CommunityThe Dissenter

CIA Had Propaganda Campaign Which Involved Leaking Classified Information to Sell Torture

Philip Mudd, former deputy CTC director

The CIA had a propaganda campaign to defend its detention and interrogation program. It involved the leaking of classified information to shape the public’s opinion, undermine criticism and deceive Congress and is detailed in the executive summary of the Senate intelligence committee’s torture report, which shows the extent to which CIA officials were willing to engage in unauthorized disclosures, even as it fought to keep the program secret in the courts.

The torture report summary additionally highlights how the agency would not file crimes reports when leaked information was flattering to the agency.

In a conversation on April 13, 2005, with the chief of ALEC Station, the CIA unit hunting down Osama bin Laden, Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC), Philip Mudd, declared, “We either get out and sell, or we get hammered, which has implications beyond the media. [C]ongress reads it, cuts our authorities,” and “messes up our budget.”

Mudd added, “We either put out our story or we get eaten. There is no middle ground.”

The CIA developed a campaign to push propaganda on the “effectiveness” of using torture techniques on detainees into the media.

In December 2004, as the National Security Council (NSC) was “considering ‘endgame’ options for CIA detainees,” the CIA developed talking points for CIA Director Porter Goss to use with principals of the NSC. “If done cleverly, selected disclosure of intelligence results could heighten the anxiety of terrorists at large about the sophistication of [US government] methods and underscore the seriousness of American commitment to prosecute aggressively the War on Terrorism,” the CIA decided.

Intelligence gained and the lives saved from high-value detainee interrogations could be included in the propaganda campaign.

The CIA’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) and various CIA officers provided “unattributed background information on the program to journalists for books, articles and broadcasts,” even as the existence of the torture program was still classified. Crimes reports were not submitted, including one particular case involving Ronald Kessler’s book, The CIA at War,” because it “contained no first-time disclosures” and “OPA provided assistance with the book.”

Senior Deputy General Counsel John Rizzo indicated the determination that there was no crime committed stemmed from the fact that the CIA’s cooperation with Kessler was “blessed” by the CIA director.

When Douglas Jehl of the New York Times wrote an article in March 2005 with “significant classified information,” a lawyer with the CIA concluded, “Part of this article was based on ‘background’ provided by OPA. That, essentially, negates any use in making an unauthorized disclosure [report].”

Jesselyn Radack, an attorney who represented CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou who was sentenced to prison and prosecuted after he spoke out about the CIA’s use of waterboarding, called the propaganda campaign by the agency “stunning,” especially how it deceived not only the White House and Congress but the press as well.

“It’s incredibly disturbing to me that the CIA was engaged in such a propaganda campaign and engaging in leaks of classified information while at the same time it filed six crimes reports against John Kiriakou for allegedly mishandling classified information.”

“It doesn’t square, however, with [President Barack] Obama administration’s unprecedented use of the Espionage Act against more people for alleged mishandling of classified information than all previous presidential administrations combined,” she also wrote in an article for Salon.

“When the Washington Post/New York Times Quotes ‘Senior Intel Official,’ It’s Us” 

Mudd recognized that a public campaign involving classified leaks might be problematic to CIA employees. He counseled that CIA not “advertise” discussions between CIA personnel and the media to the CIA “workforce” because “they’d misread it.”

Yet, what is important to recognize is that the public never knew that the “senior intelligence officials” were really people in CIA’s Public Affairs Office making authorized disclosures. Neither did the judges adjudicating Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits or, later, lawsuits on behalf of victims of rendition, detention and torture.

Following a National Security Council Principals Committee meeting on April 15, 2005, the CIA “drafted an extensive document describing the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program for an anticipated media campaign.” CIA attorneys suggested disclosures not be attributed to the CIA itself.

“This should be attributed to an ‘official knowledgeable’ about the program (or some similar obfuscation),” one CIA attorney suggested. “But should not be attributed to a CIA or intelligence official.”

