it. He had been on notice by me for three years that the fate of the tapes was not his call. It had nothing to do with his “legal authority.” He had chosen to ignore and defy the White House, the director of national intelligence and the director of CIA. And, of course, me.” (pg. 19)

In the aftermath, Rizzo was nominated to head CIA’s Office of General Counsel. It was a rare honor. He was the first insider so nominated. But by now his name appeared on about every legal document that pertained to the EITs and, with the U.S. Senate, he became unfairly known as “The Torture Advocate” (pg. 216).  Rizzo knew his nomination would be not confirmed and he withdrew name from consideration.

He later resigned.

Mr. Rizzo’s book has an elitist twang. Throughout the book, he writes of the Agency as a place of good, honorable and moral men who would never torture because they are not that kind of people. But at the same time, his book is filled CIA officers interrogating prisoners using the now prohibited EITs, and by officers demonstrating sleep depravation by hanging a prisoner by chains from the ceiling, waterboarding, and running black sites. For 800 years waterboarding was acknowledged as torture, and Mr. Rizzo winced when heard Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times.

An intelligence agency is protected by secrecy, and what goes on inside its walls is concealed from the outside world. In a democratic country, an intelligence agency must police itself. It is an absolute. It must do so. Yet here we have the case of a headstrong officer, who by himself, decided to mine another nation’s harbors. It was an act of war, and it brought our country before the World Court where we were found guilty. The officer was not punished but promoted. We have another case where an officer violated every instruction given to him, including those of the White House, by sending an unauthorized cable destroying valuable evidence. He, too, went without any punishment. This hardly is policing itself.


[1] The Way of the Knife by Mark Mazzetti, page 32.

[2] It is surprising that lawyers are part of the CTC. Mr. Rizzo ruminates there are now more than 120 CIA lawyers employed.

[3] The description of waterboarding is misleading. More accurately, a prisoner is forced onto a water board, which is on a slight incline, permitting the excess water and vomit to run off. His arms are restrained by ties on each side of the board. The face is covered by a thin cloth and water is emptied into his mouth and nose by drops or a watering can, filling the lungs, giving the prisoner the feeling of drowning. It causes vomiting, illness and sometimes death. Waterboarding dates to the Spanish inquisition.

[4] A famous, publicized rendition case took place in Milan, Italy, where a CIA team and contractors kidnapped an innocent Egyptian suspect off a street and brutally transported him to a notorious Egyptian prison. There he was tortured for months on end. Being alerted to the victim’s fate by the victim’s wife, the Italian authorities investigated the case. They later charged and prosecuted a number of alleged CIA employees in absentia, convicting five of them to serve prison sentences, ranging from five to six years.

The case made headlines again on July 19, 2013, when Robert Lady, alleged to be the chief of the Milan base, was apprehended in Panama. The Italian government on learning of Lady’s arrest filed a writ for his extradition to Italy where a jail sentenced awaited. Panama ignored the writ and instead returned him to the United States.”

Categories: ACD/EWI Blog, Al Qaeda, Iran, Iraq, ISIS/IS, Middle East Conflicts, Muslim Brotherhood, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, U.S. Foreign Policy, U.S. Policy

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