WASHINGTON — An unidentified journalist’s ethical breach with whistle-blowing source John Kiriakou resulted this week in the former case officer and father of five’s being sentenced to 30 months in prison. Although promising Mr. Kiriakou anonymity, the journalist redistributed CIA torture information from his or her source to Guantanamo Bay defense attorneys, helping direct the Justice Department investigation that led to Mr. Kiriakou’s undoing.
Former CIA legal chief John Rizzo and former Director Michael Hayden addressed an American Enterprise Institute forum Tuesday to offer their take on Kathryn Bigelow’s film “Zero Dark Thirty,” a dramatic interpretation of the bin Laden hunt, as well as the interrogation tactics it entailed. Forum host Marc Thiessen said that as early as 2006 Mr. Hayden had assisted him in drafting a speech for President George Bush revealing the “existence” of the CIA’s interrogation program.
President Bush’s speech read, “I cannot describe the specific [interrogation] methods used — I think you understand why — if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country,” adding that methods “were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.”
“We never asked anybody anything we didn’t know the answer to,” said Mr. Hayden at the AEI forum, “while they were undergoing the enhanced interrogation techniques. The techniques were not designed to elicit truth in the moment.” If a prisoner would confirm the known knowns, he said, agency operatives could reinforce to the prisoner their current level of trust in him. “Zero Dark Thirty” showed CIA case officers water-boarding a prisoner while inquiring about what were to them total mysteries, such as the location of Osama bin Laden.
Despite laws purporting to protect whistle-blowers in the event of genuine government wrongdoing, motivation and success in prosecuting them does not have to do with conscience pangs’ particular depths but with ultimately the consequences and nature of that information leaked. Throughout history the legislative and judicial branches have wavered in their interpretations of “cruel and unusual” punishment, for decades at a time placing moratoriums and then restarting even the federal death penalty for American nationals.
“Zero Dark Thirty” director Kathryn Bigelow’s big-budget portrayal of the decade-long bin Laden hunt, like Mr. Kiriakou himself, reinforces the viewpoint torture may have been effective in encouraging 9/11 suspects to reveal further information about their organization and tactics. Mr. Kiriakou claims however that whether torture encouraged suspects to reveal information is irrelevant to their appropriateness. Former Vice President Dick Cheney saw torture as protecting American citizens, reasoning that whatever damage was done to the country’s reputation due to aggressive tactics would not outweigh lives saved and terrorist attack thwarted due to those tactics. Meanwhile other voices, such as interrogator “Matthew Alexander,” have spoken of many individuals attacking U.S. service people in Iraq, attackers who felt that brutal interrogation tactics, such as those utilized at Abu Ghraib, ultimately justified their actions. Furthermore Mr. Alexander, who has written under that pseudonym a book and various columns, has said that torture is ineffective at acquiring information in the first place.
Advertising Jeremy Scahill’s new documentary on America’s post-9/11 military agenda, the website of “Dirty Wars,” a movie which premiered this week at Sundance film festival, references American CIA human intelligence operatives as “agents,” as Democracy Now! did Mr. Kiriakou (above). The “Dirty Wars” website advertises its sources as “the CIA agents, Special Forces operators, military generals, and U.S.-backed warlords who populate the dark side of American wars go on camera and on the record, some for the first time.”
As Jeffrey Richelson’s The US Intelligence Community makes clear, in the world of human intelligence “agents” are “foreign nationals recruited by U.S. intelligence officers to collect information either in their home country or in a third nation.” Lindsay Moran, a former case officer herself, put it a bit more blithely in Blowing My Cover:
Contrary to popular jargon, a CIA agent is not the actual employee of the CIA but rather the hapless schlub who has been recruited by a CIA case officer to spy on behalf of the United States, usually in exchange for money. The whole process of spotting, assessing, developing, and enlisting foreign agents is called “The Recruitment Cycle.”
The terminology of the “Dirty Wars” and Democracy Now! website is imprecise, relying on a perception of Mr. Kiriakou as “used” by the CIA. The term “agent” implies that Mr. Kiriakou was unwittingly exploited by the agency, a paramilitary and intelligence infrastructure whose implementation of extra-legel interrogation practices is decades old.
Once Mr. Kiriakou first revealed the use of water-boarding in a 2007 interview with ABC’s Brian Ross, perhaps he was surprised that CIA leadership, along with the White House, came out in defense of water-boarding, as opposed to having to backpedal on the policy or attempt to obscure the practice. President Barack Obama, despite stating in his first inaugural address that torture would not be used, had expressed a desire to “look forward,” meaning at least that his priority was his stopping further abuses, not making examples of those complicit in the previous administration’s abusers. An executive order from the 1980s banned the use of torture, it being in addition to supranational prohibitions to which the United States is bound by force of treaty.
Yesterday Mr. Kiriakou said that his ABC interview — in which he opined water-boarding constituted torture, and that torture was official government policy — had dire consequences:
Within 24 hours, the CIA filed what’s called a “crimes report” against me with the Justice Department, saying that I had revealed classified information, which was the torture program, and asking for an investigation with an eye toward prosecuting me. The Justice Department decided at the time that I had not revealed classified information, that the information was already in the public domain. But immediately, within weeks, I was audited by the IRS. I’ve been audited by the IRS every single year since giving that interview in 2007.
In conversation with Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman yesterday morning, Mr. Kiriakou said, “You know, we haven’t — we haven’t even investigated the torturers, as [Kiriakou attorney] Jesselyn [Radack] said.” Last August Attorney General Eric Holder announced the closing of a CIA torture investigation resulting from the agency’s interrogation tape destruction, the investigation that revealed a journalist’s betrayal of Mr. Kiriakou. All along the Obama administration never hinted at prosecuting operatives for water-boarding, though Mr. Kiriakou himself considered water-boarding torture.
A March 2010 Washington Times article said that the Holder investigation yielded “signs that the senior al Qaeda detainees at Guantanamo gained intelligence on CIA interrogators through their lawyers that could be used in future legal proceedings.”
CIA counterintelligence officials have “serious concerns” that the information will leak out and lead to the terrorists targeting the officers and their families, if the identities are disseminated to terrorists or sympathizers still at large, said one official.
“They have put the lives of CIA officers and their families in danger,” said a senior U.S. official about the detainees’ lawyers.
Naturally, interrogators who abused the terms of the Geneva Conventions, in addition to fearing terrorist retribution, might have wished to avoid nonviolent, domestic stigma, daresay legal civil or criminal repercussions. Whether water-boarding per se constitutes torture has long been the subject of popular debate; in some polls, majorities of respondents supported “torturing” 9/11 suspects, either way. Despite Mr. Kiriakou’s touting logistical support for the neutralization of violent Islamist operatives bent on killing Americans, many of his countrymen and women not sharing his outrage over water-boarding is key to understanding why public pressure will not keep him out of prison.