Later in December 2005, when Jehl was writing a story on the CIA’s detention and interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, a CIA officer concluded it was “not necessarily an unflattering story.”

Jehl provided a “detailed outline of his proposed story” and “informed the CIA that he would emphasize that the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques worked, that they were approved through an inter-agency process and that the CIA went to great lengths to ensure that the interrogation program was authorized by the White House and the Department of Justice.”

It is not clear how Jehl came up with these conclusions, which he was going to put in his story, but since he seemed so willing to be subservient to the interests of the CIA, the CIA did not dissuade him from describing any of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” And the chief of ALEC Station wondered whether cooperating if working with Jehl would be “undercutting our complaint against those leakers’ while at the same time advocating that CIA inform Jehl of “other examples of CIA ‘detainee exploitation success.'”

“A Work of Fiction”

The problem with this campaign, however, was that it was making it more difficult to deny FOIA requests. The same attorney said, “Our Glomar figleaf is getting pretty thin. Another CIA attorney acknowledged the draft of this campaign made the legal “declaration” the attorney had just written “about the secrecy of the interrogation program a work of fiction.

An official with the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center legal division urged CIA leadership to “confront the inconsistency” between CIA court declarations “about how critical it is to keep this information secret” and the CIA “planning to reveal darn near the entire program.”

On June 24, 2005, Dateline NBC produced a program with “on-the-record quotes from Goss and Mud, as well as quotes from ‘top American intelligence officials.'” It was called “The Long War: World View of War on Terror.”

“The program and Dateline NBC’s associated online articles included classified information about the capture and interrogation of CIA detainees and quoted ‘senior U.S. intelligence analysts’ stating that intelligence obtained from CIA interrogations ‘approaches or surpasses any other intelligence on the subject of al-Qaida and the construction of the network.'”

Additionally, “The Dateline NBC articles stated that ‘Al-Qaida leaders suddenly found themselves bundled onto a CIA Gulfstream V or Boeing 737 jet headed for long months of interrogation,” and indicated that Abu Zubaydah, [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed], Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and Abu Faraj al-Libi were ‘picked up and bundled off to interrogation centers.’ The articles also stated that the capture of bin al-Shibh led to the captures of KSM and Khallad bin Attash. This information was inaccurate.”

The Senate intelligence committee found no CIA records indicating an investigation into leaks or a crimes report had been submitted on the unauthorized disclosure of this classified information.

The CIA worked very closely with Kessler and he was very compliant with the agency, making him a great asset for the CIA’s propaganda campaign.

Leaking to Undercut FBI Agents

In early 2007, he worked on a book that the CIA thought could be useful in pushing back against the “undue credit” he was giving to the FBI for “CIA accomplishments.”

An official in the CTC Legal Division reacted, “[O]f course being the lawyer, I would recommend not telling Kessler anything.” But, “for policy reasons,” if the CIA cooperated, information should be provided to “undercut the FBI agents” that “leaked that they would have gotten everything anyway” without “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

Kessler met with CIA officials and made “substantive changes,” which “included the statement that Abu Zubaydah was subjected to ‘coercive interrogation techniques’ after he ‘stopped cooperating.'” His “revised text further stated that ‘the CIA could point to a string of successes and dozens of plots that were rolled up because of coercive interrogation techniques.'”

“The statements in the revised text were similar to CIA representations to policymakers and were incongruent with CIA records,” the Senate intelligence committee stated.

The CIA could also be pleased with the fact that his book, “The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack,” featured a passage arguing members of Congress and members of the media “have made careers for themselves by belittling and undercutting the efforts of the heroic men and women who are trying to protect us.”

“[Wjithout winning the war being waged by the media against our own government,” Kessler declared, “we are going to lose the war on terror because the tools that are needed will be taken away by Congress swayed by a misinformed public and by other countries unwilling to cooperate with the CIA or FBI because they fear mindless exposure by the press.” Plus, “Too many Americans are intent on demonizing those who are trying to protect us.”

