Daily Archives: October 26, 2005


Outing CIA Agents

Valerie Plame Meets Philip Agee

By Steve Weissman, posted at TomDispatch

As we approach the week when Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s grand jury will undoubtedly issue indictments against White House officials, the seldom considered 1982 CIA shield law under which the Plame case was first launched deserves some attention. When Karl Rove, I. Lewis Libby, and possibly others decided to reveal the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, they clearly wanted to punish her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, for undermining administration claims that Saddam Hussein sought “yellowcake” uranium from Niger to build nuclear weapons. But by publicly ruining Plame’s undercover career, they were undoubtedly also sending a very personal message to CIA types and other insiders not to question Mr. Bush’s rush to war in Iraq.

As despicable as this White House treachery may have been, those of us who oppose it need to regain some lost perspective. Being bashed by Team Bush does not turn the Central Intelligence Agency into the home team or necessarily make Valerie Plame a modern-day Joan of Arc; nor should her outing stop journalists or anyone else from blowing the cover of her fellow agents when they are found engaging in kidnappings, torture, or attempts to overthrow democratically elected governments.

CIA Torturers

Among its many sins, the CIA has played a central role in the American torture machine. The agency created its “stress and duress” torture methods back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and then passed the techniques to the Pentagon and client regimes around the world. Now, to complete the circle, CIA squads kidnap those they consider terrorist suspects and secretly disappear them into the prisons and torture chambers of countries like Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, and Uzbekistan.

The antiseptic name for this outsourcing of torture is “extraordinary rendition,” and — to be fair — the CIA does not do it on its own say-so. “Renditions were called for, authorized and legally vetted not just by the N.S.C. [National Security Council] and the Justice Department, but also by the presidents — both Mr. Clinton and George W. Bush,” former CIA official Michael Scheuer wrote last March in an op-ed in the New York Times (scroll down). “I know this because, as head of the C.I.A.’s bin Laden desk, I started the Qaeda detainee rendition program and ran it for 40 months.”

Author of the best-selling Imperial Hubris, Scheuer has become a leading critic of the war in Iraq, which he rightly sees as counterproductive in the fight against terrorists. Still a spook at heart, though, he rushes to defend the agency’s “snatch and grab” program, calling those of us who want to outlaw it either “woefully uninformed” or “horse’s asses.”

The program was “tremendously successful,” he told reporter Randy Hall of Cybercast News. “The amount of information we received that helped us better understand al Qaeda and formulate additional operations against them was invaluable, and the simple fact that, for example, we put one of bin Laden’s main procurers of weapons of mass destruction in prison is a good thing.”

Yes, jailing terrorists is good, but not by sidestepping formal charges, habeas corpus, independent judges, and fair trials — and certainly not by using torture. To trash civilization’s hard-won legal safeguards and let our secret police become judge, jury, and executioner is to do bin Laden’s work for him.

For CIA veterans, the ends too often justify the means, as long as the whole business does not become public (as it now has). The belief that an elite corps of CIA officers — and they alone — can keep self-corrupting means both under wraps and in check seems to be part of the job description.

The U.S. Senate appears to agree. In their admirable, bipartisan amendment to stop the American military from using torture, the Senators carefully refrained from extending the ban to cover the CIA, which continues to run its own secret prisons elsewhere. If torture is wrong for uniformed GIs, it should certainly be no less wrong for undercover agents.

But what does all this have to do with Valerie Plame?

I hope nothing at all. The CIA is a sizeable, complex bureaucracy, and only a relatively small number of its employees have anything to do with kidnapping, torture, and the like. The problem is that we know very little about what Ms. Plame did, and she has told us nothing about her views on anything at all. Her supporters — like former CIA and State Department officer Larry Johnson — tell us only that she worked undercover to protect Americans from nuclear proliferation.

As it happens, I was chief investigator on the BBC television team that first exposed the world’s worst nuclear proliferator, Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan’s atomic bomb. We pursued Khan’s story back in 1980, and many of our best leads came from intelligence operatives like Ms. Plame — and not just on the American side.

The information invariably came through “cut-outs,” or intermediaries, and we took great pains to check every lead for ourselves, knowing that intelligence agencies miss few opportunities to spread disinformation. After we broadcast our film and published a book called The Islamic Bomb, one of our cutouts passed word from the CIA that our expos’ had set back the Pakistani nuclear program by three years.

I mention this to make clear how much I value the kind of intelligence work Ms. Plame is said to have done. But there’s a dark side to CIA work that none of us should ignore. A significant part of the Agency’s recent efforts against proliferation has rightly focused on stopping terrorists from getting nuclear materials. Given the history of the last few years, there can be little doubt that the Agency would be sorely tempted to ship off any credible suspects to be interrogated under torture in some foreign hellhole. As a result, we need to take a long, hard look at anyone who has worked in CIA covert operations, especially in the area of nuclear proliferation.