New York Times Reporter Proposes a Story That CIA Considers to Be “Bullshit,” Biased Toward FBI

The CIA was especially upset when David Johnston planned to run a story on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah that was “bullshit” and “biased” against the FBI.


“We Risk Making Ourselves Look Silly”

An official with the CTC Legal Division was actually concerned the information being leaked might not be the best information to leak. On April 20, 2005, the official wondered if what Mohammed had “reported” about an alleged plot was good enough. “We risk making ourselves look silly if the best we can do is the Brooklyn Bridge—perhaps we should omit specific examples rather than ‘damn ourselves with faint praise.'” And another official asked if OPA could “be more strongly declarative.”

“‘While we can’t provide details (or maybe we can) ‘the program has produced intelligence that has directly saved 100’s/1000’s of American and other innocent lives,'” was the official’s suggestion. Such a statement was based in fabricated or inaccurate information.

Following the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act at the end of 2005, a CIA attorney working at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence expressed renewed interest in leaks that could promote the “effectiveness” of torture techniques being used.

The attorney saw “striking” similarities between the debate around the Detainee Treatment Act and what had happened in Israel when the Israeli Supreme Court ruled several “techniques were possibly permissible, but require some form of legislative sanction,” and that the Israeli government “ultimately got limited legislative authority for a few specific techniques.”

“Once this became a political reality here, it became incumbent on the [Bush] Administration to publicly put forth some facts, if it wanted to preserve these powers,” the CIA attorney complained. “Yet, to date, the Administration has refused to put forth any specific examples of significant intelligence it adduced as a result of using any technique that could not reasonably be construed as cruel, inhuman or degrading. Not even any historical stuff from three or four years ago.”

“What conclusions are to be drawn from the utter failure to offer a specific justification: That no such proof exists? That the Administration does not recognize the legitimacy of the political process on this issue? Or, that need to reserve the right to use these techniques really is not important enough to justify the compromise of even historical intelligence?”

Later, in 2012, when the CIA had an opportunity to assist in the production of a blockbuster movie on the raid to kill Osama bin Laden, a “hemorhhage of leaks” of “highly classified information” to filmmakers occurred.

Acting and deputy inspector generals for the CIA investigated who was behind the leaks, however, when CIA Director Leon Panetta, chief of staff Jeremy Bash and under secretary of intelligence Michael Vickers were implicated, the report on the investigation was edited to reflect the unauthorized disclosures had not come from senior officials.

Leaks about the value of CIA torture and what the agency wanted the world to believe about its contribution to the global “War on Terrorism,” especially in hunting bin Laden, were permissible. But anything critical of CIA policies, in the press and potentially from intelligence employees, needed to be suppressed.

Creative Commons-Licensed Photo on Flickr from the New America Foundation

CommunityFDL Main BlogThe Dissenter

CIA Had Propaganda Campaign Which Involved Leaking Classified Information to Sell Torture

Philip Mudd, former deputy CTC director

The CIA had a propaganda campaign to defend its detention and interrogation program. It involved the leaking of classified information to shape the public’s opinion, undermine criticism and deceive Congress and is detailed in the executive summary of the Senate intelligence committee’s torture report, which shows the extent to which CIA officials were willing to engage in unauthorized disclosures, even as it fought to keep the program secret in the courts.

The torture report summary additionally highlights how the agency would not file crimes reports when leaked information was flattering to the agency.

In a conversation on April 13, 2005, with the chief of ALEC Station, the CIA unit hunting down Osama bin Laden, Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC), Philip Mudd, declared, “We either get out and sell, or we get hammered, which has implications beyond the media. [C]ongress reads it, cuts our authorities,” and “messes up our budget.”

Mudd added, “We either put out our story or we get eaten. There is no middle ground.”

The CIA developed a campaign to push propaganda on the “effectiveness” of using torture techniques on detainees into the media.

In December 2004, as the National Security Council (NSC) was “considering ‘endgame’ options for CIA detainees,” the CIA developed talking points for CIA Director Porter Goss to use with principals of the NSC. “If done cleverly, selected disclosure of intelligence results could heighten the anxiety of terrorists at large about the sophistication of [US government] methods and underscore the seriousness of American commitment to prosecute aggressively the War on Terrorism,” the CIA decided.

Intelligence gained and the lives saved from high-value detainee interrogations could be included in the propaganda campaign.

The CIA’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) and various CIA officers provided “unattributed background information on the program to journalists for books, articles and broadcasts,” even as the existence of the torture program was still classified. Crimes reports were not submitted, including one particular case involving Ronald Kessler’s book, The CIA at War,” because it “contained no first-time disclosures” and “OPA provided assistance with the book.”

Senior Deputy General Counsel John Rizzo indicated the determination that there was no crime committed stemmed from the fact that the CIA’s cooperation with Kessler was “blessed” by the CIA director.

When Douglas Jehl of the New York Times wrote an article in March 2005 with “significant classified information,” a lawyer with the CIA concluded, “Part of this article was based on ‘background’ provided by OPA. That, essentially, negates any use in making an unauthorized disclosure [report].”

Jesselyn Radack, an attorney who represented CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou who was sentenced to prison and prosecuted after he spoke out about the CIA’s use of waterboarding, called the propaganda campaign by the agency “stunning,” especially how it deceived not only the White House and Congress but the press as well.

“It’s incredibly disturbing to me that the CIA was engaged in such a propaganda campaign and engaging in leaks of classified information while at the same time it filed six crimes reports against John Kiriakou for allegedly mishandling classified information.”

“It doesn’t square, however, with [President Barack] Obama administration’s unprecedented use of the Espionage Act against more people for alleged mishandling of classified information than all previous presidential administrations combined,” she also wrote in an article for Salon.

“When the Washington Post/New York Times Quotes ‘Senior Intel Official,’ It’s Us” 

Mudd recognized that a public campaign involving classified leaks might be problematic to CIA employees. He counseled that CIA not “advertise” discussions between CIA personnel and the media to the CIA “workforce” because “they’d misread it.”

Yet, what is important to recognize is that the public never knew that the “senior intelligence officials” were really people in CIA’s Public Affairs Office making authorized disclosures. Neither did the judges adjudicating Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits or, later, lawsuits on behalf of victims of rendition, detention and torture.

Following a National Security Council Principals Committee meeting on April 15, 2005, the CIA “drafted an extensive document describing the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program for an anticipated media campaign.” CIA attorneys suggested disclosures not be attributed to the CIA itself.

“This should be attributed to an ‘official knowledgeable’ about the program (or some similar obfuscation),” one CIA attorney suggested. “But should not be attributed to a CIA or intelligence official.”

Later in December 2005, when Jehl was writing a story on the CIA’s detention and interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, a CIA officer concluded it was “not necessarily an unflattering story.”

Jehl provided a “detailed outline of his proposed story” and “informed the CIA that he would emphasize that the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques worked, that they were approved through an inter-agency process and that the CIA went to great lengths to ensure that the interrogation program was authorized by the White House and the Department of Justice.”

It is not clear how Jehl came up with these conclusions, which he was going to put in his story, but since he seemed so willing to be subservient to the interests of the CIA, the CIA did not dissuade him from describing any of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” And the chief of ALEC Station wondered whether cooperating if working with Jehl would be “undercutting our complaint against those leakers’ while at the same time advocating that CIA inform Jehl of “other examples of CIA ‘detainee exploitation success.'” (more…)

Previous post

Cultivating Climate Justice Through Compost: The Story of Hernani

Next post

The Study Health Care Reform Desperately Needs

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

71 Comments