None of this should weaken our opposition to the way Team Bush has treated Ms. Plame. But eternal suspicion of our legal, military, and intelligence professionals is one of the prices we will increasingly have to pay if our government continues to insist on relying on torture.

Enter Philip Agee

The current scandal over Plame’s outing raises an even tougher issue for those of us who work as journalists. Do we have any obligation to refrain from publishing the identity of undercover CIA operatives engaged in such activities? Or, when we write about their dirty work, do we tell the whole story without leaving out the leading characters?

Back in 1975, former CIA officer Philip Agee published Inside the Company: CIA Diary, an international best seller in which he revealed what the CIA was doing, especially in Latin America where he had worked. He also named every CIA officer he knew — an indication of just how complete a break he had made with the Agency. The contrast with Michael Scheuer or Valerie Plame is obvious.

It was hardly surprisingly, then, that Agee’s former comrades saw what he had done as an utter betrayal, much as old lefties viewed the staged performances of those who named names for Senator Joseph McCarthy and other Congressional investigators. (The difference between the two situations was immense, of course, as Agee made his decision to go public without coercion and solely for reasons of conscience.)

A young idealist with a Jesuit education, he had believed all the apple-pie myths of American democracy and had joined the CIA to do what he thought was right. After twelve years “inside the Company,” he ended up loathing the dirty work he had seen and did, and so tried to disrupt the Agency’s operations by blowing the cover of its operatives. This clearly put CIA officers at increased risk, but — so he felt — the more time they had to spend ensuring their own safety, the less time they would have to put other people elsewhere on Earth at risk.

Several journalists in London at the time — and I was one of the most active — joined Agee in publishing the names of large numbers of CIA officers in dozens of countries, often as lead stories in widely read newspapers and magazines. Contrary to media accounts, however, Agee did not provide the names, as he had already named everyone he knew. The identifications came from the U.S. government’s Foreign Service Lists and its yearly Biographic Registers, using a time-consuming method that former State Department officer John Marks described in the November 1974 Washington Monthly. Marks called his method “How to Spot a Spook.”

No midnight mail drops from the Soviet KGB. No whispered messages from some Cuban Mata Hari. Just the hard slog of journalistic investigation.

Then came the crisis. Two days before Christmas in 1975, assassins shot and killed Richard Welch, the CIA station chief in Athens. The agency quickly used the killing to escalate its attacks on Agee, even though he had never known Welch or identified him in his book (or anywhere else). No doubt Agee would have, but he played no part in the outing, as the CIA knew.

His only contact was peripheral. In January 1975, the American magazine CounterSpy identified Welch as the CIA station chief in Lima, and also carried an essay by Agee. But the magazine, which was funded by author Norman Mailer and his Organizing Committee for a Fifth Estate, had found Welch’s identity in a Peruvian journal and then confirmed it with the spook-spotting techniques from the Washington Monthly.

Welch’s name also appeared in the English-language Athens News in November 1975, along with nine other CIA officers working in Greece. Many months later, the press revealed that the killers had stalked Welch even before the list appeared. The CIA had reportedly warned him not to move into the house which the stalkers knew as the CIA chief’s residence. For whatever reason, Welch refused to heed the warning.

But Agee’s vindication came nearly twenty years later when former First Lady Barbara Bush repeated the old libel that he had played a role in Welch’s death in her memoirs. Agee sued, and Mrs. Bush was forced to remove the passage from the paperback edition of the book. She also had to send him a letter of apology, acknowledging that her accusation had been false.

Now, with the outing of Valerie Plame, many pundits are again blaming Agee for revealing Welch’s identity. No doubt, they will check the facts and send their apologies as well.

The CIA Fights Back

In the meantime, the CIA continued to do to Agee far worse than Team Bush has done to Valerie Plame, using his notoriety to turn the spotlight away from the dirty work he was protesting. First they persuaded Britain to deport him; then they convinced France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Germany to keep him on the run. Though Germany later relented and let him live there, none of the countries ever presented a public case with specific charges that Agee could contest.

Then, in 1982, the CIA and its former director George Bush, who was by then Vice President, persuaded Congress to pass the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, one of several laws that the current Bush Administration appears to have broken in outing Valerie Plame. Often called “the Anti-Agee Act,” the law targeted those with authorized access to classified information, past or present. It also criminalized journalists and others who showed “a pattern of activities intended to identify and expose covert agents.”

Though poorly drafted and hard (but not impossible) for prosecutors to use, the “Anti-Agee law” acts as a gag on whistleblowers, journalists, scholars, and activists who might want to expose covert wrongdoing. Worse, in the wake of the Plame outing, several members of Congress want to extend the law, creating even more of a British-style Official Secrets Act.

Whatever Karl Rove or Lewis Libby did to reveal Plame’s identity, they should be punished, as should the President and Vice President they serve. But let’s not jump overboard. Making a bad law worse would prove exceedingly shortsighted, especially for anyone who cherishes a free press or fears the unchecked power of the FBI, the CIA, and the Pentagon.

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U.S. Operatives Killed Detainees During Interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq

From the American Civil Liberties Union (24.10.05)

CIA, Navy Seals and Military Intelligence Personnel Implicated

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today made public an analysis of new and previously released autopsy and death reports of detainees held in U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom died while being interrogated. The documents show that detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation and to hot and cold environmental conditions.

‘There is no question that U.S. interrogations have resulted in deaths,’ said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. ‘High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military.’

The documents released today include 44 autopsies and death reports as well as a summary of autopsy reports of individuals apprehended in Iraq and Afghanistan. The documents show that detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy Seals, Military Intelligence and ‘OGA’ (Other Governmental Agency) — a term, according to the ACLU, that is commonly used to refer to the CIA.

According to the documents, 21 of the 44 deaths were homicides. Eight of the homicides appear to have resulted from abusive techniques used on detainees, in some instances, by the CIA, Navy Seals and Military Intelligence personnel. The autopsy reports list deaths by ‘strangulation,’ ‘asphyxiation’ and ‘blunt force injuries.’ An overwhelming majority of the so-called ‘natural deaths’ were attributed to ‘Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.’

While newspapers have recently reported deaths of detainees in CIA custody, today’s documents show that the problem is pervasive, involving Navy Seals and Military Intelligence too.

The records reveal the following facts:

A 27-year-old Iraqi male died while being interrogated by Navy Seals on April 5, 2004, in Mosul, Iraq. During his confinement he was hooded, flex-cuffed, sleep deprived and subjected to hot and cold environmental conditions, including the use of cold water on his body and hood. The exact cause of death was ‘undetermined’ although the autopsy stated that hypothermia may have contributed to his death. Notes say he ‘struggled/ interrogated/ died sleeping.’ Some facts relating to this case have been previously reported. (In April 2003, Secretary Rumsfeld authorized the use of ‘environmental manipulation’ as an interrogation technique in Guant’namo Bay. In September 2003, Lt. Gen. Sanchez also authorized this technique for use in Iraq. Although Lt. Gen. Sanchez later rescinded the September 2003 techniques, he authorized ‘changes in environmental quality’ in October 2003.)

An Iraqi detainee (also described as a white male) died on January 9, 2004, in Al Asad, Iraq, while being interrogated by ‘OGA.’ He was standing, shackled to the top of a door frame with a gag in his mouth at the time he died. The cause of death was asphyxia and blunt force injuries. Notes summarizing the autopsies record the circumstances of death as ‘Q by OGA, gagged in standing restraint.’ (Facts in the autopsy report appear to match the previously reported case of Abdul Jaleel.)

A detainee was smothered to death during an interrogation by Military Intelligence on November 26, 2003, in Al Qaim, Iraq. A previously released autopsy report, that appears to be of General Mowhoush, lists ‘asphyxia due to smothering and chest compression’ as the cause of death and cites bruises from the impact with a blunt object. New documents specifically record the circumstances of death as ‘Q by MI, died during interrogation.’

A detainee at Abu Ghraib Prison, captured by Navy Seal Team number seven, died on November 4, 2003, during an interrogation by Navy Seals and ‘OGA.’ A previously released autopsy report, that appears to be of Manadel Al Jamadi, shows that the cause of his death was ‘blunt force injury complicated by compromised respiration.’ New documents specifically record the circumstances of death as ‘Q by OGA and NSWT died during interrogation.’

An Afghan civilian died from ‘multiple blunt force injuries to head, torso and extremities’ on November 6, 2003, at a Forward Operating Base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. (Facts in the autopsy report appear to match the previously reported case of Abdul Wahid.)

A 52-year-old male Iraqi was strangled to death at the Whitehorse detainment facility on June 6, 2003, in Nasiriyah, Iraq. His autopsy also revealed bone and rib fractures, and multiple bruises on his body. (Facts in the autopsy report appear to match the previously reported case of Nagm Sadoon Hatab.)

The ACLU has previously released autopsy reports for two detainees who were tortured by U.S. forces in Bagram, Afghanistan, believed to be Mullah Habibullah and an Afghan man known as Dilawar.

‘These documents present irrefutable evidence that U.S. operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogations,’ said Amrit Singh, an attorney with the ACLU. ‘The public has a right to know who authorized the use of torture techniques and why these deaths have been covered up.’

The documents were released by the Department of Defense in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans for Peace. The New York Civil Liberties Union is co-counsel in the case.

As part of the FOIA lawsuit brought by the ACLU, a federal judge recently ordered the Defense Department to turn over photographs and videotapes depicting the abuse of prisoners held by the United States at Abu Ghraib. That decision has been stayed until October 26. The government has not yet indicated whether it is going to appeal the court’s decision.

The FOIA lawsuit is being handled by Lawrence Lustberg and Megan Lewis of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C. Other attorneys in the case are Singh, Jameel Jaffer, and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

To date, more than 77,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at http://action.aclu.org/torturefoia/.

The documents released today are available online at http://action.aclu.org/torturefoia/released/102405/

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